trio of sailboats tack south away from Stockton Dam during
the opening event of the Lake Stockton Yacht Club’s
racing season. The lake is host to a full schedule of racing
and cruising events for sailboat enthusiasts.
in the sun as a flotilla of boats glides silently toward Stockton
Dam. A strong northerly wind heels the boats sharply to the right
while crew members reach out to brace themselves against the tilting
beginning of racing season at Stockton Lake and 19 sailboats compete
in a casual 10-mile race. On the water are sleek racing boats and
large cabin cruisers. All race together in a staggered-start event
that begins with steady gusts and ends with a lazy breeze.
end of the day, the Stockton Lake sailing community gathers for
a barbeque to relive the race, renew friendships and catch up on
wintertime sailing excursions. Organized by the Lake
Stockton Yacht Club, the activities are the first of many scheduled throughout the
year at the Corps of Engineers reservoir that sailors say is the
best-kept secret in Missouri.
just an incredible lake for sailing,” says Eric Peterson,
an investment advisor from Springfield and commodore of the yacht club,
an organization that, despite its pretentious-sounding name, exists
to promote sailing at any level on Stockton Lake.
crew of Charmed, Ron and Judy Barrow’s 40-foot sailboat,
scamper about the deck during racing action on Stockton Lake.
other major lakes, few billboards lure travelers to Stockton
Lake, located about 50 miles northwest of Springfield. Here there
are no vacation homes, dockside bars or party coves. While the 25,000-acre
lake boasts good fishing for walleye, bass and crappie, strong
winds from Oklahoma and Kansas keep many powerboaters away.
wind can come up with no warning. If you’re not in a
sailboat it can be really dangerous,” Peterson says. “If
you know what you’re
doing in a sailboat, it’s not a problem. When the wind is up,
great, great sailing.”
Shaped like a large,
inverted checkmark, Lake Stockton boasts nearly 300 miles of unspoiled
shoreline. About a third of the lake, the area located north of the
Highways 215 and 245 bridges, is accessible to sailboats. Tall masts
prevent larger boats from sailing beyond these obstacles.
have 11 miles from the dam to the 245 bridge,” says Ron Barrow
of Kansas City who has sailed Stockton Lake with his wife, Judy,
since 1989. “You
clear the marina and you’ve got 11 miles on one tack and
you come back on another tack. It’s a 25-mile loop on a sailable
area — probably
three and half, four hours. It’s a great afternoon sail.
Peterson, commodore of the Lake Stockton Yacht Club, pilots
his 29-foot sailboat Debonair. The 150-member yacht club charges
$50 a year for membership and exists to promote sailing on
you want, you can drop a hook in a cove, stop and have lunch
and swim a little bit, raise the hook and sail on back. It makes
a great day sail,” he
While casual sailing
is the rule, Stockton Lake, built in 1972, also hosts a full schedule
of organized racing and cruising events, including the annual Governor’s
Cup Regatta. The event began in 1974 when then-Gov. Kit Bond’s
communications director, an avid sailor, visited the new lake
and recognized its potential.
The first Governor’s
Cup Regatta attracted more than 150 boats, many of them smaller
craft that could be trailered to the lake for the event.
Unusually fierce winds turned what was to be a celebration into a
near disaster as 100 boats capsized. No one drowned that day, but
rescue boats were overwhelmed picking sailors and their crews
from the water.
racing sailboat glides on the wind at Stockton Lake.
Cups have been far less dramatic but the regatta has earned recognition
as the state sailing championship. Typically about 30 boats
are entered, though few travel from distant waters. Besides
the fact that sailboats are difficult to move, most of
the state’s top sailors already
berth their boats at Stockton Lake.
sailed all over the country and I can’t think of a better
place that I like to sail,” says Paul Nahon, vice
commodore of the Lake Stockton Yacht Club and co-coordinator
of the club’s racing schedule. “I’ve
spent a lot of time in California and on the East Coast
but, to me, there’s
no place like sailing here.”
