Waterfront restaurants, easy access to the Lake Erie islands, affordable yacht clubs, good fishing, and top-level regattas are only a few of the things that make Toledo's boating lifestyle the best in northwest Ohio.
But planning boating activities may be more challenging than usual this year because water levels are expected to tumble another six to nine inches.
Mild winters and below-average precipitation in the Great Lakes caused Lake Erie's water level to drop over three feet between July, 1997, and November.
Boaters ran aground in places they had easily navigated before and many avoided unfamiliar destinations rather than risk damage to propellers and keels.
Lake Erie levels aren't likely to improve this summer, according to Adam Fox, a physical scientist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Detroit District.
"We need more rain and snow," he said. "So far the precipitation is normal, but the snow we've had is mostly powder.
"And at the western end of Lake Superior, the feeder of all the Great Lakes, this year's snow packs are among the five driest ever."
Marshall Gill, operations manager of the 600-boat Toledo Beach Marina in LaSalle, Mich., said dredging has begun in the marina's main channel.
"We're betting $1 million that the lake level will go down - possibly by another foot," he said. "By the time you buy the land to put the sediment on, conduct the required tests, and get the permit, that's what dredging costs."
The project has been temporarily delayed by thick ice, but by launch time, the channel's depth will be a little over 10 feet, he said.
One of the hardest hit waterways is the Ottawa River, where boaters already had serious concerns about the water quality.
"The river has silted in over time and we can't dredge because of PCBs on the bottom," said Nick Smith, commodore of Jolly Roger Sailing Club, the only Toledo-area club devoted exclusively to sailing.
"Even in Maumee Bay, where the depth is OK for racing," he said, "it's hard for keel boats and cruising auxiliaries to race because of kelp fouling the props."
Only 23 of Jolly Roger's 80 docks are filled so far this season and many owners of larger sailboats are looking for deep-water docks. For the first time in the club's history, powerboats belonging to members will be allowed to use its slips.
"Everybody is abandoning the western basin," Mr. Smith said. "We have 20 people on a waiting list at Meinke's Marine, where there's 10 feet of water. Others are going to Anchor Pointe and Lost Peninsula."
Laraine Meinke, co-owner of two East Toledo marinas, said the 1,200-slip Meinke Marine West on Corduroy Road was 85 per cent filled in 1999.
"The marina was built deep and dredged in the fall of 1998," she said. "The way things are going, I think we'll be filled this year."
Despite the ice, dredging is under way at Meinke's East on Bono Road. "We are just pushing through and trying to get a little done every day," said Vern Meinke, the owner's son.
Snow and ice aren't a problem for some sailboat racing crews. The Toledo-area racing set gets around, even in winter.
Take, for example, Harbor View Yacht Club skipper Fritz Peterson, who usually races his Tartan Ten, Full Bore, on Lake Erie.
The leaves were barely off the trees when Mr. Peterson took his boat to Clearwater Yacht Club in Florida. He returns to Clearwater once a month to race and recently won his class in the club's Melita Challenge series. Toledo sailors Lon and Abby Ethingon were among the crew.
Tom Andrews and Roger Vaughan of North Cape Yacht Club also headed south to race their Hobie 33, Holy Toledo. Sailing with their regular Lake Erie crew, they captured the overall honors in the Fort Lauderdale to Key West Race, triumphing over 70-foot maxi-sleds like Chessie Racing (the ex-Pyewacket) and Bill Alcott's hot Equation, from Detroit.
Other events that have attracted area sailors this winter include the Key West Regatta, Southern Ocean Racing Circuit, and National Offshore One-Design (NOOD) Regatta in St. Petersburg.
Meanwhile, Toledo's armchair sailors were keeping tabs via the Internet and TV, on a local member of the French America's Cup crew and two Olympic hopefuls.
Viewers of the Louis Vuitton trials for the America's Cup challenger, held in Auckland, New Zealand, may have spotted Sylvain Barrielle, of Maumee, racing with the French team on the yacht Le Defi.
Steve Bodner of Toledo made a strong play for the Olympics in the Men's Mistral class, but placed 13th in the final class standings at the U.S. Olympic trials in October.
Three-time Olympian Mike Gebhardt of Fort Pierce, Fla., secured the top spot and will represent the U.S. at the Olympic sailing games in Sydney.
Taylor Robinson, another Toledo native, is currently preparing for selection trials for the Europe class (the singlehanded women's Olympic boat) scheduled at San Francisco Yacht Club in Belvedere, Calif., April 6-16.
