It’s not an uncommon thing to see numerous boats out on the waters of Rainy Lake.
But members of the Rendezvous Yacht Club are hoping to see a few more, especially those of the sailing variety.
The club, which counts approximately 10-15 regulars among its fleet, has been working hard to work up some interest in the sport on both sides of the border, but haven’t seen the desired results, especially this year.
“The club has tried a variety of different things over the years,” explained club commodore Kevin Peterson.
“We’ve hosted youth sailing classes in the summer, and we have done community sail events.
“The youth sailing events were well-attended, but it seems like after a few seasons, interest sort of wanes in whatever we try. We’re not sure why. It could be just because we have a limited pool, so to speak, of folks who are interested in sailing in this area.
“Frankly, we’re sort of left scratching our heads,” admitted Peterson.
Another initiative, the “new crew program,” which was one of the more successful events for the club and helped to glean new members in past years, the event scheduled for this past June had to be cancelled due to lack of interest.
“The past few seasons, we’ve been offering something that we call a ‘new crew program,’ which involves some classroom time and some on-the-water time to teach the fundamentals of sailing and a little bit about sailboat racing.
“The ‘new crew program’ has been one of our more successful attempts at growing the club because we have added some new participants, some active members, directly through that program, so that’s the one that we are most interested in continuing.
“Our approach will be to continue to promote that event.”
Peterson stressed the importance of the program for interested community members, as it provides a solid knowledge basis for sailors before they set foot onto a boat.
“Doing the ‘new crew’ program, it accomplishes a couple of things,” pointed out Peterson.
“For one, it helps people establish those contacts with the different skippers.
“It assures that just some of the basic things like safety and seamanship are talked about prior to taking someone out on the boat.
“Safety is number one, being on the water. Everyone has varying levels of experience and comfort,” he concluded.
Peterson made clear that club members are more than happy to show the ropes to potential members, but also stressed that the situation is a two-way street, as members aren’t going to continue to make the first move and plan events if people don’t show interest.
“All of the club members are always very happy to take people along with them,” remarked Peterson.
“We feel we need a critical mass to make it worthwhile. It is a fairly big commitment for club members.
“We are asking club members to commit two days, basically an entire summer weekend [for the ‘new crew program’],” he continued.
“If we don’t have enough folks sign up, it’s just not worth the effort of putting on the program.”
Peterson added that he has been out to some of the events that were sparsely attended, and noted that it is a drain for the club’s members.
“Quite honestly, last year, I was at some of those events, myself, and not one single person came down to take advantage of the opportunity,” recalled Peterson.
“After a couple years of doing that, it just gets hard to ask club members to commit time.
“What would help us is if the community just responded with some interest.
“That would motivate club members, I think, to show up and provide these opportunities.
“We’re a small community, and we need to kind of pump each other up, and our enthusiasm kind of feeds off one another,” he wrapped up.
Veteran skipper Jack Bartlett, who sails the “Mad Hatter,” has also noticed the aging of the club, and pointed out that nearly everyone who tries sailing has a good time doing it, be they young or old.
“It’s gotten older,” chuckled Bartlett. “As our young people move away, we haven’t got as many back into the sport as we have in the past, and so we’re anxious to get younger participants and more participants.
“The same thing can be said of just about any aspect of life in our two towns, I’m sure. We find our young people moving away.
“Almost everyone who goes with us, no matter what their age, enjoys it. It’s almost everybody who enjoys the activity of sailing.
“It’s very rare that we hear something other than ‘I really had a good time’ when we take somebody sailing,”
Bartlett theorized that while those who come out enjoy the sport, the younger people have a wide variety of interests, and are unable to wrap themselves completely in sailing.
“The difficulty is the commitment by the young people to actually do it over the whole summer,” noted Bartlett.
“You can get people to go with you once, twice, maybe take a training class.
“When the club’s activities are over the whole summer, their interest isn’t in doing it, it’s in doing something else.”
Colin Hewitt, who has been involved in the club for over 25 years and is the skipper of “Ariba,” pointed out that it’s possible to take two different approaches to sailing.
One is racing, for which the RYC provides several opportunities.
The club primarily races on two different days, racing every Wednesday night just off of Pither’s Point Park and La Place Rendezvous to give the club its namesake, while also holding about five longer races on Saturdays throughout the summer.
However, Hewitt also explained that just heading out onto the water for a non-competitive ride can be a blast as well,
“You can be into racing, or you can be into cruising,” explained Hewitt, who recalled that the club had “upwards of 25 boats” during its heyday in the 1970s.
