Skate Sailing
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(See Also Dan Beard's Skaters' Wings)

Copy of holding_sail.gif (20205 bytes)After Setting Up a Sail, and before starting out to actually sail with it, pick it up by the extreme front edge with both hands and swing it to a horizontal position above your head, taking care to face directly into the wind.  The sail will float almost of its own accord out back to you.  This is the stopping, or turning, or resting position, and you will find that if the sail is stretched properly taut even in a very heavy wind there is no difficulty in perfectly controlling it.  

Tilt the sail down a little one way or another, so that the wind just catches it and shows a tendency to whip or slew it about, and then level it quickly again and note the easy manner in which it literally floats overhead.  In this way get the feeling of complete control.

The first and foremost thing to remember in handling a skate sail, is to always pick it up by the extreme front edge with two hands, and then swing, it into position.  Do not attempt to pick it up by one of the spars, or with one hand.

Copy of sailing_into_wind.gif (26279 bytes)To hold the sail while sailing, rest the boom on your shoulder, slanting slightly downward at the rear and balanced at a point just a little back of the vinyl window.  From this position you can conveniently locate buoys or avoid skaters, ice-boats, or other hazards.  The hand on the same side grasps the mast just a comfortable distance below the boom; the other hand is free and is not used to hold the sail securely on your shoulder.

In actual sailing, the sail is always carried on the windward shoulder, between you and the wind.  In starting out from the position described above for stopping or resting, turn slightly so as to face in the direction in which you wish to go, and bring the sail down on the shoulder against which the wind is blowing.  At the same time firmly lean your weight against it so that you move off with a steady glide.  If the sail the sail is being carried on the right shoulder, the right  foot should be advanced in the lead.  The left foot should be follow in line behind it so that the tracks left on the ice by the skates will not be more than four or five inches apart.  This foot position is, of course, exactly reversed when the sail is on the left shoulder.  Ride on the heels of your skates; that is keep a slight upward strain on the toes. 

Copy of sailing_high_speed.gif (37387 bytes)The thing that you must learn at the start is to freely lean your weight against the sail, and actually allow the wind to hold you up.  Your body should be kept very nearly straight and rigid, pivoting on the skates, with the lower edge of the sail held close against the ankle of the leading foot  By leaning freely in this position the whole sail is tilted into the wind so that every ounce of power is used in driving you.

Copy of stopping_a_sail.gif (33799 bytes)In order to make a turn, the simplest way is to begin to circle into the wind, at the same time bringing the sail to the horizontal overhead position.  In this position, you can coast the rest of the way around, changing the position of your feet gradually until you are headed in the new direction.  Bring the sail down then on the other shoulder and continue as before.  Heading close to the direction of the wind will give you satisfactory speed, and by making each turn into the wind, you will be "tacking" exactly the same as a sailboat, in effect sailing against the wind.

Traveling with the wind in a sailboat, one runs directly before it with the sail at right angles to the boat, but this is never done either in an iceboat or with a skate sail.  Greater speed can be obtained by zigzagging, laying a course at about a forty-five degree angle with the wind.  In turning here, however, the turn is made away from the wind  and the sail cannot be held in the overhead position.  Instead it is rolled across the back during the turn, taking care to keep the rear end down close to the ice, so that the wind does not get under it.

Remember never to "argue" with your sail.  If you carelessly let the wind get too far around in front of it so that it suddenly jumps off your shoulder, don't attempt to hold it by main force. If you can't smoothly and deftly swing it into place, or into the overhead position, better let it go.

Don't be afraid to lean boldly against your sail and take all the speed possible.  A puffy wind will quickly give you some hard bumps if you timidly poke your shoulder against the sail and try to brace yourself by spreading your legs.

Any type of skates may be used, but experience has shown that the long tubular racing skate, in the sixteen-inch stock length, or the eighteen-inch special length, is by far the best both for speed and for traveling over rough ice.  

Skates must be kept well sharpened.  If you have tubular racing skates, don't take them to any old hardware store that hangs out a "Skates Sharpened" sign.  They invariably ruin them by using a coarse grindstone or emery wheel and turn them out with burred edges and no temper. 

If you are willing to spend ten minutes occasionally, get one of the several types of compact sharpening stands that may be purchased at the sporting goods stores, and a good sharpening stone. The stand should be placed on a level table and the skates carefully centered and leveled against the guides, and the clamps tightened.  With a little sharpening oil on the stone, hold the stone so that it bridges from one skate to the other,  and work across the surface with a free, circular motion.  Take care to work evenly from heel to toe of the blades.  Finish off with the smooth side of, the stone, and for the last ten or fifteen strokes, change from the circular motion to a straight forward and backward one, the full length of the blade.  The blades are properly sharpened when the thumb-nail can be pared the full length of both edges of each blade.  If one spot is dull, the entire length of both blades must be sharpened, otherwise you will work high and low spots into the blade.

If you use hockey skates or figure skates with the wide blade, these should be "hollow-ground" with an "oil-finish," which leaves a smooth, concave surface with keen edges.  A skate that feels "sticky" and is hard to push the first time it is used after sharpening is not correctly sharpened.  This stickiness is due to the cross ridges left on the blade by the grinding wheel.  The "oil finish" consists in removing these ridges by hand, with a fine, narrow sharpening stone and oil, working along the length of the blade, taking care not to dull the edges.

These same sails may be used for ski-sailing, which is an interesting variation of the sport applicable to sections where heavy snow makes skate-sailing impracticable.  One must not, however, expect anything like the results obtained in skate-sailing.  The skis should be waxed to a point where it is difficult to walk on them, as you will find that it takes considerably more wind to sail on skis than it does on skates.  It is possible to tack into the wind, but only at broad angles, and in changing tacks it is generally necessary to step around with the sail overhead; a clean Telemark or Christiania turn can rarely be made while carrying the sail.  Do not attempt to ski sail on a hard crust or you will ruin your skis; an inch or two of soft, firm snow is necessary to give traction and prevent side-slip.

See Also:
Dan Beard's Skater's Wings
How to Build Four Skate Sail Rigs

Bat Wings


Cape Vincent Rig


Country Rig


Danish Rig


English Rig


Norton Rig


Norwegian Rig

Additional Skater's Wing Plans

Gear & Clothing






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Last modified: October 15, 2016.