Local knowledge: Sailing off Rocky River

Cleveland Yachting Club, the venue for 2021 Thistle Nationals, is located on an island at the mouth of the Rocky River, on the south shore of Lake Erie. The shoreline runs generally east-west, and the sailing area should be far enough offshore to minimize any shore effect. The water depth throughout the lake’s western basin is 30 to 40 feet—relatively shallow for a lake that is 50 miles wide.

Weather systems on Lake Erie generally move from west to east. Prevailing winds are southwest, 10-15 mph. With the passage of a cold front, winds will shift from southwest to the northwest, then slowly shift clockwise to the northeast over the next day or so.

On summer days, when there are no strong weather fronts in the area, we see thermal winds caused by the land becoming warmer than the water. The day will start out with a calm or light southerly wind that dies around 9 or 10 a.m. The thermal will start between 10:30 and 11:30 a.m., very light from the northwest, and build to 8-12 mph, slowly shifting clockwise until it reaches northeast by mid-afternoon. The thermal can provide excellent sailing conditions, with relatively little sea, and these conditions can last for several days until a weather system comes along.

While there are no discernable tides, we sometimes encounter current, up to one knot. It’s not predictable, so check for it before each race.  The current may appear on windy or calm days and moves in an east-west direction.

When the wind blows from a southerly direction, the water will remain fairly smooth—unless the wind is quite heavy and the course if several miles offshore. When the wind blows from the west through the northeast, there are usually waves. Lake Erie waves are fairly steep because of the shallow depth, and they build rapidly. This can make for tricky sailing for racers accustomed to inland lakes or larger, deeper bodies of water. You’ll swear every wave has slowed you down more than anyone else. Realize that everyone else is experiencing the same sensation. Concentrate on sailing the boat, and don’t pinch!  

When sailing upwind in a southwest wind, it often pays to sail toward the shore on starboard tack, experience some knock as you approach the layline, then take a port-tack lift to the mark. This effect is less pronounced the farther from shore the course is set.

In medium to heavy northwest breeze, the wind will rhythmically shift back and forth, so use your compass.

A north breeze will usually shift to the northeast. On rare occasions, it will back to the northwest.

A northeast wind tends to be quite steady, with small oscillations. It may shift further east in the late afternoon.

A southeast wind is unpredictable, with large (30-degree) shifts back and forth. In a morning race, it may back to the northeast by noon, but don’t count on it. If you can figure out the southeast wind, let us know!

—Richard Wilber, President, Sobstad Midwest


The Thistle National Championship, presented by KeyBank, celebrates the 75th anniversary of one of North America’s most popular and competitive one-design sailing classes. The regatta takes place July 31-August 6, 2021 at the Cleveland Yachting Club in Rocky River, Ohio.


Regatta chairman: Fred Hunger

Media/PR: Mike Lovett