Harken Derm

To Sail In All Fifty States

Published on March 4th, 2019

by Al Michaud
The idea came to me in the summer of 2001, while taking a shower. I was thinking about the different places I had sailed in the USA, and started counting the States. There were about a dozen; enough to think it would be fun to try and sail in all 50.

Based on the western shore of Lake Erie in Michigan, maybe I was all wet with this idea, but many people try and visit all 50 states, and others try to visit all the pro baseball or football stadiums, but I had never heard of anyone sailing in all of the States. Why not me?

So I took on the mission with simple rules: sail on any ocean, navigable lake, river, and bay and on any sailing craft – dinghy, yacht, one design, windsurfer, etc. I thought it may take 20 years and I wasn’t far off.

The company I worked for often had sales meetings in locations that allowed me to do some sailing. When most others would hit the golf course on our afternoon off, I would head for the water and charter a boat to sail. Along the way, business travel helped me sail in Texas, California, Washington, Iowa, and Hawaii.

Although I have no photo to verify the Hawaii experience, it remains etched in my memory. At the time (1982), one of the premier races was the Kenwood Cup based in Honolulu. It was a biennial event that began in 1978 drawing the big sailing guns from the West coast, Japan, Australia, and more.

We had a day off for R&R so I thought maybe there was a boat that might need crew. I went to the Honolulu YC to see what was available. It was pretty obvious this was a big event. All the crews had matching shirts and shorts and the boats were all pretty big by my standards.

It turned out the next scheduled race was “Around the Island (Oahu)”, and as I figured we wouldn’t return in time for my next day’s business meetings, I found a day charter to go out to watch the race start. Unfortunately, the charter boat was big, heavy, and slow. By the time we got near the start area, the boats were long gone.

We turned around and headed back to the harbor. The skipper brought out a couple buckets of fried chicken for lunch, but the 6-8 foot waves took their toll on most all of the people. Soon it became chicken in, chicken overboard.

Luckily, my chicken managed to stay in me, so the skipper let me steer the boat into the harbor (under motor). I had never driven a heavy full-keeled boat before, and as we approached the reef protected entrance, I spun the wheel but the boat kept going straight. “Don’t worry, it will start turning pretty soon,” said the captain. I gladly gave up the wheel to let him dock.

As my sailing and racing experience grew, I had managed to race in Youngstown, NY; Erie, PA; Chicago, IL; Lake Pepin, Wisconsin; and St. Pete and Cape Coral, Florida. Once I made the decision to sail all of the States, my wife and I often combined vacation travel to areas where I could “hook up” with local sailors and racers.

In the beginning, I thought I could walk the docks and jump aboard a boat, but I got a lot of blank looks trying to hop a ride, last minute, as an unplanned guest. I guess people wanted some advance notice because that method failed every time. Another “issue” I ran into was that the sailing/racing season (May-Oct) is pretty much the same across the country (exception’s being California, Florida, Texas, and a few others).

It was a bit of a problem because I wanted to race and sail my own boat (Hobie 33) during those same months. The solution was to take vacations in the Fall and Spring where boats are in the water. We (my non-sailing wife and I) have seen a few fantastic National Parks along the way (Glacier and Carlsbad Caverns top our list).

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my wife (Barb). She has been my soulmate and sailing support crew for 47 years. She helped pay for my first boat before we were married and sailed with me for a dozen years until our second child came along. By then she decided life was easier off the water.

For sure, I wouldn’t have been able to pull off the quest without her. Our travels led to sailing in Oregon on the Columbia River, New Mexico on Elephant Butte Lake, Montana’s Flathead Lake, Idaho on Lake Pend Orielle (watch out for submarines …, Google it!), Wyoming on Freemont Lake, and a few others.

Most of my research for rental boats, local races, sailing clubs, and yacht club race officers was done online; and I was fortunate enough to meet a lot of friendly sailors by hitching a ride on race day. Half of the states were visited for races.

By 2015, it became obvious I would not get to all of the States by hitting only 1-2 per year. By then I was in my mid 60s with 17 States to go. It was time for Plan B. I purchased a Catalina Capri 14.2 and convinced a non-sailing friend to help me on my “Great Midwest” sailing tour to travel to five states in USA’s Heartland.

