by Craig Brady & Ruth Reed
The rolling hills and old oaks of the Kentucky countryside fell behind us as we crossed the Kentucky Lake Dam. With the view of the lake unfolding before us, we caught a wink of the September sun sparkling on the water below. In the distance, a tiny speck of a sailboat worked its way over the horizon. Our confidence was shaken as we looked in astonishment at the vastness of the lake. The honeymoon adventure was just beginning. Kentucky Lake would test our limited sailing experience on our first bareboat charter.
Webster defines experience as "knowledge from doing." We had very little knowledge of sailing until January of 1997 when we attended Strictly Sail in Chicago. The show was a perfect distraction from the cold and snow of winter. We walked aimlessly through the large exhibition of sailboats at Navy Pier imagining ourselves sailing each and every one of them. The boats sat motionless in a sea of people. They were ordinary people, like ourselves, touring the boats and dreaming of sailing. We left Navy Pier that day promising ourselves we too would sail some day.
Only two months later, our commitment to sailing became a reality with the purchase of our first sailboat. Using the literature from Strictly Sail, we discovered an old sixteen foot Lindsey Newport at Hooper's Yachts in Afton, Minnesota. On a cold March day, we drove into the icy boat yard of Hooper's Yachts. Huddled in the small cuddly cabin of the Newport, we watched our breath turn to vapor while debating over its purchase. Since then, our small boat has been a forgiving teacher and peaceful retreat.
Our summer weekends were spent in the Newport on Lake Storey, a small lake in Galesburg, Illinois. Built as a water source for the railroads, this narrow mile-long lake lends itself better to the local fishermen than fledgling sailors. The lake was our classroom while the Newport taught us lessons in tacking, jibing, sail trimming and a cardinal lesson in gear storage. The discipline of securing gear on a sailboat was brought to a head one windy day when the port-a-potty, left perched on a bunk, was sent rolling through the cabin. It has not been unsecured since then.
Labor Day weekend brought an end to our sailing season. The days were getting shorter, our weekends were occupied with wedding arrangements and Lake Storey's water level was dropped below the boat ramps. Regrettably, we covered the Newport for winter storage yearning for one last trip. While making honeymoon plans, we began wondering if our experience would allow us to charter a cruise. After surfing the net and making a few phone calls, we were pleasantly surprised to find we could reserve a new Hunter 23.5 from Lighthouse Landing on Kentucky Lake.
The ease of our week-long honeymoon on the Hunter still astounds us. Our initial concerns about our ability to handle a larger boat subsided when we began our checkout and instruction on the Hunter. Typically a checkout would only consist of verifying a sailor's competence in seamanship but with our limited experience, we chose to include an additional two hours of instruction. In that short period of time, Steve, our instructor reviewed the basics of sail trimming, heaving to, reefing, man overboard procedures and anchoring. Late that afternoon, we sailed out of the marina on our own with new confidence in our abilities.
Our first destination was an easy sail across the lake to Cow Bay. The name comes from a herd of bovine that drink from its shores early in the morning and wake the slumbering yachtsman with their cow bells. We sailed into the bay as the sun dipped below the horizon spewing warm colors into the evening sky. While securing the boat for the night, we watched the survival tactics of the host of tiny fish. Hundreds of aquatic performers burst from the surface of the water giving the illusion of a shower of raindrops. As they continued their show late into the night, we drifted asleep discovering the hypnotic effects of wavelets lightly slapping the hull and gentle motion of lying quietly at anchor.
The next morning low stratus clouds drifted overhead and a cool light rain created steam on the water as we turned south on a beam reach out of Cow Bay. Uncertain of our destination, we traveled down the lake knowing our next anchorage would be determined by the wind and weather. The clouds soon became darker and more ominous and the increasing wind filled our sails. We were inexperienced in these weather conditions and naively continued at a fast pace. Our unwitting situation became obvious when one of our new "ultimate hats" went overboard. "Man overboard," rang out from the cockpit. We thought we had this maneuver under control but we quickly realized it was testing the limits of our abilities. After two hurried attempts to recover the unsinkable victim, we lost sight of the hat in the white caps and abandoned the rescue. The situation continued to deteriorate until we finally took control by having to shorten sails. The experience taught us the importance of being prepared to react to any situation.
