History of the DN

Early history of the DN (Blue Streak 60) Iceboat

by: Paul Goodwin

I was lucky enough to befriend one of the original builders of the DN iceboat, Don Daller. Don was a great guy, always cheerful, and came to every swap meet with a box full of early pictures and articles about iceboating. When he finally got to where he could no longer carry his iceboat to the ice, he sold me his boat and transferred the sail number to me. I'm proud to sail with number 46, and will always remember Don.

Later, as Don's health started failing, he asked me to take posession of his collection of iceboat articles. For several years I brought the binders to swap meets, but the pages were getting old and some of the articles ended up missing. I always wanted to preserve some of those articles, and this is a start.

What we call the DN Iceboat started out with humble beginnings at the Detroit News hobby shop in the mid 1930's. The original design was a collaboration between master woodworker Archie Arrol and iceboaters Joseph Lodge and Norman Jarrait. Times were tough, with the US in a deep depression, and most iceboats were expensive toys of the rich and famous.

Joe Lodge and Norm Jarrait saw a need for an inexpensive, home-buildable iceboat that could be built out of common lumber and simple hardware. They designed the new iceboat so one person could load it on the roof of a car, or fit it in the bed of a pickup truck. It was Joe Lodge's idea to make the new iceboat a front-steerer. They called their boat the Blue Streak 60.

Archie, who was the head of the Detroit News hobby shop and had been building model yachts for years, worked with Joe and Norm in 1936 to build the first Blue Streak 60.

Archie Arrol at work in the Detroit News hobby shop

The first Blue Streak performed very well, especially in light wind. On the first day out on Lake St. Clair in the winter of '36, while the big boats like Deuce, Bernida, and Flying Dutchman couldn't move, the Blue Streak surprised the other iceboaters the way she could sail with hardly any wind.

A Blue Streak 60 on Lake St. Clair

In 1937 a group of about 50 wanna-be iceboaters got together at the Detroit News hobby shop, and for the sum of $32 were supplied with all the materials needed to build a Blue Streak 60, including a sail built by Howard Boston. In those days, $32 was a lot of money, at the time Don Daller was working for $0.50 an hour, three days a week. They scrounged parts where they could - the steering was accomplished with '34 Ford brake rods, rigging was galvanized steel wire from the local hardware store, no swaged fittings here - the wires were twisted into loops and soldered for security. The mast didn't have a halyard, you simply cleated the sail at the top and bottom of the mast and stood the whole rig up on the boat. The mast had a cut-off lag bolt in the bottom which fit into a hole in the deck - no ball and socket needed. Runners were angle iron on white oak bodies.

Unfortunately most of the boats built in 1937 broke up in the first season due to some design deficiencies. Joe and Norm redesigned the Blue Streak 60, and the same group of builders got together to build a second set of iceboats in 1938. Some of the '38 boats are still around, and at least one still gets out on the lake occasionally. As seen in the picture below, sailors in the early days didn't even take off the plank for transport! Also note the front runner, the second set of runners the group built (the first set were angles) were T-irons.

Some interesting things to note on the original "DN" (see the picture below):

  • There was originally only one sheet block on the rear deck of the Blue Streak - a 2:1 mainsheet purchase. Later another block was added to the boom to make a 3:1 puchase, and then eventually a second block on the deck for 4:1 - the same as on todays DN.
  • The mainsheet went through a single turning block on the mast, not on the boom or tiller post, and no ratchet block!
  • The mainsheet didn't provide any downhaul on the luff of the sail, instead the luff rope went through a hole in the boom jaw and was tied to a cleat.

Over the years the design was modified at the whim of the builders, and the name was changed to the DN 60. A group of DN sailors got together in 1953 at Clifford Cartwright's house on Cass Lake and outined a Constitution. The first Specifications were drawn up on the wall of Cartwright's basement shop, where many of the original specs are still evident today.

Note this winning Blue Streak 60 with curved deck, and enclosed cockpit

Bill Sarns drew up the first set of "modern" plans and the DN class adopted them as the Official Plans. Other design changes slowly made their way into the DN. Some changes stood the test of time, while others faded into history, like Chuck Cartwright's mini runner on the tail block - a solution to a problem caused by the ultra-flexible planks favored at the time.

