Setting sail at Blue Mesa

Mountain winds offer challenges, rewards to local skippers

Alan Wartes

Times Staff Writer

Blue Mesa is well-known among sportsmen and women. Ask most of them to name a reason to put a boat on the water, and you’re likely to get the same one-word response: fishing. And why not? Some of Colorado’s fishing records were set at the reservoir.

But there’s another, smaller tribe of water lovers who’d give a whole different answer to the question. They’d say: sailing.

To Blue Mesa’s sailors, time spent on the water is not about going places or bagging fish limits. The journey is the destination. The experience is the point, period. That sounds very Zen in an age when speed and achievement are generally valued above all else. Could going nowhere slowly really be all it’s cracked up to be?

Yes, it can. To judge for myself, I spent several hours last weekend under sail aboard Chris and Briony Coady’s 22-foot boat — the Bonita. The powder blue craft with its 24-foot mast has become a regular feature at Blue Mesa, when the wind is right — and many days even when it isn’t.

“Briony and I lived on a sailboat in Hawaii for four months when we first met,” said Coady. “After that I was hooked. I’ve spent years since then trying to figure out how to be on the water as much as possible.”

That has included numerous chartered sailing trips in Florida and elsewhere and completing several courses offered by the American Sailing Association, where he earned a certificate in basic sailing. Then, several years back he heard about a boat for sale nearby.

“I bought it on the spot,” he recalls.

The wind was variable the day I tagged along, so we “motored” slowly out of the slip at Elk Creek Marina, through the channel headed west. Chris explained that our target was the point where the wind typically picks up — announcing its presence and intensity as ripples and waves on the water.

There it was, just as he predicted. Coady killed the motor while Briony hoisted the mainsail and jib. In a moment the sails tightened as they ceased flapping and filled with wind. The boat gently leaned to starboard and accelerated.  

“The challenging thing about sailing Blue Mesa is that you never know what the wind will do,” he said. “It can go from dead calm to serious gusts and back again in an afternoon.”

Fellow sailor Mike Brooks agrees. He too discovered sailing on Blue Mesa during an afternoon on Coady’s boat in 2009. Since then he’s purchased two craft of his own. Recently retired from Western State Colorado University, Brooks plans to spend as much time as possible with his boats.

“I went out with Chris in late summer and then by February I was looking for my own boat,” he laughs.

Brooks says the fickle wind at Blue Mesa challenges the sailor every time out. Unlike coastal areas where winds are steadier and more predictable over long periods of time, local conditions provide a good “training ground” for learning.

“When you sail, you’re more directly connected with nature,” Brooks said. “You’re constantly looking at the wind and the sky and the little currents that show up in front of you. It’s not about the destination. This is more about the process.”

As we headed west, Coady expertly skippered his boat through several “tacks” — maneuvers when sailing more or less into the wind. We “shot the notch” through a sliver of water between the north shore and a small island — and then “heaved to” for a picnic on board. That’s essentially using the position of the sails to “park” the boat without ever dropping anchor.

“Everywhere I go I always seek out the marinas, look at sailboats, meet people and dream of a life on the water,” Coady said. “I always find ‘like minded’ people in marinas. I think maybe we are part of some ‘tribe.’ It could be Martinique in the West Indies or Elk Creek Marina in Colorado.”


(Alan Wartes can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or


Gunnison Country Times

218 N. Wisconsin Street
Gunnison, CO 81230
Phone: 970-641-1414