Algoma Sailing Club
St. Mary's River,  Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario  or


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Foul-Weather Friends, Sault sailors seek the thrill of high winds.
By Angela Wierzbicki, The Sault Star Newspaper, Saturday June 8, 1991, City News B section.
Mike Punch at the wheel (left) and working with crew Leroy Pieri, of the Michigan Sault (right).

When the winds whistle and water welcomes, sailboats are out in full force on the waters of Sault Ste. Marie.

But it takes more than fair weather and smooth sailing to please many sailors in this city; they crave the thrill of high winds and turbulent seas.

“Sometimes the worst weather makes for the best sailing,” says sailor Leroy Pieri, who has been a member of the Algoma Sailing Club since 1985. “You get some exciting stuff.”

Mike Punch, a sailor and club member for the past 11 years agreed, saying, “Some days are just too calm to sail. You need quite a bit of wind.” 

Mr. Punch and Mr. Pieri talked about their love of sailing while manouevring Mr. Punch’s five-year-old, 29-foot sailboat Obstreperous down the St. Mary’s River.

On that calm and relaxing Saturday, a warm breeze billowed through the sails, inching the boat ahead at a leisurely pace.

It was perfect weather for an introduction to the sport, but most sailors enjoy more challenging seas. Mr. Punch and Mr. Pieri had to be content to recall tales of rough waters and dose encounters.

Although Mr. Punch’s sailboat won’t travel more than about 12 kilometres per hour, it often feels like the boat is moving much, much faster especially during the excitement of a race, he says.

The two veteran sailors say racing and skill building are challenges which keep sailing interesting, even after many years.

“Racing tends to make one a better sailor,” said Mr. Pieri. “You have to do things faster and better and you also learn safety through competition.”

The Algoma Sailing Club is holding races along the St. Mary’s River every Wednesday night In June, as well as some longer races on Saturdays.

‘We race against other dub members for challenge and endurance,” said Mr. Punch.

Other skills sailors may attempt to master are sailing alone and sailing at night.

It is possible to operate a sailboat by yourself, but it has to be planned well In advance,” said Mr. Punch. “You have two or three lines as well as the wheel to contend with.”

Although these many facets of sailing have allowed the sport to remain popular, the Algoma Sailing Club has dropped by about 10 memberships In the past few years.

“In the Sault, we lost a number of sailors to the Hilton Beach marina and to other marinas that were developed recently,” said Mr. Punch, who began sailing many years ago with a RYTAC membership.

“But for many people, leaving their boat down there (at Hilton Beach) could be a pain because the marina is not in the city,” added Mr. Pieri, who lives in the Michigan Sault and comes across the river to participate In club activities.

Currently, the club has two American members among their total of about 60 sailors.

Mr. Punch said that he personally likes mooring at the club’s facilities in Bellevue Park because it enables him to use his boat after work.

“There are no phones and no traffic to worry about here on the water,” he said. “Sometimes it’s nice just to get in the boat and sail.”

According to Mr. Pieri and Mr. Punch, other boating trends, such as power boating, briefly affected the popularity of sailing.

“For a while, sailing was on the rise, and people moved out of power boating into sailing,” said Mr. Punch. “But now sailing has slowed off. I guess it’s an Indication of the economic times.”

In general, the number of sailors in the area has remained constant, said Mr. Punch, adding that “the novelty of power boats has worn off and you don’t see quite so many on the river.”

“With a power boat, you may spend $50 on gas for one trip. But a sailboat just costs your time of day and a little muscle power,” said Mr. Pieri.

However, anyone Interested in learning to sail will have some Initial expenses. According to Mr. Pieri, a good way start is a RYTAC membership, which costs about $150.

“They have small day sailors like Lasers and CL16s that are nice to start out with,” he said. “But to buy a boat, you can spend anywhere from $1,000 for a day sailor to more than a million for large boat”

Used sailboats are available, but they aren’t cheap, said Mr. Punch. “Sailboats seem to hold their value they don’t depreciate drastically.”

In addition to the costs of a boat and instruction, mooring and equipment can be quite expensive.

“Equipment has a fair cost, but it last for years,” said Mr. Punch.

Mr. Pieri said mooring costs depend on the size of the boat. As well, using marina is more expensive than belonging to the Algoma Sailing Club.

For Mr. Punch, however, the expense of sailing is offset by the fact that his investment is so enjoyable.

“It’s our cottage. This is where we spend our summer holidays every year he said.

“We’ve travelled to Duluth, Minnesota and every summer we go to Manitoulin and the North Channel” he said.

But “It’s not where you’re getting, its how you’re getting there that’s the fun

An advantage of travelling with a sailboat is the versatility and choice of locations.

“If you don’t like the spot you’re at you can pick up and go somewhere else,” said Mr. Punch.

Sailors in Sault Ste. Marie enjoy the easy access that being located on the Great Lakes provides.

Popular day trips for sailors in the area Include Hilton Beach on St Joseph’s Island, the Bay Mills and Brimley area of Michigan and simply passing through the locks on the St. Mary’s River.

The sailing season In Sault Ste. Marie runs from the first weekend in May to one week after Thanksgiving In October for a total of six months on the water.

“We’ve had great weather for sailing so far this year,” said Mr. Punch.

The Algoma Sailing Club at Bellevue Park has lost a few members to out-of-town facilities, but members say they like the convenience of having their boats and the tranquility it brings close at hand.


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