The Essence of Sailing in Chautauqua County

By John Carver, August 2010

Sailing conjures images of placid lakes and windswept seas, billowing white sails amongst a pristine sky with perhaps a day’s end sunset to enjoy. Is this the essence of sailing in Chautauqua County? Yes, and more…

When I purchased my first sailboat in 1998, a Hunter 26.5, it facilitated all of the aforementioned elements. I named the boat “MadChuck” for my two children, Madeline and Charles. The boat was kept during the sailing months on Chautauqua Lake at the Chautauqua Marina in Mayville, NY, just a ten-minute drive from my home in Westfield. During the winter months it was stored indoors at the very impressive and well run boatyard of Ready About Sailing in Celeron, NY, which possesses the only travel hoist on the lake large enough for boats this size and larger. Chautauqua Lake is an inland lake, approximately 17 miles long and 2 miles wide at its greatest point. The docks at Chautauqua Marina are professionally kept and offer a secure facility for boats 18 to 30 feet. My family and I often enjoyed day sails around the lake, stopping often at the public docks in Bemus Bay and the Chautauqua Institution. Upon our return, dinner on the deck at Webb’s Captain’s Table, overlooking the marina, was always a treat.

Perhaps my favorite adventures were anchoring just off one of the many tributaries and streams that feed the lake. Rowing our 10-foot dinghy as far up the source as possible with my wife and children, we had the feel of coming off an ocean as explorers, trekking inward upon an undiscovered land. We would often find ourselves in cow pastures, campgrounds, and estuaries. The Chadakoin River provided for a most unique passage. We did not row this river, instead we motored the sailboat very slowly the entire length until we could go no further. As our sailboat’s mast height measured 41 feet off the water, we turned back just before reaching the old steamship docks in Jamestown where a 39 foot power line crosses the waterway. Traveling the Chadakoin River, headwaters of the great Mississippi, is reminiscent of the Erie Canal, a quiet, nature reserve with the feel of a simpler time.

In 2001 I joined the Chautauqua Lake Yacht Club in Lakewood, NY. I wanted to get back into racing now that my children were older, and the CLYC had an active fleet of both Lasers (a 14 foot Olympic class boat) along with a very competitive E-Scow fleet (a 28 foot flat bottom high performance sloop). I raced well in the Laser Class, honing my skills with David Menzies, Kirk Kelly, and Mark Johnson, some of the finest sailors on the lake. I was also fortunate to have gained a spot on the 4-person crew for the 2003 E-Scow National Championships with the venerable Richard (Dick) Turner, perhaps the patriarch of E-Scow sailing on Chautauqua Lake. If your penchant is for racing, you can also race C-Scows and Flying Scots out of the Chautauqua Yacht Club of the Chautauqua Institution. The Dunkirk Yacht Club on Lake Erie, proud host of the 2006 North American Shark Championships, produces some of the finest Shark racing around.

Interestingly, one of the gems of Chautauqua sailing and boating can be had just one mile north of Westfield in the quiet, lakeside hamlet of Barcelona, NY, on the shores of Lake Erie. Without hyperbole, you can reach anywhere on the globe connected by water from Barcelona Harbor; via the Welland Canal / St. Lawrence Seaway, or the Erie Canal / Hudson River. Barcelona features a break wall designed and constructed by the Army Corp of Engineers, and has benefitted from a recent dredging project, offering sanctuary and protection for boats drawing less than 10 feet of water. The sunsets on Lake Erie rival the finest anywhere, from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean to the Pacific, a treat to witness from the deck of any boat. But be forewarned, the Great Lakes also compete with the world’s greatest oceans during summer squalls and November gales, especially shallow Lake Erie with its steep and often confused wave patterns.

Barcelona Harbor boasts a revered history as an active fishing port and a stopover for lake racers and pleasure craft. The harbor is graced by the historic Barcelona lighthouse perched high above the basin on the bluff, which has overlooked the comings and goings of lake boating since 1831. And just as Chautauqua Lake has the wonderful restaurant of Webb’s Captain’s Table, Barcelona Harbor has no less than three restaurants, all within a minutes walk from the docks: Jacks, the Barcelona Market Café, and the recently renovated ZeBro’s Harbor House. Speaking of ZeBro’s, there is no better place on the lake after a long day of fishing, sailing, or pleasure boating to enjoy one of those famous sunsets with a libation of your choosing than on their extensive patio. I also suggest taking a stroll on the near-by public beach where sea glass abounds.

Sailing in Chautauqua County? It is what you want it to be – the challenge of racing out of the many yacht clubs, leisurely cruising to faraway lands via the Great Lakes, or exploring the not so faraway lands of the imagination on Lake Chautauqua. Either way, sailing in Chautauqua County will challenge your skills and let you escape to find new places of peace and relaxation.

John Carver and his wife Paula started their family in Westfield fourteen years ago after moving from the Buffalo area. The Carvers never expected to stay in Westfield for more than a year or two; they now hope to never leave. The magic of the area, the kindness of the community and the beauty of their historic home have made Westfield an ideal place to live, work and play.

John Carver’s sailing resume includes two years of Grand Prix professional racing, 15 Level Regattas, two National Offshore One Design regattas, five LYRA regattas, the Swan North Atlantic Regatta, Key West Race Week, the IRC East Coast Championships and the historic Newport to Bermuda Race. John has also delivered boats from Lake Ontario to the Virgin Islands with extended stops in Annapolis and Bermuda.