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My first experience on a sailboat began at Camp Waluhili. My sister and I registered too late for horseback camp and had to settle for sailing. The idea of gliding smoothly across the lake appealed to me after reading Arthur Ransome’s classic book, Swallows and Amazons. That adventure ended with us stranded on the lake for hours when the wind died and we couldn’t get our little Sun Spot to move. While we drifted to the far shore and slowly turned the shade of ripe Arkansas tomatoes, I contemplated giving up sailing for good.
Twenty some odd years later, my uncle, a veteran sailor, invited my husband and me to learn how to sail on his boat on Beaver Lake. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity, though my previous sailing disaster still drifted in the back of my mind. But I was now an adventurous adult, and who can resist the idea of a peaceful sail across beautiful Beaver Lake?
On a warm Saturday in June, we wound through the lake roads to the north shore of Beaver Lake. We boarded the boat under a darkening sky and a stiff breeze that promised thundershowers. “The wind is probably a little strong for beginners,” my uncle said, “But don’t worry. This is going to be epic.”
With those words we motored away from the dock, raised the mainsail and jib, and set sail across Beaver Lake.
Sailing isn’t a lake activity you can pick up right way. Most marinas don’t offer the option of renting sailboats, so knowing an experienced sailor is a must. Fortunately, my uncle attended sailing school several times. Under his direction, we hauled the lines (never refer to any ropes on a sailboat as anything but lines), and practiced tacking or turning the boat.
By the time I took the wheel, the clouds had grown ominous and the wind so strong we reefed the mainsail, reducing the amount of sail the wind could fill. I struggled to hold the wheel steady. Across Beaver Lake, a dark sheet of rain rolled toward us. “I think it’s time to lower the sails,” my uncle conceded. The rain poured down as we lowered the sails. I headed into the cabin to ride out the storm, but my uncle, the captain of the boat, donned his yellow slicker and manned the helm through the storm.
I watched white capped waves strike the hull through the cabin windows and once again reconsidered sailing. By the time we arrived at a quiet inlet, the storm had passed. We grilled steaks, watched the stars come out and shared stories while we practiced tying sailing knots. Perhaps, I thought, I’ll like sailing after all.
The next day dawned with clear skies and a slight breeze. I took in the beautiful green hills surrounding us and the smooth blue water. This was more like it! We practiced trimming the sails, tacking and even man overboard drills with a round, weighted buoy we nicknamed Wilson.
My uncle stood at the bow of the boat for a while while my husband and I sailed the boat on our own. “What’s rule number one when sailing?” my uncle called from the bow.
My husband and I exchanged blank looks. “Something about safety?” I ventured.
“Always maintain a proper lookout,” my uncle said. “Are you maintaining a lookout?”
“Yes,” I replied. After all, I’d been looking at the sails, the lake, and the green hills all morning.
“You don’t see any hazards, like a large rock, that you might want to watch out for?”
We peered past the sails to the bow of the boat. A huge rock rose out of the water just waiting to tear into our hull.
“Prepare to come about,” my husband said. I jumped to man the lines and we immediately tacked away from danger like sailing pros.
We weathered another rain shower that day, but we also enjoyed plenty of sunshine and the kind of smooth sailing I’d dreamed about at Camp Waluhili. I realized sailing in Arkansas was going to be an adventure every time we went on the water, and I liked the idea of that.
Would you like to try sailing? Arkansas has several sailing clubs that offer lessons and other events. Contact the club nearest you to inquire about sailing opportunities.
Sailing Clubs and Classes in Arkansas:
Beaver Lake Sail Club: BLSC has a dock walk and full moon sail coming up in August, plus the Arkansas Cup 3 race and the Raise Your Sails Regatta. Find more information at Beaverlakesailclub.com or like their Facebook page.
Beaver Lake Sail and Power Squadron: The Squadron is devoted to safe boating through education. They’re offering a learn to sail class beginning Sept. 12 that will run for eight Saturdays. Find information on this great learn to sail opportunity at boatbeaverlake.com.
Grand Maumelle Sail Club: GMSC offers adult and junior learn to sail classes twice a year. Check out their website gmsc.org for more information or contact firstname.lastname@example.org. GMSC also holds sailboat races, public events and regattas.
Greers Ferry Lake Yacht Club: Follow the club on their Facebook page to find out about races and other sailing events happening on Greers Ferry Lake.
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