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By Dan Beard


Do you Pioneers know how to make and use skating wings or a skate sail?  If not-well, here is the way to make them, and when you learn to use them you'll have some of the best and raciest sport you ever had. 

In the first place, we need some cloth, linen, cotton, silk, or bed sheeting from which to make our "white wings." As I do not know just what cloth you have available, I will suppose it to be a heavy twill sheeting two yards wide, known as unbleached Atlantic A. If you can cut the cloth so as to make the selvage form the edge of the sail it will save us a lot of hem stitching. 

I have a pattern of a winning sail which is twelve feet long in the center and nine feet at the base, and I have made my diagrams with these proportions. This is intended for a five-foot boy. 

To make what I call the Erie sail, but which the Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue calls the "Dan-Beard" sail, cut your cloth on the bias, as shown by the line A B on Fig. 396. We must so cut this line A B that it will make the two halves of the sail and the base, or bottom, of each half will measure a little over four and one-half feet, to allow for the overlap, so that when they are sewed together along the center line, the sail will then measure nine feet at the base. After cutting through the line A B, take the top piece (A B C), lift it up, and turn it over so that B on the top piece is at A on the bottom piece. This will make a triangle of cloth the shape of Fig. 397. The overlap will make a deep hem down the center. This gives you the selvage on two sides of the triangle. 

Next spread your sail flat on the floor and measure from the Center hem (D, Fig. 397, 20) each way along the edge of

tbp396.gif (2723 bytes)
Fig. 396.
Cut the Cloth This Way and Save Labor

the sail one foot nine inches, and mark the two points X and Y, which will be three feet six inches apart. Now measure back from A and B along the selvage one and four-fifth inches, and mark these two points A E and B F (Fig. 397, 20). Cut your piece of cloth off from E to X and from F to Y, that is, cut off the piece A X E and F Y B. 

You are now ready to turn back the edge of the sail and make the hem, which will make the big end of the sail slightly curved. This we do to allow for the spring of the spars when the sails are tightly set. The sail may be lashed to the gaff d (C D, Fig. 397) by simply running a stout line through the hem and around the gaff from C to D, and making it fast at the two ends of the stick. But we are going to do it in ship-shape order, so we will procure a number of metal eyelets, known as grommets. Set them in the sail a foot apart, but leave greater space where the hand will come at B on Fig. 397. The point of the sail, or apex of the triangle, must be reinforced by sewing a stout piece of triangular cloth to each side of the sail, as shown in Figs. 397, 17 and 397, 18. On one side of this triangle we put a piece of strap with a buckle; on the other side we sew a piece of strap with holes, as shown by Fig. 397, 17. 

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Fig. 397.
Diagrams of All the parts of the Erie Sail

Fig. 397, 18 shows the view of the edge of the sail, the pieces of strap being indicated by black lines, and between them are the two pieces of cloth, and sandwiched between the two pieces of cloth is the sail itself. The spreader (L Q, Figs. 397 and 397, 19) crosses the center boom at a point five feet aft of the gaff (C D). To hold the spreader in place, sew on two small pieces of drilling (M and N) leaving a space in the center under which the spreader may be slid. At L and Q sew on two pieces of leather each of which has a button-hole cut in it, as shown in Fig. 397. Your sail is now finished, and we must make the spars to fit the sail. 

The boy who formerly won all the skate-sailing races at Toledo used the socket of the handle-bar of a bicycle, through which he ran the gaff (D C) and into the socket of which he fitted the end of the boom (A B) at B. When this was done and the spreader put in place, he tightened the sail with the straps shown in Figs. 397, 17 and 397, 18. But another skate sailor has given his name to this arrangement, and it is called the " Joelewis "; but in the real " Joelewis" the triangular piece and the straps shown in Figs. 397, 17 and 397, 18, are fastened with copper rivets in place of being sewn together. 

The spars to the Erie sail are all made of white fish-pole bamboo, or, as it was formerly called, fish-pole cane. This is a very strong and light material for spars, but is liable to split and crack, especially at the ends. To prevent this, wrap the ends with pieces of metal. Melt the solder from an old tomato-can and knock it apart; unroll the side piece; spread it upon a board and hammer it out flat with a hammer. Now cut it to the proper size to fit, around your spar; it can be cut with a pair of old shears. When you fit it around the spar see that it overlaps half an inch or so; then spread it out again upon a board, and fold over the two raw edges, as shown in Fig. 397, 9. 

