EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in the Summer 2018 edition of Tahoe Magazine. It was first published on this website in August 2018 and is presented in its original form.
From May to September, dinghies and sloops can be seen slicing through the wind-churned afternoon waters of Lake Tahoe. Marked by ideal conditions many days of the summer, sailing on this jewel of the Sierra requires prodigious skill — but it’s an iconic, and some would say crucial, component of any summer vacation in the region.
Spending a day on the clear waters of Lake Tahoe in a sailboat is a unique experience, as it offers both ends of the watersports spectrum: Participants can choose to take it easy and cruise, or go for the high-intensity option of racing.
It’s a feat that’s a must-try this season in the Sierra Nevada, and one that long-time sailors of Lake Tahoe cannot help but recommend.
“There’s no better way to see the lake. There’s no ‘blub, blub, blub’ of the engine, like on bigger boats, and you don’t have to share it with hundreds of people like on a paddlewheeler. It’s intimate, clean and super special,” said Tyler Salvo, captain of the monohull Tahoe Cruz and co-owner of Tahoe Sailing Charters, located in Tahoe City. “I’ve been sailing my whole life, and I’ve sailed all around the world. I find sailing in Tahoe to be absolutely one of my favorite places.”
To Salvo, the quality of getting on a boat like the Tahoe Cruz is unlike anything one would find elsewhere.
“The raw power of the rig, the sails in the wind, it’s something that can’t be described,” he said. “I’ve spoken with so many people who haven’t been out on the lake — but that’s the draw. A trip to Tahoe without getting on the water is a missed opportunity.”
Tahoe Sailing Charters offers cruises perfect for those who merely want to get out on a boat and enjoy the ride. The 50-foot Tahoe Cruz was originally made for racing the Transpac Regatta, a journey from Southern California to Hawaii, but now finds its home hosting two-hour cruises on Lake Tahoe.
The Tahoe Cruz accommodates 27 people, and offers afternoon and sunset rides that feature unique views of the region each day of the week.
“It’s a visceral experience. As the wind tapers off, it’s a cruise-y ride with mellow music, and you can sit back and enjoy it,” said Salvo. “The view from the middle of the lake is unparalleled. From a shoreline you can see parts of what the shoreline has to offer, and the opposing mountains, but in the middle of the lake you can see it all — it’s real special.”
Tahoe Windjammers Yacht Club commodore David Young echoes this sentiment.
“It’s a very unique and beautiful venue; sailing up here gives you something different — it’s quiet, silent. We sailors go out and get in touch with nature,” he said.
The South Lake Tahoe-based nonprofit Tahoe Windjammers Yacht Club hosts numerous races throughout the season. While many of the participants have been sailing for some time, the events are also open to those who want to learn and improve.
“(Tahoe) is a very challenging area to sail in because we’re a high mountain lake, so the sailing here is very difficult because the winds are shifting and changing,” said Young. “It’s good, it hones your skills. If you can sail here, you can sail most places.”
Sailing conditions in Tahoe are regularly demanding, yet ideal, due to the temperature difference between the lake and the surrounding region.
“When the valley gets up to 100, the wind picks up (here). It’s the same reason San Francisco gets wind: The valley is hot, sucks the air off the water and creates major winds. It’s fairly consistent wind on most afternoons,” Young explained. “In order to sail efficiently you’re constantly paying attention to wind, and we get decent waves in the afternoon when it’s blowing. It’s a lot more engaging, especially if you’re racing. You’re constantly doing stuff.”
Regardless of your experience level, be sure to get out on the water during your stay in Tahoe this summer.
“Sailing on Tahoe, to me, is a no-brainer. If you’re coming up to the lake, do some hiking, mountain biking — any day activity — and round it out with a sunset cruise and dinner at a nice restaurant in town. It couldn’t be easier,” said Salvo.