Sail away on Minnesota's Lake PepinIt’s the perfect lake for first-time and experienced sailors.
By: STACY BENGS, Forum Communications Co.
RED WING, Minn. — “Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me…” Cue the air guitar as the bombastic ballad plays through your head. The 1977 Styx song hints at your next activity to add to the growing list of local adventures.
Lake Pepin offers much more than just a priceless view of beauty, relief from the heat, fishing haven or even the birthplace of waterskiing.
If you really want to experience the sheer power, depth and life of the lake while tuning in to your surroundings, it’s time to try sailing.
“First-time sailors usually walk off the craft with an appreciation that they have learned something about sailing — instead of just sitting,” explained Captain Steve Richardt, owner of Windward High Sailing.
The Lake City-based company charters sailing expeditions, teaching basics to the aqua-illiterate or working on more advanced techniques for regular water junkies.
Understanding each person’s personal experience and level of comfort with the water is the first step in Richardt’s process.
“I start by asking people, especially children, what kind of fairground rides they like, ” he said, “Whether they like quiet rides or exciting rides will help me determine what kind of wind conditions would be suitable.”
The basic ingredient to make a good sail is simple, but relies on Mother Nature at her finest — the wind.
“What most people don’t understand is the wind doesn’t just push against the sail and there you go, but we are setting up a series of wings,” he explained, pointing up toward the boat’s mast. “It’s like an airplane wing, and we adjust the boat heading into the wind.”
The air interacting with the sails on the vessel creates a force, and when sails are positioned correctly in relationship to the direction of the wind, the boat moves forward. Seems simple, right?
While not everyone is a meteorologist or has eyes trained to see wind sweeping across the lake like Richardt’s, there are instruments called wind vanes on the sailboat designed to indicate the direction of the air.
Lake Pepin is notorious for its ever-changing wind routes and weather patterns, making it a premier sailing destination. “This lake is fantastic for me and many other sailors because of its length and width.”
As the largest lake on the Mississippi River, the naturally occurring body of water is formed by the backup of water behind sedimentary deposits of the Chippewa River’s delta. It is part of Pool 4 which extends from Lock and Dam 3 near Red Wing and to Lock and Dam 4 downstream at Alma, Wis. The lake is 21 miles long, averages 1.7 miles wide and covers 29,295 acres. It has a maximum depth of 60 feet and an average depth of 21 feet, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
“If we had northwest winds at 10 to 15 miles an hour we would have two foot waves,” Richardt said.
In his seventh season of teaching sailing lessons, Richardt has watched the fear fall off his clients’ faces as they begin to become an active part of the crew.
His 30-foot Cape Dory Cutter weighing in at a hefty 10,200 pounds, including the 6,000 pounds of lead three to four feet below the water line, is designed to sit nice and flat while handling a variety of water conditions.
The weight below the vessel acts as a counter balance to the force of energy above the water caused by wind against the raised sails. Sailboats typically support two to three sails — the main, stay and jib. Not all sails need to be used at once.
Richardt’s boat has a tender hull, allowing it to easily ride on its rails. Hence, his first step of asking the comfort level of riders.
“I’ve have many types of clients with a wide variety of experience levels on board,” he said. “The youngest I’ve taken out was a 5-year-old, and of that family, she was the best one on the boat. She stood at the helm, and wasn’t quite tall enough to see over the deck so she kept one had on the rail and the other on the wheel. She did a fantastic job.”
Whether sitting back for an easy ride or picking up speed while getting up close with the lake, Richardt admits he has a hard time “just taking people out for a boat ride.”
He said guests appreciate his approach to allowing participation aboard.
“I think people enjoy being out here more when they understand and appreciate the little things that they are doing as a crew member of the boat,” he said. “You’ve got to keep your mind open, too. ”