Grasshopper Soup: Learn the secret of Tahoe wind | SierraSun.com

Grasshopper Soup: Learn the secret of Tahoe wind

Bob Sweigert

Good news! Wicked is back in town. Wicked is the name of a Farr 36 sailboat whose glory days of racing on San Francisco Bay and Tahoe are behind her because of bigger, faster, more modern boats, but she is still a force to be reckoned with on her home waters of Lake Tahoe. Wicked has won many trophies, including a few first place finishes of the legendary Trans-Tahoe race.

Wicked just returned from competing in the mid-winter sailing regattas on San Francisco Bay held by the Golden Gate Yacht Club, The San Francisco Yacht Club and the Corinthian Yacht Club. The winter regattas are over and summer is about to hit. Seize the day! Launch your boat, catch the wind, go fast and get Wicked!

Winning a sail boat race is not just a matter of boat size and cost. Local wind secrets and racing strategy also play a role. Wicked's Tahoe City crew is well acquainted with the complex wind patterns of Lake Tahoe. The wind accelerates out of the West Shore canyons and opposing winds ram into each other near places like Blackwood Canyon, Ward Canyon and Sugar Pine Point.

The air flow from the west coast creates vortices of wind that collide and rotate with such power they can break a mast or a rudder and thoroughly confound a captain and crew unfamiliar with Tahoe wind.

Unlike the open ocean, the norm for Tahoe canyon wind is multi-directional. On Tahoe the wind can even come from directly above, straight down on an unsuspecting crew. The mountains push the wind straight up and then it is forced back down on the lake so you can't see it coming.

Usually a sailor can see the wind coming across the surface of the water by watching for the wind line. The wind line is a distinct difference in the shade of blue on the water. A lighter shade of blue signifies gentle, or no wind. As a stronger wind approaches, the wind front creates a line of darker blue to black that says prepare to heel over and hang on.

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If you choose to drift on a windless day, beware! Secure your rigging. You will have no choice but to sit and wait, feeding the sea gulls, bored and impatient for wind. While keeping a sharp eye out for the wind line you may set your bottle of beer down on the deck with a bag of chips and a sandwich and all of a sudden, wham! Everything goes flying and your sail boat starts jumping up and down. You abandon your picnic litter to the ghost and scramble to get control of the sheets without being thrown over board.

That happened to me and Mike Pavel nearly 30 years ago. We were unprepared and hit by a gust of wind that came, not from across the water, but from directly overhead.

Captain Mike, infinitely more experienced now, and Captain Jim Courcier are co-owners of Tahoe Sailing Charters based out of the Tahoe City Marina. They have been sailing and parasailing since 1988 and together have over 50 years of experience with the tricky winds of Lake Tahoe. Their passengers are always amazed at how accurately Mike and Jim can read the wind and time the filling of the sails almost to the second.

Their boat, the Tahoe Cruz, has main sail and jib reefing capability and is big enough to sail safely on Tahoe in 40 knot winds.

For more info on Tahoe Sailing Charters go to tahoesail.com. Half price specials are in effect until Father's Day. And don't cancel just because you don't see wind. Many an experienced sailor from the east coast, and other well known sailing waters, has made that mistake only to lose their seat to someone on the waiting list who ends up having a great sailing adventure. The wind usually shows up on time for the 2:30 and 5:30 departures.

Summer is upon us with all her sweet and wicked temptations. If sailing Lake Tahoe is tempting you, go!

Bob Sweigert is a Sierra Sun columnist, published poet, former college instructor and ski instructor. He has a B.A. and an M.A.T. from Gonzaga University. He has lived at Lake Tahoe for 30 years.