The Utah Bucket List: Sailing on the Great Salt Lake
This is the fourth in a series on The Utah Bucket List, a collaboration by The Salt Lake Tribune and KUED listing must-do and must-see experiences.
Great Salt Lake Marina • Utah has its share of amazing places to watch the sun set, but one of them stands out as likely the best in the state, and perhaps the world.
And while it is not a requirement, watching a Great Salt Lake sunset from a sailboat has a way of intensifying an already stunning wonder of nature.
"I've been all over the world and bar none, the Great Salt Lake has the best sunsets on earth. The water just comes alive with colors," said sailor Dave Shearer. "It is totally unique and incomparable to anywhere."
Shearer, who serves as the harbormaster at Great Salt Lake State Marina, is somewhat qualified to make such claims.
After his father decided to get involved in sailing "on a whim" as a summer activity for the family back in the early 1970s, Shearer developed a passion for the sport and eventually traveled around the world competing in sailing races. The harbormaster has witnessed the sun dropping into the ocean at exotic locales like Hawaii, South Africa, the South Pacific, the Caribbean and the Sea of Cortez.
He settled back in Utah and now lives on the shores of the Great Salt Lake at the marina to watch the sun set every day.
Like most Utahns, Ed and Pam Kent hadn't really considered the Great Salt Lake as a recreation destination. That changed during a motorcycle ride with an unexpected stop at the Great Salt Lake Marina.
"We ended up watching sailboats go out of the marina. Watching them hoist their sails and take off was an intriguing experience," Ed Kent said. "People have a perception that the Great Salt Lake is a big stinky body of water chock-full of brine flies. There are some flies you have to deal with and occasionally some spiders on the marina, but once you are on the water it is a different world."
The Kents bought a sailboat and have had one moored at the marina for eight years.
"It is so handy. While we were both working we could leave Salt Lake at 5 p.m. and go out sailing for the evening," Pam Kent said. "We would grab a sandwich and go."
The Kents have since sailed out of San Diego and the San Juan Islands, but they agree it's hard to beat the Great Salt Lake sailing experience.
"We will keep our boat as long as it floats and we can handle it," Ed Kent said. "There are times we just go out and drift around enjoying the unique world and the solitude the Great Salt Lake has to offer."
Jim Anderson, who runs sailing charters on the lake through Sailing Solution, says most of his local business involves people celebrating anniversaries, birthdays and other special events. Some trips lead to a different kind of salt water tears.
"Engagements are also popular. You are sitting on the bow of the boat at sunset and suddenly you wonder where your significant other went. You turn and see him on his knee and you open the ring box and it is turn on the waterworks," Anderson said.
A large portion of Anderson's business comes from people visiting from out of town who may, or may not, talk the locals they are staying with into a sailing trip.
"We are literally on a sailing bucket list," said Anderson, who also teaches a sailing course through the University of Utah. "People visiting want to see the lake, and when locals come out I often hear, 'I had absolutely no idea how amazing it is out here.' "
Overnight sailing trips are popular on the lake and with several islands (17 named islands according to the Utah Geological Survey) there are plenty of destinations to visit.
Relics of long-ago inhabitants can still be found on the islands, but stay off of Gunnison (closed as a pelican rookery) and Fremont (private).
Wildlife viewing may not seem like something to be done on a salt lake only inhabited by tiny brine shrimp, but shorebirds and waterfowl are numerous. Raptors can be spotted over the shoreline of the lake. Other commonly observed creatures, Shearer says, include coyote, fox, badgers, raccoons, porcupines, skunk, deer, pronghorn and, of course, the famous bison of Antelope Island.
There are currently 275 sailboats occupying the 320 slips at Great Salt Lake Marina. Shearer said the slips have been full in years past, and he attributes the openings to a poor economy and a low lake.
Most of the slips are filled by members of the Great Salt Lake Yacht Club, or, as they prefer to be known, "World's Saltiest Sailors."
Unlike the claim about the best sunsets, which will undoubtedly draw debate, sailors on the Great Salt Lake really are the saltiest; at least in the mineral definition of the word. Shearer says the south end of the lake is 15 percent salt and the north end 27 percent. The ocean, he says, is 3 percent salt.
J.R. Reynolds enjoys sailing during each of Utah's four seasons.
"If it is warm enough to ski it is warm enough to sail," he jokes. "The best time to sail on the Great Salt Lake is between Jan. 2 and Dec. 31."
That being said, sailors use extra caution on the lake. Because salt water is more dense than fresh water, waves on the Great Salt Lake pack a wallop.
"We have been through a couple of hair-raising Tooele twisters," Ed Kent said. "In one we had our granddaughter with us. We dropped the sails. The waves were so high the keel of the boat was grounding out on the bottom of the lake and waves were crashing over the boat."
Shearer considers the Great Salt Lake an enigma.
"We are the second driest state in the nation, yet we have the largest lake west of the Mississippi. Go figure," he said. "It is a desert in the middle of the desert because you can't drink it. This all makes it so fascinating."
Great Salt Lake Yacht Club 2013 SAILFEST
Activities run Wednesday through Sunday June 16 at the Great Salt Lake State Marina, exit 104 on I-80. Most events are free, but there is a $2 entry fee for the marina, a $5 wristband fee for children's activities and a cost for food.
June 12 • David Davis Founders Cup Race, 6 p.m.
June 14 • Opening ceremonies and barbecue, 6:30 p.m.; star party starts at dusk.
June 15 • Cardboard Boat Race, 10:30 a.m.; free sailing on the lake for the public 12:13-2:13 p.m., signups required; 12:13, children's events including bounce houses, face painting and games. Barbecue at 6:13 p.m. Live band Loose Change at 8:13. Star party at dusk and a bonfire at dark.
June 16 • Utah Cup offshore race.
The Utah Bucket List
View a video trailer of "The Utah Bucket List," which will premiere in August on KUED-Channel 7, at http://bit.ly/19tPLWx.
See a video of sailing on the Great Salt Lake on The Salt Lake Tribune's YouTube site http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PF0fWOq1VL8.
Check out the bucket list's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/UtahBucketList and tell us what is on your Utah Bucket List.
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