In this Question and Answer interview with Todd Frye, one of the owners of Bonneville School of Sailing, he paints a picture of the captivating magic of sailing on Utah Lake. Utah Lake is full of hidden wonder and beauty and is the largest freshwater lake West of the Mississippi River.
Q: Why is Utah Lake such a great place to sail?
A: “Utah Lake is huge. You can sail all day and be hard pressed to see another boat on a beautiful warm day, in 10 knots of wind (great sailing conditions).”
Q: What do you love about Sailing Utah Lake?
A: “This 2022 season will be our 15th year sailing out on Utah Lake...in calm weather and in 30-40 knots of wind. When wildfire smoke obscures the shore line to amazing night sails, where the Milky Way appears, away from the loom of city lights, as we navigate by the North Star. We see pelicans, eagles, plovers, sea gulls, Canadian geese, ducks, Terns and Ibis. Migratory birds that use Utah Lake as a resting place.
“I am privileged to watch the transition in sailing students, from having never been on a sailboat, to a competent "salty dawg", ready to live their dream of sailing off into the sunset. I cherish the new friends that I have made and am so proud when a sailing student is observed on Utah Lake, now sailing their own vessel by themselves, with family or with friends. I have the best job in the world. Utah Lake is the catalyst.”
Q: What makes Utah Lake special?
A: “I may over-use this phrase, but it's one of my favorites. Utah Lake is just 5-10 minutes from the "Metro Cooker". It's very accessible. It's also huge. I get "the look" when I tell people that Utah Lake is larger than Lake Tahoe. For some reason that gives them perspective. It's also a true wilderness experience, just minutes from downtown Provo/Orem. When you're out in the middle of the lake, it's totally quiet, except for the wind in the sails and water against the hull.
“Lake Bonneville, an ancient massive body of freshwater, began forming 30,000 years ago, covering the western half of Utah and parts of Nevada and Idaho. When the rising water found a weak spot (Red Rock Pass in Idaho), the lake level dropped until the remnants of that great formative time resulted in the Great Salt Lake and Timpanogos Lake (now Utah Lake). When I'm out on Utah Lake I like to imagine I'm in a time machine, watching huge waves on Lake Bonneville carve out what we now call "The Benches" (ancient shoreline beaches). Or watch different First Nations cultures come and go. The Pioneers entering the valley. Utah Lake is a freshwater monument to a fascinating geographical genealogy.
"Utah Lake can be combative. Its force and fury need to be respected. But after the storm has passed, it likes to erase any bad memories with a stunning pink and orange sunset, as lake birds come out of hiding to sing their all-clear invitations. And there is that unexplainable feeling you get by just driving through the park, or walking along its shores. You somehow get "connected" and come away feeling better. I'm sure there's a word for that experience. I just call it joy.”
Q: What accomplishments from your Bonneville School of Sailing are you most proud of?
A: “Learning of our students who have gone on to realize their dream of sailing off into the sunset. Some have purchased their own boats and stayed right here on Utah Lake. Some have accomplished the ultimate sailors experience of sailing around the world. To think that those sailing students have gone through our programs to finally realize their life long dream is hugely rewarding.”
Q: What is a favorite memory you have on the lake?
A: “When I learned of a total lunar eclipse that was to happen in 2007, August 27, at 02:30. The idea just popped into my head to quickly organize a "Moonlight Regatta" on Utah Lake. The main purpose, other than a good excuse to do some night sailing, was to witness a full lunar eclipse while out with friends, sailing on Utah Lake. That night did not disappoint.”
Q: What is something most people don’t know about Utah Lake?
A: “It's interesting when you meet sailing students for the first time, they ask about the water quality of the lake (algae, muddy, etc). One of my favorite things to do on the last day of the sailing season is to sail alone out to the middle of the lake and drop anchor for the night. Because I won't be able to sail again until April, this is a bittersweet time for me. When I first began this tradition in 2007, I would watch the anchor disappear immediately as it would drop to the bottom. Back then, the turbid waters of Utah Lake did appear muddy and you could not see any of the anchor line as it followed the anchor down.
