Interest in sailing at Yellow Creek State Park is on the rise
Interest in sailing at Yellow Creek State Park has found a fresh wind thanks to the Friends of Yellow Creek, a new club at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and local enthusiasts who enjoy cruising the park's lake in a simple boat called a Puddle Duck.
Ken Sherwood, an English professor at IUP, has had a hand in all of it. He serves as co-chair of FOYC, a nonprofit organization that supports Indiana County's state park. He also is the founding faculty advisor of IUP's sailing club and was instrumental in introducing Puddle Duck boats to the area.
While Sherwood had some limited exposure to the sport as a child, it was as an adult that he became a sailing aficionado. About six years ago, he started sailing in a rental boat at Yellow Creek. He has since purchased several boats of his own.
“Sailing at Yellow Creek can give you a Zen-like experience of nature or an adrenaline rush, depending on the weather and how aggressively you sail. I enjoy both,” Sherwood said. “High-wind sailing gives you the same adrenaline rush as downhill skiing.”
In addition to promoting sailing, FOYC will be highlighting the many other recreational opportunities at Yellow Creek during the fourth annual Septemberfest, set for 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 28 at the park along Route 422 near Penn Run.
Sherwood noted the free festival promotes public use of the park while raising money for the location. “All funds generated through food sales, races, maps and memberships are used to enhance the park,” he said.
Activities on the lake will include kayak tours, canoeing, paddleboats — and sailboat racing.
Sherwood said FOYC wants to enhance the public's enjoyment of the park's resources and get people into the water through sailing. When he first started using one of the park's two aging rental boats, he noticed he was often the lone sailor on the 720-acre lake.
When he did encounter others out on the water, he discovered that many of them had taken lessons in the 1970s through IUP's sailing club. That club died out in the early 1980s largely due to the retirement of the faculty advisor. So, Sherwood decided he would start a new sailing club at IUP.
He identified some students to help him put that program back into place and the recreational IUP Sailing Club was formed in 2011. Last fall, with the help of IUP Student Cooperative funds, the club was able to purchase some used JY15 boats, a basic craft, from a YMCA near Somerset.
In October, the IUP group changed its structure from a recreational club to a club sport. This allowed for membership in the Middle Atlantic Intercollegiate Sailing Association, which includes 40 some teams and provides more advanced IUP Sailing Club members the opportunity to compete in regattas.
Sherwood noted the IUP club also appeals to novice sailors, who can be part of a two-person crew.
When racing, the more experienced sailor, or helmsperson, holds the tiller to steer and control the boat. The crew member with less experience looks after the front sail, or jib, and responds to commands from the helmsperson. For a pleasure cruise, three or four people can sail on one of the club's JY15 boats.
Sherwood and two IUP students teach other club members about sailing. One of the sailing instructors is Karl Richter, a sophomore safety science major from Bangor.
Richter has about seven year of experience sailing, having picked it up as a youngster while attending a YMCA camp in Lake George, N.Y. He now works as a counselor at the camp and is a U.S. Sailing Level One instructor.
“Sailing has a classic beauty,” Richter observed. “No roaring motors, no mad speeds.... It's very peaceful, and it brings me to a happy place.”
Richter also is the IUP club's property manager. He keeps the club's six boats up and running and all equipment operating safely. “Basically, my job is to make sure no one gets hurt,” he said.
The club has about 25 active members, 10 of whom are advanced enough to compete, Richter said. The club will be fully eligible for competition after members attend a MAISA conference in December and formally present their enrollment proposal.
IUP's fleet of six vessels is not large enough to host a regatta, but Richter said the club will host scrimmages at Yellow Creek. Pitt and Penn State universities both have sail clubs and provide good practice for the IUP team, he noted.
Visitors should be able to see how well they match up at Septemberfest, as IUP and Pitt both are expected to have boats available for racing at the event.
Sherwood noted that FOYC and IUP Sailing Club activities are done in collaboration with Yellow Creek State Park and the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, thanks to park manager Ken Bisbee. FOYC and the IUP club assist the park by certifying experienced sailors who would like to rent a park sailboat and by conducting two public outreach events each year in which future sailors age 10 or older are exposed to their first time sailing.
