Long-time Southern California transplant, Barney Sokol was not on the dock when I arrived for our interview on inland sailing. I met a proud grandfather instead. Larry Janow pointed to the smallest sailboat I had ever seen bobbing in negligible wind five hundred feet off the dock on Asheville’s Lake Julian. Larry explained: “Barney’s giving my 4 year-old grandson, Herschel, his first sailing lesson.” Ironically Herschel’s father Jason, an artist and the owner of Janow Metalsmithing, had never sailed either, so there were two novices crammed in the training dingy with the Commodore Emeritus of The Asheville Sailing Club.
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen I began researching the subject of inland sailing for this issue my first thoughts were of Lake Norman, outside of Charlotte, where I kept and sailed poorly a Catalina 27 in the late eighties and early nineties. I was famous in those days for my ability to drink beer, miss marks and run aground in nearly any condition as well as my proclivity to back into the dock, but I digress.
My next thoughts were of Lake Watauga in Eastern Tennessee, Lake Keowee in South Carolina or Smith Mountain Lake in Southern Virginia. Then our publisher remarked that there was a sailing club in Asheville on Lake Julian.
That’s how I found myself standing on the dock waiting for Barney to finish his sailing lesson.
Lake Julian is an unlikely spot for a sailing club. At just 300 acres it was built in 1964 as a cooling lake for Progress Energy’s Skyland Power Plant. Progress, now part of the larger Duke Energy, in turn leased the surrounding land to Buncombe County which operates Lake Julian Park. A small part of the park is accessible off South Hendersonville Road, but the primary entrance is off Overlook Extension south of Long Shoals Rd.
When I arrived the marina was invisible from Long Shoals and even from the park entrance, but as I wound through the park on a narrow one way road, passing paddle boat/canoe rentals and a children’s playground, a small cinder block clubhouse came into view. A boat storage area and a long floating dock were behind a chain link fence marked “Members Only”. I ignored the signage and ventured on down a gravel road that ends up in the lake and serves as a very basic boat launching ramp.
Most of the boats were daysailers brought in for the day or stored on trailers, but along the floating dock I did spot some larger sailboats with cabins (Catalina 22’s and 24’s as well as a Hunter 23.5 that I later discovered belongs to Bill Swan, the most senior member of the club.) These boats were obviously refugees from larger lakes and oceans elsewhere in the country.
As I headed for a covered area with picnic tables on the edge of the lake, I received a cheery greeting from Tom Cannon, a long time club member. He introduced me to their treasurer, Bert Eskridge, a twenty-two year member, and to a relative newcomer, Jaime Titus, who made up for his lack of seniority with great enthusiasm. “Capital at Play, I read it all the time” he remarked with gusto, while his mischievous grin bore testimony to the fact that he had never heard of us.
About this time Barney arrived back from his sailing lesson and Larry arm twisted me into taking a grainy iPhone family picture of the three generations of the Janow family with their training dingy, built by some stranger years ago from a set of plans in Popular Mechanics. The sun was behind them guaranteeing a difficult shot, but I decided to take a page out of Jaime’s playbook. “It will be on the front cover,” I assured them while capturing some e-mail address that would at least get the photo into their family album.
With the sailing prowess of a future generation assured, Barney settled down into a plastic chair and made additional introductions while simultaneously rustling up more sailors by cell phone and barking orders to those that were there who paid him no heed. Barney, a writer and former teacher, has been a fixture around the club for years. He and his wife, Lee, picked Asheville as their residence after a three year odyssey around the country that took them from California to Utah to Colorado and New Mexico.
Barney explained that the club was founded in 1963 around the time Lake Julian was constructed. They have around fifty to sixty members that combined can turn out forty boats. A lot of the sailing is social, but the club hosts racing regattas on the second Saturday and fourth Sunday of each month from April thru October. Actually, because of the power plant, the water is warm enough to sail year round. They also host an August shrimp brew and a February annual meeting that was held last year at Chef Mo’s.
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