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The Little-Known Joys of Cruising in Kansas

When we tell folks we sail in Kansas, they are never quite sure if they should believe us. With deep roots in America’s Old West, Kansas is more likely to be associated with prairie schooners—a nickname for covered wagons—than schooners with keels and masts.
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When we tell folks we sail in Kansas, they are never quite sure if they should believe us. With deep roots in America’s Old West, Kansas is more likely to be associated with prairie schooners—a nickname for covered wagons—than schooners with keels and masts. Nonetheless, amid the endless miles of wheat and grazing cattle, the Sunflower State is also home to two-dozen lakes and reservoirs worthy of a weekend sail.

They don’t call it the “Windy Plains” for nothing: Dodge City, Kansas, is the windiest place in the United States. However, the best lakes are farther east, near Emporia, Lawrence and “the Little Apple”—Manhattan. We sail our Hunter 26 on Melvern Lake, a 6,930-acre reservoir between the small college towns of Ottawa and Emporia that was created by Melvern Dam in 1970. Other nearby lakes, like Clinton Lake in Lawrence and Perry Lake near Manhattan, also offer great open water for sailing. Both host several regattas each year, welcoming everything from cruising sailboats to catamarans to windsurfers.

When I think about cruising Melvern Lake I recall feeling very different from the people around us. Just because you can sail in Kansas doesn’t mean that many do, and my family and I were often aboard the lone sailboat in a sea of speedboats and jet skis. As young newlyweds, my husband and I spent many weekends out on the boat, escaping the sweltering summer heat during a sailing season that runs from April to November. Although Melvern provides 10 miles of open water, we would often lounge for hours in land-locked coves, sundrenched and at peace, save for the occasional water skier.

Even in Kansas, things can get exciting. Sometimes on a hot, humid day, typical of a Midwest summer, we would go for a sail in an attempt to cool down. The wind would suddenly change—also typical—and before we knew it, we’d be heeled well over, bracing ourselves in the cockpit as cocktails went flying. Grinning from ear to ear, we’d make our way back to the marina, feeling like seafarers a thousand miles from the sea. Afterward, at our local hole-in-the-wall, Whitey’s, where you can find the best pizza in town, we’d share sailing stories with the locals who could hardly believe we even owned a sailboat. After an icy cold beer or three, it was clear why even for the sailors in Kansas, “There’s no place like home.”

Editors note: We’re happy to report that 1,500 of SAIL’s faithful subscribers reside in Kansas

Photos by Kelli White and



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