The Good Life: Five Great Sailing Towns You May Not Know About
The Good Life: Five Great Sailing Towns You May Not Know About
Imagine living in a town with a thriving sailing scene, a place where weeknights and weekends have but one purpose. We found five of them, and we didn't have to look too hard. A feature from our September 2008 issue.
The question was tabled after one evening's race. "What if you had to relocate?" Someone asked. "And it could be some place where there was a ton of racing and a cool, laid-back scene?"
The group instantly dismissed the talent-laden havens of San Diego, Newport, and Annapolis as high quality sailing spots, but just too known. This had to be something off the radar, the sort of place where nearly everyone on the racecourse knows your name.
Someone's road atlas, dog-eared and tattered, was soon splayed out and the search for small-town sailing bliss was underway. There was possibility with each blue blotch-lakes, harbors, bays, and open oceans-the options were overwhelming. But we caught wind of their plight and picked up the task, gathering opinions and experiences far and wide to narrow the search to a mere handful amongst thousands of underrated sailing towns. We had our demands: we had to have weeknight beer can racing-that would be our "in." There had to be a community sailing program from which we could poach new and eager crew. Sailing conditions had to be reliable, there had to be a walk-in fleet so we wouldn't have to start anew. And, of course, there had to be one good watering hole. With all due respect for the natives of the following towns and cities, we apologize for spot burning, but thanks for putting out the welcome mat at the county line.
The Wayzata Sailing Foundation recently bought Mrs. Rosekrans' house next door to Wayzata YC. The dilapidated home ended up here in this lakeside community some 60 years ago after being hauled across frozen Lake Minnetonka. Before the year is out, the house will be spruced up enough to accommodate the swelling populace of the Wayzata Community Sailing School, which is responsible for more than 400 tykes each summer.
Such a facility wouldn't get much attention in most towns, but to Wayzata's residents, to whom sailing is as much a way of life as surfing is to any California coastal town, the sailing school is a big deal-the school is its future. Observe Wayzata's vacant slips on any given Thursday night during the summer high season and you'll quickly understand that the racing scene is the pulse of Wayzata.
"The marina will be nearly empty," says local Steve Bren. "The town is awed by the site of so many boats on the bay. It's definitely the one thing that gives the city its flavor."
Wayzata has a work hard, play hard personality, says Dallas Johnson, a longtime resident, and life here simply evolves around the lake, whether Minnetonka is in its liquid or solid state.
"Living close to the lake in Wayzata or another Lake Minnetonka neighborhood really helps," says Johnson. "Suburbia world surrounds the lake and it's an entirely different world."
Wayzata itself is only a couple of small neighborhoods, but an idyllic place to live and raise a family, he adds. Bike trails, beaches, and a variety of small businesses maintain the lakeshore town feel. There are a few hangouts populated by sailors: Sunny's (Sunsets) and the city-owned Muni (Wayzata Bar & Grill), but the place you're sure to find them en masse is at Wayzata YC on Thursday nights. The parties are the biggest and best on the lake says Bren, and the racing beforehand pulls in 130 or so boats from all around the lake.
There are happening scenes in nearby Excelsior and Spring Park, but Wayzata's location right off the interstate and its proximity to downtown, says Johnson, lends itself to an easy, 15-minute commute for the weeknight warriors, many of whom work in Minneapolis' biotech and financial businesses. On tap each evening at one of three yacht clubs is one-design racing in big, active fleets of small keelboats and scow classes born on the lake over the past century.
And when the lake freezes, the runners come out. "People actually like winter here," says Johnson. "It compresses the sailing season into something you appreciate, and the ice boating and kite sailing are fantastic in the winter."
Estimated population: 3,922
Chamber of commerce says: "Charming"
Conditions: Three-season if you want, ice boating for diehards
Hometown fleet: J/24 Fleet No. 1, the
oldest J/24 fleet in the world
For after-race suds: The Muni
Employable if: Science, math, and
technology are your thing
Next big regatta: J/24 North Americans in September
Joy Brown/ Joyful Creations Northwest
|The annual PITCH Regatta pulls out Bellingham's PHRF fleet, and when the racing's done, there's plenty of unbeatable cruising to be had.|
Pick up almost any magazine that has a top-10 towns whatever list and Bellingham will be there: best walking town, biking-friendly, hippest and healthiest, best adventure towns, you name it. And that's just the stuff on shore. For cruisers, the San Juan Islands, arguably the best cruising grounds anywhere, are only three or four sailing hours away. For racers there's the steady winds and challenging currents of Bellingham Bay, all with snow-capped, 11,000-foot Mt. Baker providing a spectacular backdrop.
The bulk of the racing in the area is out of Bellingham YC, founded in 1925, which hosts everything from PHRF club races, to one-designs and dinghy fleets. There's a particularly strong Etchells presence, which regularly sends a team to the world championships. BYC's dinghy armada includes Lasers, Bytes, Optis, 420s, scows, and many others to the start line all summer long.
The Corinthian YC of Bellingham doesn't have a roof over its head, per se, but rallies its members on the water for its Thursday-night PHRF racing. "I race both Wednesdays and Thursday nights," says Todd Koetje, owner of Havrn, a J/133. "Both clubs have fun racing. Corinthian has more cruisers, BYC is a little more competitive."
As far as measuring that competitive level, he says, "It's pretty zealous racing, it's just that there aren't as many boats here as there is in Seattle. And, because there's fewer boats, there's less like boats racing together."
True to their outdoorsy lifestyle, and par for this corner of the U.S. of A., you'd be hard pressed to get Bellingham sailors indoors after racing, says Koetje. The socializing typically takes place right there on the Bay or at the docks. "Some go to the clubhouse for burgers and beer, or the Boundary Bay Brewery, but many boats, like ourselves, just stay out on the water, float around, and enjoy the suds, sea, and the scenery."
This year BYC will host its 35th annual PITCH Regatta. The name itself hints at how long this regatta has been around. Originally, it stood for Pacific International Ton Championships. When the tonner classes disappeared, the regatta changed to an everybody-welcome format, but kept its name. Its posters tout, "Bellingham, where the wind always blows," which is bit of a dig at the light-air sailors in Seattle, 85 miles to the south.
The well-run, two-day regatta draws racers from Canada, Washington, and surrounding states. It's hard to say whether the visitors come for the sailing or the hospitality, but the two are a great combination.
"The outstanding thing about racing on Bellingham Bay is that there's a steady wind on a big bay without commercial traffic to worry about," says Michelle Hurst, a BYC member. "There's lots of room to run multiple courses if needed."
Bellingham is also home to Western Washington University, which has a long history of intercollegiate sailing. More than just a college team, many of their members also act as instructors for the area's youth sailing camps and junior racing programs.
Good wind, challenging currents, and unobstructed racing in an expansive bay, all set in a spectacular panorama of sea and towering mountains, make Bellingham an exceptional and fast growing place to sail.
Estimated population: 75,150
Chamber of commerce says:
"A refreshing change"
Conditions: Year-round sailing for
diehards, summer cruising is a must
Hometown fleets: PHRF, Laser
For after-race suds: Bella Marine
Employable if: Education or construction
Next big regatta: Ski to Sea 2009