Grand Lake " Mountain sailing tests even the best sailors |

Grand Lake " Mountain sailing tests even the best sailors

Patrick Brower
Special to the Sky-Hi Daily News
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi Daily News
ALL | Sky-Hi Daily News

The wind, he said, can come straight down from the sky.

Straight down, that is, in a manner that would confound even the world’s greatest sailors.

The wind, he added, can also come from most any direction at most any time, changing in scope by 180 degrees in less than a minute.

Such variable and odd wind conditions would be bad enough without the added distraction that Colorado mountain sailing offers: great scenery.

Sailors have been known to be mesmerized by the beauty surrounding them, sometimes to the extent of distraction from the task at hand ” like managing downdraft winds that change speed and can spin in a vortex all around the boat.

All these factors and more make mountain sailing the lifetime hobby of people like Scott Munn of Grand Lake and the members of a group called SAIL (Sailing Association of Intermountain Lakes). For all of them, mountain sailing offers challenges, thrills and natural beauty.

And it offers the sensation of gliding swiftly over a mountain-ensconced body of water with nothing more than the rarefied, high-altitude wind as an engine.

“You can’t beat the majesty of mountain sailing,” Munn said. “It’s absolutely gorgeous. To have mountainsides climbing up fifteen hundred or two thousand feet right from the lake shore, with snowy peaks even higher in the distance, it’s just stunning.”

Munn would know. He grew up sailing on the waters of Grand Lake, Colorado’s biggest natural lake.

He’s a lifetime member of the Grand Lake Yacht Club, the highest registered yacht anchorage on a natural lake in the world, and he’s an accomplished sailing competitor.

Aside from winning the prestigious Lipton Cup in races on Grand Lake, he and fellow racers brother Jeff Munn of Denver, skipper Toby Sutherland of Denver and Sutherland’s E-Scow boat named “7”, rank 10th in the nation from seven years of competition against similar craft from the East Coast to the Midwest.

The Grand Lake crew has sailed on Lake Dillon, Grand Lake, Shadow Mountain Lake, Lake Granby, Carter Lake and Aurora Reservoir ” not to mention many lakes in the Midwest and East Coast.

But it’s the mountain lakes they like the best ” for their variability, their challenges and their sheer beauty.

“The mountain winds are completely unpredictable,” Munn said, smiling in sardonic understatement.

“On mountain lakes the winds can come literally straight down onto the lake and you can sail 360 degrees, in a complete circle, without even tacking the boat,” he said. “Essentially, what you get are these little micro-bursts of weather that can do this because they are so close to the lake’s surface ” right above you.”

Wind direction, as his comments attest, can change drastically.

In sailing races on Grand Lake, for instance, the windward and leeward legs, which determine a sailing race’s markers and turn-points, can change in a matter of minutes.

Not only that, the intensity of the wind can change quickly.

“The wind is also variable in its velocity. It can be dead or very smooth one minute and then you can have extreme gusts ripping across the water, seemingly from nowhere,” he said. “It’s an exciting challenge, these winds.”

These are unique challenges that have both helped and hindered Munn, a former Olympic rower, in his sailboat racing career. He usually races E-scows, a sailboat 28 feet long as part of a crew of three to four. E-Scows are known to be the sleekest and fastest inland racing boats in the sport.

Reading the mountain winds have helped in races where unpredictable weather crops up on Midwestern or East Coast lakes. “It sometimes gives us an edge when we get on those other lakes when the wind gets a little shifty.”

The only real disadvantage of being habituated to mountain sailing for a competitor like Munn is the fact that the lack of consistent winds don’t give the Grand Lake crew a chance to fine-tune their boats for speed like sailors from lower elevations.

For those who want to sail on a mountain lake for the first time, Munn offers a few cautions. If your boat has a keel, keep your eyes on the water and the weather because both can change quickly.

If you’re sailing a boat without a keel that can easily capsize, he suggests that there be a spotter boat or someone on shore keeping a watchful eye.

“The unpredictable weather can tip a boat quickly,” he said. “And the water is cold in these lakes.”

But cold water and unpredictable wind aside, mountain sailing is the best for Munn.

“Mountain sailing offers just incredible beauty,” he said. “What else could you want?”

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