Lakes are Great for Beginners
The temperature simmered in the mid-90s last Sunday, but it did not deter the sailors from a rendezvous at Rose Valley Lake. As the bass boats trailered out, sailboats took their spot. There seems to be a mutual agreement – sailors do not disturb the fishermen in their early morning forays, and fishermen clear out when the sun zeniths.
It was a near-perfect day, sunny with a light breeze. Although David Stone’s opinion of perfect sailing is in the fall, he’s at Rose Valley every other Sunday during spring and summer overseeing the sailboat races.
On this race day, three Sunfish competed against each other, racing around large, orange buoys. Stone won the race with second place going to Bud Thomas, and third to Greg Bressler.
Stone, 66, is commodore of the Rose Valley Racing Club and he has two sailboats: A Sunfish that he trailers to the lake on Sundays to race against other club members, and a 17-foot Hunter that he keeps in a slip at Lake Blanchard, Bald Eagle State Park. He gives lessons on both boats.
He’s been with the club for 20 years and said he prefers his Sunfish because it’s easy to rig and sail and there are more racing opportunities with it. Stone, who lives in Williamsport, began sailing more than 50 years ago, as a child growing up in Michigan. Still, he said, even as knowledgeable as he is, checking and rechecking the weather is imperative. Once he was caught in a violent thunderstorm on Rose Valley, similar to the one that swept through the valley two weeks ago. It was, he said, his most unpleasant experience on the lake.
Bob Fisher of Nippenose Valley owns a 1979 O’Day Daysailer. The 17-foot-long sailboat has a 24-foot mast that he rigs and raises in the south parking lot of Rose Valley Lake. When his wife, Bonnie, accompanies him to the lake, she brings along a folding chair and sits and reads. She does not sail, especially since Fisher’s first attempt at sailing the O’Day in April resulted in a knock down on Rose Valley Lake.
“I tried to sail the first time since attending U.S. Navy sailing school in Norfolk 10 years ago,” Fisher, 58, said. “There were gusty winds and I found I had not retained many sailing skills.”
A Penn State graduate, Fisher is a Navy reservist with 18 years experience. He is an instructor with the Center for Navy Leadership Mid-Atlantic Region, Washington D.C. He also provides contributory support to the Navy’s Office of Naval Research, judging the Naval Science Awards Program.
“After nearly tipping over – the water actually came over the side of the boat – I headed for the closest dock just to get on land again. That closest dock ended up being about three miles from where I had launched and I had to walk back,” he said. “Then and there I made up my mind I was not going to try to sail without formal sailing lessons, which I received from the Lake Glendale Sailing Club.”
Lake Glendale Sailing Club, in Prince Gallitzin State Park, near Altoona, offers an annual one-week sailing instruction day-camp in late June. The camp is for children ages 8 and up, and adults.
Fisher and his son, Bob Jr., both took lessons with his O’Day on Lake Glendale in June. He said the experience at camp has been his most pleasant, to date.
“We were trying out our newly acquired sailing skills and, with a stiff wind of 15 miles per hour (about 12 knots), we were able to sail all around the lake and even got back to the same dock we left from,” he said. “I learned that to sail safe and enjoyably you should have professional lessons.”
Locally, sailing lessons are available through the Rose Valley Sailing Club. Stone, who has a U.S. Sailing Instructor’s Certificate, offers beginning and intermediate lessons for $15 per hour to Y.M.C.A. members, $20 for non-members.
Fisher, who works for the Department of Environmental Protection as an emergency response manager, joined both Rose Valley Sailing Club and Lake Glendale Sailing Club six months ago. He said he enjoys the clubs’ camaraderie and group activities.
“They have sailboat races, picnics and get-togethers that help to continue interest in the sport of sail boating. They also offer an opportunity to increase your skills just by being around others who know how to do it better than you do,” he said.
Also, joining a club and meeting others gives the members a chance to evaluate a variety of sailboats and equipment, he said.
The O’Day he purchased is very similar to the boats he used at the Navy sailing school, and was featured in a boating magazine he had read.
“They have been around from the early 1970s and have a good reputation,” he said. “It is large enough to feel comfortable in, yet small enough to trailer. It was reasonably priced. A good used O’Day Daysailer can be purchased for between $1,000 and $4,000.”
Although it’s difficult to sail in a region dominated by powerboats, mountains regions have great lakes, mainly because of the topography and valleys with dams, Fisher said.
“Many lakes have powerboat power restrictions on them, making them great for sailing. For example, Rose Valley Lake does not allow any power except electric, and of course sail. Glendale Lake has a 20-horsepower size restriction, which limits boat size and speed to a level that sailboats are not intimidated,” he said. “On the other hand, Bald Eagle State Park has unlimited horsepower, so the boats are large and go so fast as to be annoying and unsafe at times to sailboats; and that lake also allows personal watercraft, which can be particularly annoying.”