The next big change was inspired by Jan Gougeon - which moved the widest point of the hull from the middle (just behind the mast step) to the plank. The Gougeon "wedge" design has been the basis for all other DN designs since it's introduction. Actually Jan's design was preceded by Chuck Cartwright's "Banjo Boat", which was narrow all the way to the front of the cockpit, then flaired out around the skipper. Chuck won the Annual Regatta (now the North American Championship) with the Banjo Boat, but was disqualified because the design was too radical.

Here is a partial list of the first builders of the Blue Streak. The list is not complete, but it's the only record I could find...

Boat # Boat Name Builder/Skipper
9 Skram Joe Schermack
11 Defensor Jack Moran
21 Blue Hue Walter Katz
32 Venus Maurice Robinson
38   Warren Dowling
46 Dawn Don Daller
65   Ralph Soden / Leo Kerwin
    Al Pochelon
  Scotty Howard MacDougall
    Merle (Herb) Chandler
    Norman J Nicholl
    Art Neffy
  Hody Howard Ternes
    Russ Johnson
    George Armstrong

I managed to locate a vintage set of blueprints for the original Blue Streak 60 and scanned them. With much labor, I was able to restore the scans to near perfect condition. For an insight into how the original DN was built, check out the scans below...

Original Blue Streak 60 blueprints - circa 1938

Note: These blueprints are reproduced to provide an historic perspective to the modern DN. Under no circumstances should a person build an iceboat using these plans in the 21st century.

Click on the image to see a LARGE version (over 2 MB each)
Blue Streak - sheet 1

Blue Streak - sheet 2

A Brief History of the DN Ice Boat

by Don Daller (the original DN 46)

The March 1996 edition of Runner Tracks took me back to 1937. (Please tell Richard Saltonstall it wasn’t 1939!)

I have not seen anything like a history of the DN published in Runner Tracks, or a library book published of DN history. Several books have been published about the big Rear Steerers racing the trains along the Hudson River a hundred years ago, and I read them over to experience the thrills of sailing on ice. Now I will try to compose a short history of the DN as I remember it.

In 1934, I had my first iceboat ride in a homemade Rear Steerer in Minneapolis. I almost froze to death because I was not dressed for it, but the "bug bit me." In the fall of 1937, the Detroit News published an article in the Sports Section asking for volunteers to attend a workshop for several nights. Each volunteer was to build an iceboat called a DN-60, a one-person boat with 60 square feet of sail. About 50 men and teen-aged boys signed up and agreed to attend and use the Detroit News carpentry shop above the garage to cut wood, bend iron, glue sections of fir, build jigs and fixtures, help each other and listen to Archie Arroll, the teacher, etc. The cost would be about $50 (a lot of money in those depression days since we were working for about $0.50 an hour only three days a week.) In a few months, we would be iceboating four days a week.....HOORAY!!!

The $50 would include all the wood, sail, foundry-poured castings for runner chocks, steering posts, etc. 1934 Ford steering rods could be salvaged at auto junk yards. We learned a lot from Archie, Art Jarrett and Joe Lodge, as sponsors and helpers. They carefully purchased supplies and helped guide us in building the fleet of 1937 DN’s.

The boats were ready to sail by the time the winter ice had formed, and we all took off for Lake St. Clair by tying the boats to the top of the cars. (Oodles of Fun!) Races were held each weekend at the foot of Crocker Boulevard. But, our first winter found most every boat incapacitated -- hull sideboards cracked, guy wires snapped, masts broken, runners split, runner planks split, etc. Basically, there was a mess of broken lumber. Arroll, Jarrett and Lodge went back to the drawing boards to re-design and strengthen each part in order to start another class the following year. Needless to say, we all went back for more!! 

The new boats were much sturdier and survived the punishment we gave them. In fact, my boat which is 58 years old still sails on an inland lake every winter. Some features have been adjusted due to age, turn overs, spills, falling masts, etc. But it sails! And gives rides to kids! Since my boat is stored under a porch and exposed to weather damage, it is not in excellent shape. A large crack developed in the runner plank, but Tom Hamill of White Lake, Michigan, skillfully repaired it.

Archie Arroll assigned numbers to each of the first 50 boats and I got #46. I guess I didn’t have much money that week to buy numbers and DN letters, and pay a sailmaker to sew them on my sail. So I cut out the numbers in plywood, painted them black and tacked them onto the hull sides, where they are now. Now I see that the IDNIYRA, which did not know I had #46, has given my number to Ken Devisser of Matawa, Michigan. I can truly say that Mike Griffith, DN US 859, would have a fit if he saw another boat fly by with his boat number, as he states in his article about Viewpoints on page 12 of the March 1996 Runner Tracks regarding retiring boat numbers.