Each of these folds should be a quarter of an inch wide, and the two quarters will make up for the half-inch which you allowed for the overlap. Hammer the fold down flat then, with a wire nail punch holes in it, as shown in Fig. 397, 10. Now wrap the end of your spar with the tin, as in Figs. 397, 3, 5, 8, 11, 12, and 16. Tap it with your hammer until it hugs the rod closely and the metal edges fit evenly together, then take an awl or some similar instrument, run it through the holes punched in the tin, and carefully work it so as to start little holes through the hard surface of the bamboo underneath, after which take some staple-tacks (T, Fig. 397, 11) and drive them through the holes in the tin into the bamboo. This will join the edges of the tin and look as if they had been sewed together. 

Next whittle some wooden pegs of the form of the one shown in Fig. 397, 16. Make them so that they can be forced into the ends of the bamboo like corks into a bottle. Carefully drive all the wooden pegs into the open ends of the spars, and trim off the protruding parts with your knife, as shown in Fig. 397, 16. If you have no bicycle handle-bar socket into which your boom can fit at B, cover the center of the gaff (C D) with a piece of tin as you have the ends of the rest of your spars. 

Take a long screw and screw it into the plug of the boom (A B) at B (Fig. 397, 4). Now file off the head of the screw and make a hole through the tin and the bamboo of the spar (D C, Fig. 397) into which the head of the screw can fit. (See Fig. 397, 3.) At one end of your spar (D C) fasten a screw button, or knob, like the one shown at K (Fig. 397, 19), and you will have Fig. 397, 8. 

Next take a good, strong screw-eye and with the hatchet blade spread it apart at the joint, as shown in Fig. 397, 6. Through the openings slip the stout link of a chain or an iron ring of any kind, then hammer the parts together again, as shown in Fig. 397, 7. Now fasten the screw into the plug at the C end of the spar (D C, Fig. 397, 5). 

A loop of string in the end of the sail at D fits over the knob shown in Fig. 397, 8. The loose end of the string at the corner of the sail at C runs through the ring. By pulling on this string you tighten the sail and then make it fast. 

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Figs. 398-400. 
On the Wind Before the Wind Coming About

The spreader (Fig. 397, 19) is made of any sort of stout elastic wood with a couple of buttons screwed in it, as shown in the diagram. Slip the spreader through M, under the spar J B (Fig. 397), and through N, then fasten by bringing L and Q over and buttoning them to the buttons. Take your sail to the pond, lake, or river and practice with it until you can sail with the best of them. Fig. 398, A, shows one of these sails on the wind. The skater is going in the direction his toes point. 

Fig. 400 shows one of these sails before the wind. The skater is coming right at you. Fig. 399 shows a skater coming about. When you want to stop or change your course, come up so that you face the wind, at the same time raise your sail up over your head, as the one in Fig. 399 is doing, and as the one in the background has done. Then turn around and adjust yourself to the new course, bring down the sail so that the boom is on your shoulder, as in Fig. 398, A, and scoot along. Fig. 398, B, shows a square-sail pattern with a gaff at each end and a boom, the latter resting on the shoulder of the skater. 

Fig. 402 shows the double diamond first described by Colonel Norton and known as the "Norton" sail. 


tbp401.gif (16477 bytes)
Fig. 401.
The Cape Vincent

Fig. 401 shows the Old Cape Vincent sail, and Figs. 398, C, and 403 show the Mugglesee. 

tbp402.gif (15427 bytes)
Fig. 402.
The Norton before the Wind

With the Erie sail, as we have described it, a boy can hold his own even with an express train. If he sees danger ahead, all he has to do is to let go his sail and avoid the air- hole or obstruction, as any good skater can do without difficulty, and when the fun is over he slips his spars loose, rolls up the sail, puts it over his shoulder, and starts for home. Skate sailing is good fun on a small pond; it is sport on a little bigger body of ice, and is wildly, grandly exhilarating upon a wide expanse of ice. Make a sail and try it.

