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Why We Love Sailing On Lake Tahoe

A question we often hear, with answers we continue to discover.

Cruiser's Academy goes sailing.
A Blue Bird Day Sailing in Lake Tahoe

Introduction to Lake Tahoe


Every summer, Lake Tahoe attracts boaters, water-lovers, and outdoor enthusiasts from around the world. With colors comparable to the hues of the Caribbean, the lake boasts depths of 1,645 feet—earning its spot as the second largest alpine lake in North America. Nestled in the stunning Tahoe basin, the lake rests at 6,200 feet above sea level. We joke that once you've sailed on Lake Tahoe, your officially a member of the Mile High Sailing Club!


While it’s easy to picture a beautiful lake littered with speed boats, it is less often that people speak of the robust culture and community around sailing. As the zephyr's pick up each afternoon, the speedboats often make their way to the marinas and boat ramps, and the sailors make their way out to play in the afternoon winds. The mountains and valleys make for ever-changing conditions that keep you on your toes, and create the perfect training grounds for new sailors to perfect their skills.


In this blog, we’ll highlight some of our favorite parts of the sailing community in Tahoe: it's history, people, places, and everything in between. 


Sailing Tahoe in windy conditions
Keeled Over on a Windy Summer Day

Tahoe’s Weather Reputation 


Tahoe’s signature charm is her weather. Being an alpine lake located so far (laterally speaking and elevation-wise) from the coastal sailing epicenters, has forced folks to admit their initial distrust in the winds and uneasiness about the cold water. And it’s true, the cold winters, mountain winds, and alpine waters create very engaging conditions that, in our opinion, shape even beginners into creative and thoughtful sailors. 


Let's start with the seasonality. Yes, it’s true that folks usually don’t sail year-round in Tahoe. But savoring those months of prime sailing makes them even more special! With the exception of intrepid mid-winter ski-crazed sailors fiending for an epic backcountry link-up, the sailing season in Tahoe typically lasts from May-October. Racing starts the first week of June and goes till the last week of September, and charter boats run mid-May to mid-October. Of course, this always will depend on the previous winter’s snow pack and whether warm, dreamy conditions decide to linger into October. Usually, we enjoy water temperatures into the high 60’s and even 70’s on warm years which makes swimming perfectly invigorating. 


And then there’s of course, the wind. In the summertime, Tahoe treats its sailors to fairly predictable and consistent winds, known as Zephyrs (meaning westerly winds). The prevailing wind direction in North Lake Tahoe is south-westerly, usually blowing between 6-15 kts, which faithfully arrives almost every afternoon around 3pm. The reason for this prevailing wind direction is largely due to elevation and temperature difference between the valleys on either side of the basin. Heat and subsequent low atmospheric pressure in the Sacramento Valley and Reno Desert drive wind through our high mountain basin, giving us strong and consistent wind systems from West to East.


Now, that’s not to say we don’t get our share of playful wind shifts. Tahoe’s wind can be frustratingly fickle and is quite different from the consistent coastal breezes that ocean sailors experience. Truthfully, however, we wouldn’t have it any other way! In the racing world, being able to “play the shifts” is the craft of a fine sailor. Many coastal sailors have chided TYC racers over drinks that “lake sailing makes sailors soft…”. But once in the race, Tahoe sailors’ often smoke the competition due their superpower—heightened sensitivity to these winds. 


All that said, the weather in the mountains turns fast. Frequent summer thunderstorms send out formidable high winds, forcing many sailors back into the marina, tail between their legs. But the basin’s moodiness has also forced sailors to adapt; they learn to reef early and drop their sails FAST. 


All said and done, Tahoe’s (mostly) sunny summertime weather, its unbelievably clear water, mostly predictable wind patterns, and obvious lack of ocean swell, make for ideal sailing conditions. We count ourselves pretty lucky to be making careers as both professional and recreational sailors in this “tropical mountain paradise,” as Blue calls it. 


