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Last sail of season across an ice-cold lake

For Dan Gleason, there’s nothing more enjoyable than sailing his Scampi 30, Lysistrata, single-handed on Lake Champlain at night under the moonlight.

For Dan Gleason, there’s nothing more enjoyable than sailing his Scampi 30, Lysistrata, single-handed on Lake Champlain at night under the moonlight.

“The effect of the moon on the lake is fantastic,” says Gleason, who is 49 and of Fairfax, Vt. “It’s almost like an eerie sunlight — you can see for miles. It’s relaxing to be out there at that time, all alone. For me, sailing at night is like a religious experience.”

Gleason, who works on the safety team at Hazelett Strip-Casting Corp. in Colchester, Vt., also enjoys the quiet solitude of sailing Lysistrata into winter, well after most other boaters have retired for the season. But this year, when Gleason and a crewmember, 25-year-old Peter Church, took Lysistrata on her end-of-season sail Dec. 3 from Mallets Bay in Colchester, to the Shelburne Shipyard in Shelburne, Vt., Gleason found sailing in the icy winter weather a bit troublesome.

“A trip that should have taken about three or four hours, wound up taking at least six,” Gleason says. “The air temperature was about 30 degrees [F], the wind was blowing out of the west at 20 knots plus, and the waves were about 3 or 4 feet. The tops of the waves were being blown into spray by the wind, which would freeze as soon as it hit the boat.”

It wasn’t long after getting under way that Gleason’s boat became coated in a 1/4-inch-thick sheet of ice. “When we set off in all that wind I decided not to put up the mainsail, but to use the jib instead and hope for the best,” Gleason explains. “The next thing you know, with the water coming over and freezing, the lines on deck froze. The main froze to the boom. The jib sheet froze on the winches and every time we tacked the ice would break free and come at us like shrapnel. We had to duck a lot. We were forced to crawl on our hands and knees so we wouldn’t slip and fall overboard. That made things pretty tough.”

The situation became more difficult still after the men lost their winches. “One was lost because the top was filled with ice and didn’t lock in and fell overboard,” Gleason explains. “The other one ever-so-softly slipped out of my glove, which was coated with ice.

“Without the winches, I thought of turning back,” Gleason continues. “But, as we made our way into the main part of the lake, we found that we could trim the jib quickly when we’d tack into the wind. After that point, we became more and more confident that we’d make the trip OK. We were doing 7 or 8 knots when we made it into Shelburne Bay.”

After Gleason and Church finally tied up at the boatyard, the two had a tough time taking down the jib. “The sail was like a sheet of frozen cardboard,” Gleason says. “And the halyard was coated with ice. We had to pour warm water on it to get it to come down through the hatch. Needless to say, that took us a while, too.”

Despite struggling to sail his ice-covered boat, Gleason says he enjoyed being out on the water. “Besides the ice, it was a picturesque day,” he says. “The sun was shining and it was great seeing those snow-capped mountains one more time from the lake. And other than one fishing boat we saw, we were the only people out there. It was very nice.”

Even Church, the rookie sailor, says he had a good time. “It sounded like a fun experience, and it was,” says Church, who is a machinist apprentice at Hazelett. “I would have hated to have turned down the offer.”

Looking back on the experience, Gleason is glad to have done it but says he might do things differently next season. “After 24 years of being married to me [my wife] no longer thinks I’m crazy; she knows it,” Gleason says. “Sailing on Lake Champlain in December with temperatures below freezing only confirms what she already knows and now everybody can know it, too.

“I’m thinking maybe I’ll pull the boat out in November next year,” he says.