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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Ice sailors get wild, sketchy ride on Sprague Lake

WINTER SPORTS -- Take this as an ice fishing report or an ice sailing report.  Either way, Sprague Lake is pretty much off limits until the next good freeze.

Dave Farmer of Revival Lighting has been bummed to have such great ice conditions recently with little wind to power his ice sailing rig. When the winds arrived last weekend, the ice was on its way out.  But Farmer let it rip anyway.

Read on for more photos and his narrative of last week's action. Soak in the feeling of the speed and the thrill, knowing that one unlucky move could put him on the wrong side of the ice.

Been enduring a few weeks of good ice but no breeze, hard on a fellow like myself.  But relief showed up on Friday, and Frank and I scooted out to Sprague Lake for some wind driven glee.  The front brought with it daytime temps in the high forties, and this coupled with steady airflow, began to transformation the surface, melting the snow that had fallen in the previous week, and greeting us with a breakable crust over an inch of water, all of which topped six to eight inches of solid, mostly clear ice.  This made steering tough initially, but as the day progressed the crust softened up, allowing us to revel in the strong pressure, powering up with small sails, and covering some serious ground.  Frank found some thin ice close to shore near sunset, so that brought the session to a close prematurely, but not before a pocketful off smiles had been accumulated.

  The wind blew all night, cranking up to the low thirties, gusting into the high forties on Saturday, and I elected to save my gear for another day.  So I hiked up the peak behind the house, and experienced the power up there.

   Sunday morning finds me in the hot tub, watching the trees dance.  I wonder what three days of big wind and warm temps will do to six inches of ice, and since there's no one who can answer that question for me, I decide to go look.  Might as well bring the boat along, just in case...  As the lake comes into sight, it's still covered,  which is encouraging.   But fifty feet out from the put in is a hole just large enough so swallow my machine.  So the blades get strapped on and an exploratory tour commences.  Several of the fishermen's holes have been enlarged by the wind, enough to snag a runner, open water surrounds all the rocky shores, and the big opening on the west end of the lake has easily doubled in size since Friday, now about three football fields in length, maybe one wide, much appreciated by the errant flock of Canada geese.  And also, a bit discouraging, a few random holes near healed frost heaves.  All the openings are sharply defined, having an honest six inches of solid ice at it's edges, no tapering or thinning in the vicinity, very odd

    An easy skate back downwind brings me back to the put in, together goes the boat.  We launch into twenty knots of breeze with the 3.5 meter sail, and begin a careful, slow speed scout of the area that seems most reliable.  A few passes build confidence, and I begin to sheet in, and there it is, that adrenaline I'm so fond of!  With the limited real estate available, my course is pretty much a beam reach across the wind, no complaint, as this is an extremely fast point of sail.   The focus quickly becomes trying to run up the numbers on the gps, trying with each pass to find a glossier patch of ice, drive just a little smoother, hook up with a slightly stronger puff, anything to bump up the max speed figure.  At the end of each run comes the exhilarating carve downwind to reverse course and head back across the lake.  The trick is to find the perfect line, a tight enough turn so there's no need to pinch back up to windward, but not so tight to scruff off speed or break the runners loose with too much power too soon.  So, bear away smoothly, pick up even more speed, and as the stern passes thru the wind, ease out the sail, keep carving the turn, and then judiciously sheet back in as she starts to point up into the wind again.  Done right and the boat loses little speed, and the giggle quotient remains high!

   I do this dance til sunset, which rewards me for such good behavior with a four or five knot bump in wind speed, which translates into a glorious epilogue of overpowered giddiness, accompanied by a rich light show, fading to a full moon for de rigging.  Another fine day spent on the proper side of the ice!

Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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