I left Michigan and drove 10 hours to his home in Webster City, Iowa towing the little Capri. I spent the night at his home and we took off the next morning for Omaha, Nebraska. I had stashed a copy of “Sailing for Dummies” under his seat with the thought that while riding in the car he could peruse the book and pick up some sailing jargon and learn a bit before we hit the water. His reply was short: “I don’t read books.”

It was September and the wind was up (high teens to 20) on Carter Lake in Omaha. I wasn’t comfortable taking out a newbie on a boat that I had very little experience with. I had never capsized the little Capri and didn’t know what to expect if it happened. I envisioned flipping the boat and having to save my friend and the boat! But the boat sailed fine (by an anxious senior) with only a reefed mainsail.

The five day trip took in Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Missouri. It was exhausting: Travel half the day to a lake. Rig and launch the boat, go for a sail, de-rig and pull the boat – get it road ready and repeat for four more days. A few weeks later, my wife joined me for another road trip where I checked off Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. I was down to nine states and counting. In 2016 we took a visit to the Grand Canyon and a crew spot on a Hobie 33 on Lake Pleasant near Phoenix. AZ.

When I mention my “bucket list” quest to people, the first thing they ask is “have you done Hawaii and Alaska?” A 2013 Alaska trip is one of my fond sailing memories. We took a family vacation on a cruise ship from Vancouver, Canada to Anchorage, Alaska. I had met (online) a member (coincidentally from Michigan) of the Alaska Sailing Club and he was game to go out on “Big Lake” in his 22’ Ensign.

I showed up at the club on a rainy Saturday morning. I had a sinking feeling that sailing was going to be a bust and that I was going to figure out a way to get back to Alaska because it sure was a rotten day to sail. Fortunately, Alaskans are hearty souls. My host said a little rain shouldn’t stop us and it didn’t. After the sail, we hung out around a campfire with a good group of people…. in the rain.

Other memorable sailing trips:

2003: Getting smuggled aboard the Maine Maritime Academy’s 89 foot Arctic Schooner for a late October sail. The cadets were hootin and hollerin when the ship hit 6 knots. It was the first time that season where there was enough wind to actually get it moving.

2010: Sailed on a Schock 23 that was owned by some spirited guys who attached tiki torches to the shrouds and occasionally sailed with them lit (the torches, that is).

2013: Summersville Lake in W. Virginia with folks who were part of an organization that taught sailing. The founder actually dug a small lake on his property and supplied it with dinghies to teach kids how to sail. He also organized adult sailing on a Flying Scott.

2017: A very memorable Spring overnight cruise on Lake Sakakawea in N. Dakota. After flying to Bismark, ND I drove to the boat owner’s home and we sat at the kitchen table getting acquainted. After about a half hour he asked, “Well, are you ready to go?” I said sure. So we packed a few things, headed to the boat, and shoved off for an overnight cruise.

After an hour sail, we anchored in a small cove; cooked dinner on the stern mounted gas grille before turning in for the night. I recall waking up in the middle of the night to absolute quiet! I laid in my bunk listening to the quiet – no cars, no trains, no planes, no people, no nothing. Fantastic!

Trailer cruisers should put that area on their short list! Contact Lake Sakakawea sailing guru Mike Quinn for info at dakotaquinn@gmail.com.

The summer of 2017 offered a “two for one” affair racing on a J/24 in the Cape to Cape series between Cape May, New Jersey and Lewes, Delaware. Great people and fun! (of course it’s always a little more fun when you win the race!)

By 2018 there were four States remaining: Utah, Nevada, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. In March I crewed on a Capri 30 racing on Lake Mead in Nevada. March seems like a really good month for sailing on Lake Mead. Good wind, nice temps; and a chance to sail in the desert when there is actually green in the surrounding hills! And again, a good group of people.

In May of 2018 I joined some members of the Great Salt Lake Yacht Club, “Home of the World’s Saltiest Sailors”, to race one of their Wednesday beer can races. I showed up to meet the boat owners and attend the skippers meeting with the wind blowing 25-30. Hard gusts were coming through the mountains and the lake was solid whitecaps. As I walked up to the pavilion, I just knew the race was going to be called off… and it was.

The winds blew enough of the water out of the harbor that the Santana 30-30 we were to sail could not get out of the marina. I was thinking, “I just spent a whole day traveling 1600 miles (not to mention airfare) and I won’t get to sail!” Luckily, one of the 30-30 crew members owned a Catalina 27 that could get out of the harbor; and the owner was game to sail.

