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Feeling the need for frozen speed

2015 April 15

The kitewing sailors on skis head off across Lake Winnebago.
Casey French photo

A little snow and ice can't keep sailors from doing what they love. More than 50 people strapped on skis, sleds and skates, grabbed hold of their favorite wind-harnessing device and braved frigid temperatures in a quest to satisfy their need for speed at the World Ice and Snow Sailing Championships in February on a frozen Lake Winnebago in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. 

A kitewinger with skates catches air, reaching speeds more than 50 miles per hour in the 25-knot winds.
Casey French photos

Four fleets represented the array of sailing methods present amongst the competitors from eight countries. Sleds–boards with runners or skis with a windsurfing rig attached, kite wings–sails resembling windsurfing sails are held by sailors on skis, kiteboards–kite sailors on snowboards, and kite skis–kite sailors on skis, made for a colorful display of speed. 

Russian Andrei Balyakin topped the 26-person kite skis fleet with nine firsts in 12 races. In the eight-person kiteboard fleet, American Jason Yetley took top honors, while Sweden's Carl James decimated the kite wing fleet. Igor Renkas of the Ukraine won the nine-boat sled fleet. 

The wind built during the weeklong event with many of the races being sailed in 20-knot winds and temperatures hovering near zero. The final day's racing was cancelled because of low visibility accompanying the 25-knot-plus winds, but a few sailors braved the lake regardless. Sailing a kite with skis, Bob Cook recorded a top speed of 54.4 mph. 

Winter be damned.

Ice sleds line the starting line of the World Ice & Snow Sailing World Championships on Lake Winnebago in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.
Casey French photo


Watch a video from the event here.