Jeanneau 38 Pilothouse
Obvious Benefits For Great Lakes Sailors

by Thom Burns

Our expectations were high in the weeks leading up to Mother's Day. We were to join Ralph Holt on his newly acquired Jeanneau 38 Pilothouse for a sail on Lake Superior. This would be the earliest I had ever actually sailed on Lake Superior.

The morning weather check was marginal at best with a cold front bringing rain or worse. Temperatures were in the mid-forties. At breakfast we watched as a threatening cloud unleashed a cold drizzle. I thought there's no way sailing on the big lake today could be pleasant.

Just as the check arrived, the rain stopped and a sliver of blue sky emerged as I paid the tab. A weather window? We arrived at Port Superior a couple of minutes later. Port Superior reminded me of a shipyard with boats everywhere in various states of readiness between storage and launching.

We found Ralph on his recently acquired Jeanneau 38 Pilothouse wearing a light wool sweater.

As we went below we were welcomed by the fresh baking aroma of cinnamon rolls and the warmth of the heated cabin. This is very pleasant, I thought.

The main salon of the Pilothouse is light, open and airy with a purpose, sailing in comfort from inside, which demands great visibility.

We soon decided to take advantage of the weather window and go sailing. It's very different sailing so early in the season on Lake Superior. The first thing I noticed was the buoys were not out. Next, what you see along the coastline looks so different because the trees haven't leafed-out yet. The remains of old mills, rail spurs and new developments are visible. They are normally hidden behind the forest canopy.

As we departed the marina, I noticed how the boat is set-up. It is really easy for double-handling. Ralph has a roller furling headsail and lazy jacks on the main. Both sails set easily and we powered-up quickly under sail. The cockpit on the Pilothouse is actually good sized and comfortable with built in aft steps to easily board the dinghy.

The brisk winds were refreshing and the cloud bank ominous as we headed first towards Madeline Island and then south down Chequamegon Bay. The boat handled beautifully as we passed the helm and regained that feel after a few months off.

Then the front built and moved our way. The temperature dropped about ten degrees and the wind shifted to the west northwest. The rain was cold as we headed north up the bay. We would have been in for forty-five minutes to an hour of misery in our foul weather gear in most other boats.

I went below to the steering station and took control. Its very different steering from amidships but its also smooth right over the keel. The perch provides great visibility above towards the mast, boom and sails as well as all around the boat. Within arms length is the radar, radios, navigation instruments and navigation table. And best of all, its dry and heated!

Of course to trim or douse the sails, we still had to dash outside, only to return to the comfort of the Pilothouse.

The trip and the sail were too brief. But this boat and Pilothouse boats in general make great sense in the north country. This design would add an extra six weeks at a minimum to every Northern season. It would also change almost any uncomfortable day due to weather into a fine day on the water. Since we can't control the weather, the Pilothouse option looks like one good way to capture early and late season days and maximize those precious days when the weather presents a challenge. I can learn to steer from amidships in comfort even on Mother's Day.

Thom Burns publishes Northern Breezes and Sailing Breezes. Ralph Holt is a professional photographer who moors his Jeanneau 38 at Port Superior south of Bayfield, WI..

For further info: Jeanneau America

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