“Most of us are really into cruising. We’ll go out and tie up to an island somewhere and enjoy the lake and a campfire and cookout.
“That’s probably what we’re more into these days. A lot of us like to go out for the weekend and just relax and have a good time.
“My cabin can be anywhere I want,” he wrapped up.
Both Hewitt and Peterson stressed their good fortune to live near the shores of Rainy Lake, which both lauded for its beauty.
“No disrespect to Lake of the Woods, this is probably a nicer lake overall,” opined Hewitt, adding that sailing tends to be more popular on Lake of the Woods.
“There’s some big water, but then there’s lots of islands to go around.
“It’s a beautiful channel out there. You can go out for a nice relaxing evening [without] much work.
“Sailing on Rainy Lake, I can’t imagine that another lake in the world is any better than this.”
Peterson, meanwhile, enjoys the view when he goes out to cruise, as there are developed areas here and there, but there are significant sections left unto itself.
“For me, personally, the natural beauty of Rainy Lake rivals any lake in the part of the world, and I’ve been on more than a couple, including some time on Lake Superior and literally dozens of our inland lakes, perhaps hundreds,” explained Peterson.
“I like the fact that it’s lightly developed, so I’m not looking at a lot of cottages and industry and so forth on the waterfront,” he added.
“I like the fact that it’s lightly traveled. In other words, there aren’t a lot of other boaters out there.
“It’s a good way to get out and enjoy Mother Nature and all the sights and sounds that go along with it in a relatively unspoiled environment,” he wrapped up.
Meanwhile, Bartlett, who lives in International Falls, takes joy in the competitive aspect of the club, adding that racers not only battle each other, but elements of the lake as well.
Bartlett explained that sailboats draw approximately four to five feet of water, and sometimes, rocks and other obstacles can wreak havoc with skippers.
“There are underwater hazards that are shallower than that. Some of them are unmarked, so that’s difficult,” remarked Bartlett.
“The winds are always challenging in the little channels and sometimes you just choose not to go there because the winds can be impossible.
“It’s a relatively protected body of water so you don’t get really heavy winds very often, or big waves. Normally, the waves are less than three feet high and most of the boats. . . can handle those without difficulty, so it’s not a dangerous weather lake.” he concluded.
Hewitt stressed that the sport is likely not as difficult as it might initially seem, and the ability to handle the changes in wind is what is especially key to finding success in sailing.
“It’s not a simple thing, but it’s not that hard,” commented Hewitt.
“A lot of people think it’s harder than it really is.
“You can go from calm to really strong winds. You’ve got to be able to deal with all the conditions and understand the lake.
“The people that follow the wind and know what the wind shifts are—you can make big gains or have big losses if you’re not watching the wind, if you go to the wrong side of the course.
“You can make up a big distance by looking at what the wind is doing on the water [by] going into an appropriate area to get better wind or a different direction of wind.”
And though angling is the watersport of choice in the region, Hewitt pointed out some advantages for sailors, adding that he puts off fishing until winter.
“People always ask me about fishing rods,” he noted. “‘Wow, you must fish a lot.
“I do that in wintertime. In summertime, I go sailing. I’m not interested in fishing.
“Fishing is a good thing to do, but I’d rather do something else.
“It’s a lot cheaper than a powerboat,” he chipped in.
“You can get a good sailboat for under $10,000. You can’t even buy a motor on most of the powerboats that are in the bass tournament or anything [for that cost].”
Some competitors don’t even require boats, as sailboarder John LePine demonstrated at the races last Wednesday. LePine noted that he was making his first appearance at a race since the early 1990s, but looked as though he was still proficient with the device, handling the waves that Rainy Lake threw at him.
“When the wind’s going, you go really, really, really fast,” said LePine. “It’s a workout.
“You’re always adjusting, whether it’s your balance and your feet.
“You’re as old as you feel. I’ll hurt tomorrow,” he kidded.
For community members looking to get involved, there is one more community sailing event this year, though it will be on the Minnesota side.
The club will be offering rides during Ranier Days, taking out people on the afternoon of Aug. 14.
“For as many as three or four weeks during the summer, we provide the opportunity for community members and visitors to go out for a short boat ride on Rainy Lake.
“Again, in part due to declining participation and interest in that event, we are going to do that in conjunction with Ranier Days on Aug. 14.
“Several club members will be on hand to take folks out for a sailboat ride on Rainy Lake, if they are interested.”