In a Great Lake and Close to Home

Erie's a body of water the locals love for countless good reasons. "Charter Briefing" from our July 9, 2009 CW Reckonings

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Panacea, the Catalina 36 chartered by our editors from Fair Wind Sailing School, lies at mooring H-7 in the harbor at Put-in-Bay, South Bass Island, Lake Erie.Michael Lovett

I grew up in western Pennsylvania, where boating typically means no more than a cuddy cabin cruiser or a runabout and a fishing rod. I fled for saltwater and palm trees early on, and never looked back-until Sailing World colleague Mike Lovett and I spent four flawless days on a bareboat charter in the islands of Lake Erie's shallow western basin.

Daily I had to pinch myself, because all the assumptions I'd held about this polluted body of water were … just that, assumptions, and, primarily outdated ones.

Aboard a comfortable Catalina 36 kindly made available from Dave Bello's Fair Wind Sailing School (www.fairwindsailing.com) out of Sandusky, Ohio, Mike and I, and his sister Kate, enjoyed steady, 12-knot breezes and vigorous reaches among islands including Kelleys, North Bass, Middle Bass, and South Bass, this last island the location of the well-known party town, Put-In-Bay.

But Put-In-Bay is also known for much more: the Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial in recognition of the Battle of Lake Erie, the decisive clash of the War of 1812. And Put-In-Bay-well, actually, nearby Gibraltar Island-is the site of Stone Laboratory. It's the oldest freshwater biological field station in the United States and the place where Ohio State University researchers study and monitor Lake Erie, which Stone Lab director Jeffrey Reutter describes as "arguably the most important lake in world."

Why does he think that? I'm not going to steal my own thunder; I urge cruisers and vacation sailors to hang on until my feature about this charter runs in an upcoming issue of Cruising World. Until then, keep thinking about those places close to home that you consider prime cruising and chartering grounds, and share them with us. In retrospect, I'm grateful my wanderlust carried me far beyond inland shores, but it's also grand to know that cruising under sail isn't measured only in full moon parties and pain killers.