Steve demonstrated anchoring techniques during our instruction at checkout. The gusty winds blowing out of Pisgah Bay on the second night tested our skills. We motored the Hunter as far back into the cove as the water depth allowed and let the danforth dig into the Kentucky clay. During the night, every creak of the anchor rode or lurch of the boat acted as a wake-up call for us to check our position. Wearied out, we drank our coffee the next morning with the anchor still holding firmly to the bottom of he cove.
The morning weather report predicted another rainy, cold day. There were seven more major bays lining the eastern shore of Kentucky Lake for exploration. We passed each one by however, on our way to Kenlake Marina where a restaurant and hot showers were waiting.
Southern hospitality is alive and well along Kentucky Lake, especially at the marinas. Greeting us with a kind smile, the young man at Kenlake Marina offered us not only the customary services but graciously provided us with transportation to the showerhouse at a nearby campground,. After sailing through the chilling wind and rain for two days, the hot showers at the park renewed our spirits.
Refreshed and eager to settle in for the night, our Hunter carried us across the lake from the marina to a small cove. Darkness was approaching as we discovered the water level in the bay was lower than the charts had indicated, forcing us to turn away. Our only option was to return to the marina for the night. In an agonizingly slow operation, we navigated our way in the darkness to the buoys marking the entrance to Kenlake. Once the Hunter was safely docked under the marina lights, we shuddered at the foolishness of sailing in the dark.
The skies were clear the next day and the wind freshened from the north. While the sun warmed its deck, we turned the Hunter into the wind for our journey home. By midday, we were dropping the hook in Duncan Bay. With our wet clothes hung from every lifeline and hamburgers grilling off the stern, we discovered the contentment of relaxing at anchor in the afternoon sun.
A pair of Mallard hens ducked into he bay and migrated to our stern. At first we were surprised by this begging duo until we understood their duck etiquack. Obliging the wise quackers, we threw out some crackers which filled their bills. As the crackers ran out, they ruffled their feathers and we wondered how fowl these two might become. Just then, a young family on a large yacht motored past. The captain's greeting carried a strong French accent and the Tricolor flew from its stern. The ducks, preferring French cuisine, flocked to this floating bistro as it anchored close by.
Since it was our last night on the water, we chose solitude by slipping the anchor and sailing to a small cove nestled in the back of the bay. Curling up under a blanket in the cockpit, we watched as the stars appeared one by one in the evening sky. A satellite arched across the heavens and briefly turned brilliantly white as the sun reflected off its surface. A falling star burst into flames overhead tracing a line between two stars before dying again into the blackness. There was not a sound of humanity. A fish splashed in the water and coyotes howled into the moonless sky. The vastness of the lake that seemed so overwhelming just days before now paled in comparison to the world around us.
Kentucky Lake's miles of shoreline offer secluded hideaways as well as convenient resources for the cruising sailor.
Early Friday afternoon, after an easy sail north, we motored back through the breakwater at Lighthouse Landing. To some, this would seem hardly a story worth telling. Kentucky Lake is small in comparison to the Great Lakes. For us, Kentucky Lake was a body of water that took us over the horizon. Some would say a Hunter 23.5 is hardly a cruising sailboat. But the Hunter was eight feet longer than anything we had ever sailed before and seemed like a yacht to us. To a blue water sailor, the forty miles we traveled would hardly qualify for the term cruising. However, that distance would have been a marathon in our Newport tacking back and forth across Lake Storey. It all depends on your perspective. To a pair of new sailors, we conquered the impossible while being quite ordinary.