In addition to relaunching IUP's sailing club, Sherwood hatched another plan for getting more sailboats in the water at Yellow Creek. He learned about a small, simple boat called a Puddle Duck — also known as a Puddle Duck Racer or PDR.
Realizing that these vessels could provide a fast, easy and inexpensive way for more people to join the ranks of local boaters, Sherwood worked with a Puddle Duck Racer club at Moraine State Park to learn how to build and recreate the homemade crafts.
By February 2011, Sherwood and six ship-building families were making their own boats in Indiana County. According to Sherwood, these group builds — or hatches — helped individuals build their confidence. The camaraderie that developed as people worked together was a bonus. The first batch of Puddle Ducks was launched that summer at Yellow Creek.
Gerald Smith, a math teacher at Indiana Area High School, heartily agrees with Sherwood about the friendship among Puddle Duckers being an attraction — particularly for him and his young family.
“Yes, I enjoy the sailing and I'm interested in it. But, for me, I'm most interested in hanging out at the park with other families and having fun,” Smith said. “The social aspect of this was a lot of fun. I met folks like me who weren't necessarily sailors when we started, but we're all able to enjoy the sport at a recreational hobby level now.”
Smith moved to the Indiana area in 2009. His family enjoyed spending time at Yellow Creek, so they decided to join FOYC. “Basically, we already considered ourselves friends of the park as we appreciated what it gave us in the way of family fun. So, it was natural for us to want to join this group,” Smith said.
When FOYC got involved with building the Puddle Ducks, Smith was a natural again — as he had the biggest garage. “I didn't have a background in sailing but I always liked building things,” he noted. Two hatches were held in his garage, in 2011 and 2012.
According to Smith, about six families — all FOYC members — participated each time. He said a total of 15 boats have been built so far. Twelve are currently docked at Yellow Creek; the other three are still in his garage awaiting some finishing work.
“Puddle Ducks are a great DIY, low-budget way to get into sailing. Basically, we built plywood boxes, made them seaworthy and then dolled them up with a little paint,” Smith explained. “As finished boats, some are very simple, some are pretty fancy.” For some, “We used whatever paint was sitting around.”
Smith's boat has Dr. Seuss characters painted on it—for his children, now ages 2 and 4.
Sherwood's daughters, ages 11 and 13, helped build their own Puddle Ducks and sail them at Yellow Creek.
The boat makers used pre-cut parts and assembly-line construction tactics. Currently, the Puddle Duck effort is sponsored by FOYC. Another group build could be scheduled with interest from at least five or six individuals or families, Sherwood said.
He added that anyone with basic carpentry skills can build a Puddle Duck independently as free plans are available on the Internet.
For less than $200, a do-it-yourselfer can build a Puddle Duck in a couple of weekends with materials bought at any home supply or hardware store. Plywood, 2-by-4 boards, house wrap for sails, some really good glue and house paint are the basic components.
Despite its small size, the PDR hull is designed to carry as much as 630 pounds and it is considered very stable in the water. At about 8 feet long and weighing approximately 60 pounds, most Puddle Ducks can fit into the bed of a full-size truck. Free building plans are available from the boat's designer, Shorty Routh, at www.pdracer.com/free-plans.
Smith said that initially folks built their Puddle Ducks for their private use. But, all 12 area families ended up donating their boats to the park. Thanks to these FOYC members, a Puddle Duck fleet is now available for public rental. FOYC also built racks to store the boats at the park.
Puddle Duck enthusiasts will be sailing and showing off these boats at Septemberfest. Attendees can expect to see the boats competing in informal races and circling buoys. Demonstrations and information on Puddle Ducks will be available.
Sherwood said his vision for the future of sailing at Yellow Creek includes a larger fleet of public rental sailboats, a building, docks and a more formal community sailing program that offers lessons for the general public. Currently, lessons are available only for those affiliated with IUP.
“My goal is to restore an active sailing base to the area within a couple of years,” he said.
FOYC encourages visitors to enjoy and help preserve Yellow Creek State Park's many resources. New memberships and volunteerism are encouraged and always welcomed, said Sherwood. For more information, contact FOYC at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional information can be found at the group's website: www.foyc.org.
Pamela Sagely is a freelance writer.