Close call with weak ice at Fun Regatta

“O Shit! I’ve got to get my trailer off the ice!,” Dick Wollam said after hearing a dull cracking sound as he watched his trailer’s wheels become awash.

I was rigging my DN about 1pm on a clear Sunday afternoon March 12 at Houghton Lake’s east side DNR launch when the launch-area ice began to fail under the weight of parked trailers.

Don Jones got his 2×12 plank from his trailer, and together with Wollam’s, a bridge was made across the water between the ramp and ice. Six trailers were quickly removed by¬†commodore Dean Runk, Don and Dick. A close call averted, trailers safely ashore, Runk and Jones went back out to enjoy the day.

What happened? The overnight low was 13 degrees, and at 1 pm it was 24 degrees. Ice is typically strong given those temperatures. When I walked on the ice it made a dull thud settling sound, not the usual “Crack!’ you hear. When the ice is strong it goes “Crack!’ When weak, it goes “Kalumpf,” breaking without rebounding.

Strong ice flexes and resumes its pre-loaded level. When weak, ice settles under the weight of the load and does not rebound. Think now- shallow bowl. Think impending disaster.

Look at the ice that came ashore in blocks in the Mlive.com story posted March 22. Observe its Styrofoam-like texture and crystallized deterioration. Weak! Weak! Weak!

We are lucky Fun Regatta host Wollam was at the launch when he was. It was a warming sunny early spring day at a launch on the north side of a bay receiving intense ultraviolet energy.

Had all sailors been on the course, they may have returned to find six trailers on the bottom of Houghton Lake.

Tip offs to this condition were the heavy rain, thaw, wind and sun the previous weeks. We experienced similar weather here in Muskegon County. Houghton Lake’s ice usually sturdy as can be and more than one-foot thick in March — it deteriorates and fails as all ice does.

Fortunately, those on the race course had no safety issues with the ice. As always, wind is most important when the ice is safe. The racers sailed until the wind faded away about 3 pm.

Morale of the story: don’t park your vehicles on the ice after severe thaw, wind and sun even though the weather has turned bitterly cold .

Randy Rogoski, DN US 4192
a past WMIYC commodore

Posted in Ice conditions

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