You may have seen the wonderful videos - you know the ones...... blue skies, water lapping at the boat, quiet serene tranquil moments as you drift along sailing........ well forget it all!
Sailing on ice is none of that. OK, maybe the blue skies bit but that’s where it ends. Replace lapping water with the hard sound of blades scrapping along the icy surface and the quiet serene tranquil moments went right out of mind when you first start to move.
Here's the story of 2 Central Blokart Club sailors who thought Blokart ice sailing would be a bit different....
With the 2019 European Ice Blokart Championships due to start with a promo/practice day on the Friday Andrew and myself had been slowly getting more excited as the trip to Lithuania came closer.
The flights were booked, the rental car booked, all the gear we might need to wear was sorted. Who knew how much to actually take, or how cold this could actually get? Thoughts of serious windchill came to mind!.
Accommodation.... less than four days before the event this still wasn't booked. The reason was simple. No decision on which frozen lake to race on was going to be made until the last possible moment, and with numerous lakes within a possible 300km trip to find suitable ice (more on that later) this was sorted as close to the event as possible. The prospective race venue was based at Nida with racing to be on the frozen Curonian Lagoon on the Baltic Coast. However, Monday's email had a change of venue and we were to heading inland to Gargzdai.
We were keen to experience ice sailing for the very first time and were revelling in stories of how much quicker it could be. We both had a good amount of experience blokart racing so how hard can adapting to ice be? Everything is the same except swap out the wheels for ice blades, then sliiiiide!
How wrong we were.
Friday - Practice Day
We arrived at the lake and were like a couple of kids in a sweet shop not knowing what to get excited about first but knowing we definitely should be excited about something.
Blokart's were rigged. There was a walk around on the ice. A bit to learn about 'good ice' and 'bad ice'.
Unfortunately we had bad ice! due to an unforeseen very cold night (who would have thought, cold is not necessarily a good thing when you want good ice) we could not sail.
What had happened is the thin layer of water on the ice surface had frozen creating a second frozen layer. Think sponge cake with jam in the middle. As you walked along you could see the water moving between the layers of ice and this created an issue with ice blades dropping through and becoming wedged - best outcome you stop, worst outcome the blade stops but the kart continues snapping the axel and blade.
This meant no real opportunity to practice on practice day.
We did get some sailing in with a heavily modified set of skis attached to the blades on one kart. This enabled us to at least lose our ice virginity and slide around for a bit of a taste of what was to come.
Having never sailed on ice before it was a marvellous yet heart stopping feeling when first getting underway. Matas (our Lithuanian host) assured us the ice base was more than strong enough but it was still unnerving for this first timer. Especially having seen some of the lighter guys drop through the top layer. While I trusted Matas’ judgement on how safe the base layer was there was still this niggling thought of ‘what if I am the unlucky one who just happens to hit or go through on a soft patch’. The internal mind games took some getting over.
Saturday - 1st Race Day
With warmer temps forecast overnight we were anticipating the top layer to have thawed leaving the hard base layer to race on. Imagine our surprise when we arrived at the lake in the morning to find it still frozen like the day before. Gutted!
Eventually we admitted defeat and retired back to the hotel bar in preparation of the pilots dinner later that night.
Sunday - 2nd Race Day (or is it 1st)
Thankfully we received reports at the pilots dinner from some ice windsurfers 200km away that the ice conditions on Kaunas Lagoon were brilliant on Saturday and after agreement at the dinner from all present that we would happily drive there in the morning the entire event was moved in anticipation of an all or nothing day of racing.
What a great decision that was!!
We arrived en-masse and walked out on to this massive expanse of ice that was clear of snow, was smoooooooth and ready to be raced on. I don't think I've had a Blokart grin that big since my very first time sailing one!
Let's get rigged, I need to get out there!!!!!!!
The course was set - a straight up and back windward leeward affair with the marks to our left. That bit we understood. However, the starting procedure left us a bit confused, and not because the briefings were in Lithuanian, but because unlike 'normal' blokart races there is no dial up or jockeying for position on the start line. The starts are stationary with half the fleet heading to the left and the other half heading to the right. We were allotted positions (by way of some unusual Lithuanian number game) that were rotated for each race. Actually it was great fun and added a whole new dynamic to Blokart racing that I hadn't experienced, which I liked.
The racing was in fact brilliant and the split starts meant there was always going to be an element of not knowing how you were going until the first cross over. Racing on ice is much like racing on concrete or tarmac but with elements of sand racing in picking the firmest ice to turn on to maintain that all important speed.
If you haven’t sailed before or don’t have a concept of apparent wind it is simply ‘speed is your friend’, and ice racing allows for plenty. I’m not exactly sure of wind speed on the day, maybe the occasional gust of 8-10 knots, but we could be averaging 14-17mph upwind and almost double that heading back down the course. I can only imagine how crazy fast we could get with a bit more wind, but that will have to wait until next time…
After four races on Sunday we managed surprise results with Andy E securing 1st in the Super Heavyweight category and myself sneaking in to finish second in the Heavyweight category. Not bad for a couple of guys who went purely for the experience, it just means we will have to head back for the next European Blokart Ice Championships.
Thanks must go to Matas Mizgiris from Irklakojis and the Lithuanian Blokart Team for organising the event in challenging ice conditions along with arranging hotel accommodation in Gargzdai for international pilots at such short notice.
If you would like to try Blokart sailing here in the UK why not get in touch with Kiwi Blokarts UK to arrange your own Blokart experience.
We’ll see you out there!