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The Motor is So 2010: Why You Should Try Sailing

Okabena Sailboats

Sailboats on Lake Okabena about a century ago.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve rarely spotted a sailboat on our lake.  I have photos of “glory days “ on the lake, dotted with white triangular sails.  Those days seem to have come and gone.

There’s something deep and soulful about commanding a vessel powered solely by nature.  You may be at the helm, but nature is truly in control.  The strongest winds show you the ferocity of life.  There is no motor to kill.  The gusts and gales can drive you to edge of terror and what it means to be human.  Sailing is the essence of human transport.  The boat isn’t a vessel, it’s an instrument.  The wind is your rhythm and meter.  You’re making classical music.  And, above all, you feel like you’re really doing something.


The modern “E Scow” in action on Labor Day.

Little more than a century ago, sailing was the only mode of global transportation.  If you didn’t sail or the winds didn’t blow, you didn’t go.  I frequently read biographies of adventurers and recently started the journal of Captain James Cook who charted much of the Pacific.  At the end of one of his multiyear journeys at sea, as the ship was ready to sail for home, Cook announced to his men that he had decided to extend their voyage another two years despite the harsh environment and solitude of the sea.  The crew let out an enormous cheer that they could sail onward.  There was something captivating about sailing.

Some of my earliest lake memories were near a sailboat.  As a child, I remember watching with envy as my family members piloted the sailboats at our dock and, in their greatest moments, tipped the sailboats over for FUN.


I watch on with envy: My grandfather pilots the original C Scow as my mother climbs onto a sideboard for ballast (circa 1986).

Eventually, the sailboats gave way to motorized craft.  For seasons at a time, the sailboats never entered the water until, sadly, the crown jewel of our small fleet—a wooden 20’ “C Scow”—finally rotted as it waited in a horse pasture.

Recently, sailing has made a renaissance at our home.  Harkening back to my childhood memories, I searched high and low for a new 20’ foot C Scow—the modern version of our old wooden boat.  A scow is a fast, flat boat made for racing.   Unlike our old wooden one, the new ones are made of fiberglass and aluminum for a quick, responsive ride.  We found a relatively new boat, dirt-cheap.


The E Scow on Labor Day Weekend.

Today, the motorboat and jet ski mostly sit on their stands.  There are always crowds at the dock lined up to take out the sailboats.  In high winds, we take fast little boats called Lasers.  My father and I just drag raced each other around the lake all day yesterday.  In lighter winds, it’s scows, like our 28’ foot Megles E Scow.  With a crew of 5, sailing is a party.

I can see why sailing has lost its popularity.  It takes some work—you have to rig the boat—and some understanding—you have to learn a few things about wind direction and technique.  We’ve made watersports too easy today.  Just gas up the jetski and go.  Anyone can drive it; no instruction necessary.  We love easy—especially my generation.  It’s why we’d rather read the Sparknotes summary of a book or put the cheat codes into a video game to skip to the end.

Lisa and Jay Flipping the Laser

Lisa and Jay accidently tipping over the Laser.  Guess we still have to learn.

But, easy is a fling.  It’s a hollow, fleeting indulgence, and varnish wears off quickly.  It’s the long-term, lifetime-to-master that is fulfilling.  Sailing is a long-term relationship.

I wish for a sailing renaissance.  I’d love to once again see a lake full of sailboats.  At our dock, it’s happened.  The sail is the new norm, and the motor is so 2010.


Ever Dream of Your Own Apple Orchard? I Do.

Our family heirloom is an apple.  No, not a carefully curated first generation iPod, but an actual, grown-on-a-tree apple.  The kind you eat and it supposedly keeps the doctor away.


As the story goes, my great-great-great grandfather, H.J. Ludlow, a horticulturalist, grafted this special, hearty apple.  It grew on the shores of Lake Okabena in Worthington, Minnesota, and took the name “The Okabena Apple.” Continue Reading →


Stunning Minnesota at Night: A Photo Essay

The Lake at Night

I had to share these photos that I took late last night.  Yesterday evening, around 9 a.m. there were hundreds of fireflies dancing in the park acrsoss the street.  I have never seen anything like it.  I tried to photograph them, but struggled to get the right shot.   About 1 a.m., I was climbing into bed and decided I wanted one last chance at capturing the fireflies with a long exposure.  I threw some clothes on and walked across the street.  Unfortunately, the fireflies had mostly gone to sleep already too.  Rather than give up, I decided I’d go and give the lake a shot.  It did not disappoint.

The photo above was taken at 1 a.m., believe it or not.  It was a bright moon and I used a long exposure.  The yellow streaks are firefly trails–the from the few fireflies still up.  And, if you look closely, you can see the stars in the deep blue high in the photograph.  This was taken on Lake Okabena in Worthington, Minnesota.


This is the park across the street where the fireflies were dancing.  I took this photo around 9 p.m. and it was the only photo I could get.  Unfortunately, this photo doesn’t do the fireflies justice.  They were everywhere.  The yellow streaks are the firefly trails.  I count six fireflies in the single photo.  I’m going to try for a better photo again tonight.

The Dock at Night

Finally, here is our dock on Lake Okabena at night.  This photo is quintessential Minnesota.


This Weekend’s Triathlon – And Why I Almost Didn’t Do It

In 2005, I bought out all my formula windsurfing gear to California.  I had a huge board and a 10-foot long sail.  Not to mention a boom, harness, and others parts.  I stuffed everything into my dorm room.  Why?  Because I wanted to race.  Or, at least I did in theory.

There were a number of windsurfing races in San Diego.  The year before, I made plans to race at every possible opportunity.  It sounded great in the abstract.  I remember the night before a race, I sat up debating whether I wanted to go.  I had many excuses: It was a long drive, I'd have to get up early, and it might make me too tired for studying later.  I didn't go.  And, after I didn't go that first time, it was easy not to go again.  In sum, I never went and my gear sat in the dorm room.

I had a flashback to that moment on Friday night.  I sat and debated whether I wanted do a triathlon on Saturday morning.  In the abstract, I wanted to do it.  But, it was easy to make the same excuses and talk myself down.

A friend and I talked awhile back about what it takes to climb mountains.  He had done Denali (McKinley) and told me how when things got tough, most other climbers would suddenly become overwhelmingly self-righteous.  They'd say, "You know, I've got a family," or "I've got responsibilities," and then talk themselves into turning around on moralistic grounds.

It's easy to find moralistic excuses in the face of adversity.

Trek Speed Concept 9.5

I was going to go, then I wasn't going to go, then I was going to go.  Finally, at 11 p.m., I decided I'd throw in the towel.  Out of curiosity, I Google-mapped the destination: Castaic Lake.  I thought it would be an hour-and-a-half drive from me.  To my surprise, only 40 minutes–practically in my backyard.  Now I had to go–it was settled.

And now, I'm so glad I did go.  It was a beautiful morning with a swim in warm, clear water.  The bike ride was fast through the mountains and the run tip-toed around the resevoir.  I had my personal best on the swim, my personal best for average speed on the bike, and a solid run.  To top it all off, I came in fourth in my age group, which secured a medal for me!

It made me with I would have gone to those windsurfing races a few years ago.  No doubt, I would have be so glad that I did.


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