By the time we threw off the dock lines, the wind began to abate and we were able to have a really good sail. It was cut short a bit when storms rolled back in through the mountains creating some interesting 90 degree wind shifts and a nasty looking sky with rain and gusty winds.

Interesting facts about the Great Salt Lake: It is the largest salt lake in the Western Hemisphere. It is 75 miles long and 30 miles wide. The salt content is so high the water never freezes. There are freshwater streams into the lake but no outflow of water from the lake.

Due to drought conditions, the water level is down significantly: 11 feet over and 48% of it’s volume, all from evaporation over the last 50 years. It has recovered some depth over the last couple of years. Check out the Yahoo webpage for some good photos.

The wetlands surrounding the lake support a vast number of migrating waterfowl. Tiny brine shrimp and brine flies feed on algae in the lake. The flies are harmless but pretty annoying. We had a few on the boat for our sail; and the locals say they can cover the boat (while sailing) like a fine fur coat. But, if you love sailing there aren’t a lot of options for larger 25-35’ boats. The closest water is Lake Mead at 400 miles away.

The final leg of bucket list took me to Rhode Island and Connecticut. Again, the sailing community came though. The son of one of the local sailors I have raced against in Michigan happened to relocate to Connecticut. We had crewed together for a Mackinac race a few years ago, and those long-distance races tend to lock in memories and acquaintances. Thanks to Steve Frazier, Connecticut and Rhode Island became the last two sails of my 20 year quest.

So, in September of 2018 my bucket is full. It wasn’t easy. It is a BIG Country.

Here’s my list of states (R = Racing):
Alabama: 2015 Joe Wheeler Lake
Alaska: 2013 Big Lake (Alaska Sailing Club)
Arizona: 2016 Lake Pleasant (R)
Arkansas:2015 Beaver Lake
California: 2003 PHRF Championships Long Beach (repeated once) and San Diego 1998 (R)
Colorado: 2010 Lake Granby
Connecticut: 2018 Stonington New England Science & Sailing
Delaware: 2017 Cape May (R)
Florida: 1997 Jacksonville 2001 & 2005 Cape Coral (R)
Georgia: 2005 Lake Lanier (R)
Hawaii: 1982
Idaho: 2004 Lake Pond Oreille
Illinois: 1997 Chicago (R)
Indiana: 2012 Indianapolis Geist Reservoir (R)
Iowa: 2009 Lake Saylorville (R)
Kansas: 2015 Perry Lake
Kentucky: 2014 Louisville, Ohio River (R)
Louisiana: 2009 New Orlelans Lake Pontchartrain (R)
Maine: 2003 Castille
Maryland: 2001 Annapolis (R)
Massachusetts: 2012 Scituate (R)
Michigan: Monroe 1982-2018 Lake Erie (R)
Minnesota: 1979-1981 Lake Pepin (R)
Mississippi: 2015 Pickwick Lake
Missouri: 2015 Jacoma Lake
Montana: 2004 Flathead Lake
Nebraska: 2015 Omaha, Carter Lake
Nevada: 2018 Lake Mead (R)
New Hampshire: 2013 Squam Lake
New Jersey: 2017 Cape May (R)
New Mexico: 2014 Elephant Butte Lake (R)
New York: 1971 Lake Chautauqua/ 2005 Youngstown (R)
N. Carolina: 1996 Hatteras (windsurf)
N. Dakota: 2017 Lake Sakakawea
Ohio: 1970 – 1979 Cleveland Lake Erie (R)
Oklahoma: 2015 Oologah Lake
Oregon: 2007 Portland, Columbia River (R)
Pennsylvania: 1999 Erie (Trans – Erie Race)
Rhode Island: 2018 Newport (R)
S. Carolina: 2005 Lake Hartwell
S. Dakota: 2011 Angostura Reservoir
Tennessee: 2015: Percy Priest Lake (R)
Texas: 2004 & 2008 Lake Travis &? (R)
Utah: 2018 Great Salt Lake
Vermont: 2004 Lake Champlain
Virginia: 2001 Irvington – Carters Creek
Washington: 2006 Seattle Center for Wooden Boats
W. Virginia: 2013 Summersville Lake
Wisconsin: 1980-1982 Lake Pepin/ Lake Superior (Bayfield) (R)
Wyoming: 2011 Fremont Lake. Pinedale

Tags: , ,



Back to Top ↑

Get Your Sailing News Fix!

Your daily or weekly download by email.

Subscribe - In popup

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

We’ll keep your information safe.