Sailors ready for ice boating contest — only question is, where?

Former Olympic sailor John Curtis is gearing up for this month's international ice yacht championship — and hoping the competition comes back to Kingston, Ont.

Venue for Jan. 22-28 Worlds competition still a mystery

John Curtis takes a spin on Colonel By Lake near Kingston Mills, Ont., as part of his training for an upcoming ice yacht competition. (submitted by Réjean Lemay)

Former Olympic sailor John Curtis is dreaming of taking his boat out on Lake Ontario so he can zoom past his competition at 100 km/h — all while lying flat on his back, 30 centimetres from the lake's frozen surface. 

"If you were a race car driver, you would love ice boating," Curtis explained from his Kingston, Ont., workshop. 

It's been more than a decade since Curtis competed for Canada at the Athens Olympics. Now, even as a full-time lawyer, he can't stay away from the water.

Ice yachts, he says, are "much, much faster" than traditional sailing because there's very little friction.

"Imagine driving along the 401 with no windshield and your head a foot from the tarmac. It's pretty exhilarating. The sense of speed is even greater than in a car because of that."

Plus, Curtis said, the rails on ice yachts catch the ice in a way that allows for tight turns even at high speeds.

Championship locale 'a bit of a mystery'

Later this month, fans and anyone curious about the sport will get the chance to see Curtis join more than 100 athletes from Canada, the U.S. and parts of Europe for this year's international ice yacht championship — if they can find it.

"The location of the Worlds is a bit of a mystery," said Curtis. "That's because it's very important to have the right conditions." 
Curtis says the ice yacht competition in Kingston in 2015 was a huge success. (Frédéric Pepin/CBC)

While organizers have started scouting locations, Eric Anderson, the commodore for the ice racing association, said a final decision won't be made until next Wednesday — less than a week before the competition begins. 

The world championship alternates between North America and Europe each year. In 2015, Curtis competed on home ice in Kingston, Ont., and he hopes it will be there again. 

The only problem? There's still no ice on the lake. 

Return to Canada unlikely

"If we have good ice, it will be here," said Curtis.

But Curtis admits that will take some ideal weather conditions: at least two days without any wind, with temperatures staying below -10 C.

Anderson said that's pretty unlikely, although it's still possible the competition will end up north of the border — either on the Bay of Quinte or near Montreal, right off the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Both Anderson and Curtis thought Madison, WI, is the safest bet.

John Curtis spent 16 years on Canada's national sailing team and competed at the 2004 Athens Olympics. (submitted by Réjean Lemay)

Regardless of the weather, Curtis said competitors will make it work. 

"We're often sort of at the side of the road, kind of parked at the side of some highway, trudging through a field, out to a patch of ice," he says. "They'll do that if they have too."

The competition runs from Jan. 22-28.

with files from Frédéric Pepin


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