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.


Sailboats at Veteran’s Park line up to meet Lake Michigan for the first time this year. It’s an annual “Rite of Spring” and the beginning of sailing season.

photo by Natallie St. Onge

Sails remain steady in the wind gusts.

photo by Natallie St. Onge

One of the boats, Scappare, is starting its voyage to the water. Volunteers guide it the lake.

photo by Natallie St. Onge

Scappare is the second boat to go in the water today. All the volunteers carefully guide it and keep it steady in the wind’s gusts.

photo by Natallie St. Onge

The boat is lining up to hit the waters.

photo by Natallie St. Onge

The Scappare is in its final stretch to Lake Michigan.

photo by Natallie St. Onge

The boat is finally placed in the water. A volunteer unstraps it from the crane. 

photo by Natallie St. Onge

The crane is prominent in the crisp blue sky, visible even from Veterans Park.

photo by Natallie St. Onge

Volunteers line up by the boats that need to go in the water next. The first boat was in the water a little after 9 a.m. All the boats were slated for launch by 1 p.m.

photo by Natallie St. Onge

The yellow strap from the crane that carried the boat and placed it in the water flies in the wind, awaiting the next boat.

photo by Natallie St. Onge

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