Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Set sail at Smith Mountain Lake

A sleek sailboat gliding across the water is one of the most captivating sights at Smith Mountain Lake. Loved by both sportsman and casual cruiser, a sailboat’s passengers are both challenged by tasks such as tacking and steering and soothed by its graceful motion. Sailing enthusiasts share a special camaraderie at SML where the sport has steadily gained popularity.
    Pete Phillip, Blackwater Yacht Racing Association (BYRA) member and founder of the Smith Mountain Lake Sailing School, said locals as well as visitors are drawn to SML's sailing scene.
    “We’ve got two yacht clubs, the BYRA [50 members] and the Virginia Inland Sailing Association [VISA] that support sailing and racing here. And there’s also the sailing school. We have people coming from other states and even other countries to be involved in sailing,” said Phillip.
    VISA Commodore Cathy Hurst said the club has maintained a healthy membership – there are 140 member families today – since its start in 1983. She said sailing is great for families because it appeals to all ages.
    “People love sailing because it is the most incredibly wonderful experience you could ever have,” said Hurst. “People come sail with us one time and they’re sold. They want to belong here and raise their families here. It’s that kind of place.”
    Newcomers to sailing can watch one of the club regattas and/or schedule a lesson to get a taste of the sport at Smith Mountain Lake. Phillip said only licensed captains are qualified to take students out on the water.
    “In sailing lessons, we focus on safe boating, right of way, how to adapt to wind conditions and traffic out there on the lake. It’s important to learn to sail within the ability of your crew. You want the experience to be fun and something you’ll want to come back and do again,” he said.
    Wirtz resident Jim Schaible recently purchased a sailboat and signed himself and 10-year-old son Christopher up for sailing lessons with Phillip.
    “I wanted to learn the finer points of sailing and get to where I could race with the BYRA group,” said Schaible. “I also wanted to get my son involved and thought it would be good to have him learn from someone who knows how to teach him.”
    Schaible said, so far, the experience has been enjoyable for both father and son.
    “Sailing can be relaxing, peaceful and quiet. You’re not going anywhere fast but you have something to do while you’re out on the boat. One thing about our lake here is the winds can be unpredictable, they can change rapidly. You have to be attentive. I think Christopher will find the competition of racing to be very exciting,” he said.
    Phillip said people get hooked on sailboat racing because it is an experience that can’t be beat.
    “It’s electrifying. The gun goes off, the crew is bustling. Those first five minutes are arguably the most exciting moments,” he said. “Our racing community has some of the best competition you’ll find anywhere here at SML.”
    Whether the view is of an exhilarating sailboat race or a single vessel leisurely gliding through the water, the picturesque sight of a sailboat is sometimes all it takes to draw in a new hobbyist. Pennsylvania residents Bud and Andrea Lauer said they always admired the sailboats going by their Bernard’s Landing townhouse and recently took the plunge as owners.
    “The sailboats always look so beautiful gliding across the lake,” said Andrea Lauer. “We decided to buy one before we knew what we were doing. It was going to be a new adventure for us.”
    The Lauers quickly signed up for lessons at the SML Sailing School where they began learning the terms and technicalities of sailing. It didn’t take long before the couple could sail on their own and even take their children and grandchildren out with them.
    “It is fun to make sailing a family event. We’ll keep doing more lessons because we want to be able to race,” Lauer said. “We’re learning to read the water and the wind. Practice makes perfect, just as with anything else.”
    Lauer also said while many motorboats have to be winterized in late fall and stored until spring, a sailboat is available year-round.
    "Owning a sailboat increases the length of seasons we can go out on the lake," she said. "It's something to enjoy all year."

If you’re interested in getting involved in sailing at SML, consider attending a BYRA or VISA event (schedules available online), taking sailing lessons or chartering a sail with Pete Phillip of Smith Mountain Lake Sailing School/Charters.

Blackwater Yacht Racing Association at Pelican Point Yacht Club

Smith Mountain Lake Sailing School

Smith Mountain Lake Sailing Charters

Virginia Inland Sailing Association