It is a Saturday February morning, 8:30 AM, and the crisp cobalt blue sky announces another perfect day for iceboating.So, reader, I can see that quizzical look on your face: iceboating? Yes. Iceboating is the sport, some say the disease, of sailing at indecent speeds on ice in a wooden fuselage 12 feet long equipped with three steel blades called runners, and propelled by the wind alone.
My friends and I have spent the day before whizzing around on Lake St. Louis, near Pointe Claire, Quebec on ice of mirror-like quality, and I’m hungry for more.
But this morning, I must first check the ice, not so much for thickness but for cracks, as they can develop overnight and catch an unsuspecting sailor’s front runner blade, with ensuing disastrous consequences.As I get out of my car near the lake on Cartier avenue, I zip up my black parka and don my brown fur hat, grab my crowbar and start out onto the foot- thick ice. A dusting of snow covers the surface and sparkles into a myriad of diamonds in the morning sun.
I’m about 500 yards out and I find a crack, which has refrozen. I begin digging into the crack to see how thick it is with my crowbar when I hear the mournful toll of the bells of St. Joseph’s Church, off to my right.I turn to see pallbearers transferring a coffin from a hearse to a dolly, about to wheel it into the church.
I resume my digging, and shortly thereafter, satisfied the crack is safe, I head back to my car. I stop at one of the local bakeries for hot croissants and head home. After a hearty breakfast, I get my gear together and head back out back towards the launch site, where my friends and I have left our iceboats overnight.I drive down Lakeshore Road, and moments later I’m about to turn onto Cartier avenue again towards the ice when a police woman signals me to stop. I notice there’s a strip of yellow police tape blocking off Cartier. I lower my window and ask: “What’s the problem?”
“You can’t pass,” says the petite officer.“Why, what happened?”
“There’s been an accident. Please continue.” She waves me on.“But I have my iceboat down there. I…”
“No one is allowed to pass.”“Listen, just let me get my iceboat and I’ll be on my way. It will take me just a few minutes to load it onto my van.”
She seems doubtful at first, but since I look insistent, she grabs her VHF and calls her superior. After a brief exchange, she says: “okay. But make it quick.”She goes to the sidewalk, unfastens the yellow tape and waves me through.I start driving , arrive at the end of Cartier near the lake, and my jaw drops. Alongside the pier near the ice, there are two fire trucks, one ambulance and three police cars, red and blue lights flashing. A policeman is giving orders to two firefighters, who are busy removing a ladder from their fire truck. Two medics have taken a dolly from the rear of the ambulance and are lifting its sides into place. I look towards the ice and see two firefighters next to a fiberglass toboggan at the edge of the ice. A diver in a wetsuit is standing by, and his oxygen tanks are about to get loaded onto the toboggan by another firefighter. A policeman is standing by overlooking the whole operation.
I get out of my van and walk up to the policeman: “what’s this about? What’s happening?”“You’ll have to ask the captain.” He turns and points to a tall man wearing a cap and giving orders to two other officers who have started unrolling a roll of yellow tape.
I walk up to the captain, who looks at me unsympathetically and says: “Oui?”
“I’ve come to pick up my iceboat” I say, pointing to my craft on the ice. What’s all this about?”
He leans over conspiratorially and says solemnly: “ C’est un suicide.”
“What?”“Yes, a suicide,” he says, pointing out towards the frozen lake.
“But that ice is over a foot thick. And how do you know it’s a suicide?”
“Well, you see, there was a funeral this morning, and the pallbearers saw this guy out there on the ice, digging, digging… and…”
Omygod I think, as I start to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
“..and when they came back out after the mass, he wasn’t there, so they called us.”
Oboy. “Tell me Capt., did they describe him?” I venture to ask.“ Yes. He was wearing a black parka, black pants and…” he stares at me intently,… “and a brown fur hat.” The captain’s brow creases into a frown as he exclaims: “ Oh ! ben tabarnak !!
(For those of you whose French is a little rusty, I assure you these are not words of endearment.)“I was just checking the ice…” I say, almost apologetically.
Moments later, he’s barking orders at the firefighters and other policemen, and they all retreat towards their respective vehicles, pack up their gear and leave. I try to look sympathetic and not burst out laughing as the captain gets into his car, slams the door and drives off.
It turned out to be a perfect day for…. iceboating.
For those of you interested in finding out more about iceboating, try googling:
Montreal Iceboating Association, Facebook page
New England Ice Yacht Racing Association
International DN Ice Yacht Racing Association