Chef Paul Cernansky sails to rejuvenate after a hard week in the kitchen. Businesswoman Jan Jernigan likes the challenge of racing. Sailing instructor Brian Adams sums up the appeal of wind-powered boating in the beauty of nature: “When we sail past an island on the lake, we can hear the birds talking.”
In the 80-plus years since Lake Murray was created to generate hydroelectric power for SCE&G, it’s also launched generations of sailing enthusiasts. The 78 square mile lake offers a full range of sailing experiences, appreciated by long-time boat owners and open to newbies who want to learn more.
When her daughter Polly was young, Jan Jernigan would often drive 18 miles from Shandon to the Dreher Shoals Dam at Lake Murray in order to lull her toddler to sleep. “I watched all of the sailboats on the water as my daughter napped, and I dreamed about someday owning one myself,” she says. Today, Jan owns two boats, and, like Brian, she is enchanted by the way sailing changes the general perception of the lake.
“Lake Murray is one of the largest roosting sites in America for Purple Martins,” she says. “Between June and September, folks can see them roosting on Doolittle Island. It’s an amazing site to behold, especially from a sailboat.”
Brian Adams was a construction manager in the Caribbean when he first tried sailing. “That’s when I got the bug,” he says. Now, he and Paula, his wife, run Lanier Sailing Academy, where he likes to introduce first-time sailors to the joys of wind-powered boating.
Those who have sailed more than a few times on Lake Murray may have noticed there are two camps of sailors — the ones who harness the wind for speed and those who are happy to drift where the wind takes them.
Paul Cernansky, executive chef for Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Columbia, is a member of the second camp. “We take it as it comes,” he says, “but if the wind’s strong and the boat’s humming along, we do get excited about that too.”
Light winds and a slow pace don’t interfere with Paul’s primary reason for sailing, which is the chance to relax with Kristen Jensen, his wife, and Alex and Sophie, their kids. He’s a member of the lake’s laid-back sailing club, Windward Point. “The food industry is fast-paced, noisy, crazy. I love it, but when I’m off, sailing brings me back to my center.”
That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of food on board when Paul isn’t working. Paul’s 36-foot Catalina has a stove and a grill, so he might make fish tacos or grill burgers and pizza. When his time on the lake is short, he brings picnic sandwiches he describes as similar to muffalettas. “It’s easy and quick,” he says.
While Paul is letting the wind set his course, Jan is more likely to be rounding up a crew and trimming her sails for speed. A financial advisor with Morgan Stanley, Jan originally took up racing to learn sailing skills. “I got hooked,” she says. “It’s so exciting to be out there.”
Now Jan races in the Lake Murray Yacht Racing Association’s spring, summer and fall series, which brings together racing enthusiasts from the lake’s various sailing clubs. She is the association’s immediate past commodore, too, and she is helping organize a regatta this fall that will bring national and world champions together. “It’s one of the most prestigious sailing events around, and it is being held on our own Lake Murray,” she says.
“Racing is a fantastic way to develop your skills,” asserts Brian, who has done his share of it. But, he adds, it’s also the reason some people believe sailing is hard work. Part of his mission at Lanier Sailing Academy is to change that perception.
Lanier Sailing Academy provides a number of ways to enjoy the lake without the hassle of boat ownership or the intensity of racing. For example, anyone can book a Sunset Sail to experience sailing on Lake Murray while doing as much or as little work as they like. Brian’s at the helm, and he’s happy to show people how to take the wheel or handle a sail, or to let them simply relax and enjoy the view.
For those who want access to a boat they can take out on their own schedule, Lanier Sailing Academy offers the Happy Sails Club. For a monthly fee, members with sailing skills can sail whenever they like, any day of the year. “We do all the maintenance on the boats,” says Brian, “and we make sure there’s gas in the engine.”
Brian and Paul both say it’s easy enough to get out on the lake and give it a try with little or no investment — and both recommend taking that first step. “Visit one of the sailing clubs,” Paul says. “Everyone’s really friendly. Someone will probably ask you to go sailing.” Or, like Jan, try taking a class and see where it leads. Clubs and organizations offer clinics for every level and age group.
“Sailing is a sport that connects people. It is something you can do as a young child on into the golden years,” Jan points out. “I expect to be sailing for the rest of my life and because of that, I expect to live a long, happy life.”
Several places at Lake Murray offer classes and other opportunities to sail.
Columbia Sailing Club
The first club established on the lake, Columbia Sailing Club offers an annual sailing clinic for beginners and intermediates and a youth sail camp. Located near the Dreher Shoals Dam at 292 Shuler Road. www.columbiasailingclub.org
Lake Murray Sailing Club
This family-oriented club offers classes, including well-regarded programs for children and teens. Check dates for when the club is hosting a one day Introduction to Sailing for people 14 years and older. Youth camps run in one-week sessions all summer long. Located at 235 Old Forge Road near Chapin. www.lmsc.org
Lanier Sailing Academy – Lake Murray
Both a sailing school and a sailing club, Lanier offers 20-hour basic keelboat classes for adults, as well as informal cruises. The Happy Sails Club is for those who want to sail on their own without owning a boat. Located at Southshore Marina on Highway 378, west of Lexington. www.laniersail.com/a1/lake-murray-sc