Mikołajki, a small town in the Masuria region of northeast Poland — also known as the 1000-lakes region — is a winter lovers paradise. If you are looking for a secluded getaway, far from the fast and furious city life, and you do not fear harsh winter conditions, look no further. Peace and quiet are guaranteed. There, you can immerse yourself in your writing or other creative processes with no distractions from the outside world. While there, a must-try in the winter is the “kulig” (horse-drawn sleigh rides) followed later with a bonfire and the cooking of homemade “bigos” (hearty hunters’ stew of Polish origin — i.e. it contains plenty of meat and cabbage — that is cooked for close to a week.). Locally-produced meads are also a tasty way to keep you warm in the winter months. And of course, the region abounds with great places for cross-country skiing where wildlife can also be often seen.
However, for many locals and tourists alike, the big attraction of this region in the winter is ice sailing. Competitive races on “boyers ” — so-called “ice yachts”, built to be light and typically made to hold just one person (and lying flat in a narrow cockpit just a few centimetres above the ice surface) — are one of the great spectacles of the region. While top engineered boyers running on wind (and nothing else) can achieve speeds of up to 230 km/h in perfect weather conditions, most often they tend to cruise at 100 km/h on normal race days.
For those familiar with the “ice-boating” community, the Masuria region is part of the circuit for racers as they swoop across northern Europe in search of the perfect “black ice” conditions, as well as to compete in the European and world championships for the sport. Nevertheless, in spite of ice boating’s growing in popularity, it remains the domain of hobbyists. Boats are typically built in garages or small shipyards by passionate enthusiasts who cherish the rush of racing on frozen lakes (and at the mercy of cold and wind) above anything else.
The below photo reportage taken in 2003 shows an unusual boyer: A giant ice yacht (in comparison with super light boyers in DN class) with a sail and a propeller engine that can hold several people while cruising on the surface of a frozen lake. This was taken during the boat’s engine test run. At the time it was the biggest boyer in Poland and aptly named “Caligula“.
Analog black and white photography by Dominika Durtan. Part of this photo reportage was published in “Rejs, Magazyn Żeglarzy i Motorowodniaków” (February 2003), a magazine for the sailing community (which has since gone out of publication).
You can try your own luck with those marvel machines at the Caligula Guesthouse in Mikołajki, Poland.