AT THE FRONT The Harken Newsletter - February 2021

Welcome to the February issue of At The Front, a monthly digest of top news and stories from the world of Harken.

Cover photo by Sharon Green / Ultimate Sailing

Some of the most famous sailors in the world will tell you they’d quit sailing everything else before they’d stop ice boating. I agree.

By Will Perrigo, Harken Industrial Project Coordinator

I’ve been iceboating as long as I can remember. Sure, I’ve always sailed in soft water too. But up here in snow country, there’s nothing that comes close to iceboating. The speed and the ride and the cold gives you a rush that you can’t get many other ways. I believe that you develop an acute feel for how any boat (and fast cars) are going to respond to small body movements or steering changes from iceboating. I bet the guys steering the AC75s would benefit from coming ice boating and ripping around at 70+ mph. I bet it’s a similar feeling. You learn to react really quickly and that helps all the sailing you do.

When I was really young, my dad, Bill Perrigo, used to put me in the front cockpit of his tandem Skeeter “Thunder Jet” for races, which was a great way to learn what to expect from iceboating. High speeds and getting hammered in the face with ice chips. Like little ice picks hitting your cheeks at 70+ mph.

You find great people in any kind of sailing. But if you’re going to race iceboats, you travel all over—sometimes hundreds of miles in search of ice for one regatta. You spend lots of time in the middle of nowhere…waiting for the word on where you’ll be sailing. But you do it with incredible people from all over the world and you make incredible friends. That’s unique in all of sport.

Later in this issue there’s a story about the biggest iceboats of all, the stern steerers. They are incredible machines. If you’ve never seen one, they look like no boat you’ve ever seen. Anyway, my dad bought the biggest one of all called “The Deuce” sometimes in mid-60’s Rick Henning who owns her now shares all the details in his interview that follows. Sooo much power! The “whistling” of the rigging when she’s rolling, reminds me of the foiling AC boats today. We raced the Deuce for a number of years against Buddy Melges in the Bull, Bill Bentsen in the Tacu, and Charlie Miller in the MaryB. What great memories. The experience of being tossed out of her a few times when she went into a spin was something I’ll never forget either.

This month’s At The Front is all about iceboating. Hope you enjoy this edition. Don’t waste winter! Come out and give it a try.

What's this thing do?

Tour a Skeeter and a brand new DN with Harken Director of Engineering Steve Orlebeke

When was the last time you clocked in at 100 mph in your sailboat when the breeze was a steady 15 knots? Not recently? Let's chat with Steve Orlebeke. He brought his freaky fast Skeeter and brand new DN into the factory to bring you along for a tour.


Blockhead Samuel Bartel is brand new to the DN class. He's a twenty-something university student that got a ride on a friend's Nite and was instantly hooked. He wanted in.

It didn't take long for Samuel to find a group of iceboaters to help him get started. He learned that it doesn’t have to be expensive. All you gotta do is tell an iceboater you’re interested, and you’ll be amazed what can happen.

When Water Hurts

In iceboating, crashes are always lurking. Especially if you come in for a crash landing from 70 mph. Peter Harken speaks from experience.


What would happen if a Pterodactyl and one of those All-Terrain Armored Transports from a Star Wars film got a little too chummy? They’re called stern-steerers. Included in their ranks are the largest iceboats on the planet, the A-Class. They’re throwbacks to an earlier era. They’re antique but are in no way antiquated. When up and rolling, they remain the fastest most extreme machines on runners.

The largest of them all is known as “The Deuce.” It’s owned by Rick Hennig. It lives in Wisconsin. It’s an incredible, historic machine. We wanted to learn more about it, so we asked. Rick was kind enough to enlighten.

Harken: Can you please describe The Deuce?

Rick Hennig: The Mighty Deuce is an unlimited A Class stern-steerer iceboat.

Name: The Deuce Sail Number: A-6

Length: 54'6"

Runner Plank: 35.00'

Mast Height: 54' off of the ice

Weight: 3,600 lbs

Sail Area: Big Configuration is 800 sq. ft.

When was it built? Who designed it? When did it first sail?

The Deuce was built in 1930 and has evolved since then. She was designed by Joe Lodge who was the designer of the DN. The Deuce was built by Russ Pouliot. The Deuce was first sailed in 1932.

What place within iceboating do the stern-steerers occupy?