At least 300 sailboats
are moored on a semi-permanent basis at two marinas
located north of the bridges. Many of these crafts are equally
well-suited for sailing oceans as plying a Missouri
The Barrows’ 40-foot
sailboat, Charmed, for example, features a roomy cabin and teak wood
appointments. The craft would be at home in any yacht club in the
world but does not look out of place in its slip at Stockton Lake.
few years ago the norm was maybe 30 feet,” says Barrow. “Now
if you walk down that dock there’s maybe
a dozen 36-footers and probably a dozen more in
this marina that are bigger than that. There’s
locals sail at Stockton Lake. Almost everyone on the water
lives in Kansas City or Springfield. But former
schoolteacher Reed Shaw says the relative unpopularity
of sailing among rural residents can be explained
by two common misperceptions. “One, people
think it’s incredibly difficult
to do and, two, I think people think it’s
a really expensive sport to partake in. And it’s
neither one of those,” he says.
Lake is home to about 300 sailboats, many of which serve
double duty as a lake home for sailing enthusiasts.
to the popular image of sailing as a sport
only for the wealthy, Reed says sailboats are affordable,
especially when compared to powerboats and
“You take a 36-foot boat. Most people consider
that a big boat but that’s
still a small lake cabin. And that’s
what people use these for,” says
Shaw, whose Grand Mariner Yacht Service has
been repairing and selling boats at Lake Stockton
guy out there today is buying a bass boat that runs 25, 30,000
dollars. If you have a fishing boat, you’re
going to rent a motel room every weekend
when you’re down here. You’re
going to buy all your meals,” Shaw
got a 26-foot used boat that’s got a galley and sleeps
four people for $11,000. You can live in
it on the weekend and cook and sleep and
be totally comfortable.”
Strait, an instructor employed by Stockton State Park Marina,
holds a sailing class during a windless day on the lake. Enrolled
in the two-day course are (from center to right) Steedman residents
Scott Hollabaugh, John Brandt and his daughter Mariah.
are especially important at Stockton
Lake because, like all Corps of Engineers projects,
shore development is not allowed. As
a result, social life takes place on or near
the boats. It’s common to see a
bustle of activity up and down the docks
at Orleans Trail and Stockton State Park
marinas as boat owners cook steaks on
tiny grills hanging off the stern or
gather in lounge chairs on the docks.
is a lifestyle,” says Ron Plymate,
who operates Orleans Trail Marina. “You
form friendships. These dock mates,
they go on vacations together. The
kids, they all grow up together.”
from being exclusive, the sailing
community at Stockton Lake welcomes new members. “The
motto of the yacht club is to promote
the art of sailing, period. It doesn’t
matter what you’re on,” says
people who don’t own sailboats
can be part of the yacht club.”
help educate people about sailing,
Grand Mariner Yacht Service and Stockton
State Park Marina both offer classes
sanctioned by the American Sailing Association.
Students spend two days — much of it on the water — learning basic
operation of a sailboat, safety
guidelines and rescue procedures.
Sailing, the faithful
say, offers something hard to find at any price — a
chance to escape the workaday
world and enjoy life carried about by the wind.
fill the slips at Stockton State Park Marina.
nothing like sailing,” says Peterson, who pilots a 29-foot
sailboat on Stockton Lake. “The
serenity, the quietness, the
fact that you’re one
with the wind. It’s just
a whole experience.”
whose Orleans Trail Marina
includes a hotel, restaurant,
conference center, boat dealership,
repair facility and campground,
in addition to the marina store
and fuel docks, agrees.
“In our lives we go as fast as we can go trying
to get everything done. When you get on a sailboat it will only go so fast.
It forces you to sit back, put your feet up and watch the shore go by,” he
not the destination. It’s
For information about sailing
lessons or other services call the Stockton
State Park Marina at
1-800-334-6946, Grand Mariner Yacht Service at (417) 276-4840 or
Orleans Trail Marina at (417) 276-5161.