Come sail away |

Come sail away

Matthew Renda
Nevada Appeal News Service
North Lake Tahoe BonanzaPhoto/Matthew RendaA party of Lake Tahoe locals and visitors gather toward the back of the Tahoe Cruz in the midst of a sunset sail on the deep blue waters of the lake during a Sunday evening cruise with Tahoe Sailing Charters.

LAKE TAHOE – After the Tahoe Cruz – a 50-foot sailing vessel designed to accommodate 25 guests – motored away from the Tahoe City Marina, the first mate unfurled the main sail and the jib, cut the engine and the silent and easy feeling of being on a boat powered by the wind through the crystal waters of Lake Tahoe settled over me, two professional sailors and the other 24 guests aboard the ship.

The Tahoe Cruz is run by Tahoe Sailing Charters, and it’s co-owned by Jim Courcier and Mike Pavel, who alternate as captain of the ship.

During a recent late afternoon, the golden light unique to the Sierra Nevada poured down on the guests assembled outside the marina, as many discussed how tardy summer was in Tahoe this year.

While the muffled tones of a blues concert playing at Commons Beach near the marina bounced between the bobbing boats about 30 minutes prior to a scheduled disembarkation, Courcier, who assumed the helm on this particular excursion, expressed worry about the conditions.

“It’s pretty calm today,” he said. “The wind has been blowing at a steady 5-6 knots all day. Most days, around 2:30 p.m., the prevailing south western winds pick up and you get a nice warm perfect breeze from Sacramento.”

Courcier – who has been sailing Lake Tahoe since 1988 – appeared dubious that such ideal conditions would materialize that evening.

The ideal conditions, apart from clear skies and warm temperatures, consist of a steady wind at around 10-15 knots with sporadic moderate gusts which serve as extra propulsion for the boat.

What separates the experience of sailing on Tahoe as compared to the open ocean or the larger lakes of the Midwest – apart from the lake’s unparalleled beauty – is the wind makes for consistent movement without making the water choppy, so the movement is both steady and smooth, said Courcier.

Regarding the consistency of wind, Courcier’s earlier fears were soon alleviated as the engine was shut off, the wind picked up to 10-15 knots with occasional gusts of 20 knots and the journey was underway without a hitch.

Guests on the boat hailed from as far away as New York City, and as near as Tahoe Vista. A large party celebrating the 40th birthday of a former Tahoe resident gathered in the cockpit, merrily clinking glasses, sampling the appetizers and drinking Chardonnay and beer.

Among the party were Chris and Jessica Katt, former owners of Tahoe Sailing Supply, who once conducted a reconfiguration of the Tahoe Cruz, making it less of a racing boat and more amenable for chartering purposes.

“This boat is the right choice,” said Jessica Katt. “It’s a perfect size for chartering. It has a huge cockpit. It’s comfortable, stable and it has a lot of qualities people overlook.”

Katt should know about qualities of a sailing vessel, as she spent the last winter on one, sailing down the Pacific coast of Mexico.

The Tahoe Cruz was designed and built by Bill Lee in Santa Cruz, Calif. He designed the boat to race in the TransPac – a sailing race which runs from Los Angeles to Honolulu.

During original construction, the racing vessel was not configured to provide for the comforts of 24 guests.

“Mike and I bought the boat and rapidly refurbished the entire thing introducing all new elements,” said Courcier.

The renovation was clearly successful, as ample room made for an easy time of it for all 24 members.

The sun began to decline as the boat hugged the western shore and the bow pointed toward Mt. Tallac, and we passed Sunnyside and Homewood before making the turn for home around Sugar Pine State Park.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” Courcier said as we glided into the marina.

“Except for tomorrow. That’s what you get in Tahoe.”

• Matthew Renda is a reporter for the Tahoe Daily Tribune. He can be reached at