“Now, in our last season (2021), I observe about 12" of anchor line below the surface, as I drop anchor for the night. That tells me that the lake is starting to clear up (probably because of the carp removal process). That's the story I tell my "water quality control" concerned students. Also, on each lesson, while out on the lake, I ask students if they see any Algae. 99.9% of the time, the answer is no. Most people don't know or haven't been told that the lake is healing. The media could be doing a better job of spreading the good news.”
Q: How many sailboats does Bonneville School of Sailing have?
A: “We had three teaching platforms last year. A fourth boat will be added for 2022 because of last year's demand. We have a Cape Dory 25, a Catalina 25 swing keel, and two Catalina 27's.”
Q: How many other sail boats are on Utah Lake?
A: “I'm pretty sure the Lindon marina was at full capacity last year. Somewhere around 76 sailboats. Provo Marina slipped 16 sailboats last year. All are welcome.”
Q: What should I bring for my sailing experience/what should I wear?
A: “When we sign folks up for a lesson package, we send out an email which includes a list of things anyone going out on the water for 3 hours should bring. For some reason, about 25% of our new students think they are going to experience something akin to a "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride in Disneyland. Through experience, by lesson 2, they get it, and bring along the items listed below:
Deck shoes (with a light colored, non-marring sole), required
Polarized sunglasses with chums
Sun hat with chin strap
Sun block SPF 35 or higher
Comfortable, loose fitting clothes
Notepad and pencil
Small collapsible duffle bag for stowage of the above items.”
Q: Anything else I should know before my sailing experience? Best times of the year/day?
A: “Scheduling is tough. People are busy and scheduling can be difficult. Last year our boats were working all the time, so if for any reason, an appointed lesson is missed, there may not be room for a make up. So be prompt and show up...then everything runs smooth.
“We are often asked what the weather is going to be like tomorrow, next week or even next month. Have you ever known a weather forecast to be wrong? Our sailing philosophy is that we, as sailors, need to adapt to whatever Mother Nature gives us. We will be sailing in all of the different conditions anyhow (becalmed to gale force winds, hot sun to spring/autumn snow storms), so we really only need to concern ourselves with not going out in winds over 20 knots or active lightning. And there will be lots of perfect, or near perfect days, with beautiful sunsets and exhilarating winds. The secret is to learn from all the varied conditions that can develop. As Franklin Roosevelt said, “A smooth sea never created a skilled sailor."
Q: What would you say to locals to help change their misconceptions about Utah Lake?
A: “As mentioned above, most folks have a negative conception of the lake. If they haven't had a chance to actually experience Utah Lake, they are just going on the premise of what they've heard from an uninformed friend, or the media (sensationalism sells). It sounds self-serving, but if you would join us for a Bonneville Discover Sail, we could educate you up close and personal with the lake, and then you can make up your own mind.
"The phrase we hear most from the people we take out is: "I didn't know Utah Lake was so beautiful!"
Q: Is there anything else you would like to say?
A: “Starting your sailing career on Utah Lake is a "springboard" to bigger and broader sailing adventures. Bonneville offers "Adventure Sailing" on blue water (ocean) as well. Catalina Island, San Diego, Gulf of Mexico, Canadian Gulf Islands, Caribbean, Adriatic.
“It has been my experience, wherever in the world you go, whenever you have a group of sailors gathered, you have a sailing community. Folks that are good people - willing to share, help with difficult projects/situations, friendly. And they've got some great (albeit embellished) sailing stories to tell.”
If you're just looking for a fun and relaxing evening or a memorable date night, check out Bonneville Sailing's offered Sunset Sail Cruises! This is a great experience for visitors and tourists, or those seeking a casual sailing experience.
They also offer team building experiences which will bring relaxation and enjoyment as well as "adrenaline pumping action with a focus on teamwork and communication skills!"
Check out more of Utah Valley's epic Springtime activities here!