How will the sunfish handle on Lake Michigan?

Wayne

Member Emeritus
#2
I live close to Lake Michigan. I'm just wondering how the boat will handle on a big lake.
Just fantastic. I grew up sailing Sailfish and Sunfish on that lake. That's not a blind endorsement, you do need to know both your limitations and the boat's..., some application of the thought process will be required..., she does get moody. ;)

Be knowledgeable of the wind, be knowledgeable of the current weather and the weather coming in. Check the wave height reports and know what changes are expected. Always keep a weather eye out for local changes..., but that's no different sailing anywhere.

Find your nearest CG station or harbor with weather reports for the lakefront. The TV weather for the airport 5 mi inland won't cut it unless you are going runway sailing. :rolleyes:
 
#3
What would you say the max safe wave size for a Sunfish? I've noticed that if the waves are too big the hull rollercosters over the top of the wave then the bow slams down and plows into the next wave.
 

Wayne

Member Emeritus
#4
What would you say the max safe wave size for a Sunfish? I've noticed that if the waves are too big the hull rollercosters over the top of the wave then the bow slams down and plows into the next wave.
Max safe..., considering lake waves have a closer frequency than ocean waves, I'd say, for a competent and seasoned Sunfish Sailor, would be around 3'..., that assumes the wind is ~8 to 15 and the frequency isn't back to back chop.

That's a big swell... if you are standing in water up to your knees along the beach that's a wave crest up to your face. Mostly what you see is half that. But, with experience you could sail it if you can get past the shore break out to where it's just a rollercoaster rise and fall. Cresting, white-capped 3 footers ... no way.

The lake is so variable... one day there's an off-shore wind making ripples, but with an underlying 3' swell spaced far apart... speaking to different conditions mid-lake. The next day the wind is on-shore with 2' white-capped chop and reflection cross waves extending out a quarter mile that make the wakes raised by a Jetski rodeo seem tame by comparison.

Lake Michigan, or any lake large or small, doesn't have a set number for wind and waves, there's a bucket of variables that have to be considered and evaluated by speed, strength, and direction. Practice and experience provide the tools to decide what's safe for your skill level.

Some days you get to the lakefront and just say, forget it... and head for inland water.
 

Wavedancer

Upside down?
Staff member
#5
As Wayne stated in his first post, use common sense and be safety conscious. Consider the possibiltiy that something will break and that you need help.

Other than that, there are almost no limits to where the Sunfish can be sailed. Big waves are OK for more experienced sailors, but your experience will be better with proper technique. Head up as you hit the front of the wave and simultaneously try to move the bow up. Bear off down the wave, preferably by moving your body. Keep the boat flat most of the time by hiking. None of this is easy, but well worth it if you can find the waves to practice. And don't expect to get them all perfectly, even the champions miss a few here and there.
 

Wayne

Member Emeritus
#6
Head up as you hit the front of the wave and simultaneously try to move the bow up. Bear off down the wave, preferably by moving your body. Keep the boat flat most of the time by hiking. None of this is easy, but well worth it if you can find the waves to practice. And don't expect to get them all perfectly, even the champions miss a few here and there.
Extreme... and no, that isn't Lake Michigan.


Photo sequence - Hawiian Water Shots

...do not try this in a Sunfish
 
#7
My 1st time ever sailing a Sunfish was on Lake Michigan - I was 18 years old and working at a summer camp in northwest Michigan, and a coworker took me and another guy out sailing on his Sunfish. Even low-balling our weight at 150lbs each, that's 450 lbs of sailor dragging the sailboat along... strangely enough, though I fell in love with the sport! I remember that day was not too strong of wind, or very big waves, and we just coasted along for while.

Jump forward a few years, and I was back at the same camp for a vacation, this time with my own Sunfish. My brother-in-law and I decided to take it out one afternoon. The wind was quite strong and gusty, and the waves were pretty sizeable. At that time (and still to this day), I consider myself pretty new to the sport - still learning to read the wind correctly, and perfect tacking, etc.

I'm not sure what we were doing wrong that day, but twice when we tried to tack, the wind dumped us over, and it was quick... I don't think I could have prevented it in any way. Both times we dumped, the boat fully turtled. I had never dumped the boat before, let alone turtled it. In retrospect, the 1st time was fairly funny... not knowing for sure what to do, I just sunk under the water as I slid off, and started to untie the halyard, thinking that was going to be necessary to right the boat. I couldn't get it untied, so I popped my head back out of the water - much to my brother-in-law's relief -- he had started to worry about me!

I then just tried the usual method - grabbing the daggerboard and pulling, and it popped right back up out of the water. The 2nd time, I was much less nervous, and things went much smoother.

Ok, so that sort of dragged on - but my basic point, as others before me have said -- Lake Michigan can be a great place to sail, but be careful... the conditions can be DRASTICALLY different day to day, and even hour to hour. Enjoy.

tag
 
#8
I would love to take my Sunfish's on a big lake.. stop torturing me!

