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It has been years since anyone could rent a sailboat or take sailing lessons at Fellows Lake.
But a core group of sailboat enthusiasts hopes to revive the sport of sailing in a big way this spring, thanks to the new managers of Fellows Lake Marina.
Matt Taylor, a lifelong sailor who got his start sailing at Fellows Lake when he was 10 years old, now runs the marina and has helped establish the new Springfield Sailing Club at Fellows Lake.
For a $40 membership, club members have access to 12 sailboats, including two 22-foot cabin sailboats, three 18-foot Buccaneers, three Hobie Cat catamarans, three 14-foot Lasers and a 14-foot Commodore Checkmate sailing dinghy.
And for the first time in more than a decade, the marina will also rent those sailboats to visitors and offer sailing lessons on the lake. Fellows Lake was a hub of sailing activity in the 60s and 70s, and for a time, Southwest Missouri State University (now MSU) offered lessons there.
But in recent years, fewer sailboats have taken advantage of the 820-acre lake, better known as a fishing and paddling venue. And now a spot for hikers and cyclists.
Reviving interest in sailing starts with youth
“I have a passion for sailing and hated to see sailing dying out here,” Taylor said. “There is no reason not to create this opportunity, and especially to do this to try to get youths involved with sailing.”
The Watershed Committee of the Ozarks, which leases the marina from City Utilities, hopes to weave its message of clean water stewardship into the sailing program, Taylor said. By getting more people out and on the lake, they can develop a passion for keeping the Ozarks waterways they use clean and healthy, he said.
Taylor said the new sailing club will hold regattas and social gatherings and eventually develop a competitive sailboat racing program.
Encouraging youngsters and women to take up sailing also is a major goal, according to Stephanie Cooper, social media and events coordinator for the club.
She is an avid sailor and sees Fellows Lake as a great place to introduce young people to a sport that can last a lifetime.
“Getting youth involved is the way to keep this sport alive,” Cooper said. “I also want to encourage young ladies to get out there. I want to be on the water as much as I can. It’s just a lot of fun.”
Paul Nahon, also a lifelong sailor, will oversee the club’s racing and regatta programs. He said Fellows Lake is an ideal place for beginners to learn how to sail or for longtime sailors to enjoy the sport close to town.
“For smaller boats, it’s great for training because there’s a lot of protected areas where you can get out of the wind if you need to,” he said. “And its proximity to Springfield (6 miles north of town) is great for quick access. People who sail a lot will start sailing a lot more out here. They’ll bring their own boats.”
What does sailing at Fellows Lake cost?
Taylor said 28 people already have signed up for sailing lessons that will be given aboard the club’s two 22-foot cabin sailboats. Sailing lessons are available for those aged 14 and up. To rent any of the club’s sailboats, Taylor said a person must first do a $50 skills check to make sure they’re capable of handling the boat.
The 22-footers will rent for $150 for a half day, or $210 for a full day. The 18-foot Buccaneers and Hobie Cat catamarans are $100 for a half day or $180 for a full day. The Lasers and sailing dinghy are $50 for a half day and $90 for a full day.
Sailing lessons are $200 for a half-day introduction to sailing, $400 for an 8-hour advanced introduction course and $50 an hour for one-on-one sailing lessons.
Springfield resident Miles Hamilton said he already has inquired about taking lessons. He has never been on a sailboat but hopes someday to do the Great Loop adventure aboard a sailboat.
The 6,000-mile Great Loop goes up the Mississippi River or Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and through several water corridors to the Great Lakes, then down the east coast and around Florida and back up into the Gulf of Mexico.
Hamilton recently bought a 16-foot Tanzer sailboat that he plans to learn how to sail at Fellows Lake. He said he has done a lot of research about sailing but knows he needs lessons to become proficient at it.
“I like the idea of gliding through the water without any noise,” he said. “It seems very peaceful.”