I know I often go on and on about the beauty of the Great Lakes, living on Lake Erie in particular, and I make no apologies for having so much to share. The changing seasons, the shifting sands, the storms, the flora and fauna, and those glorious sunrises and sunsets- always something wonderful to capture in photos and prose. But beyond getting my feet sandy while enjoying the scenery around the lakes. I realized I’ve rarely touched upon another draw of our beautiful lakes- the boating that fills summers for many folks. Strange part of this realization is, I spent a large part of my childhood sailing with my grandfather, or racing sailboats with my best friend, Tony. Once Grandpa sold his boat, however, and Tony’s folks moved their boat, to their new home on Lake Michigan, my own days of sailing came to an end. Somewhat surprisingly, my younger brother eventually picked up where our grandfather left off, and became the family sailor on Lake Erie
My brother was quite young when we sailed with our grandfather, and never seemed as smitten by the waves. As a young adult, however, he discovered the thrill of sailing Hobie and Prindle catamarans- and he was hooked. YoungerBro and I shared many speed-related indiscretions in our less responsible days, and survived more by dumb luck and fearlessness than actual skill- so I admit to a bit of trepidation when he said he was buying a sailboat. Turns out, I had no reason for worry. Sailing, along with respect for the open water, was something that just seemed to click with YoungerBro. From the first time we talked boats it was obvious he was learning all he could, and from the first time I sailed with him, it was obvious he was skilled well beyond a basic recreational sailor. The lure of sailing Lake Erie became a force that in 20-some years took him from an old O’Day “starter boat” through the Catalina C30 he and my sister-in-law use to cruise the lakes today.
Though I rarely find time to join them, I love hearing about their trips and instantly remember the appeal of sailing. I recently took a few minutes to ask YoungerBro to share a bit of what he loves about sailing, and here’s what he had to say:
You’ve sailed most of the Great Lakes, several inland lakes, and even some time on the ocean. So the first question is probably most obvious: why sailing?
“Sailing forces you to slow down, to enjoy the moment. It also forces you to learn new skills, to be a competent sailor. Unlike in a powerboat, winds shift or calm, and you need to adapt. You can never just drive a straight course to a destination, and though you can go fast in a sailboat, you can never be in a hurry to get somewhere!”
How long is your sailing season on the Great Lakes?
“Here on Lake Erie we typically go from about May to as late as October. Being a shallow lake, winter storms and ice quickly become issues as we head into winter.”
What’s different about traveling by boat?
“Time, especially by sailboat. Unlike a car, arrival times are definitely estimates, and can vary wildly. We typically live on the boat, traveling from port to port to spend the night. Sleeping on a boat is super relaxing, with the sounds of water and gentle rocking. We have toilet facilities on the boat, but most ports have great shower facilities to clean up, and restaurants nearby- so it’s a bit like a floating RV without all the traffic nonsense!”
You’ve pretty much sailed the whole of Lake Erie, including much of the Canadian side. Do you have a favorite port?
“Well, obviously our home port (Wildwood Yacht Club in Cleveland) is up there, and downtown Cleveland is always a cool place to sail and spend Airshow weekend. We’re lucky to have the (Lake Erie) Islands and Cedar Point. There are also many nice yacht clubs we’ve visited, and the folks are always great. But I think I’d have to say Erie (PA), near Presque Isle, was one of the nicest ports we’ve stayed at, maybe my favorite.”
What was your longest trip on the boat?
“We did about 200 miles around and across into Canada. Spent a full 10 days on the boat- awesome trip!”
Do you ever sail at night?
“Oh yeah. Nights can be amazing times to sail with the right weather. Getting away from shore and the light pollution is incredible for viewing meteor showers! Also, the lake tends to calm and night winds can be more consistent. Sailing in the dark does require more awareness of what could be around, though.”
What’s your greatest concern sailing Lake Erie?
“Weather. It’s a shallow lake, and things can happen fast. Storms kick up, winds pick up, and the waves can get pretty huge. Waves on Lake Erie can be an issue of their own, since there is so little spacing between them- you don’t really ride the swells on lake Erie, you slam across them. Sailing forces you, and your crew/ passengers, to become competent at reading the weather as it happens. We get better than the weathermen (laughs)! Maybe not better, but you’ve gotta’ be good, or you can really be caught off guard.”
Well, your boat is buttoned down for the winter now- any big sailing plans for the future?
“Just a lot more sailing on Lake Erie. We’d like to sail over to Lake Superior, but we need to find more time off- maybe a month. Eventually, I’d like to trade up to a mid-sized trawler to sail the Great Loop from here north to south and back again. That will have to wait for retirement though- we’d like to spend a year on that one.”
Any thoughts you’d like to leave our readers with, in case they’re inclined to take up sailing the Great Lakes?
“Be prepared for things to change quickly, invest in and maintain safety equipment, take time to educate your crew. Oh, and most of all- enjoy your time on this wonderful resource!”
As always, keep Riding (or Sailing!) Local, Dreaming Global, and we’ll see you on the road (or water). Enjoy!