Here’s a quick overview of Utah Lake sailing.
Utah Lake is roughly 20 miles north-south, and about 10 east-west. It’s a shallow lake, about 12 feet deep everywhere except within a 100-200 yards of shore. (In low water years, it may be less.)
It feeds into the Great Salt Lake over approximately 45 miles through the Jordan River. (Interestingly, this is the exact inverse of the Dead Sea, which is fed by the Sea of Galilee from the north, also through a Jordan River.)
There is one island on the lake, Bird Island. The tiny island is home to thousands of hatching birds each year, and can sometimes be completely covered by water in heavy snow years.
Sailing season is usually March – October. The lake freezes over sometime in December through February, sometimes a little earlier or later.
There is a small but friendly sailing community. There are roughly 40-50 sailboats slipped on the lake. Most activities are coordinated either through the Utah Lake Yacht Club or Bonneville Sailing. Bonneville Sailing offers sailing instruction, intro to sailing cruises, and owns a few boats on the lake. There is also a BSA Sea Scout program.
Activities include the Utah Lake Festival & Regatta, a Sailstice overnighter to Pelican Bay Harbor, weekly winter sailing seminars so we can get our sailing fix while winter refills the lake, and occasional other barbecues or events. Todd Frye, of Bonneville Sailing, also arranges occasional charters and flotillas to other cruising grounds (Catalina, BVI, San Juans, Croatia, etc) His newsletter is a good way to stay informed www.BonnevilleSailing.com New this year is a traveling trophy for whoever can sail the most miles in a 24 hour period on the lake.
There are 7 marinas around the lake:
• Provo. State park, largest marina on the lake. Most of the sailors slip their boats here for the season. The harbor is being dredged later this year. Everyone launches from trailers. There is water at the docks, but no electricity. State park rescue boats launch from here and cover the entire lake.
• Lindon Marina. This is the only other marina on the lake that offers seasonal docking.
• American Fork Harbor. Day use harbor
• Saratoga Springs Harbor. This is a private harbor owned by an HOA. There are public hot springs a short walk from here.
• Nautica Yacht Club. Small private club
• Pelican Bay Harbor. On Sailstice, everyone sails from Provo over to Pelican Bay to overnight in the harbor. Order pizza delivered to the docks.
• Lincoln Beach Harbor. Small dock, this is the site of an old resort, warm springs, and a beach.
Most boats are in the 22-27′ range. There is a mast crane in Provo. All boats are trailer launched. Dredging is taking place in a few of the marinas this year due to the drought over the past several years. Provo harbor will be dredged 3-4 feet deeper this year, Pelican Bay harbor is being dredged currently, and Lindon Marina had its mouth dredged last year. With the dredging of the main harbor this year, larger boats will likely be put in.
Although the lake is relatively large, it is shallow. Most everywhere it is 12 feet deep. Local sailors watch the winter snowpack (which is good this year, at 125% of normal) to know what water levels will be like later in the summer.
The shallowness of the lake means that winds can quickly whip up waves. Although only 3-5 high, they are of a very short period and can make sailing (especially tacking) rather exciting. The wind pattern is generally from the northwest, although during approaching fronts the winds will shift southerly. In certain conditions microbursts can develop, watching for unsettled air conditions protects you against them – for the most part. Fast moving storms from the southwest can be seen by low dust clouds along the southwest shores of the lake, and are a sign to drop sails and head for a harbor.
The lake, at approximately 4,500′ elevation, is bounded on the east by the Wasatch Mountains, the highest of which reaches 11,000′. The canyon winds on the north and south ends provide steady breezes each morning as the sun rises.
The Utah Lake Commission is undertaking several plans to improve the lake. Between the presence of vegetation-destroying carp and agitation from waves, a lot of sediment clouds the lake. An impressive multi-year carp removal program is well underway which should fix the carp problem and hopefully restore some degree of clarity.