Smooth Sailing

Celebrating Chattanooga’s Waterways


Historically, sailing has been vital to the development of civilization. It allowed mobility where there previously was none – whether for trade, travel, or war. Though we as a society have created other, faster forms of transportation, thus shifting sailing to a primarily recreational pursuit, there is still a timeless allure to it, as it’s a bit more involved than navigating other recreational vessels such as pontoon or ski boats. Below, local enthusiasts tell us what draws them to sailing, and why it’s one of the best ways to get out on the water. 

By Anna Hill / Photography by Rich Smith


Robert Fowler and his daughter Maggie sailing on Rob's 19' Flying Scot boat

Photo Courtesy of Rob Fowler

Rob Fowler, with daughter, Maggie

Hixson  |  Boat Model: 19’ Flying Scot

CS: What got you into sailing? 

RF: I started boating with my family when I was really young. We had motorboats back then, but I learned a lot about handling boats and water safety from that experience. When I was in high school (McCallie, class of 1976), I had a couple of friends who owned small sailboats, and, through them, I got to try my hand at sailing and racing. Racing is where I really fell in love with the sport. I’ve since travelled all over the country to attend regattas and met a lot of great people doing that.

CS: What’s your favorite part about sailing? 

RF: Racing is probably my favorite, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve enjoyed cruising as well. I’ve been able to do some offshore sailing recently, delivering large yachts from the East Coast to the Caribbean, and I’m enjoying that a lot. I’m now a U.S. Coast Guard-certified captain, and I can deliver yachts or take on passengers as a business if I choose. I’m thinking about trying that when I retire.

CS: What’s your most memorable time out on the water? 

RF: Racing in the Flying Scot North American Championship Regatta in Newport, Rhode Island. My daughter Maggie crewed for me, and we won our division.

CS: If you could sail anywhere in the world, where would you go and why? 

RF: I’ve never sailed in the Mediterranean and would love to try that. Sailing in Greece, Sardinia, and Croatia is supposed to be fantastic – beautiful landscapes, lots of history.

CS: What’s some advice you would give to someone who’s interested in sailing? 

RF: Don’t go out and buy a boat to learn in. Take a course from a school set up on the coast where the conditions are more predictable. Or come to Privateer Yacht Club and enroll in our adult classes. Then go find someone who will take you out on their boat and let you try it yourself. Try small boats first – that’s where you really get a feel for sailing. When you’re ready to buy a boat, start with a small, open day-sailer, not a big cruising boat. Buy a boat for the way it sails, not because it has a nice interior.


Frank Hughes behind the wheel of his J/22 sailboat


Frank Hughes

Lookout Mountain  |  Boat Model: J/22

CS: What got you into sailing?

FH: I was fresh out of active-duty Marine Corps, and I met a young lady whose family was into sailing. Once introduced, I was hooked.

CS: What’s your favorite part about sailing?

FH: I truly enjoy the response of the boat when the wind and the sails power it.

CS: What’s your most memorable time out on the water?

FH: During a sailing regatta on our lake, I was racing with my two older children, and all of a sudden, a front blew through, and the winds surged to 50 mph. All we could do was put on the life vests and hold on! Needless to say, the boat was lying on its side, and the mast and mainsail were in the water. After several minutes that seemed to last forever, the wind went back down to about 30 mph, and the boat righted itself. No one was worse for the experience.  

It was fun to watch the kids’ reactions, especially my son, who, during the entire event, was not fazed and was walking on the side of the boat trying to use his weight to right it. I, on the other hand, was just holding on to the boat tiller praying that my wife was not going to murder me for putting her children in harm’s way! 

CS: What’s some advice you would give to someone who’s interested in sailing?

FH: Learn how to sail on someone’s else’s boat – every boat owner is looking for crew. Then you will have a better idea of what you enjoy when it is time to make an investment decision when buying a boat.

CS: What’s a reason you chose sailing over other types of boating/water sports?

FH: Sailing is like bridge – the sport will always challenge you and allow you to grow as you give it time and effort.


Bobby Thompson adjusting the sail on his 28' Pearson sailboat


Bobby Thompson

Chickamauga, Georgia | Boat Model: 28’ Pearson

CS: What got you into sailing?

BT: I loved the beauty of a sailing vessel. Sunsets, boats, and water bring such peace and beauty. I saw sailing ships in the movies as a kid. I built a sailboat when I was around 9 years old. I made a T from boards – one was the keel, and the top board held the mast and rigging. I strapped it into an inner tube. The sail was a bed sheet. I lucked out that it didn’t work, because I couldn’t swim. My best friend and I rented two very small sailboats at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, in 1973 – the first time I ever tried to sail a real boat. I didn’t know what I was doing but seemed to get it. 