Kentucky Lake bounds the western side of the 270 square miles Land Between the Lakes National Recreational Area. It was created by an impoundment of the Tennessee River and is located east of Paducah, Kentucky. The lake is unencumbered for 184 miles with a highly irregular shoreline of over 2,000 miles. Somewhere on those shores, there is an "ultimate hat" for the finder.
Charter Cruising Destinations
Kentucky Dam Village Marina and Restaurant
This state park marina has a dock for patrons using the restaurant. They have a full menu and a daily buffet with buffalo featured a couple times each year. You will find the finger pier to the far right after you pass through the break wall. The marina is close to the dam on the west side of the lake. The offset break wall entrance can be identified by a large blue anchor just to the left of the cut. Overnight dockage is not allowed at the restaurant pier.
Sledd Creek (Turpins Pond)
There are no services in this bay located directly across the lake from Lighthouse Landing. Some private residences occupy the north side of the bay, but the south side is undeveloped. The short 2 mile trip across the lake makes this a great first or last night anchorage. The large area to the left after you enter the bay has good protection from prevailing southwest winds and good depth and bottom for easy anchoring.
Again on the west side of the lake and about 2 1/2 miles due south of Lighthouse Landing, this bay is another favorite for the beginning or end of a charter. It is directly across the lake from a prominent microwave tower which is located about 3/4 of a mile south of the canal to Barkley Lake. The best over night anchorage is toward the back and to the right hand side of the bay. Like most of the areas on Kentucky Lake, the bottom is clay and your primary danforth anchor set off the bow is all that is needed for a secure nights stay. You will probably be awakened by the cows drinking at waters edge in the early morning (hence the name). When entering and leaving use the north side of the mouth of the bay. There is a serious shoal in front of this bay. If you cross anywhere near the middle of south of the entrance you will run aground and, if all else fails, you can arrange for a tow by calling us on VHF channel 16 during normal business hours.
O'Brien Branch and Nickell Cove are the first two bays south of the canal on the Land Between the Lakes side. Each Bay is a good place to drop the lunch hook, but not a great place to spend the night.
This is the first bay in the Land Between the Lakes to offer good protection for overnight anchorage. This bay is directly in the Hillman Ferry Campground, so there is a lot of activity here. There is also a sand beach, small dock and bath house close by. All facilities are for the use of registered campers. Your best bet for an anchorage is in the finger to the left and not in front of the beach where a lot of fishing boats come through going to and from the launch ramp. Milfoil (seaweed) sometimes grows in this area and can be a nuisance by clogging your engine cooling intake or filter.
While Pisgah Bay is about 1 1/2 miles long and has good protection and holding ground, it might be passed up for some of the other large bays further south. The drawback is the presence of two campgrounds, Hillman Ferry and Pisgah Point, and two boat launching ramps. Both of these factors generate a lot of power boat traffic, especially on weekends and holidays. Either the northwest or southeast ends will have good water depth and bottom for anchorage. The wind direction will dictate which end you choose in heavy weather. The quieter, more secluded spot is the southeast end.
At mile 32 on the Land Between the Lakes side, Smith is a large bay offering some good anchorages and relative seclusion. Enter at the south or middle of the bay to avoid a small shoal on the north shore of the entrance.During lower water periods, there is a natural sand beach on the south shore just around the point from the day marker. Near the beach, and the finger on further back are both good anchorages. A finger by the day mark on the north shore is also a small lake access camping area. There are normally only a handful of campers using this campground.The North-South hiking trail can be accessed along the shore of the back 1/3 of this bay.
Over half a dozen great spots to drop the hook for the night. You could spend your entire charter overnighting in this bay and stay at a different place each night. Take the north side of the entrance wide to avoid the shoal there. Once in the bay, the choice is yours. There are no campgrounds or lake accesses in Duncan Bay. If someone is already in a good spot, just move to another. Like Smith, Duncan is a winter wildlife sanctuary. It is not unusual to see deer and other animals watering there. Great blue heron are plentiful in the area and can stir your imagination with their prehistoric squawk.