It all started with stern steerers. So the Stern Steerers’ place in iceboating is the history. Please remember that the Northwest Regatta (officially known as the Northwest Ice Association Regatta) was a stern steerer regatta, we let the bow steerers in.

How many owners has The Deuce had?

Rick: There have been four of us: Joe Lodge, Clare Jacobs, Bill Perrigo and for the past 25 years, me.

What was your primary motivation in buying the boat?

I was on Lake Geneva and Harry Melges gave me a ride on Ferdinand The Bull, another A Class stern-steerer from Detroit that Buddy Melges brought back to Lake Geneva. I was hooked from that ride. The power, the speed, the hiking, there is nothing like it. Bill Perrigo bought the Deuce, the other Detroit A Class stern-steerer and the largest active A Class in the world. He brought it back to Pewaukee where he raced her for years. One day my friend from Michigan, Chip Sawyer, told me the Deuce was for sale. My best friend Todd Knop and I went to look at her. Wow, she was stored outside uncovered. Todd tried to talk me out of it, but I had to have her.

There is plaque on the boat that notes a significant refit project was done on the boat. Can you please describe it?

We got the boat home, worked on her for two years, and got her ready to race. There were plenty of problems. The new sails were more powerful, so we had to reinforce the runner plank with carbon fiber. Then the hull started to open from the old animal glue letting go and the wood drying out and splitting. At a Northwest Regatta with three first places the old girl could go no more, so we went back to the pit area and started taking her apart. I was not sure how to fix her. I was on the ice working and I looked up and there was Bill Mattison, the God of ice boat building himself. He said to us, "You guys had a tough go of it out there.” And then he told us wood is like people, it doesn't last forever. I said, “Bill, we have to fix her.” He said, “Rick, let's just make a new hull.” I thought he was crazy. He told me that his son, Bill Jr. lived in Racine and he would come down and stay with his son and their family and work on the iceboat everyday. He gave me a list of things we would need starting with lots of Sitka Spruce. So I contracted with a wood broker in Canada. I wanted a whole tree that could give me 5-quarter x 16" x 40' long minimum boards.

The wood was shipped to my company by semi—a whole truckload. Bill was there when that truck pulled in, I can remember him saying when he was looking at the truck, "That's what dreams are made from.” We made a drying chamber that had six dehumidifiers & six fans in it, and we dried the wood to Bill's specifications. Bill taught us the art of lofting. We built all the frames, top and bottom and the side boards using carbon laminating all on the inside. We got her all done with new hardware too. The last touch was the plaque. It reads: “Rebuilt by Bill Mattison and the Cabbage Patch Iceboat Gang for the preservation of iceboating.”

Bill Mattison rebuilds the Deuce runner plank c. 1980. Photo from the Steve Arnold collection.

How many people are required to rig it?

It takes three people that know what they are doing to set her up. We don't lift anything. It is all done by our custom trailer crane designed by Keith Haas and Todd Knop.

What is the ideal crew size and what are the crew duties?

When the wind is up we race with three people: one driver, one mainsheet trimmer, and one jib sheet and mast puller. In light air we sail with two people: one driver and one person to do everything else. The mainsheet winch is a handmade gearbox with (Ford) Model-T brake shoes that hold the winch from moving. To ease it you pull a handle that opens the brake shoes and the sheet goes out. You have to be a true 300 pounder to run the winch when the wind is up. It's everything you can do to trim it at times.

What is the top speed the Deuce has achieved?

In 1933 the Deuce was brought to Lake St. Clair where they measured a mile and used the electric timer they used at the Indy 500. It was brought there especially for The Deuce's run. She attained speeds in excess of 140 mph. In 2010 on Lake Mendota in Madison, we were there for a Northwest Regatta. We got caught in a 25 mph northeast breeze that blew in. We had to finish the last lap to get the regatta in. We had three of us in the boat, we made it in with some damage. Kenny Melby had a GPS on her; our top speed was 119 mph. Another time, in a 5 mph breeze on perfect ice, the Deuce was clocked at 55 mph.

What is it like to be aboard the boat while it is at speed?

Racing the Deuce is truly a wild experience. It is very loud, the feeling of power is incredible, there are times when I think the boat is in charge. It's the ultimate adrenaline rush. We took my friend's dad out, Wes Monroe. He summed it up the best:

"Boy, you really know you are living.”

Video by Dave Elsmo

Photo by Gretchen Dorian