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Updated 5:30 PM January 20, 2005




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Spotlight: Come (brrr!) sail away

On a cold January morning in Michigan, Jeremy Herr does the unusual: He sets sail.
(Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services)

With his boating buddies and equipment in tow, Herr arrives in the early morning at Sand Lake—situated about 50 miles southwest of Ann Arbor—and prepares his craft and himself for a day of iceboating.

Herr, a project associate for Professor Homer Neal in the Physics Department, has captained some sort of watercraft year-round since he began graduate studies here in 1999. A native of Oklahoma, he says it took only a week to become a fan of this pleasant peninsula.

"Basically, the first thing I did when I came to Michigan was sign up for the U-M Sailing Club. Within a week of getting here, I was sailing for the first time," he says. "I was so excited about being on the water. It was the greatest thing ever."

When fellow sailors and U-M graduates Jim Rennell, James Klaas and Carey Jones discovered an unused iceboat in the Sailing Club's boathouse, their interest was piqued.

The friends soon discovered that lack of adequate insurance coverage prevented the team from being able to take the boat out for wintry spins. So, after buying the boat from the team for a hefty $1, Herr and others prepped their two-man craft for her—and their—blustery maiden voyage.

"At first, I was really surprised by how fast you can go. You can get it up to 60 miles per hour, and that's pretty insane," Herr says, holding the motorcycle helmet he wears while riding in his iceboat.

The boat, a small sailboat-like craft built of wood, rides on runners. During sails, Herr says it is important to monitor the boat constantly to make sure all is shipshape.

"When we're out there, we're constantly checking to make sure that everything's oiled and bolts are tight, because you build your iceboat yourself, so things get loose from time to time," he says.

This winter, Herr says he and his friends might head out a handful of times, depending on ice conditions. He vows that they'll be safer than in years past. Herr recalls one ride on Lake Erie, during which he and a friend hit water and had to dive out of the sinking boat.

"It was fun, but then it got pretty unsafe. If we hadn't jumped out in time, who knows what could have happened?" he says.

When the winter months are over and the weather gets warmer, Herr takes to the lakes again for windsurfing and sailing. In all his pastimes, Herr says it's about having fun without leaving a mess.

"I guess you could say there's an environmental side to what I do," he says. "All the sports I do don't require engines and machines, they're not gas-powered. Everything I use relies on nature for its energy. I think it's incredible that you can get that much speed or that much power just out of the wind."

The lakes aren't quite ready for iceboating yet this winter, but in the meantime Herr promises to find some way to keep himself busy outdoors. He prefers the snow and ice to a warm blanket and a remote control any day.

"I don't have a TV. It boggles my mind how anyone has time for it. Why wouldn't you rather be outside?" he says.

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