Sail Away for a Day: Chartering a Sailboat Can Change Your Life

It’s summer time and you’re driving down Highway 13 along the shores of Cayuga Lake. As you look out on the water, you see boats of all sizes cruising about. Speedboats zip by, pontoon party boats gently putter along, and canoes glide from one area to the next. But nothing can quite compare to the grandeur, style and mystery of a sailboat. The way it lists in the wind and effortlessly breaks through the water is a picture of serenity.

Most people will drive on and forget all about that listing boat, but there is a way to experience the calm of sailing without having to own a yacht. Why not charter a sailboat for a couple of hours, an afternoon or a whole day?

Several years ago, I took my husband on an afternoon cruise for his birthday with Captain Ed Siemon of Ithaca. We sailed aboard the Redhead, enjoying the views along Cayuga Lake. It truly was a life-changing experience. (More about that later.)

Unfortunately Ed is taking the Redhead on his own cruise this summer, but there are still some options for those who want to be a sailor for a day. He recommends Cayuga Cruises captained by John Ruttle. John makes his 31-foot boat, the Allmand Joy, available for charters from May to October. Don’t worry – he comes with the boat, so if you don’t know how to sail, you don’t have to do anything. But if you’d like to learn how to pull the lines, he’ll gladly teach some of the basics.

Pick your passengers and time slot
The first thing you need to decide is how long you’d like to sail. John offers two-, three-, four- and eight-hour cruises. The rates range from $40 to $90 per person, depending on the length of the cruise, and children are either half price or free depending on their age. Yes, children are welcome, and he can take up to six passengers, making it a fun family or group activity.

Check the weather
Once you’ve secured a date with John, you’ll need to be in contact with him as the date approaches. Why? Because good sailing depends on good weather, and you won’t get an accurate forecast until just a day or two beforehand. If the weather is too bad to sail, the cruise is canceled with no penalty to the customer.

Some weather, like lightning, will automatically nix a sailing outing. For rain and wind, it depends on how hearty the passengers are. “I want people to have a positive experience sailing,” says John. “Sometimes the wind will be blowing 25 or 30 miles per hour. My boat was built for the ocean, so it’s more than safe and capable, but it will heel over and it can feel kind of crazy. If it’s really blowing it’s not going to be your average comfortable cruise.” However, John says that if his passengers want to try going out on in some wind or rain he’s game.

What to bring
If you don’t own your own life jacket, that’s okay. John has plenty, even for children and infants. You will want to bring sunscreen as there is little shade up on deck. You could go down below and sit in the comfortable cabin if the sun gets to you, but come on, you’re here to sail!

Bring snacks, lunch or beverages. There is refrigeration on board, and John recommends bringing simple, cold food like sandwiches or cheese and crackers. You can even bring wine or beer aboard.

If you’re planning a longer sail, then grilling onboard is an option. The Allmand Joy is equipped with a grill off the back rail, and if you’d like to cook, he can tie up at a mooring ball across from Ithaca Yacht Club. Just be aware that this will eat up some of your sailing time.

What to do
When you set sail with John, it’s up to you what kind of experience you’d like to have. Do you want to learn the ropes, literally? He can teach you. Do you want to steer the big wheel? He’ll let you. Do you want to learn about the sights you’re seeing? He can tell you what he knows about landmarks, architecture and geological anomalies. Would you rather just have a quiet, peaceful sail? He’ll shut up. “I usually feel people out, and I’ll temper my verbal assault after I see how much they want to hear,” adds John.

Perhaps this is a special occasion that you’re celebrating with a day on the lake. John has taken out recent graduates from Ithaca College or Cornell who want to take a trip on the lake before they leave Ithaca. Many couples have gotten engaged aboard the Allmand Joy and he’s even had some weddings take place during a day sail. (No, he didn’t officiate.)

What if you get sick?
Usually day cruises are gentle enough that motion sickness is not an issue. On a pleasant day, the waters are tranquil and motion sickness will be the last thing on your mind. If you do find yourself getting queasy, there are some things you can try. Take the wheel; getting involved in the sail will help take your mind off your stomach. Focus on the horizon; keeping your eyes on a stationery object in the distance will also steady you. If all else fails, you can try lying down on a bench in the cockpit and staring at the sky. The one thing you shouldn’t do if you’re not feeling well is go below deck into the cabin, where motion sickness can escalate.

Change your life?
I will leave you with a word of warning: if you go on a day sail it could end up infecting you with a lust for sailing that can only be cured by owning your own boat. Since our charter sail seven years ago, my husband and I have bought and sold two sailboats and are now on our third. What was a whimsical birthday outing turned into a passion that has changed how we spend our free time.

A former boss once told me that while he enjoys sailing, he would never own a sailboat. He would just make sure he had friends who owned sailboats. Well, John is your new friend.

For more information about Captain John Ruttle and the Allmand Joy, visit or call 607-725-3374.

by Kari Anderson Pink

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