The fleet of the Maryland Ice Yacht Club has doubled in a year and if the new people are a little disappointed they ought to keep in mind that it could be a lot worse. And probably will be.
Last year came the most startling good luck.The bitter cold froze the Chesapeake Bay and when it came time to pick a site for the national ice-boating championships Maryland won over New Jersey.
Hundreds of iceboating legends came from Germany, Czechoslovakia, Canada and Midwest U.S.A. to try their luck near St. Michaels.
The scene they created had a lasting effect. "Our fleet was 15 boats last year. Now it's twice that," said Jim Molechek, commodore of the ice yachters hereabouts.
New folks plunked down close to $1,000 for boats and climbed aboard with high expectations.
That's the good news. The bad news is that Maryland remains Maryland; it sits below the Mason-Dixon line and winters here are unpredictable, at best.
"Last year was only the second time in our 15-year history that we actually could sail on the Severn," Holechek said Sunday as he organized racers on Round Bay, north of Annapolis.
"Some years we never get ice and we have to trialer the boats up to Pennsylvania. Some years we might get ice for a weekend, or maybe just one day during the week.
Phenomenally, the iceboaters now have had two straight years of rockhard ice, and it was with great glee that Holechek put together the seventh-annual ice boat regatta on the Severn last weekend. By Thursday he was convinced the races would surely come off, barring the latest Indian summer in recorded history.
So the sailors gathered at Round Bay at 9 a.m. The races were to start at 1 p.m., but on one wanted to risk last-minute troubles.
They clambered out on the slick surface, unsheathed tools and parts and began putting together the little 11-footers that can go 60 miles an hour and faster. Conditions looked ideal. There was only the tiniest dusting of snow over the ice and the hard water extended as far as the eye could see.
Even the weather report looked favorable. A front was to move through late in the day, bringing weather, and there never has been weather without wind.
Unless the weather never gets there.
The racers waited. They set their course, two marks a mile apart on the glistening ice, one dead to weather, on-straight to lee. The boats would sail a circle course, because an ice boat can't sail directly downwind or upwind.
But the course needed changing, considerable changing. Every time the wind kicked up it came from a different direction, and as soon as the marks were changed and the course established, it died again.
Finally one race was run, literally. The racers ended up pushing the boats halfway around the course.
At 4 p.m. Holechek held a meeting for the disgruntled skippers."What do you want to do" he asked.
"We want to go home," they said.
So they did, pushing the boats wearily across the 1 1/2 miles of ice while kids on ice skates raced by, and motorcycles pulled sleds, and the sun hung up in the hazy sky, a gas lamp immersed in fog.
"Sometimes we don't get ice," said Wicky McNeil, the old-timer of the club. "Then if we do, we don't get wind. Or if we get ice and wind, then it snows and you can't race. It's a bitter world . . ."
The iceboat races weren't canceled. They were, in the eternal optimism of Holecheck's ice racers, merely postponed.
Next attempt, 1 p.m. Saturday at the same place, Round Bay in Severna Park.
Good luck, iceboaters.