A Brief History of Sailing at Buckeye Lake

Commodore Steve Harris, BLYC Historian

he following article appeared in the 2013/2014 Buckeye Lake Area Tour Book published by the Buckeye Lake Region Chamber of Commerce.

While sailing as a means of transportation has existed throughout recorded history, sailing as a sport and for recreation didn’t begin until the 17th Century, and for a long time was an activity primarily for the wealthy. Sailboat racing first began in the United States in the late 1800’s, primarily on the east coast. Over the years, it has spread throughout the nation and in the United States today, sailboats of all sizes, and racing from the casual level to multi-million dollar championships can be found everywhere.

Although no one knows for sure when the first sailboat race was held at Buckeye Lake, the first recorded regatta was held on Memorial Day, 1906 by the newly formed Buckeye Lake Yacht Club. Seven sailboats with crew started that first race at 3:20 pm, off Orchard Island, in very stiff breeze. In the end, only three craft finished and were rewarded trophies accordingly.

Every season since, BLYC has held sailboat races and many Club members and non-members alike enjoy leisurely “day-sails” around the lake. Whether racing or cruising, Buckeye Lake offers some of the most unique conditions for sailing one may find anywhere; the shallow depth of the lake limits boats in both size and design, the frequently light and variable winds of central Ohio make for challenging conditions, and, with the prevailing winds out of the west, the east-west orientation of the lake forces one to have a good working understanding of and to utilize all points of sail. It is, perhaps, for these very reasons that Buckeye Lake has been the “training ground” for many sailors who have gone on to compete, and win, at the highest level of the sport.

Sailboats come in all sizes, shapes, and designs and, over the years. Buckeye Lake has seen quite a variety. In the early days at the lake, K-cat boats were the dominant sailing fleet. Over the years, Lightnings, Ravens, Highlanders, Thistles, Lidos, and Interlakes have also been raced. In the 1980’s perhaps the largest fleet on the lake was the “MacVentures,” cruising-style sailboats around 25 feet in length, with cabins and outboard motors for coming in and out of dock. Cruising-style boats from 20’ to 27’ in length, generally dominate the lake today, both in racing at BLYC and for more casual “day-sailing.” In the summer months, youth sailors can be seen racing smaller boats such as the 8’ Optimist Dinghy and 14’ Flying Juniors, C420’s, and Lasers.

Over the years, Buckeye Lake has been the home to many a sailboat regatta – mostly hosted by the Buckeye Lake Yacht Club. In addition to Sunday afternoon racing throughout the season and the traditional “long-distance” races on Holiday weekends, BLYC annually hosts the Snowball Regatta in October and a Junior Regatta as part of the Inter-Lake Yachting Association’s Junior Travelers Series. These races attract sailors from all over the Lake Erie and Ohio Valley regions. Twice, BLYC has hosted the Interlake Class National Championship Regatta– in 1992, and most recently in 2011.

The first Snowball Regatta was held in October of 1946 and raced in Lightning class sailboats provided by the Club. Over the years, the regatta has hosted as many as 100 boats in multiple classes of boat and has welcomed many National and World Champions as competitors.

As previously mentioned, Buckeye Lake has been the lake where many world class sailors have learned sailing and began their careers. Among them, George Fisher who thirteen times won the Interlake Class National Championship, four times was crowned Lightning Class North American Masters Champion, thirteen times won the Lightning Class Ohio Districts, and received one of the highest honors in the sport – the US Sailing Sportsmanship Trophy – was perhaps one of the best. George actively raced from the time he returned from the Navy following World War II through 2007, sailing competitively into his 80’s, and, according to a 1963 article in the Columbus Star, had “already won so many cups and trophies, he has difficulty finding a place to stow them.” George’s sons Greg and Matt Fisher began their racing careers at Buckeye Lake before the age of 7. Both are nationally recognized as being at the top of the sport in the U.S. Greg is one of the most accomplished competitors in United States Sailing history – 21 North American or National Championships in seven different classes, and winner of the 2008 J/22 Class World Championship. Matt has won several National and North American Championships in both the Lightning and Interlake Classes, the Gold Medal at the 1991 Pan-American Games, and the 2009 Lightning Class World Championship. But our champions who learned to sail at Buckeye Lake aren’t limited to the Fisher family. As far back as the 1950’s, youth sailors from Buckeye Lake have made it through the qualifying series to compete for the Sears Cup – the Junior Triplehanded National Championship; Jim Dressel, Ed Ballenger, Jeff Dum and Marty Headlee in the 1950’s and, Will Petersilge, Dan Dressel, and Dan Roshon who brought the Cup home to Buckeye Lake, winning in 1977. Buckeye Lake is also home to three Lightning Class Junior North American Champions – Will Petersilge, Matt Fisher, and Mike Hein. Mike Hein went on to crew on two Maxi Class World Championship teams and on the 1992 Americas Cup winning boat, America3. Youth sailors from Buckeye Lake have also won multiple trophies at the annual “Junior Bay Week Regatta,” held at Put-in-Bay each July.

While the lake may today be, as perhaps it has always been, dominated by powerboats, Buckeye Lake is still a great place for sailing and sailboat racing. Sailing, both competitive and recreational, is alive and well and a great way to spend your time at Buckeye Lake.


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