Paddle boarding on the East Shore of Lake Tahoe
Hidden Rocks to Discover, Paddle boarding on the East Shore
History of Sailing on the Lake Tahoe

The mid-1800s marked the start of Tahoe’s rich maritime history. Indigenous people native to the basin, the Wašišiw, first explored the lake on canoe-style vessels built from hollowed-out logs. According to local history writer Doug Noble, the first documented sailcraft was a seven-ton gaff-rigged sloop called “Edith Batty.” Built in Glenbrook in the 1850’s, she was mainly used as a recreational passenger vessel. The first documented sailboat used commercially in Lake Tahoe was a 60 foot double-ended schooner named the Iron Duke, built in North Lake in 1860.


The Tahoe Yacht Club, located in Tahoe City, CA was founded in 1925 as the “Tahoe Power Boat Club'' (we personally think Tahoe Sailing Club would’ve been cooler…). The club was founded by a group of socialites with an affinity for racing and cruising on predominantly, historic power-boats. Allegedly, it took some convincing and much deliberation for them to agree to allow sailors to join. Many of the founding members, nevertheless, had strong ties to the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco. They brought their Bay Area maritime influence to summers in Tahoe, helping mature the culture of organized boating events. The ties they created, between Bay Area sailing culture and Tahoe, still persist today; many Tahoe sailors, in fact, travel to the bay to scratch their sailing itch over the winter once the snow falls.


TYC hosts the Dick Ferris Memorial Beercan Series for keelboats every Wednesday night which are organized as buoy races with three different divisions based on boat speed and class. Some of the fastest and most iconic boats on the lake, from the swift Melges 24s to beauties like August Ice (an elegant J-125), can be found defending their division standing out on the water each week. Tahoe is also home to one of the longest running organized laser fleets in the U.S. which has been going strong since the 70's. The fleet can still be seen zipping around every Monday evening in the summertime, attracting world-class laser-lovers from near and far.


Blue sees weather worsening on Lake Tahoe
I see wind!

A New Chapter in Tahoe’s History: Enter, Cruisers Academy 


In 2020, Cruisers Academy was founded in Lake Tahoe, and is quickly becoming a pillar of the sailing community. Brady Trautman and Alex Blue spent a decade living aboard a 53' sailboat and circumnavigating the world. They documented much of their journey on Youtube, and you can check out their channel to follow along with all their sailing adventures.


While many people are interested in sailing in Lake Tahoe, access to boating in general is limited and expensive. Cruisers Academy is remedying this by creating their CA-1 course, which spans across 4 consecutive days and trains people to competent and confident sailors. This Sailing Fundamentals course is designed for people who have never set foot on a boat, or sailors who want to deepen their understanding and spend time on the water to build up their intuitive sailing skills. We believe educational experience is the quickest way for you to reach your sailing goals, which is why this course is the perfect combo between classroom time to understand the theory, and hours on hours of first-hand experience on the water.


For those who are interested in continuing their sailing education, Cruisers Academy also has a continued education program that runs every Wednesday in June-July, and the weekends in August-September that will allow people to join on our Catalina 26' out of the Tahoe City Marina. We also offer Offshore Cruising Courses in Mexico for anyone who wants to experience the cruising lifestyle and get in some ocean miles.


For the last several years, Cruisers Academy has partnered with local non-profits such as The Sendit Foundation and The High Fives Foundation as part of their therapy sailing program. We've gotten to share our love of sailing on the lake with cancer survivors and injured athletes, and this is just the beginning! A new non-profit, The Ebb & Flow Organization is in the works to continue growing accessibility to the lake and continue getting people out on the water who need it the most.


It definitely feels that Tahoe sailors have stumbled on a cheat-code for life. Where else can you spend the morning ripping downhill on your mountain bike or hiking through snow capped peaks and your afternoon out on the lake for a swim or a dreamy sunset cruise. Between the breath-taking beauty, the mountain lifestyle, the impassioned community of sailors we get to be a part of and the legacy we hope to carry on, we know we’ve found something truly special here in Lake Tahoe. 


Interested in taking a CA-1 course? Check out the curriculum below or learn more here.


