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It Starts with a Dream

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Photo by Trish Gannon Photo by Trish Gannon

Wind, Sails and Muscle... What better way to experience Lake Pend Oreille?

“It’s hard to explain the sense of peace,” said Barb Perusse. “It’s so quiet - just the wind in the sails, the water against the boat. After a day working retail, it’s exactly what I need.”

Perusse, who owns Mountain Communications in Sandpoint, is no stranger to boating. She grew up on the water and has piloted different types of water craft since she was a youngster. But it wasn’t until a few years ago that she found her passion on the lake - sailing.

“I went out with a friend who was just as new to sailing as I was,” she reminisced. “We left out of Bayview, planning to sail to Sandpoint. Well, somehow we ended up a little turned around and we were sailing backward. We were having so much fun, and we were so bad at sailing we couldn’t figure out what we were doing wrong, so we decided to sail all the way to Hope and call a friend to come pick us up. I was hooked.”

“Hooked,” is how most sailors describe the experience of synchronizing muscle, sails and wind with Mother Nature. “For most of us, it starts with a dream,” explained Marc DeLaVergne, former Commodore of the Sandpoint Sailing Association and co-owner of Sandpoint’s Outdoor Experience. “When I was in college, I couldn’t afford a sailboat so I bought (sailing) magazines - I had piles of them,” he laughed. “It doesn’t take long before you’re looking at used boats.”

Nicky Pleass is another who came to sailing in college, when she met a young sailor who would become her husband. “He was brought up in the big sailing center of Cowes (England),” she said, “and he could probably sail before he could walk. The trouble with teenage boys is they think they know it all. He couldn’t contemplate someone who didn’t know how to sail. It was a tough introduction to sailing,” she laughed, but Nicky, like Barb and Marc, was hooked. Nicky married and raised kids and, when those kids became teenagers, she and her family took off on a sailing trip around the world. “We took the kids out of school,” she said. “We were out four years (so) my children completed their high school education through correspondence courses. And they still got university entrance the same as they would have if they’d stayed in school.” Along with some education they wouldn’t have received in the public school system.

That was back in the 70s, when technology was limited, “and we steered by the sun and the moon and the stars.” Today, Zac Sunderland, currently attempting to set a record as the youngest person to ever sail around the world (he’s 16 years old), will have the benefit of computer-aided navigation, satellite telephones and other technological advances to make the job just a little bit easier - and maybe a little less fun.

After the world trip, Nicky and her husband re-settled in Maryland, where they started a sailing school and a charter boat company. And there they stayed until 1988, when a vacation trip brought them to North Idaho. “We had no intention of moving, or retiring,” Nicky said, “but we fell in love with it here like so many do.” It took them a couple years of dual residency before they moved here permanently, but they had a boat on Lake Pend Oreille their first season here.

“I really like fresh water sailing,” Nicky said. “I think it’s fun. When sailing, you’ve got to grab it when the weather and the wind is right - it’s an art. Anyone can get in a power boat and turn on the motor and drive - it’s like driving a car. With sailing...  it’s easy to get on a sailboat and go forward [don’t tell Barb that] but there’s truly an art to getting the best out of the boat. It can be frustrating at times,” she added, “but when it’s good, it’s very, very good.”

“Sailing is just a lifelong  learning process,” Marc explained. “Every day I go out I learn something new, either from the people around me or from the boat itself, or the lake. Sometimes the lake spanks me,” he added. He went on to explain the ‘art’ in sailing.

It starts with Mother Nature - mostly in the form of wind. No wind makes for a bad sailing day, but so can too much wind. “If the wind is too high, the boat is not sailing efficiently,” he said.

Then there’s the boat, as sailboats, like people, are all different. How they move in the water, the types and number of sails, fiberglass or wood - all can determine how the boat responds to the wind.

And then there’s the muscle - which is as much the muscle residing inside your skull as the sinews located in your arms and legs. While wind at your back might intuitively seem beneficial for sailing, that intuition is wrong. “Sailing with the wind at your back is the most difficult to learn,” Marc said. “And sailing into the wind involves learning how to tack and jibe (how to move the boat so that the wind is crossing the boat at an angle from one side or the other).”

Before learning to sail, it might be wise to brush up on some of the terminology for how the boat meets the wind - there’s beam reach, broad reach, close hauled, head to wind and more. And, of course, the “No Go Zone,” where the boat is pointed too close to the wind to generate any power.

“But that’s the lure of it for me,” Marc said. “You’re using your skill and your sails to capture the wind. When there’s just a slight wind, and I’m looking at the water, I can find myself in a Zen state. It’s better than drugs!” he laughed.

Those interested in sailing don’t have to learn the words and the skills on their own - that’s where the Sandpoint Sailing Association comes in.

Every Thursday night the SSA hosts sailboat races starting out at Sandpoint’s City Beach. And anyone interested is welcome to stop by, check out the boats, ask questions, and go out for a sail. “The Thursday night races are deliberately designed to be low-key,” explained Marc. “They’re a really good time for instruction.”

No sailing experience is necessary to participate - the point of the invitation is to offer a way where sailing experience can be gained.

Barb took advantage of those nights, and also signed up for “Captain’s School,” a training program for those who want to sail. “I still have to use the motor to get the sailboat into and out of the dock,” she said. “Don’t tell my instructor.”

This year, the Sailing Association has also joined with the City Parks and Rec Department to provide a youth program for 20 kids. A session is scheduled August 4 through 7, so call the Rec Department (208-263-3613) to sign up.

If you’d like more information, the Sandpoint Sailing Association has recently revamped their website (visit it here)at www.sandpointsailing.com and give them the chance to meet their goal - “to share every joy of sailing and inspire the passion and adventure that comes with sailing on Lake Pend Oreille.”

For those south of Sandpoint, Bayview hosts the Lake Pend Oreille Yacht Club (www.lpoyc.org), organized “to promote sailing and friendly competition on beautiful Lake Pend Oreille.”

A word about that ‘friendly competition’ - many passionate sailors are also avid racers, so don’t be surprised if you learn first hand just how fast “12 knots” can be.

No matter what your ultimate goal is, you can get out today (or Thursday) and enjoy the lake. And if you find yourself sailing backward, remember this advice from Barb: “Sailing is not about the destination - it’s about the journey.”

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Author info

Landon Otis

Tagged as:

outdoors, sailing, Barb Perusse, Mark DeLaVergne, Sandpoint Sailing Association, Nicky Pleass, Lake Pend Oreille Yacht Club

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