By Adrienne Perron
Photographed by Tara Rice
From our March 2023 issue
In the winter, Stacey Keefer obsessively checks satellite images, keeps tabs on Maine’s coldest temperatures, and scopes out ice on ponds and lakes near her home, in Union. She’s a wing sailor looking for perfect conditions — and she’s also an ice nerd. “Ice bubbles and wanes and creates different features,” she says. “I call it ice art.”
Her partner, Scott Carlson, taught 52-year-old Keefer how to wing sail on Nordic skates (with their long, detachable blades, forgiving on imperfect ice) using a kitewing — a lightweight, handheld sail. “It’s like flying,” she says. Maybe a dozen others wing sail north of Portland, Keefer estimates, and she’s met most: where there’s black ice and 10 to 15 knots of wind, they come flocking.
She met Warren’s Tim Hynd on Rockport’s Grassy Pond. Hynd, who’s 47, picked up wing sailing four years ago. These days, he and Keefer and a handful of other wing-sailing pals share information about ice conditions around the state. While perfect conditions aren’t common, Keefer, Carlson, and Hynd still get out on the ice almost every weekend, even if they have to drive a few hours (or sail on snowy ice with Nordic skis instead of skates). “Every day you go out is so different,” Hynd says. “You don’t know until you go.”
Keefer and Hynd always check the thickness of ice using probe sticks and hatchets, and they always wear helmets and ice picks around their necks in case they need to self-rescue. But the precautions aside, using a wing sail is not particularly hard, Hynd says. The wings are used to sail up- or downwind using similar techniques as sailing a boat. Whenever Keefer loses control, she just lets go. “The sail just lands like a paper airplane,” she says.
When the ice is prime, Keefer likes to glide at 25 miles per hour; Hynd’s goal is to break 50 miles per hour this year. Sometimes, the goal is only to tour, and Keefer’s and Hynd’s addiction to the sport has taken them all around the state on skates, from Megunticook to Moosehead.
“I don’t fish, so in the winter, I get to explore all of these wild places I wouldn’t see in the summer,” Keefer says. Sometimes, she’s just happy sailing in circles. “People will say to me, ‘Aren’t you bored going back and forth for hours?’” Keefer says. “I’m not. It feels like freedom.”