I grew up in Newport. Rhode Island, that is. And although my current mailing address puts me in a nondescript town called Portsmouth, mere miles from my childhood stomping grounds, when people ask where I’m from, I simply tell them “Newport.” I don’t even bother to mention the state because I, like most natives, presume everyone knows to which Newport I’m referring.
And when I’m on the road, friends and readers regularly comment how lucky I am to call Newport home. I couldn’t agree more, but the more I see in my travels, the more I realize my town, outstanding as it is, does have its equals.
That’s what ultimately precipitated this issue’s story on lesser-known sailing towns. We set out to find the underrated gems of the American racing scene; places where the community, the people, the clubs, the town, and the lifestyle are all intertwined like 12-strand braid. When we started compiling our list from off the top of our heads we soon ran through multiple sheets of legal-size note pad. As we broadened our search by talking with dozens of other sailors around the country, the list took on a life of its own.
The broad expanse between the immediate left and right coasts was the most challenging to get our heads around. In the Southeast and mid-Atlantic alone it seems there are the sailing enclaves every 100 miles. There’s Mooresville, N.C., which aptly calls itself “Race City U.S.A.” Sure, they’re talking NASCAR here, but it’s also home to Lake Norman YC and a dozen healthy one-design fleets. There’s Flowery Branch, Ga., on the shores of Lake Lanier, in the shadow of Atlanta; and did you ever realize bucolic Beaufort, S.C., has quality small-boat racing? Or what about Deltaville, Va., which claims itself, “The Boating, Fishing, and Sailing Capital of the Chesapeake Bay”?
The further west we explored in our search the longer the list grew. There’s small-town living and racing in Illinois (Carlyle Lake), Oklahoma City, and Little Rock, Arkansas, which is home to a certain U.S. president and to the Grande Maumelle Sailing Club and its vibrant dinghy scene.
There’s a lot more in New Mexico, Arizona, and yes, even Nebraska and Idaho. Texas being Texas, offers plenty of options where anyone of you can work, race, and play: Fort Worth, Corpus Christi, and Lake Texoma, one of the most popular recreation spots in the Southwest. And we’d be remiss in pointing out the obvious candidates in Colorado, in particular Longmont and Dillon, the later of which claims to have the best sailing scene at 9,017 feet above sea level.
At the end of the day, however, we had to narrow our focus to those towns that stood out on the top of most everyone’s list. You’ll note, as one of my fellow editors did, that once we settled on our five, there wasn’t anything south of the Mason-Dixon line. Now, this is by no means any disrespect to the south, which is teaming with excellent locales in Florida, New Orleans, Mississippi, and elsewhere. Yet, there’s truth to the saying that the length of one’s sailing season is inversely proportional to the passion of the sailing scene itself. Our five featured towns are vastly different, but share this one simple trait: the sailors in these towns know their seasons are short, so there’s a palpable sense of importance to the racing. They get it while they can, and they get as much of it as possible. These towns are the pulse of American sailing.