Favorite Weekend Cruise: Great Salt Lake - Sail Magazine

Favorite Weekend Cruise: Great Salt Lake

Imagine sailing 4,198 feet above sea level on a lake that’s saltier than the ocean and larger than the state of Rhode Island—a lake where sudden storms erupt from nearby mountains and conditions shift from glassy to gale-force in an instant.
Author:
Publish date:

Imagine sailing 4,198 feet above sea level on a lake that’s saltier than the ocean and larger than the state of Rhode Island—a lake where sudden storms erupt from nearby mountains and conditions shift from glassy to gale-force in an instant. 

 The Great SAlt Lake: Utah's sailing secret

The Great SAlt Lake: Utah's sailing secret

The Great Salt Lake offers unique sailing conditions for both racers and cruisers. Roughly 75 miles long and 28 miles wide, it is the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere. Because it’s shallow—16 feet deep on average—and “endorheic,” meaning it has no outlet besides evaporation, the size of the lake fluctuates greatly from year to year, depending on weather conditions. On average, it covers 1,700 square miles and includes a dozen stone-capped islands, but it has dropped as low as 960 square miles, exposing hazardous shoals and reefs.

The lake is the largest remnant of prehistoric Lake Bonneville, which once stretched across the western half of Utah into Nevada. After 10,000 years of evaporation, the water that remains is rich with minerals, salt and brine shrimp, a significant food source for migratory birds in North America.

To comprehend its vastness, imagine sailing 25 miles on a mountain lake without having to gybe. Alter your course slightly, and you can reach for another 15 miles until you arrive at the farthest navigable distance, 40 miles away from the Great Salt Lake Marina, home to the “Saltiest Sailors in the World.” 

With 17 percent salinity—compared to around 3.5 percent salinity in the world’s oceans—the lake never freezes, so there’s sailing all year long. On any given weekend, you will find a couple of dozen boats racing or cruising to one of several destinations. Each May, the Great Salt Yacht Club also hosts the Reynolds Cup, which is notorious for rough conditions and attracts only the saltiest of dogs. It’s common to experience 40 knots of wind and eight-10-foot waves that break over the bow like a pallet of bricks. 

By mid-summer the water becomes remarkably clear and warm, with temperatures in the 80s. The lake creates its own weather, and in the afternoon high pressure sets in and the breeze drops, giving everyone an excuse to raft up and go for a swim in the buoyant water. Sometimes, to avoid the heat, we start sailing at sunset and sail by moonlight through the night, when the breeze is at its best.

Cruisers visit anchorages such as White Rock Bay, Crystal Springs and the rolling sands of Eardley Spit, where mineral deposits form small round grains called “oolitic sand.” The latter is a popular place to beach for a day or shelter from a gale. Two islands reach over 6,500 feet high, one of which, Antelope Island, is covered in hiking trails. The hillsides are draped in lush green foliage during the spring and become arid deserts by mid-summer.

 The Great Salt Lake offers unique sailing conditions for both racers and cruisers

The Great Salt Lake offers unique sailing conditions for both racers and cruisers

It’s always surprised me that the Great Salt Lake manages to remain such a secret. Over 1.2 million people live in the Salt Lake Metropolitan area, but there are fewer than 300 sailboats at our marina. Salt Lake City International Airport is less than 15 minutes away and far more tourists visit the lake than locals. Visiting sailors from Europe, Australia and the coastal United States are inevitably impressed by the challenging conditions.

Many times I’ve been out on my Ericson 23, Chesapeake, on a quiet, late afternoon. The warm air rises into the sky, and a gentle breeze picks up as cool mountain air descends to fill my sails. The surface of the water remains a glassy mirror reflecting the golden light of an evening sun. The boat cuts a straight course and a rhythmic wake, while wind devils dart across the water, dancing across the Great Salt Lake, Utah’s best-kept secret.

Lance Fairbanks has sailed over 3,000 miles on the Great Salt Lake. He is co-founder of the Rogue/Riders, an advocacy group for boater safety and Cruising Director for the Great Salt Lake Yacht Club

2013-6_Got-Salt-Lance-Fairbanks-2011_0

Related

daviscards

Davis Instruments: Quick Reference Cards

CHECK THESEIf you’re sailing with new crew this summer or your kids have suddenly and inexplicably started to look up from their phones and take an interest in the finer points of cruising, these Quick Reference Cards from Davis are a great way to further their boating education. ...read more

01-rbir18-596

Another Epic Round Britain Race

There are basically two kinds of offshore sailboat races out there: those that take place annually, like the Fastnet and Chicago-to-Mackinac races; and those that take place every other year, like the Transpac and Newport-Bermuda race, in part so the competitors have sufficient ...read more

01b_WALKING-KEDGE-OUT-cmykpromo

Getting More Use From Kedge Anchors

If you are cruising, you need at least two anchors on board for the simple reason that you must have a backup. Imagine having to slip your anchor on a stormy night with other boats dragging down on yours, or having your rope rode severed by some unseen underwater obstacle, ...read more

SailAwayCharter

How-to: Navigating on a Bareboat Charter

So you graduated from navigation class where you practiced dead reckoning, doubling the angle on the bow and maybe even celestial nav, and you now feel well prepared for your first charter trip. Well, you won’t be doing any of that on vacation—not past the first day, anyway.Most ...read more

04-Turtle-rescue

Turtle Rescue in the Vic-Maui

Strange and often wonderful things can happen in the course of an offshore sailboat race, and one of the strangest and most wonderful things we’ve heard of recently took place during the 2,300-mile 2018 Vic-Maui race, from Victoria, British Columbia, to Lahaina, Hawaii.It ...read more

dorcap-open-blue

ATN Inc: Dorcap

COOL SLEEPYou’re fast asleep in a snug anchorage, forehatch open to catch the breeze, when you’re rudely awakened by a sneaky rain squall. Now you’re not only awake and wet, you’re sweltering with the hatch closed. Sucks, right? That’s why ATN came up with the Dorcap, an ...read more

HIGH-RES-29312-Tahiti-GSP

Ask Sail: Who has the right-of-way

WHO HAS RIGHT-OF-WAY?Q: I sail in Narragansett Bay, which is a relatively narrow body of water that has upwind boats generally going south and downwind boats generally going north. When sailboats are racing, the starboard tack boat has the right-of-way over the port tack boat, so ...read more