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Recreational Sailing: Overview

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Sailing on Minnesota lake, 1978

Recreational and competitive sailing has a rich history in Minnesota. In 1882, informal sailboat races were held on Lake Minnetonka as part of the festivities for the public opening of James J. Hill's Hotel Lafayette. That summer, the Minnetonka Yacht Club, one of the oldest sailing clubs west of the Atlantic, was formed.

In the 1890s, racing ice yachts, the fastest vehicles of their era, became popular. In a historic tie-breaking race against The Pepin Ice Yacht Club, Minnetonka Ice Yacht Club's 17-year-old Nan Bassett became the first woman to win an ice yacht race.

During this period, Minnesota boat builder J.O. Johnson developed an idea for a radically different type of sailboat. In 1886, his "Johnson Scow" debuted at a White Bear Yacht Club race and easily won first place. By 1904, Johnson Boat Works was in full production, and Johnson was recognized as a top sailboat designer.

Today, there are yacht clubs and teams throughout the state, including the University of Minnesota sailing team. One of our most celebrated sailors, school teacher Gerry Spiess, crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1979, and the Pacific in 1981, alone on his home-built sailboat, Yankee Girl.

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Guide Author

Linda Mork

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