The Sailing Statesman
Many RVers proudly adorn their rigs with stickers from all the states they’ve visited. And we’ve all heard about that diehard baseball or football fanatic who has made it a mission to attend games at all the famous stadiums across the country. But Ohio Latitude reader Al Michaud had a different travel goal in mind . . .
The idea came to me in the summer of 2001, while taking a shower. I was thinking about the different places I had sailed, and realized they were spread out over about a dozen states — enough to think it would be fun to try and sail in all 50.
My rules were simple: Sail on any navigable piece of water in any sort of sailing craft. I thought it might take 20 years. I wasn’t far off. Without the support of my wife, Barb, this scheme never would have gotten off the ground. She’s been my soulmate and sailing support crew for 47 years, helped pay for my first boat before we were married, and sailed with me for a dozen years until our second child came along. We started combining vacation travels to areas where sailing was possible. Our travels led to sailing in Oregon, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and a few other states.
Other places came through work. I live in Ohio, but the company I worked for often had sales meetings in distant locations. When most others would hit the golf course on our afternoon off, I would head for the water to beg a ride or charter a boat to sail. Business travel helped me sail in Texas, California, Washington, Iowa and Hawaii.
As my sailing and racing experience grew, I managed to add New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Wisconsin and Florida to the list. I made it to Alaska in 2013. I did have some wake-up calls. In the beginning, I thought I could just walk the docks and jump aboard a boat. But all I ever got were blank looks and polite "no thanks." That method failed every time. Another issue was that — with a few exceptions — the sailing/racing season is pretty much May-through-October across the country. That was a problem, because I wanted to race and sail my Hobie 33 during those same months. The solution was to take vacations in the fall and spring where boats are in the water.
By 2015, it became obvious that I would not get to all of the states by hitting only one or two per year. By then I was in my mid-60s with 17 states still to go. It was time for Plan B. I purchased a Catalina Capri 14.2 and convinced Denny, a non-sailing friend, to help me on my "Great Midwest Sailing Tour" of five states in the Heartland. I left Michigan and drove 10 hours to his home in Webster City, Iowa, towing the little Capri. The next morning, we took off for Nebraska. I had stashed a copy of Sailing for Dummies under Denny’s seat with the thought that he could peruse the book and learn a bit before we hit the water. His reply was short: "I don’t read books."
It was September and the wind on Omaha’s Carter Lake was up a bit: high teens to about 20 knots. I wasn’t comfortable taking out a newbie on a boat that I, myself, had very little experience with. But the boat was fine with a reefed main, and being soloed by an anxious senior citizen. The road trip took in Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri. It was fun but exhausting: Travel half the day to a lake; rig and launch; go for a sail; de-rig: pull the boat out and get it road-ready — and repeat.
A few weeks later, Barb joined me for another road trip that checked off Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. I was down to nine states and counting! In 2017, I checked Arizona, North Dakota, New Jersey and Delaware off the list (including a win in the Cape to Cape race on a J/24 between the last two states). The year 2018 arrived with only four "unsailed" states remaining: Utah, Nevada, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
In March, I hooked up with a crew racing a Capri 30 on Lake Mead in Nevada. In May, I joined members of the Great Salt Lake Yacht Club — "Home of the World’s Saltiest Sailors" — in one of their Wednesday beer can races. Or I thought I did. Winds gusting 25-30 off the mountains turned the lake to solid whitecaps. I knew the race was going to be called off (and it was), but even if it hadn’t been, the wind blew enough water out of the harbor that the Santana 30-30 we were to sail couldn’t get out of the marina! Luckily, one of the crew members owned a Catalina 27 that could get out of the harbor; and he was game. By the time we threw off the dock lines, the wind began to abate and we had a really good sail.
The final leg of the bucket list took me to Rhode Island and Connecticut. Again, the sailing community came though. The son of one of the local sailors I’ve raced against in Michigan happened to relocate to Connecticut. We had crewed together for a Mackinac race a few years ago, and those long-distance races tend to lock in memories and acquaintances. Thanks to Steve Frazier, Connecticut and Rhode Island became the last two sails of my 20 year quest.
Readers — Al’s California sails were in Long Beach and San Diego. If he ever decides that bucket list needs "topping-up" someday, we certainly hope he’ll consider sailing on San Francisco Bay. Do you have a sailing bucket list? Is there a record you’d like to go for? Please, let us know.
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