Captain Cool Breeze

23 May

[To celebrate the official start of summer and boating season, this blog has been republished from the MarineMax online boating community site.]

Uncle David will go where the wind blows, but he won't float the mainstream.

Uncle David will go where the wind blows, but he won’t float the mainstream.

My Uncle David was preparing his 1982 Com-Pac 19 pocket yacht for another sail on Kerr Lake, a reservoir stretching from North Carolina into Virginia, when some dock brat decided to denigrate both his ride and his pride.

“I heard the kid say to my son that he couldn’t think of anything more useless than a sailboat on Kerr Lake,” David recounted. “There are times I’d agree with him. The lake is 80 percent pontoon boats, and the rest are ski and fishing boats. Sailboats are scarce. Most people have more sense than to mess with them.”

So on freshwater when you rely on a sail are you set up to fail (at least in the fun department)? Do other boaters view you more as a tool than cool?

Of course, there is always the problem of running aground in a lake and the shoreline’s variable effect on the wind. Plus, bridges seem to be almost everywhere, and on man-made, power lakes like the ones common in the South they’re not likely to be draw bridges, so you have to choose a location with a large enough navigable area in which to have fun. There’s also the difficulty of maneuvering small sailboats around marinas and other tight spots, especially when seemingly everyone is pushing through in $80,000 ski boats.

Not to say your sailboat outing will turn out like Judge Smails’ did in the movie “Caddyshack,” but is it really worth it?

“Yes, there are some fundamental issues with sailing on lakes,” said Neal Caudle, a veteran Atlanta-based lake boater who has also skippered trips around the British Virgin Islands on both monohulls and catamarans. “I’d say lake sailors are a fairly misunderstood breed. Lake sailing is pretty cheap fun; you can’t really hurt yourself or blow out into the Gulf Stream only to wake up 500 miles off shore. There’s really no peril, but there are hassles.”

In late summer 2010, on the way back from viewing eagles nesting on some huge power-line towers, Uncle David ran aground and into incessant marital flak. It was a bad time to smack his two-foot keel into the muddy lake bottom or to have both his wife and mother-in-law on board the 19-foot sailboat. Take your pick.

“They had some endless conversation going like they usually do,” Uncle David said. “That’s a cool thing about sailing: You can talk without raising your voice. Going out I remember the rudder kicking up for no [apparent] reason and I just tightened it back down. Coming back we found out why it had kicked up. We got stuck.”

It being his first season on Kerr Lake, the captain was not aware that the water level drops as the summer progresses. A low-water buoy he had always treated casually before demanded respect this time around. Turning from gabby to crabby, his crew certainly did not help buoy his spirits.

“Endless conversation turns into ‘I told you not to go near that buoy!’ and on and on,” said Uncle David, whose father-in-law and brother-in-law would eventually extricate the three with their pontoon boat. “I installed a depth finder and had no problems [the next] season except for a [first mate] who won’t ever let me forget I marooned her mother.”

Caudle asserts that quality lake sailing is inversely proportional to the size of your vessel. The bigger your sailboat the more bridges, power lines and shallow water restrict your freedom and detract from your enjoyment on the water.

“It makes anything bigger than a decent day sailer more of a hassle than it’s worth,” he said. “Plus you constantly tack with anything bigger than 35 feet or so simply to stay in the deep end. You could run an 80-foot houseboat [close to shore], but a 40-foot sailboat quickly runs out of water under the keel.”

On the plus side, Caudle points to the low barriers to entry of lake sailing. Decent, used sailboats aren’t hard to find or afford: anything from a one-design racer (e.g., a used J24 for fun daytrips) to a small family cruiser will do (think pre-owned Catalina 27, C&C 30 or Hunter).

Lake sailing is less than ideal, but, as my Uncle David says, we can’t all live on the coast, where practically unlimited water and a constant 10- to 15-knot wind make sailing a straightforward, if not easy, task. Sailing is constantly adjusting to changing conditions, and lakes present a whole lot more depth and direction variables than the ocean… not to mention the occasional dockside defeatist.

“Still, [when] you motor out of the cove, turn her into the wind, run up the main sail, kill the motor and fall off on a starboard tack, the sails fill up and the boat takes off,” said Uncle David. “Pretty easy to get hooked. The idea is just to get away anyway.”



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