COEUR d’ALENE – The wind gust can be seen on Lake Coeur d’Alene before it ever reaches the sails.
The wind whips up the channel south of Arrow Point and Ike Bailey cranks the ropes on a winch to position his boat to receive the charge of air.
The wind fills the sails and the boat lists 20 degrees to the right.
“It’s just my passion to do this,” Bailey says as the boat heels into the waves. “If you are going 8 to 10 knots, it feels like you are hauling ass.”
Bailey and several others at the Panhandle Yacht Club ply the ever-changing winds on Lake Coeur d’Alene to feed their passion for boating in its purest form. All their boats have small motors, but it’s the wind that gives them their thrills.
“We work with all the natural forces,” said Rich Krogh, the yacht club’s commodore. “It makes me use the cerebral part of my brain. Often, you can’t see the wind. You have to feel what it does. You have to learn to work with it.”
But unlike the steady breezes on the ocean that allowed humans to travel the earth, lake winds can be very unpredictable. Dead calm can turn into gale-force winds in seconds.
“When there is no wind, you drop your sails, drop your anchor and just enjoy the time,” Krogh said. “I like the peace and quiet.”
The club was founded more than 30 years ago after several like-minded individuals – mostly those who had sailing experience on the east or west coasts – formed together to buy a piece of property to build a marina.
They found a small piece on Paradise Bay that had once been a hotdog and hamburger stand. Today, the marina has 112 slips, a clubhouse, a camping area, showers, kitchen and even a mechanical tow that allows boat owners to pull their craft up on dry-dock.
The club often makes accommodations for anyone who wants to sail. They even welcomed a family last year from Nebraska who hauled a 25-foot sailboat halfway across the country to try to Lake Coeur d’Alene.
“We are sociable,” Krogh said. “If someone comes and asks, ‘Might I get to sail?’ Sure would be my answer.”
Bailey, 60, grew up in San Diego and finally landed in Spokane after eight years in the army and a career in the gambling industry.
When Bailey drives from the South Hill to Arrow Point, he looks down at the Coeur d’Alene Resort Golf Course from the Veterans Memorial Bridge on Interstate 90. “If the flag is flapping, it’s going to be good sailing.
“I’d say about a quarter of the time, there is no wind. Just because the wind is blowing in Spokane doesn’t mean it’s blowing here,” Bailey said. “I usually just get on the horn and call the harbor master to get the wind conditions.”
Krogh, 65, has an easier time of judging the conditions. He lives on the lake not far from the marina.
He grew up near San Francisco Bay and his father had a motorboat. “I was a motorboat guy,” said Krogh, who later taught water ski jumping and slalom skiing.
But he got offered the job as sailing instructor at the University of San Diego’s Mission Bay Aquatic Center and he had to learn sailing on the job.
“I absolutely went head over heels,” he said.
Bailey, who grew up scuba diving, has only been sailing for nine years.
“When you are sailing, you’ve got to be on your toes,” he said. “You learn to how to make the boat do the work for you. It’s sort of like golfing. I’m out here to have fun, not frustrate myself. Having a mentor is very important.”
Wolf Lodge Express
Boats in the marina, many of which were for sale, had several names that seemed appropriate: “Luff Affair,” “Sail A’Vie” and “Passing Wind.”
Bailey, who loves to listen to Carlos Santana while sailing, actually named his 1982 boat after one of Santana’s songs. He named his boat “The Curacion,” after a Santana song where he was singing about “sunlight on the water.”
The members tend to be loosely knit, but the yacht club also organizes events like the scavenger hunt where boat captains have to sail to different locations and find clues. The club has an upcoming event called “Champagne and Chocolate” where boat captains tie up to a mooring buoy in Beauty Bay and share sweets and drinks.
But both Bailey and Krogh said their favorite activities come in the evening with a wind that comes almost every summer night from the east and pushes west across the water. The sailors call it the Wolf Lodge Express.
“When it’s a hot day and flat out on our lake, you can count on good winds from Wolf Lodge,” Krogh said. “I’ve seen it blow 18 or 19 knots. A lot of guys won’t do it because it’s sailing in the dark. You’ve got to be confident in your skills, or things happen.”
Bailey said what he appreciates most about sailing is the tranquility. Sometimes, the only sound comes from waves lapping at the boat.
“You get to know why people call their boat ‘Therapy,’” he said. “I believe in the circle of life. I can’t get the water out of me.”