How would I find a list of the top 10 sailing locations in the US? We are searching for a place to move where we can sail a 35-foot sailboat, but are not sure where to begin our search for a home port. If such a list exists it would be a great place to begin. Your help will be appreciated.
Dan Dickison responds:
Thanks for your inquiry. I'm not sure that such a list exists. I've never actually seen one. There used to be a list in print of the top watering holes for sailors and another one offering a collection of the top yacht clubs in the US, but if a list of the top sailing venues exists, I've missed it.
Not too long ago the Chicago Yacht Club displayed an item on its website that named it as among the list of top 10 yacht clubs in America (an honor conferred by something called the Club Leaders Forum), but that doesn't mean that Chicago is one of the top 10 sailing locations in the country. It takes more than swanky yacht clubs to qualify an area as a top sailing locale. To my way of thinking, the best sailing places are qualified by their natural surroundings, the consistency of the wind, and the fact that there's an abundance of sailing activity there, which guarantees all of the shoreside support you'll need in the way of marinas, boatbuilders, sailmakers, etc. Given that, here's my personal list. I hope it will offer some guidance in lieu of an official list:
1. First on my list would be the San Francisco Bay area. You can sail here year-round with fairly consistent winds and there's a variety of experience to be had from ocean sailing to calm backwater venues. There's also more racing activity than you can imagine and the visual backdrops are as versatile as the various venues within the Bay.
2. Second would be Newport, Rhode Island. You can sail year round, and roughly seven months of the year it's pretty comfortable. And though the activity is seasonal, it's concentrated, whether you cruise or race. As a cruising destination, there's a lot more to see and many more places to go than one might imagine. Of course there's no shortage of shoreside support services.
3. Puget Sound-Seattle in the Pacific Northwest is a beautiful cruising area and there's an abundance of racing activity here too, with numerous boatbuilders, boatyards, and other marine businesses.
4. The coast of Maine. Seasonal, yes, but nearly unsurpassed is the visual splendor and the number of places you can go to gunkhole and get away from the maddening crowd here. The other wonderful aspect that you'll appreciate about sailing here is the tradition of the sport, which is well intact. Of course you'll want to be up on your navigational skills here because the geography and fickle weather here often makes it tricky.
5. St. Petersburg, Florida qualifies for those sailors whose vessels dont' draw too much water. There's an abundance of activity and of course you can sail year-round here.
6. The eastern end of Lake Ontario. I recommend this area because of its easy access to the Thousand Islands. Of course we're talking about a fairly short season (five months) here unless you're into iceboating.
7. Southern California. From San Diego to Santa Barbara there's abundant sailing activity (both cruising and racing) along this coast, with numerous harbors for shelter and the occasional offshore escape like Santa Catalina Island. Despite the region's burgeoning population, the fact that it's a year-round venue means that you can often have the waters here to yourself.
8. The Florida Keys. Once you get away from Miami, where there's pretty good sailing too, you'll find that the pace of life can slow down considerably and the Florida Keys offer three distinctly different areas for sailing—open ocean, protected water behind the reefs, and north of the keys for shallow-draft vessels. The water is warm, the temperatures are kind, and the wind is pretty reliable for most of the year. What's the downside? Like almost any other place, it will still take years for the locals to accept you as a belonger.
9. The Chesapeake Bay really can't be left off this list because of it's abundance of sailing activity and the variety of experience it offers. You can sail along vast stretches of the Bay itself, or tuck up hundreds of interesting tributaries populated by little towns and farms. You can even sail up the Potomac and say hail to the chief. My only hesitation in naming this venue is that it can be dreadful when the light winds set in, which in my experience is pretty often.
10. The Hawiian Islands. You can't beat this location for wind and tropical vistas. It can be challenging, no doubt, but anyone who has ever sailed here will tell you that there's nothing like it—azure waters, strong breezes, and idyllic destinations. Just be sure you've got sufficient experience under your belt because these ocean waters don't suffer fools lightly.
Of course I've excluded the US Virgin Islands because they're, strictly speaking, a territory of the US, and not a state. The sailing there is fantastic, and Puerto Rico is a great locale too. (I can't vouch for the sailing in Guam.) There are a number of other areas whose inhabitants will surely be sore at me for not naming them to the list (Lake Michigan, other areas of the Florida Gulf Coast, and Long Island Sound among others), but that's the nature of subjective lists. And I'll certainly be chastised by sailors here in my own home waters of Charleston, SC, for not adding this location to the list, but so be it. Here's hoping that this gives you some perspective for your impending move.