This was then: The Ice Yachts

Photos of long ago Martha’s Vineyard.

Four iceboats on Tashmoo, including Capt. Hartson Bodfish's (far left) and Dr. Orland Mayhew’s (second from left), about 1930. Courtesy of Chris Baer

Before the 1938 hurricane (and the subsequent dredging of a wide, permanent channel into Vineyard Sound), Tashmoo was mostly fresh water and prone to freezing over mid-winter with a layer of ice more than six inches thick. A popular spot for ice-skating, Tashmoo was also home to a more unusual sport: iceboating.

As the Boston Globe wrote in 1898, “There is probably no place this side of the Hudson where there is as much interest taken in ice yachting as on the island of Martha’s Vineyard.” That winter, 11 ice boats regularly raced each other: Dude (Arthur C. Francis) and Diabo (Frank C. Tripp), considered the fastest of the fleet that year; Tricksey (Frank and George Golart); Blue Bird (Carlton Lair); Fanny (Leroy Lair); Foranaft (Dr. Edward Roth); Game Cock (Charles Brown) and Skip Jack (John Randolph.)  Dude and Tricksey suffered a serious collision in 1897, breaking the leg of Dude’s owner.

A new generation of iceboaters ventured out in the 1920s and early 30s, including Dr. Orland S. Mayhew, William E. Dugan, Frank Bodfish, Frank Swift, Charles “Duffy” Vincent, Morton Vincent, John “Crocker” Andrews, Benjamin C. Crowell, Rodney Cleveland, and Capt. Hartson Bodfish. Vineyard Haven resident Walter Renear (1925-2002) recalled, “[Hartson] Bodfish’s and Mayhew’s were big boats with large cockpits capable of holding six to eight people. I was a passenger many times in both.”

Today, Tashmoo is a saltwater estuary; it is very dangerous to venture out on any ice that forms.

Chris Baer teaches photography and graphic design at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. He’s been collecting vintage photographs for many years.