Ancient fun on Saratoga Lake
One of mankind’s earliest innovations is even more fun today
Archaeologists estimate that our ancient Egyptian forerunners came up with the idea of sailing sometime around 3,500 B.C. That’s just a little earlier than the invention of writing and about the same time as the start of the Bronze Age. The Iron Age wasn’t even a twinkle in the metalworker’s eye. But there were those famous old Egyptians, innovating yet again, and already sailing their boats on the Nile River using the power of the wind. Very cool. Evidently, they liked their sailboats so much that they painted them on their tomb walls, made little models of them and sometimes even buried full-size sailboats with their Pharaohs so they could sail into the afterlife.
In time, their clever idea was picked up and further developed by the Phoenicians, the Greeks (remember Odysseus and his Odyssey?), the Persians, the Romans, the Vikings, several varieties of other Europeans, including the Dutch, who apparently found the fun in sailing and developed “jachts” or yachts. Later, the Americans joined the fun and kicked British butt in 1851 when the schooner America clobbered 15 English competitors in a race around the Isle of Wight and won the oldest trophy in sports, the America’s Cup. I’ve always loved the story about how decisively America beat the other boats. Queen Victoria is said to have asked which boat came in second. Supposedly, the reply was, “Ah, Your Majesty, there is no second.”
Right in our own backyard
This 5,500-year-old tradition continues on Saratoga Lake today. Back in the late 1950s, the very first sailboats built of fiberglass appeared on the market. For thousands of preceding years, clipper ships, whalers, schooners, Hudson River sloops and small sailboats of every description were built of wood, by hand. With the advent of fiberglass for construction, the costs of building and maintaining boats dropped dramatically. Perhaps coincidentally, the Saratoga Lake Sailing Club (SLSC) was founded at about that same time (in 1957) and has been cruising along splendidly for more than 50 years due to the commitment and energy of its enthusiastic members.
Non-profit and volunteer
The club is a far cry from stereotypical blue-blazer yacht clubs with their mega-yachts and equally mega-dues and fees. The boats owned by the club and its members range in size from tiny sailing dinghies and windsurfers to boats of perhaps 23 feet. Because the club is a non-profit volunteer organization without full-time employees, the dues are very modest. Trophies and plaques and numerous bulletin boards bursting with activities and information attest to the club’s vitality and friendliness, its purpose and its people. The grounds and waters of the club that are filled with more than 100 small sailboats leave little doubt about why the members belong: sailing.
Racing, learning and daysailing
To the uninitiated, sailing may seem to be just one thing, but it really isn’t, and the SLSC actively pursues many of its forms. Probably the most popular are the club’s racing programs. The club has six one-design dinghy fleets including Lasers, Flying Scots and Thistles, a keelboat fleet of Ensigns, and a Hobie 17 catamaran fleet. Boats that don’t fit into any of these classes race in open class using a U.S. Sailing handicap system.
The club conducts an educational program that teaches sailing to both children and adults, from beginners to advanced, in each age category. The sailing program uses the club’s boats, U.S. Sailing certified instructors, and is available to the general public. The courses range from Learn to Sail to Intermediate Sailing and Learn to Race.
But not all the sailing done at the club is organized or scheduled. (Sailors are notoriously independent cusses and wouldn’t tolerate such a notion.) Much, maybe even most, of the sailing is done by club members on their own – or with friends and families – whenever they doggone please, whenever the spirit and the wind moves them. A relaxing after-work sunset cruise, some wild and woolly hot-dogging or maybe a circumnavigation of the lake to see the sights. One of the admirable things about sailing is that it’s “green” and uses little or no fuel. Sailors have been utilizing today’s newly popular wind-power for millennia, and it’s still just as magical to be propelled across the water by an invisible force as it was way back when.
And sometimes “just settin'”
About halfway up the four-mile length of Saratoga Lake on its western shore, the club’s beautiful old house stands on a promontory overlooking the lake. That charming, two-story clubhouse with its modern amenities, the surrounding grounds and the waterfront are all maintained by the members during occasional work parties. But sometimes, when the work is done and the wind is quiet, members enjoy just sitting and talking and sharing a libation with other members – friends. It’s a lovely, peaceful spot and the members strive to preserve it just that way.
Saratoga Lake Sailing Club on the web at www.sailsaratoga.org.
Ed. Lange was recently named one of the 10 most significant individual contributors to the performing arts in the Capital Region of the past 30 years by Metroland for “his influential work as a stage director, playwright, educator and arts administrator” for NYSTI. He may be reached at email@example.com.