Thrills of iceboating days: first ride...first ride on your own boat....first rides of your three sons....first ride for your wife alone....seeing some iceboat videos on TV unexpectedly. I have cut out pictures from newspapers and magazines for 59 years and have ten albums of pictures and articles which give me more thrills every time I read them. At 85, my feet and hands get too cold to be out long. Guess my circulation is slowing down.

Hope this is interesting to you if you have gotten this far. See you on the ice someday.

The DN Iceboat

by Don Daller - DN 46

Iceboating is without question the fastest way to sail and iceboat racing is a very exciting way to race. If you live where the lakes or ocean near you freezes, you can sail all year round. For many of us winter becomes the season we look forward to most.

There are a few common misconceptions about the sport. Many people think sailable ice only occurs once in a while. When the lake you see every day still has ducks on it or is under a foot or snow, you can often find another pond, lake or bay in your area that has sailable ice. In many areas you can sail on half to three quarters of the winter weekends. Portability of the boat is important.

People often wonder if it is possible to be warm on a windy, 20 degree day. We sail in temperatures down to about zero degrees Fahrenheit. Being warm at these temperatures in apparent winds as high as 60 mph is just a matter of dressing for it.

The sport is safe if you know what you are doing and are careful. There are lots of ways to get hurt in any craft that is capable of 60+ mph. When people get in trouble, it is usually because they don't follow the safety rules.

Ice comes in many forms, some if which are very safe and some very dangerous. Iceboating safely requires understanding of ice conditions, sailing skill and good judgment. Sailing with experienced sailors is usually the best way to learn.

There are a few commercially produced boats and several types you can build yourself. For most people, the best answer is to build or buy a DN. It is by far the most popular and widely raced boat world wide.

Some people think they need a two man boat. If you are primarily interested in taking friends for rides, a two man boat may be a good choice. If you are more interested in sailing, build a side car for your DN for those times you want to give someone a ride.

If you are thinking of sharing a two man boat, consider building two DNs instead. It will cost about the same. In anything other than heavy wind, a two man boat is faster with only one person in it and will tend to get sailed solo.

The DN was designed in 1936 to be easy to build, light enough to be easily transported, iceworthy and inexpensive. The modern DN still meets these tenants although it has evolved considerably over the last 50 years. The cost to build one has evolved to, from about $25 in 1937 to about $1800 now. It takes most home builders a month of part time work to build a DN. (See supplier list)

The DN gets its name from the Detroit News newspaper. In 1937 the newspaper donated their wood shop to build the first fleet of 15 DNs. Some of them are still sailing today.

The DN is light (portable) and quick to set up. It is a high performance boat but isn't so fast that it needs a huge piece of ice. You do not need to be a 20 year old Olympic athlete to be competitive. Many of the fastest sailors are in their 50's and 60's. The DN is a reasonably strict one design boat so this years winner will not be next years barge.

Most sailors find racing offers the most challenging and exciting aspect of the sport. The International DN Ice Yacht Racing Association (IDNIYRA) was formed in 1953 to promote DN racing. The IDNIYRA sponsors the DN North American and World Championship regattas. The class has approximately 1000 members in North American and another 1000 members in Europe. Annual dues are US$25.00.

The Association publishes several newsletters and a yearbook each year. The IDNIYRA Yearbook contains the Official Specifications, membership lists and a local club listing among other things. The current newsletter and yearbook will be sent with membership.

If there is a club in your area, contact them. They can offer ice condition information, racing programs and building advice. If you do not have a club near by, call iceboaters that are in your area. You can find their phone numbers in the yearbook.

IDNIYRA offers a great iceboating publication. "Think Ice Millenium Edition" is a 100 page book on all aspects of DN sailing and iceboating in general.

Sail numbers are issued through IDNIYRA for US$10.00. Sail numbers are not required unless you plan to race. Many people get their own sail number when they buy their first new sail.

DN building plans are available through the IDNIYRA treasurer's office in either metric or US measurements. The cost is US$15.00.

Editor: updated August 1, 2002 to reflect current prices for IDNIYRA services