Entering this bay on the south side will put you over a shoal area that is a problem in lower water. The only other area of concern is also only a problem when the water is a couple feet below summer pool.There is a 350 foot contour that pushes the channel close to the south side of the bay. Once the first finger to the north is off your port beam you are well clear. There are 7 excellent anchorages in this bay, including an open area all the way bay in the main bay. A lake access area with associated light camping and boat launch is located in the second finger about a mile into the bay on the south side. From Sugar Bay, the closest facilities will be at Kenlake Marina about 8 miles to the south.
The entrance to Higgins shoals on the more normal down stream or north side of the bay. It's only a problems in low water and is easy to avoid. Ewes Branch is the major finger in Higgins and allows for good protection in most weather. Some milfoil growth occurs in the shallower back parts of this area and should be avoided. An interesting feature in Higgins is the island (at normal pool) at the mouth of Ewes Branch. Exploring this small island will reveal one of many old cemeteries in the Land Between the Lakes area. Another good anchorage is just behind or to the east of the island. During lower water the area between the island and mainland dries out. It is not passable at normal pool.
A very large bay on the west side of the lake that is home to several fishing marinas.The channel is narrow and services are not compatible to sailboats. Kenlake Marina is easier to get into and better suited for the cruising sailor.
Pretty much a straight in bay with little protections from the open lake and the prevailing south west winds. A good lunch stop by Higgins would be a better choice for spending the night in this part of the lake.
Some protections in this small bay is afforded along the south side all the way back, but it is still pretty open to the lake. Be sure to stay close to the south side when entering.
If you enter on the south side there is good depth almost all the way back into this moderately sized bay. Near the front of the bay there is a good spot to anchor near what could be considered a primitive beach area. You may find house boats pushed up to the beach, especially on weekends.
The last bay before the Eggner Ferry Bridge is a smaller version of Vickers. It is easy to identify because of the pipeline clearing to the north and the bridge to the south.At this point you are 17 miles from Lighthouse Landing and radio contact is marginal, even from the middle of the lake.
Eggner Ferry Bridge
The main channel spans is 57 feet above the water during normal pool (water level elevation 359 feet above sea level). The channel is well marked and clearly leads to the main span which is the only span to use going under the bridge. Of course, you should stand by while commercial traffic passes under. Once under the bridge, the secondary channel splits off to the right to take you into Ledbetter Creek and Kenlake Marina.
Call ahead on VHF channel 16 to arrange dockage at this State Resort Park.This marina has a small dockside restaurant, ice, water and other supplies. A pumpout is available at the marina to empty the holding tack.The resort restaurant is quite like the one at Kentucky Dam State Park. You can get directions to walk to it (mostly up hill) or the park will send a van to give you a lift. Arrangements can be made through the marina staff.The return trip works the same way but the down hill hike may be a welcome opportunity to stretch your legs. Another possibility worth considering is the Brass Lantern restaurant in Aurora, Kentucky.Aphone call will normally bring a limo to carry you to and from this popular steak house any day except Monday and Tuesday.
If you did not choose a transient slip at the marina, departure after dinner will have you looking for a place to drop the hook. Ledbetter is a good choice. Even though it is on the commercial side of the lake, it is surrrounded by the park so there are no houses or businesses. Good depth and protection is available in both fingers of the bay. If you head south when you leave the bay you should be careful to stay in the marked channel. There is a secondary channel on the shallow west side of the lake and a cross channel to get you back to the east side of the lake. Leave the green and red intersection buoy on you starboard side and then take the green buoys on your starboard side to cross the lake.
A narrow entrance to this Land Between the Lakesbay, at mile 53 on the main channel, opens into a large well protected and scenic anchorage. Nearly anywhere around the perimeter of the bay can be used for an overnight stop. There is one shallow spot off the south side just east of the basin at the front of the bay. A lake access area means the usual light camping and boat ramp.
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