Sailing Mother Superior. by Randy

LAKAWA Knowledge Base - What are your secrets to wind and water success? Share what you've learned that may assist others.

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Sailing Mother Superior. by Randy

Post by Tighe »

Just want to share a few "learnings" from my attempts to meet Lake Superior in all her glory. First and foremost, if you want to cover yourself, always check out the hourly wind trends from If it's in a building mode with a forecast for 15-25mph or greater, you've got a good shot of catching her. I've learned to forget the forecasts. More often than not, they're wrong when it comes to predicting winds in the harbor. On more than one occassion, we've made the trip with 30-40 knot gale force winds forecast only to arrive to flat glass. The wind tends to blow earlier in the day and then slacks off later. If you think it could happen by looking at the forecasts, get up early, check the hourly readings, and if they're building, you're probably ok to go. Just know that solid 5.5-6M conditions occur between 18 and 19 knot readings from the site listed above. You can also call Sky Point Airport for up to the minute readings (number listed under airports in wind section).

If you've never sailed waves, 18-19 knots is enough to give you excellent training without the severe punishment that can come with just a few more knots of wind. Waves on the lake are close together, and come all the time, not in sets like the ocean. So, it means you're "on" all the time, especially when working your way through the surf zone. Six meter conditions are great for this since you can learn when to approach a breaking wave and when to bear off. Superior is most often quite onshore wind, so it teaches excellent skills in working your way down the line until you bust through to more open conditions.

If you don't have wave experience, I'd caution against going out when winds are over 24 knots unless you're willing to take the risk with your equipment and your body. Once we hit 5M conditions the waves become considerably more powerful and the consequences of a fall are much more complicated. As the wind builds, 25 to 30 knot winds are as good as it gets with 4 to 4.5M sails. However, when the wind hits 40 knots, I'm off the water. This is where it gets dangerous since the waves are so close together, traveling very fast, and breaking without a solid pattern. It's not anything like sailng sub 4M conditions on the ocean.

So, after years of trying to catch the epic conditions on Superior, conditions I think are the best in the world, here's my main piece of advice: Check the hourly trends before making the trip. As you're driving, call the Skypoint airport and see if the trend is building. If it's dropped considerably and you haven't travelled far, you may consider aborting the trip. Not to be a pessimist, but if you can, pack a 120 liter board and 6.5M sail for the 16 knot winds you may end up with. All too often we've missed great sailing because we only brought sails up to 6M. "Talk" to the lake. Did you know 10% of the earth's fresh water is in this lake. No matter what conditions present to you, Lake Superior is a massive spiritual presence and she responds to personal dialogue. If you ask, and don't expect, you'll generally receive. There's simply no excuse for negative energy for this precious natural resource in our back yard. Don't rely on anyone to save you. Yes, it's always good to sail with friends, but be prepared always to rely on your own resources for getting you out of any situation. Perhaps the biggest caution is to dress properly. I made the mistake once of not wearing a neoprene cap and felt hypothermic within seconds of being rolled by a couple large waves. When your sail is down, you can't be seen in the waves. Beware of the floatation you'll need to get ashore if you lose your rig. We generally sail Tott Lot because we can walk out for an easier approach through the shore break and we're never more than 1/4 mile float to shore. Don't cross infront of the shipping channel. Enough traffic comes in and out of there and I can't imagine getting caught in the channel with a broken rig. Rig on the street side of the sand dune, where the park signs are. You're out of the wind and it's much less nerve racking than trying to rig in blowing sand and cold. We've been in the sun and comfortable in t-shirts, only to climb back over the dune, into the wind and 40 degree air.

It's late, and Ryan and I have just returned from a trip where the winds dropped to 16 knots after we saw them rock solid at 24 knots. He played in marginal 6M conditions. Had we checked the 3pm reading, we would have aborted. Just trying to pass on a little of our experience with this elusive sailing spot. Really, folks, I'll take this spot over just about anything I've ever sailed. Praying for some 4.5M-5M days in Duluth, Randy.
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