Boards Magazine
March 1999 Special Features Article

The Spirit of Snow Sailing
by Charles Chepregi

Some of the local Snowfer gang: Joe, Allan, Russ, Moira and me, Charles and a few other guys, headed up to Willow Beach on Lake Simcoe, 45 minutes north of Toronto, Canada for a fun weekend of sailing. The conditions looked really promising; 10-12 knots coming from the north. There was no-one else around - the whole lake was ours. The wind direction was onshore - but that was pretty academic really; it makes no difference when the surface of the lake is as hard (if not harder) than the shoreline! The ice was over two feet thick, and there was hard-pack snow on top of that; all topped off with a thin layer of fresh powder, sculpted by the wind into gentle undulations so it looked like lazy rolling waves. When you get up to a good speed it gives a real roller-coaster ride.

It was mid-March, and the days were getting longer and warmer, although the temperature was still only just above freezing. The dazzling sun rays reflected from the crystalline snow surface - it was beautiful. We couldn't ask for anything better.

It was five metre weather (not often you get to say that about a 10-12 knot breeze!), and it was evident that everyone was in a real hurry to get ready. Every minute not used for sailing was a minute wasted. I used to feel this way when I started windsurfing in 1985, and it's great to have that same buzz back again.

As always when we get our Snowfers out, there were lots of people wanting to try it out, which is great but at times a little frustrating - do I teach or sail? I decided to set a couple of demo boards with sails for people to try, but I wasn't going to stick around to help - I wanted to go and have fun too.

First-time Snowfers always have hundreds of questions to ask - what should I do, how to stop, how to turn, etc. My reply today was the same as it always is: "Are you windsurfers?" "Yes..." "Well then, you have nothing to worry about - just do the same thing as what you would do on the water. But make sure you wear a helmet."

And with that, I'm off. But I sneak a quick look back to see if they're alright. After a few moments of hesitation, they all manage to get going. I hear one of them screaming with excitement: "Wow - it feels just like windsurfing!" That was all I needed to hear - I knew they would be okay...

Setting up a course race for practice, we sailed for four hours, although it felt like just a few minutes. I was just getting more and more into the sailing, and wanted to range further afield. I suggested that we get a bit of tacking practise in - why not beat up to the top of the lake? (About 25 miles away.) Most of the gang thought it was crazy, as we might not get it back before the sun goes down. But Joe was definitely on for it: He's the one we call "the fall guy"; the man with no fear...

So Joe and I set off. I was wearing my sailing money-belt, in which I keep useful things I need like a wax bar, plastic scraper, brush and a couple of apples as emergency rations. We pointed as high upwind as we could without losing too much speed, but by my calculations we were going to have to sail something like 60-75 miles in terms of actual ground covered to make it to the head of the lake. Fortunately, by now the winds were getting stronger and we were really shifting. Hooked in and having a blast.

The sun was getting low on the horizon, and the reflections in the snow were quite stunningly, outstandingly, beautiful. We reached the halfway point sooner than expected, but the wind was dropping off slightly, which was a bit worrying. We stopped to debate whether to continue or not, and to clean the base of our boards off with the wire brush (too much snow caked onto the underside slows it down considerably).

The verdict was to continue, and with our clean boards we quickly completed the last 30 miles or so. Reaching the far shore was a big milestone, but there was still a way to the head of the lake. We eventually completed the upwind journey in around 2.5 hours. At the head of the lake we met a couple of local sailors who were also having fun; one of them was on a Snowfer. They were a bit surprised when we turned up, and wondered where we'd come from - but we didn't really have a lot of time to talk, as both the light and the wind were starting to run out on us. We headed straight home. 25 miles downwind - don't you just dream of that? Fortunately, the wind stayed with us, and we had an escort for the last half of the homeward journey - the guys back at Willow Beach had gotten a little worried, and dispatched a local snowmobiler to check on us.

We made it back in 90 minutes. I'd like to think that we set distance records for both upwind and downwind Snowfer sailing that day! After eight hours of steady sailing, I was still pumped up and continued sailing until it was so dark that I couldn't see anymore. It was an incredible day, and one that I would not have swapped for even the most perfect windsurfing session. You had to be there to experience the spirit of snow sailing.
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