Ms. Robinson, who grew up sailing out of Jolly Roger and North Cape yacht clubs on Lake Erie, spent December training in Sydney Harbor and then headed to Auckland to train with the Kiwi women and sail a couple of regattas.
She returned to San Francisco this month to race in the Bay before the trials.
Here at home, planning is well under way for the coming season.
The Associated Yacht Clubs, an umbrella group that includes most area boating clubs, offers generous reciprocity privileges, in addition to a wide choice of cruises, races, and social events for affiliated members and their families.
Sailboat races are scheduled nearly every day from May through mid-October, although concerns about low water levels may require some changes.
Highlights are the S2 7.9 International Regatta, Aug. 16, and the Richardson Cup for the Great Lake Championship, to be held in Tartan Tens and tentatively slated on Labor Day weekend. Both events will be held at North Cape Yacht Club.
Although there was some talk about a new course for the Toledo Yacht Club/Storm Trysail Club Mills Trophy Race, scheduled June 9, the race committee decided to retain the present course to Put-in-Bay.
Chairman Don Wood says there's a good possibility we'll be seeing more 70-foot maxi-sleds from Detroit.
Last year's Mills trophy winner, Harvey Handler's White Lightning the first Toledo Yacht Club boat to carry off that prize in 28 years - has been sold, so the field is wide open, he said.
Other major events include the Great Lakes Lightning Championships, May 20-21, at North Cape Yacht Club; Lake Erie Race Week, June 23-28, at various clubs; J-24 Districts, July 8-9, at North Cape; the Inter-Lake Yachting Association (ILYA) Optimist Championships July 21, Sail Regatta July 30-Aug. 3, and Powerboat Regatta Aug. 3-6, all at Put-in-Bay, and the Trans-Erie Race from Erie, Pa., to Grosse Ile Yacht Club Aug. 18.
ILYA Commodore Arne Hansen said the association is doing everything it can to get participation in the Sail Regatta back up to previous levels.
"One thing people have complained about is costs," he said, "so we've cut off a day to save money and avoid an expensive increase in fees. Most of the Deep Water races, including Toledo's, will finish on Sunday this year rather than Saturday."
Bayview Yacht Club, in Detroit, also decided the millennium was a good time to do something "different and challenging," according to BYC commodore Bill Zemmins.
"The club will introduce three changes of interest to Toledo sailors," he said.
One is the selection of a new boat, the Farr 40, for the Canada's Cup, the international championship between Canada and the U.S. The match-racing series, which is similar to the America's Cup, will probably be held in September, he said. It was last won in 1994 by Bayview's Ken Meade, in the 30-foot Champion Eagle.
The Royal Canadian Yacht Club is the challenger of record.
Other changes - a new 259-mile "long course" and a joint effort with Chicago Yacht Club called Millennium 600 - affect Bayview's 76th Mackinac Race July 15.
The present course, known informally as the Cove Island Course because it turns a bell buoy at Cove Island, was inaugurated over 25 years ago.
The new course retains the start in Port Huron and finish off Mackinac Island and the distance is the same. The main difference is that the fleet will sail closer to the Canadian side of Lake Huron to a buoy three miles offshore of Southampton, Ontario.
"The turning buoy is closer to the shoreline and it takes a little navigating to get in there," Mr. Zemmins said.
The Millennium 600 Race will run concurrently with the Detroit Mackinac. But instead of finishing at Mackinac Island, entrants will continue across the Straits of Mackinac to Gray's Reef and down the length of Lake Michigan to Chicago.
Boats competing in the Chicago Mackinac the following weekend (July 22) will have only a couple of days to reprovision before heading back north.
The millennium promises to be anything but dull for the Toledo Rowing Foundation.
Affiliated members will be rowing out of the new $650,000 Philip LeBoutillier, Jr., Memorial Boathouse in International Park this year. The 10,080-square-foot building provides storage and boat maintenance facilities for more than 300 adults and youths, including rowers from at least 10 area high schools and colleges.
Toledo Rowing Club president Cathy Shenk said that when the ice moves out of the Maumee River, the rowing docks will be moved to the "willow tree pier" across from the boathouse.
Landscaping should be installed in time for the foundation's big International Rowing RegattaMay 20.
The club will offer its popular free summer rowing program in June and is considering adding classes in sculling and adaptive rowing.
Down the road at The Docks, the mooring space has been expanded to 600 feet and improved with mooring cleats, lights, and a railing.
Developer Don Monroe said rafting will be allowed and free docking will continue to be available on a first-come, first-served basis.