If you are visiting Lake Tahoe, gazing at the awe-inspiring splendor of the lake for the first time is an incredible treat, but to really appreciate Tahoe’s beauty, you need to get onto the lake. You can get a workout by renting a paddleboard or kayak, you can roar down to Emerald Bay by renting a power boat, or you can saunter onto the top deck on a paddleboat such as “The Tahoe Gal” and watch the lake roll by. These are all good options, but you also can cut out the engines, and still see a significant chunk of the lake by taking an afternoon sail on the “Tahoe Cruz.” There is something magical about being powered by the wind, when the only sounds you hear are the gentle splash of the waves against the bow, and the laughter of your crewmates.
The “Tahoe Cruz” is a Santa Cruz 50’, which, as you might guess, is a 50-foot sailboat, which was built by Bill Lee, known in sailing circles as the wizard of Santa Cruz. Designed to carry a crew of 12 in the multi-day Trans-Pacific Race from California to Hawaii, the “Tahoe Cruz” is not a slow moving touring boat, but a true, high performance sailing craft that can handle anything Lake Tahoe can throw at it. But, it’s also a design that allows 25 guests to sit comfortably on the deck while enjoying a two-hour sail. The boat is owned and operated by Tahoe Sailing Charters in Tahoe City, with Captains Jim Courcier and Mike Pavel behind the wheel.
Recently, I took on the challenging duty of joining an afternoon sail on the “Tahoe Cruz.” Ah, it’s tough being a writer, the pain and suffering you must endure to get the story. While I used to race Lasers (unsuccessfully, I might add) or occasionally joined the crew of various boats competing in the Wednesday night Beer Can Races, my recent sailing experiences are few, so it was a wonderful treat to get back out on the water under sail. Especially since I didn’t have to lift a finger since someone else was taking care of the lengthy set up and put away chores.
When I arrived at the Tahoe Sailing Charters office in the Tahoe City Marina (next door to the 700 Dockside Lakefront Grill and the Tahoe Yacht Club) at about 5 p.m., the wind was howling at about 30 mph, with white caps dotting the water like white clumps of frosting on a blue cake. It looked like it was going to be an exhilarating adventure. I was joined by long time local Captain Jim and about 20 folks ready to take on the big wind. By the time we had walked out to the boat 20 minutes later, however, the wind was in the process of laying down, although it still looked powerful enough to make for some fast sailing.
An advantage of having only 20 passengers onboard was that everyone had staked out their deck territory and the boat was on its way in just a few minutes. Jim started by motoring, but soon he and his assistant Sam were hoisting the jib and main sail. Anticipating the heavy winds, the main sail had been reefed, which meant that only about half the sail area was raised onto the mast. But, with the wind continuing to decrease, the full extent of the main sail was soon unfurled and the winds carried us away. What made the trip a joy was that right away you knew that Captain Jim’s interest was in sailing, not just going out for a tour, and he had his Tahoe sailing chops.
The winds were quirky, sometimes we were barely moving, and then a few minutes later, the wind slammed into the sails, heeling the boat over and giving the passengers a thrill. Jim, however, kept taking advantage of what nature would give us, while making sure to keep the ride as smooth as possible. How do you know that the “Tahoe Cruz” is really all about the sailing? When Jim takes Wednesday nights off, it’s so he can join his friends onboard another sailboat in the Beer Can Races.
As the wind settled down, Jim let passengers take the wheel under his watchful eye. It was a quiet and happy group on board, relaxed and enjoying what for most, was there first adventure onto Lake Tahoe. There was a couple from Cottonwood celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary, and a couple from Austin, Texas, taking their first trip to Tahoe for their honeymoon. Before embarking on their trip, the honeymooners were told by their friends who had been to Tahoe that whatever else you do, get out onto the water.
While we slowly headed toward Sugar Pine Point and watched the sun descend behind Ward and Blackwood Canyons, the guests sipped white wine and sampled tasty appetizers. (When asked why there was no red wine available Jim said that he wanted the boat to remain white, instead of pink). While the “Tahoe Cruz” has a sound system on deck, most of the passengers seemed content to just enjoy the quiet ride and the spectacular views of the lake.
A late afternoon sail on Lake Tahoe is both a rejuvenating and relaxing experience. The wind pushing you across the lake makes you feel alive and energized, but the soft roll of the boat and the peacefulness of being out on the water makes you feel relaxed and blissful. Go do it.
Tahoe Sailing Charters sends the “Tahoe Cruz” out onto the lake several times a day. During mid-summer there are noon, 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. cruises, and the boat is available for private charters. If you want warmth, go for the earlier cruises, but there is a chance you may be motoring instead of sailing, because while Tahoe is blessed with steady wind, it often doesn’t arrive until the middle of the afternoon.
Reservations are recommended, since the boat often fills up on each trip. For more information and the latest schedule, visit tahoesail.com or call (530) 583-6200.
Images by Tim Hauserman
Tim Hauserman wrote the guidebook to the Tahoe Rim Trail. He has found that you can locate a good portion of the trail from a sailboat in the middle of the lake.