Can Lasers handle Lake Michigan?


Active Member
You don't want to sail 35 knots... just for fun. And certainly not on your one. We had it on two occasions during the WC Under 19 in Kiel last August. Verified (!) 38+ knots and 400 boats out on the water. Only one boat came back with its mast broken. All others stayed safe. Having said that, the conditions were gruesome!

The first storm (30 - 33 knots) hit the fleet between the 1st and 2nd race on the penultimate day of the event. The race was postponed and all boats had to huddle-up in the waiting area. Most RIBs were sent to the area 'below' the boats, so that no boat could 'escape' when capsized. The second storm hit the fleet later that day. Now with thunderstorms. One racing area got home in time, the other racing area didn't make it on time. Even stronger winds hit the remaining fleet (the 38+ knots). Sailors and RIB-crews had a busy time! My son described the whole situation later with: "I've sailed with my eyes closed as often as possible! The foam of the waves hit me like a hail-storm! Everything hurts in my face! But I wanted to keep on sailing as long as possible - just to prove myself that I can manage this boat under all circumstances!"

At the same time, we ashore were busy stopping boats on a trolley being blown into the water! One of my busiest sailing-related afternoons!


Former ISAF Laser Measurer
Don't forget that Blackburn sailed the Bass Straights in a Laser! That place has destroyed many large 70+ foot boats.
On the right day, it can be a mill pond and the wrong day you can meet up with 50' waves and 70+knot winds. Blackburn chose a time of year when the conditions would be favourable and then gave himself from memory a 14 day weather period to do the crossing. The chances of him meeting up with the Bass Straight it's extreme were negligible. I'm not taking away from the feat, but there was a lot of planning involved to make it an easy but long day sailing, with minimal risk or chances of poor weather.
One of the earlier correspondents offered important caution about quick-developing and severe conditions on Lake Michigan. Made me think of when I was caught in such a situation. It was the North American Youth Championship sailed out of Wilmette, IL held August 1973. The fleet was out before the afternoon races and a thunderstorm and squall blew in suddenly and within minutes winds were 25 knots+ with a very confused sea. Being from San Diego I was used to sailing off-shore in big swells, but I have never experienced anything like this. Fortunately, the wind blew on-shore and permitted a fast broad reach to the beach in a wild but exciting 3-4 minute ride. I have never moved so fast in a Laser. Upon reaching the shore there was no way to stop and I sailed the boat a full boat length onto the sand before it halted and tipped over. Fortunate none of the 50+ racers caught out were harmed in this episode, but down the lake a couple of miles a Lightening capsized and one of the crew drowned.
Random question... as I havn't done much big freshwater sailing... What accounts for the differences in the swells between fresh and salt water? Is it due to the salinity of the water? Tides? Less aggressive bottom topography?
Generally shallow water has larger waves that are closer togetherness. We don’t have current on the Great Lakes, which can also contribute to waves. If the current is against the wind, the apparent wind on the surface of the water is greater, and thus the waves are larger. However, on the US side of the lakes, when the wind blows from the north for a long time the water gets pushed south and can cause flooding, sort of like a current, but not effecting wave size. No relation to salt content