WHAT IS WEATHER?!

How does wind work & local weather forecasting tools

02/

BASIC SAILING THEORY

How we harness the wind to move us & points of sail

03/

HANDS-ON EXPERIENCE

Learn crew roles of helming, working the sheets & navigating. Become experts of the tack & gybe

04/

CREWMANSHIP

Importance of working as a team & how to be the best crew possible

05/

SAILBOAT ANATOMY

Learn to communicate about boats like a true sailor

06/

BASIC DOCKING THEORY

Get the tools to prepare yourself for docking

07/

BASIC ANCHORING THEORY

Get the tools and general knowledge to prepare yourself for anchoring

08/

KNOTS 101

Learn the most commonly used knots, a sailor's best friend

09/

SAILBOAT SAFETY

How to stay aboard & keep all your fingers intact

10/

CRUISERS ACADEMY “SAILING BIBLE”

All of the info above will be in your own waterproof handbook along with CA Curriculum, notes, certifications & nautical mile logger.


Tahoe community out sailing
Happy Sailors

Fun on the Lake: Tips, Tricks, and Rules for Recreational Sailing


So, we’ve convinced you to see the magic yourself. Now, here are some recommendations, tricks and insider tips we don’t think you’ll want to miss: 


  • In Lake Tahoe, you can only anchor for a total of 72 consecutive hours on the lake. At first it may seem stringent, but the lake is small (relatively speaking) and there are a limited number of anchorages, meaning that it’s harder to preserve the natural beauty of the basin if people live on the water for longer periods of time. 

  • Speaking of which, dumping waste of any kind overboard is illegal in Lake Tahoe. All human waste must be pumped out at any of the marinas and trash must be deposited on-shore.  

  • All vessels launching into the lake must be inspected for invasive species at any of the TRPA watercraft inspection sites. This helps preserve the health of the Lake’s ecosystem.

  • A size limit exists for launching boats due to the size of marinas, cranes, and launching facilities available. In fact, one of the biggest boats on the lake, the Tahoe Cruz (50 ft monohull) made the local news when it was trailered due to the massive undertaking involved in moving it, as compared to other Tahoe boats. 

  • Finding a mooring, storage on water, or other boat parking is difficult, increasingly pricey, and currently a hot-button topic. Rules and regulations are actively changing and influencing where boats can be stored. If you have good connections and generous friends, you should be lucky to find a buoy that works for you. And there’s always the option of utilizing one of the many boat ramps along the shoreline. 

  • That brings us to… amazing anchorages! With the wind usually blowing out the West, we teach that the West Shore, as opposed to the East Shore, is a safer bet for anchoring. On the West side, if your anchor fails, you’ll have the whole lake to float across before hitting rocks on the East Shore. That being said, we’ve explored the East a lot and have found some dreamy places to hook it for the night. 

  • One of our favorite anchorages on the East Shore is Chimney Beach, home to a stone chimney relic of the past, clear Caribbean-esque waters, and excellent paddle boarding. Generally speaking, all along the East shore, stacked boulders and shallow waters make for stunning scenery best viewed by paddle board.  

  • On the West Shore, D.L. Bliss is an ideal anchoring spot, and a State Park, protected from traffic, noise or light pollution once the beach-goers retreat home. While a bit less isolated than Emerald Bay, there are impressive cliff jumps and some of the deepest waters on the lake’s shore. The northern terminus of the Rubicon Trail is accessible here which means great hiking, as well. Another stake park, Emerald Bay, lives on the West Shore. Not just a geological wonder, the Bay carries much of Tahoe’s early history; it is home to Tahoe’s singular island where a stone, castle-like tea house sits perched on top. Eagle Falls, a beautiful waterfall, is also an easy hike off on the main shore. If you visit, know you can’t anchor overnight; you can, however, rent a buoy or use their dock to use the campground overnight (which costs $35/night and is open from June to Late September).

Cruiser's Academy teaches sailing on Lake Tahoe
Another day on the water with Cruiser's Academy


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