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City sailing on Lake Merritt

on July 14, 2011

Lake Merritt may look calm and flat, like a city lake that’s probably more for pedal boats and kayaks than sailboats. But while the lake doesn’t have the challenging big swells and wind of the San Francisco Bay, the wind around the lake is actually gustier than the bay, and offers different challenges, said Sarah Herbelin, the recreation supervisor at the Lake Merritt Boating Center.

“On the bay, the wind tends to come from the west all the time,” she said. “Here it comes around our different building and you actually have to have pretty good skill to sail efficiently here.”

The Lake Merritt Boating Center has sailboats available for the public to rent—ranging in size from 8-foot prams to 14-foot keel boats—provided the renter can pass a short quiz to prove their sailing knowledge. The center also has dozens of kayaks, pedal boats, rowboats and canoes available to rent as well (no quiz necessary). A 12-foot Boston Whaler patrols the waters, as well, ready to scoop up anyone who capsizes.

The center has youth programs for 7 to 17-year-olds, ranging from learning the basics of how to operate a paddleboat and kayak to more advanced sailing classes. The boating center is also the only place on the lake where members of the public can launch their own boats (for $2). “Sometimes people have a new sailboat or a new kayak and want to come down and check it out in protected waters,” Herbelin said.

Though the Lake Merritt winds may be surprisingly challenging, that shouldn’t scare off beginners or families. Herbelin said she took her 2-year-old daughter and a friend out on the lake last week in a 14-foot keel boat. “It’s hard to tip them over,” she said.

On Saturday, the boating center is celebrating National Recreation and Parks Month by offering free boat rentals on Saturday from 1-3 p.m. Go here for more information.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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