It’s an annual “Rite of Spring” and the beginning of sailing season.
It’s annual Big Boat Day, a day dedicated to putting stored boats back into Lake Michigan to kick off the opening day of the sailing season, Saturday, April 27. The Milwaukee Community Sailing Center has been keeping the tradition alive for about 30 years. The center even has its own lift system to make the day happen, with cranes stationed on the docks.
“They can only lift about 4,000 pounds,” said Holly Davenport, director for the Milwaukee Community Sailing Center. “Once we start having bigger boats, 25 feet and higher, we have to bring in a special crane that can lift a capacity of about 15,000 pounds.”
The mass boat migration happens each year on the last Friday of April. And even with predictions of 3-6 inches of snow coming on opening day, the crane is still placing boats into the Great Lake.
“They will sail in the snow,” Davenport says of the sailors who have waited all year. “It’s the wind that would stop them.”
Though windy today with gusts of about 19 mph, the boats are still able to go in the water. The boats will continue to be placed in the water as long as the wind stays below 25 knots, Davenport says.
“The crane operator is monitoring the wind and has changed his gear, even putting in a different kind of cable and hook. He’s also added a wind meter to the top of his crane,” Davenport says.