Most people with several world and national championships under their belt can name their titles off the top of their heads. Not Ron Sherry. When asked if he can name all the iceboating championships he’s won, the Clinton Township sailor can only reply, “more or less.”
After some thought, he came up with five world championships in the DN class of iceboats and one junior DN world championship, and world championships in the Skeeter and Renegade classes of iceboats.
Oh, and there were 11 DN North American championships and two DN European championships.
“A couple of Canadian nationals, the Russian nationals, a Siberia cup…,” he said
Sherry has been one of the best, perhaps the best American iceboat sailor for the past couple of decades. After all these years, his mop of red hair is sprouting gray, but his quick smile hasn’t changed.
“It doesn’t make sense that a guy like me could have done as well as I have,” Sherry said. “I don’t think I’m that smart a guy, but I definitely have a passion for the sport.”
Iceboating is unique to the northern U.S., Canada and northern Europe. One of the most popular classes is the DN, which is sailed internationally and still is based on the design that won a Detroit News iceboat design contest in the winter of 1936-37.
“My dad got me into iceboating when I was real small, and he was working on the iceboat in the shop. I was always out there trying to help. I thought they were just cool, rocket machines,” Sherry said.
The speed and acceleration is the most addictive part of it. I’ve heard of a DN clocked at 90 miles per hour.
— Ron Sherry
Contrary to summer sailing, where boats typically travel at less than the speed of the wind, an iceboat can travel at about six times the speed of the wind.
“The speed and acceleration is the most addictive part of it,” Sherry said. “I’ve heard of a DN clocked at 90 miles per hour, and Skeeters and Renegades are faster.”
Sailing an iceboat means taking a running start and pushing the boat to get it going. The drivers hop in and lie on their backs with their head tilted up so they can see to steer. Then it’s time to trim the sails and go for speed, with nothing more than a helmet and skill for protection. Perfect conditions are smooth, black ice.
Sherry’s dad was a world iceboat champion. Today, Sherry’s son, Griffin, 20, is following in his dad’s footsteps. Last year, Griffin won the B fleet in the North American championships, while dad Ron won the A fleet.
Like his father before him, Griffin is happy being just like his dad.
“I look up to him. I think he’s the most wonderful person in the world,” Griffin said.
“I like his personality; I like how he talks to people, how he handles certain things. I really like iceboating and all that, but I think the memories we’ve made iceboating are just priceless.”
Summer doesn’t stop Sherry from sailing. He’s sailed with Bill Alcott on five different boats all named Equation for the past quarter of a century; Sherry is the helmsman. Equation is a multiple Mackinac race winner and holds championships in several other national and international races. Sherry also won the national championship in his own Thistle class sailboat.
“He’s got great focus, a lot of energy, a natural feel and a feel for speed being an iceboater,” said Equation crewmember, Stu Argo, who includes the America’s Cup in his own long sailing résumé.
When he’s not sailing, Sherry owns Composite Concepts in Clinton Township. Building iceboats and iceboat components are 90 percent of his business. He also does custom composite work for the marine industry.
“Sailing,” Sherry said. “It’s just what I belong doing.
“I love it. It’s home for me.”
Peggy Walsh-Sarnecki is a sailing enthusiast and retired Detroit Free Press reporter.