It sounds like an action-packed Hollywood flick but in frozen Poland, this adventure sport is an exhilarating reality - in the middle of Poland's largest lake covered by ice, about a hundred enthusiastic 'speed demons' zip across the frozen surface in special sail boats on blades.
Sleek and built to race, the narrow boat hulls are fixed on a base of three gleaming blades and sports sails like those used in windsurfing to harness wind power and roar across frozen water.
Advertisement"It's the speed that gives you an adrenaline rush," says Tomasz Zakrzewski, ranked number fourth in the world in the DN class ice boat racing.
Sailing on ice is his passion.
"Among the disciplines that use wind and sails, it is the fastest. We sail at three times the speed of the wind," he said on a recent day when despite low winds, ice boats were cruising at 100 kilometres (62 miles) per hour.
"The manoeuvres have to be made very quickly, much faster than on a conventional sail boat and its much more exciting," he says.
Flying may be the best word to describe the high-speed sport where the unofficial record hovers around 140 kilometres per hour.
"The Poles are Europe's leaders in the sport. During the last DN-class championships in St. Petersburg from January 16 to 23, four of the top five competitors were Polish," says number four Tomasz Zakrzewski. His brother Lukasz won the silver in the competition.
Zakrzewski was one of dozens of ice boaters who competed in the Mazurian Cup, Poland's leading ice boat competition held in late January on the 114-kilometre surface of the shallow and fast freezing Lake Sniardwy.
He placed sixth this week at the 2009 IDNIYRA World Gold Cup Championships held in Traverse City and Torch Lake, both in the US state of Michigan. His brother Lukasz took fifth spot.
Clad in protective goggles and crash helmets, ice boat competitors also wear neon-coloured life jackets just in case the ice cracks.
"It's the rule but there's no danger -- the ice sheet is more than 20 centimetres (nearly eight inches) thick," explains Grzegorz Hammerszmidt, an ice boat coach in Poland's northern-eastern lake resort town Mikolajki.
"A 12-centimetre sheet of ice is enough to let kids go fly on it," says Hammerszmidt, who coaches children as young as seven in ice boating, or ice yachting, as the sport is also known.
Though reminiscent of windsurfing or sailboarding, ice boating is not new, said to have originated in The Netherlands in the 18th century.
Prior to World War II, pilots in the German air force or Luftwaffe practised the discipline as part of their aerodynamics training on the Mazurian lakes in what was then East Prussia, now north-east Poland.
"The speed that can be reached on the lakes allowed the pilots to become accustomed to the wind and master its currents," explains Hammerszmidt.
"To get a 'black' ice surface without a snow cover, pilots would dam the Sapina river to gather water and then break it, allowing the water to flood onto the frozen Lake Swiecajty. They made a magnificent surface this way, as smooth as an ice rink," he says.
In 1966, Dutchman Wim Van Acker acquainted Poles with the DN class ice boat invented in the United States in 1937 and named after the Detroit News, a newspaper in the Michigan port city of the same name, which ran a competition for a model iceboat.
The DN rapidly became the most popular model in Poland where the sport has attracted a thousand or so enthusiasts. And with a DN boat costing around 7,500 euros (9,700 dollars) the sport does not come cheap.
Global warming poses perhaps the greatest danger to the future of ice boating.
"Winters are more and more unstable. But for the time being we still get more or less two months of ice," Zakrzewski says.
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