Reading the waves

Becky Vargo • Aug 20, 2018 at 12:00 PM

A couple weeks ago, a co-worker asked me if I wanted to go sailing and write a story about it.

I’m sure she asked me during Coast Guard Festival, while I was really distracted. Otherwise, why would I have said yes to working after a long day covering the courts and the previous day working the late-afternoon shift?

After a week of recovery, I still wasn’t recovered. But then I learned that an evening on a sailboat on Lake Michigan — as long as you are not in charge — might be just what the doctor ordered.

Grand Haven Tribune advertising representative Kim Street said she wanted to do something different when she moved back to Grand Haven last year, so she joined the Grand River Sailing Club.

Street doesn’t have a sailboat. And she doesn’t fit some people’s perception of a “rich” sailor. But you don’t have to own a boat to be a member of the club, and it doesn’t cost a fortune to join.

Existing members are happy to teach you the ropes — or is it the lines?

So, I joined Street for the Monday Night Lite races, which they claim are not competitive — or at least not too competitive — giving the boat owners a chance to teach newbies how to sail.

Joining us on Duane and Shelly Schroeder’s 36-foot Avanti were newbie Jessica Brink and rusty sailor Marshall Lystra.

Lystra said that his parents, Ed and Helen Lystra, used to belong to the sailing club and had their own sailboat many years ago.

“I haven’t sailed for 15 years,” Marshall Lystra said. “I’m just getting back into it.”

Lystra said he’s wanted to do this for a couple of years, but thought he had to have a boat to be a member. He said he bought an 18-foot day sailor, but spends most of the time crewing on other people’s boats.

Brink, who works in human resources for a Grand Haven company, said she likes being out on the water.

“It’s the more independent type of boating, other than powerboating,” she said. “I think it’s fascinating that you can move with the wind.”

Brink took a sailing class on Reeds Lake in Grand Rapids, using a small Butterfly sailboat to learn the basics. Now she’s ready to step up her game.

Shelley said she started sailing when she met Duane.

We gathered at the Wharf Marina and motored out past the pier heads. I was happy to be on a larger boat as I watched some of the smaller vessels bob up and down on the chop in the channel.

As Shelley captained the ship, Duane gave instructions on hoisting the sails. We worked our way north of the piers and sailed along in gentle winds until the race buoys and committee boats were in place. 

Club membership director and past commodore Betty Clark said the buoys are in place not only as a racing mark, but also as a reference point for people learning how to sail and “learning how a sailboat works.”

Five sailboats were in the race that night. Another club member took others out to watch the action.

Light winds made it easier for the crew to make adjustments and for the owner to stop and tell stories.

Duane, who has worked at Barrett Boat Works for 39 years, explained that his boat is a Howard Hughes-designed 1975 North Star. 

“It was designed to race across the ocean,” said the man who’s sailed the boat through waves as high as 20 feet.

The boat has a large, fixed 8-foot-long keel that reaches just over 6 feet deep. In the seven years that he’s owned the boat, Duane has installed a new motor and is reworking the cabin.

Duane told stories about outings and races on the boat as we moved back and forth around the buoys. 

The race was shortened to four lengths because of decreasing winds.

Once the last boat crossed the line, the committee boat headed into the harbor. Pizza was waiting at the clubhouse.

But not everyone followed.

“I like how they shorten the race and then everybody stays out,” Lystra said.

The sailboats moved south of the pier as the sun started to set, eventually going back into the channel and pulling down sails.

About the club 

Larry Gardner founded the Grand River Sailing Club in 1980. The clubhouse is located next to the Chinook Pier shops, at 219 N. Harbor Ave.

The membership fee is $150 (includes $25 initiation fee) for the first year (individual or couple), and $125 each year after that.

For more information, visit www.grandriversailingclub.com, or email [email protected]

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