Think about sailing, and you might imagine the azure open waters of Key West, Cape Cod or Australia's Barrier Reef.
But, Kansas? Not exactly a mecca for mariners.
Still, there's a small but passionate crew of local sailing enthusiasts who are unapologetically hooked on the hobby. At the helm is Bruce Liese, Lecompton resident and owner of Kansas City Sailing in North Lawrence.
"I started teaching sailing as a small business in 1999," says Liese, who is a professor at Kansas University Medical Center and a practicing psychologist.
"By 2007 or so, I realized it would be helpful if I would have parts and things like that - and even sailboats - because everyone was asking me where to get stuff. So, I opened up an unintentional not-for-profit business to fill the need."
Liese, who serves as adviser to the KU Sailing Club and commodore to the Perry Yacht Club, says that while sailing peaked - nationally and locally - in the 1980s, the sport remains on a steady course.
"There is an ebb and flow when you talk about sailing in Kansas," Liese notes. "But I know there are 1,000 sailboats in this area, at least, and that's boats in the water," he says. "Even in this economy, people seem to be hanging in."
Liese observes that many people get into sailing due to family ties.
"I'd say a quarter of the people who come to our shop say, 'My dad used to sail. He passed on years back, and his boat has been in the garage for years. I can't bear to get rid of it, and sailing gives me a chance to have a little part of him with me forever.' I've witnessed some really touching stories like that," he says.
Longtime salt Don Jardon, Lawrence, says it was a honeymoon trip that led to his favorite pastime.
"My wife, Brenda, and I went to San Francisco and were watching the sailboats. We kept thinking they were going to tip over out in the bay, because we'd never seen them before," Jardon recalls. "When we got back, we went to Lone Star and rented a little Sunfish. We knew nothing about sailing, so we asked the guy what to do and he said you hold the rudder this way and go this direction to the wind."
"We went all the way down Lone Star, came back and the wind changed and flipped us over. We lost our flip-flops and suntan oil and everything, but it was fun. Next thing you know, there's a sailboat for sale at a garage sale, and I bought it for $300."
As Jardon's interest and skills grew, so did the desire to upgrade his craft.
"I went from an 11-foot to a 16-foot to a 25-foot boat all within 2 1/2 years," he explains. "Then, I bought a 27-foot and have been working on it for years now."
Passing the spill test
Jeff Weaverling of Lawrence, who grew up around speedboats in Mancato, says an outing with a friend converted him to wind power.
"A buddy took me sailing one afternoon, and I fell in love with it," he recalls. "When there's a good wind blowing, it's a thrill, and a lot more fun than power boating, I think."
Jeff came home that day and told his wife, Cindy, he wanted to buy a sailboat.
"I needed some coaxing," she says, laughing. "I'd grown up around lakes all my life, but I never was a strong swimmer, and I've always been timid about what's in the water. When we first started looking for a boat, I would always ask if it would tip over. If they said 'yes,' I'd say, 'Well honey, you can do it, but I probably am not going out.' I was a big chicken."
The Weaverlings finally found an 18-foot Capri that passed Cindy's spill test.
"When I asked if it would tip over, they said 'no,'" Cindy says, "and I said, 'We'll take this one!'"
"Over the years, we gradually moved up to bigger boats - our current one is 31 (feet) - and I don't have that fear of falling in anymore."
In fact, Cindy has become a skillful sailor in her own right and, like her husband, has taken certification classes. Still, she always plays crew to Jeff's captain so as not to rock the boat.
"I can do everything, and he can do everything. But we made a decision early on that one person needs to have the final say, because you don't want any confusion with the instructions," she explains.
Beauty and thrills
Jardon and the Weaverlings usually sail on Clinton Lake, but they have also sailed the open waters off the East Coast and in the Caribbean.
Liese says his customers love to wear his "Sail Kansas" T-shirts and hats when they visit popular nautical destinations.
"People will be on a sailboat on St. John, St. Thomas, Tortola or one of those islands, and people will laugh and say, 'Sail Kansas. That's a joke, right?' And they'll tell them, 'No, we've got a 30-foot or 40-foot boat in Kansas!'"
Lies says that, while he is concerned that younger generations are too preoccupied with social media and electronic gadgetry to give sailing a chance, he doesn't worry about the sport's longevity.
"Every time I even tiptoe in the direction of worrying about sailing's future, I remind myself that the world will always have sailors," he says. "The beauty and physics and wonderment and grace that people experience when sailing will never go away. There will always be people who stop what they're doing and say, 'My god, isn't that sailboat beautiful!'"
"The rush of sailing in heavy wind is unlike the rush of any sport that I know. When you are on that edge in 30 knots of wind and on the edge of flipping your sailboat over and doing who knows what damage, and you're just screaming across the lake, the only thing I can compare it to might be skydiving."
Jardon agrees that it's the thrill that keeps him coming back to Clinton Lake day after day.
"When you're out there and the wind is blowing 15, 20 miles an hour, you're moving - top speed maybe 6 miles an hour - and you feel like you're doing about 100 miles an hour with the boat kind of heeling over. It's that sensation. If you're going 6 miles an hour in a powerboat, you're bored to death. But in a sailboat at that speed, you're on the edge."