What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of sailing? “Yacht rock” and Christopher Cross and riding like the wind? Polo shirts and dock shoes? Relaxing on the glistening seas with the breeze in your hair and not a worry in your head? Gliding by Friday After 5 and enjoying the music from the water?
For Jeff Danhauer, it’s all of those things. But also much, much more! He says sailing is a lot of work, but a ton of fun. Easy to learn, but impossible to master. It may be solo adventure, but it can also be a team sport. And he ought to know, because Jeff’s been sailing for fifty years, but says he feels like he’s just beginning.
With no major harbor or marina, Owensboro might not seem like an ideal place for sailboats, but you do see occasional sails hoisted on the Ohio River. Carpenter Lake is big enough to sail. And within a short drive, Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley are popular spots for sailing, as well. There are also yacht clubs in Louisville, Nashville, and Indianapolis. So at one time, the Owensboro Sailing Club was thriving with active membership, and there is still a handful of sailing enthusiasts in Owensboro, but Danhauer would love to see the Owensboro Sailing Club skimming the water together again.
For Anyone and Everyone
Sailing is sort of like a choose-your-own adventure; you can make it anything you want it to be. An afternoon on the water, an overnight anchored in a cove, or an extended trip “harbor hopping” as they call it, stopping at every other harbor and then hitting the ones you skipped on the way back.
Jeff has done all three, but he got his start when he was a little guy in third grade. His family had a cabin on Lake Malone, and his uncles would take him out on the water with them. Then he learned to handle his own sails on a 14-foot styrofoam sailboat he bought back in the early ‘70s by collecting and trading in coupon stamps from a catalogue. “I looked at it like a bicycle, because I could just get out on it and go. Except it was a lot faster,” Danhauer remembered.
“It’s ended up being a lifelong passion that you never master. You’re constantly learning to adjust your sails better for optimum speed.”
Picture it like this: a sail works just like an airplane wing. As the wind passes the sail, the aerodynamics creates lift. That, combined with the rudder underneath the hull, propels the boat. Therefore, a sailboat cannot sail directly into the wind, so the boat always needs to be at an angle against or away from the direction of the wind in order to move.
Working the sails comes from experience, but since it’s more of a mental challenge than brute strength. Sailing is not dependent on athletic skills or body type. As Danhauer put it, “anybody can sail,” which is part of the allure. “And you can get into it pretty inexpensively. You can get into your first boat for $700. From there, it just depends on what your budget is and what your interests are.”
From Cruising to Racing
“They say anytime two boats are in the water, it’s a race,” Jeff laughed, explaining how he eventually caught the racing bug. “I started racing in ‘94 down on Kentucky Lake. Then I met some guys in Louisville, and started racing there on Wednesday nights and Kentucky Lake on the weekends.” But he always had his sights on Lake Michigan. “It’s like an ocean. You can sail 15 miles one direction, switch sails, and sail 15 miles back to center.”
So after purchasing a boat on Lake Michigan, Jeff started racing up there, too, which meant he met more sailors in different circles. “At regattas, you compete during the day, then hang out and socialize at night and compare stories and strategies. We’re all amateurs, so everybody helps everybody get better. That’s part of the fun of it.”
That’s how he met some of the guys on the “Defiance” boat crew, and they invited him to start racing with them. The Defiance is a 66-foot vessel with 100-foot sails requiring an 18-man crew. This summer Danhauer was aboard the Defiance for a race from Chicago to Mackinac Island (Michigan), a course that’s 340 miles and takes around 36 hours, which means there were two crews of nine guys rotating shifts day and night to keep the boat on course. At that level, it’s a team sport. The captain makes the final decision, tacticians come up with the strategy, and sail trimmers switch the sails as conditions change or adjust the angles of the sails.
The amazing thing is that after 340 miles in 36 hours and taking different routes to complete the course, the Defiance crossed the finish line within three seconds and a couple feet of its closest competitor. “That’s fun, but it’s just as fun (to me) to be out in a small dinghy racing five or six other boats. It’s all fun,” Jeff said.
Fighting the elements is also part of the excitement of racing sailboats. During a 250-mile race from Port Huron to Mackinac this summer, an afternoon storm approached that spun winds up from five knots to forty knots with driving rain and rough waters. “If you were cruising through that, you could pull into port and ride it out,” Jeff explained. “But in a race, you adjust your sails and work through it. You learn to respect the water you’re in. And the weather. But your experience prepares you for stuff like that. That’s where the training comes in. Sometimes it’s blue skies and glassy waters, sometimes there’s ten foot waves.”
Owensboro Sailing Club Ready for a Relaunch
Even after fifty years of sailing, Danhauer doesn’t plan to slow down. “My goal is still be sailing at 99 and die when I’m 100,” Jeff laughed. Between now and then he would love nothing more than to help others find a passion for sailing that he’s enjoyed so much, and see the Owensboro Sailing Club thriving once again. “Because of my experience, I can help people find the right boat for what they want. And also answer questions. That’s where I can be a resource for new sailors.”
If you’re interested in joining the Owensboro Sailing Club, or think you might be ready to catch some wind, contact Jeff Danhauer at 270-570-0385 or [email protected]