Sails Which Can Be Rolled Up and Carried Over One's Shoulder


tbp403.gif (8701 bytes)
Fig. 403.
The Mugglesee

Fig. 404 shows a lateen sail which may be carried on the shoulder of the skater, bound to his person only by the pressure of the wind and the grip of his hands. 

By unlashing the spreader, the sail maybe done up in a small roll for transportation, the spars being wrapped up in the canvas. 

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Fig. 404.
Lateen with Two Booms

Make the two yards, or booms, the same length, and let that length be governed by the dimensions of the yacht, i.e., the skater. This is best ascertained by experiment; take two cane-fish poles, tie the lower ends together, and hold them in the position of Fig. 404; you may thus judge the length of the spreader. 

Stout cane or bamboo will do for the spars, and even light cane may be made to answer the purpose if a number of spars are added, arranged like the ribs of a fan, making what canoe-men call a bat sail.

As the strength of the prevailing winds varies in different sections of the country, so must the strength of the spars vary--light for the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys and stout for the East and West. Screw-eyes may be fastened securely to the ends of the spars or small holes drilled through them for the line which is to lash the sail in place (Fig. 405).

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Fig. 405.
Double-Boom Lateen

As may be seen by Fig. 405, the sprit or spreader is made with a crotch at each end to hold the spars, and is also supplied with holes for twine with which to lash the sprit in place when spreading the two spars apart. 

If the spars are made of good, straight-grained wood let them be one and a half inches thick in the middle but somewhat lighter at the ends. After they are finished put the spreader in place, lash the two lower ends together and lay them over sail-cloth on the floor, and cut the sail according to the pattern thus made. When cutting the sheeting allow enough margin for a wide hem; also make some triangular pieces to reinforce the clews (corners), where loops of stout twine must be sewed. Use any cloth suitable for canoe sails; heavy twilled sheeting is possibly the best. Brightly colored sails always present a charming appearance on the ice. 

tbp405c.gif (33616 bytes)

The sails may be white with colored bands or wholly white with the private insignia of the owner cut from "Turkey red" and stitched in one corner. A properly made sail should have eyelets sewed in the hem about six inches apart along the spar lines, but some authorities say that the eyes of common hooks and eyes make a good substitute. It is possible to lash the sail to the spars by passing the twine through holes punched in the hem; but such un-workman-like sails are only excusable when one's time is limited.

tbp405d.gif (9984 bytes)
The Dane with Topsail Up

A bunch of parti-colored ribbons makes an appropriate pennant for a skate sail and looks gay streaming-in the wind. Fortunately the falls one gets when going at high speed are almost invariably sliding falls and seldom result in bruises or even scratches. In picking up your sail in a stiff breeze hold it up over your head and face the wind. A roofer on one of the sky-scrapers in New York City lost his life by not observing this rule; he stood to the leeward as he picked up a sheet of copper, and, despite his frantic efforts to save himself, was blown from the roof. Fortunately in your case the worst that can happen is a tumble on the ice. 

Of course it is understood that small ponds and rinks, however handy they may be for figure-skating, are not the proper field for skate sailing. I have had so many inquiries regarding the proper location of the sort of ice field for skate sailing that it is well to state here that the frozen inlets and bays along Long Island shores, the Hudson River, and the small lakes with which this country abounds are all good fields for the skate sailor. 

Mr. Langdon Gibson, a fellow- member of the Camp Fire Club of America, who was with Lieutenant Peary on one of his polar expeditions, tells me that even in that country the skating is good, and in early winter smooth, black ice extends along the coast for miles and miles as far as the eye will reach, forming an ideal skating field, which, for extent, smoothness, and safety, surpasses anything in the United States. From which we see the skate-sailor's field extends from the polar seas down to the neighborhood of Mason and Dixon's line, and, at times, some distance below it. I learned to skate in the State of Kentucky, and, as far as my memory goes, we had better skating there than is usual around New York City, where the snow so often covers the ice. Along the Ohio River the mercury at times drops below zero, which all must allow is cold enough for skate sailing.

See Also:


Skate Sailing


More Skate Sail Plans

 Winter Gear & Clothing

Winter Games

Winter Activities

The Boy Pioneers






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Last modified: October 15, 2016.