All I have is smaller lakes in New Mexico.. thank god for summer storms!

-Erik
 
#9
Just back from 3 weeks on beautiful Lake Michigan in the Ludington area. Sailing off the beach is wonderful but, as many have said, things can change quickly. Water is on the "brisk" side so wearing your PFD feels nice! Your personal safety is of paramount concern so have some friends watching you!
 
#10


I just sailed my Sunfish again on Lake Michigan, near Arcadia, MI (south of Frankfort) - the picture is me sailing with my 8-yr old son, heading back in towards the shore. Wind was mostly from the north, and fairly strong but not too gusty, with moderate waves - maybe 24" peak to trough. I sailed mostly just straight in and straight out from the beach (perpendicular to the wind) - it worked well, wasn't too gusty or tippy (which was ideal for giving rides to my son and his cousins), and we were flying across the water. Sailed for a few hours, giving rides to a bunch of the younger kids, and a couple older guys, too!

If you're curious, I went into a lot more detail about it on my blog: http://my2fish.wordpress.com/2009/09/13/sailing-log-2009-08-26/


Have you tried your luck on Lake Michigan yet?
 
#12
So I moved into my new place right on lake Michigan,north side. I brought my boat with seeing as there is a private beach I figure I'll go sailing often. I have a lot of experience sailing, I was an instructor for the yacht club. The sunfish were always fun with pretty heavy air in 2-3 footers. Well that was 20 yrs ago, I still sail on the big boat, but raising 2 kids on my own running my business didnt have time. All week I was gonna go out. 6-8waves, blowing 30 from the NE.not going out,nut I realizedI'm very nervous for some reason, I'm nervous that if it goes over which as we all know doesnt take much I'm not gonna be able to get it back up. They are calling for an easier day tommorow. 1ft waves 10mph SSE, I'm going.
 
#13
You'll do just fine as the water is still pretty warm (70)! I just returned from Ludington and the water was nice. Just remember to tie everything in and wear your PFD. You might even want to do a couple of capsizes and recoveries so that you are confident that you can do it if you need to. Nose into the wind, weight on the dagger board and remember to make sure your sheet is running free.
 
#14
Im hoping the forecast is correct tommorow. Damn waves were too big today, I'd never make it off the beach. That sounds like a good trip. I've been to ludington, on the big boat though in 2011. I happend to be caught in the storm that capsized wingnuts causing loss of life during the 2011 mack race. Very wild, had a 30 degree heel sailing bar pole. 60+mph winds, waves wernt huge "yet" lightning was incredible. Zodiac I was towing flipped was ripped from the tether. The SS Badger picked up the dingy. Coast guard thought we were missing until we radioed them about the dingy. Anyways I'll keep toy informed and get some pics.
 
#16
What, you're not excited about launching in heavy wind and waves? ;)


I've sailed in Lake Michigan on my Sunfish quite a bit - mostly near Arcadia, MI. Maybe not in a day with waves like that video above from the Sunfish Worlds a few years ago, though. My favorite days are a good breeze from the west, and after you get out away from the beach, you can just sail back and forth north/south on a reach parallel to the beach.
 
#17
I'm gonna go sailing today. I'll put pictures up. Yes wingnuts that capsized. Not sure how the guys perished, hypothermia could definitely be the culprit. That was a nasty storm that's for sure.
 
#18
Like everyone above has written, Lake Michigan is a challenging place to sail but I've sailed Sunfish most of my life there. You just need to take the proper precautions to be safe.

By the way, the Wingnuts disaster was the result of a boat with low stability being caught in a bad storm with winds of 50-60 knots. It is believed that the people who drowned were hit in the head prior to entering the water or caught in the rigging. Very sad story.
 

Wavedancer

Upside down?
Staff member
#19
I hate to be repetitive, but you need to practice capsize recoveries. Find a spot that allows you to stand, but make sure that the gaff doesn't get stuck in the muck when you capsize the boat.
One needs some upper body strength to lift yourself up and back into the boat. And do have your PFD on to more rigorously mimic a real capsize because a PFD sometimes makes it harder to get back in.
 
#20
Like everyone above has written, Lake Michigan is a challenging place to sail but I've sailed Sunfish most of my life there. You just need to take the proper precautions to be safe.

By the way, the Wingnuts disaster was the result of a boat with low stability being caught in a bad storm with winds of 50-60 knots. It is believed that the people who drowned were hit in the head prior to entering the water or caught in the rigging. Very sad story.
Finally got out sailing today, very nice day. Had a good 5hrs I sailed around. I seen a guy that had a sunfish, and since I have a phantom I couldn't help myself from getting close and turning a normal sail into race mode. I was able to pass both times fairly easily. Good to know the old boat still moves very nice. Had about 10 to 15mph wind, lake was choppy but not to bad at all. Had a blast. Yeah I read something about wingnuts, not a great boat for freak storms, they also said it was a ballast issue. I remember that night, it was very intense. 20190905_124506.jpg
 
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