Sailing Around Rim Country


Who in their right mind would buy a sailboat in Arizona? Where can you go to sail in the desert? Or the mountains? There are places to sail around here. No, sailor/songwriter Jimmy Buffett wouldn't necessarily come here to sail, but you can fly a hull on one of our lakes if you want to.

Let's start with an obvious option, Roosevelt Lake, about 40 minutes south of Payson, off the Beeline on Highway 188.


Fleet 42 members frequently gather at Roosevelt Lake for competitions and just to have fun in the sun and take advantage of the space on the big lake.

At press time, the lake was about 83 percent full. Keep in mind that for the past 10 years, with the drought, the lake has been very low, which left a great deal of beach space. You need room on the beach to set up and launch your sailboat. Launching off the beach is preferable to using the cement boat-launch sites. Launching off a beach keeps the cement ramp free for powerboats to get in and out of the water, and it's nice just to leave your sailboat on the beach overnight, as opposed to taking it down and dragging it back to your campsite.

There is a bit of beach space around Roosevelt Lake. The best option is at Bermuda Flat or Horse Pasture where the forest service also recently reopened up for camping. It's been closed for a while, due to the high water levels.

If you're OK about launching off a concrete ramp, you can go to several other spots, including: Windy Hill, Cholla, Indian Point, School House and Grapevine. There are signs posted all around the lake showing where you can find a boat ramp.

Sailing clubs around the state love going to Roosevelt Lake. "Roosevelt is a huge lake. You have plenty of space, and, depending upon the weekend, you'll almost always meet other sailors there. Generally, the wind is good, and you don't have to worry about trees or canyons blocking the wind and slowing you down. The water temperature is best from May until October, but fall sailing is also great. By this time of year, the air temperature is nice, unlike July and August when it's often 100 degrees around the lake," says Payson sailor Dennis Harrison.

"Our fleet, called Fleet 42, organizes several sailing events at Roosevelt Lake every year. We have a great time. Most of the events take place over weekends, and we generally bring our RVs or tents and make camp together.

"Many times we have more than 20 sailboats out at a time. People come from all over the state to participate in both our highly competitive races and our family fun sails.

"We also schedule trips to Rocky Point and Lake Pleasant," he added.

Anyone interested in joining a fleet can call Harrison at (928) 474-7125. So, whether you have a small sunfish, or a 30-foot boat you can live aboard, you'll have fun sailing on Roosevelt.

Saguaro Lake doesn't get enough wind, so most sailors say don't bother sailing there.

Up north, you have a couple of options. Woods Canyon or Willow Springs lakes are nice sailing spots for smaller boats, like the sunfish or a small Hobie Cat. Around these two Rim lakes you'll be dealing with less wind because huge ponderosa pine trees surround them.

The good news is there is a boat ramp at each location, picnic tables, trails around the lakes and fabulous scenery.

These are much smaller lakes than Roosevelt, but there are lots of camping spots nearby, so you can leave your RV or tent in place, haul the boat down to the water and have some fun.

Granted, when we talk about northern Arizona sailing, we're not talking about a lot of action. If you're a "parrothead" and enjoy Jimmy Buffett's songs about his Caribbean sailing trips, bring along some of his music to play at your campsite, close your eyes, breathe in the cool mountain air, and pretend you're out there with the big boys on the ocean.

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