CS: What’s your favorite part about sailing?

BT: It’s technical in moving the boat by the wind, and the water flying by with the bow breaking through the water. Sailing takes skill, concentration, and strength.

CS: If you could sail anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

BT: I have watched videos of families sailing in the Solomon Islands. The water, the people, and the islands are beautiful. I’m also a coastal sailor. 

I like sailing here in the United States’ bays and lakes. It takes more skill to sail the inland waters than in the oceans. The winds on an ocean are mostly constant and mostly boring.

CS: What’s some advice you would give to someone who’s interested in sailing?

BT: Sailing is not for everyone. Find a friend willing to take you sailing, don’t just buy a boat. Take sailing lessons – many places offer adult and children’s classes. This will save you a lot of money. Don’t take lessons in the same class with your partner if you love each other.

CS: What’s a reason you chose sailing over other types of boating/water sports?

BT: My first time on a boat was when I was less than 2 years old. It was a Chris-Craft runabout that my dad built, as he worked for Chris-Craft. I skippered a 52-foot Hatteras Sport fisherman. That was fun, having more power with those two 600-horsepower diesel engines. Sailing is smooth, peaceful, and no stink. Sailing can be terrifying, but having control of that bucking sailboat feels great. It doesn’t beat you to death like powered water sports.


Josh and Katie Landers sitting on their boat while their son Ike stands behind them


Josh and Katie Landers, with their son, Ike

Hixson  |  Boat Model: Catalina 250

CS: What got you into sailing? 

KL: Since college, Josh really had a fascination with sailing. When we moved to Chattanooga in 2007, we stumbled into Privateer Yacht Club before a Wednesday night race and were invited to crew. After that night, we were hooked! We showed up every Wednesday evening after to learn, and soon after, we bought a book on sailing and a Catalina 22 and started experimenting.

CS: What’s your favorite part about sailing? 

KL: Feeling connected in a physical sense to the water and outdoors. You constantly have a hand on the tiller, eyes on the wind direction, and sense for the weather. 

CS: What’s your most memorable time out on the water?

KL: We have taken our boat to the Gulf and cruised along the Intracoastal Waterway between Ft. Walton Beach and Orange Beach with a group of other sailors several times. My favorite stop is Big Lagoon, which is a picturesque peninsula that has beautiful beaches and a spooky abandoned military outpost. While there, we built a big beach bonfire and told many tall tales, but the most memorable part happened after the fun of the bonfire. As I was climbing back into the boat, which was beach-anchored, the water lit up with bioluminescence. It looked like someone had broken a glow stick full of glitter in the water! It was so mesmerizing that we stayed out splashing around for a long while. 

CS: If you could sail anywhere in the world, where would you go and why? 

KL: There are so many beautiful destinations. However, we have promised to take Ike on a sailing vacation in the British Virgin Islands once travel restrictions loosen up. There is constant breeze, turquoise waters, and epic destinations to visit, making for a cruiser’s paradise. 

CS: What’s a reason you chose sailing over other types of boating/water sports? 

KL: Having an outlet to be competitive as an adult doing races and regattas has been fun and brought us into a community of folks who share the same passion. We also enjoy camping/cruising on our boat as a family and have made great memories exploring our lake/river and traveling to cruise the Gulf, Lake Erie, and even Pelee Island in Canada.



Scott and Marilyn Irwin standing on the deck of their Catalina 310 sailboat


Scott and Marilyn Irwin

Ooltewah  |  Boat model: Catalina 310

CS: What got you into sailing?

MI: Scott started sailing with his dad when he was a young boy – they sailed a thistle. I had never sailed before I met Scott. At the time, he owned a Catalina 22. Scott taught me how to sail and race in this boat. As it turns out, I make pretty good crew!

CS: What’s your favorite part about sailing?

MI: Scott loves to hear the water lapping up against the boat and the feeling you get when waking up in the morning to a rocking motion, knowing there is no place else you would rather be. I love that sailing means there is no need to be in a hurry. You can enjoy the tranquility, the wind, and a glass of wine as you glide on the water. 

CS: What’s your most memorable time out on the water?

MI: We spent seven weeks on our Catalina 310 bringing it home from Florida. We bought the boat in Fort Myers and decided that instead of shipping her home, we would go and get her ourselves. There was a hurricane brewing and we knew we needed to move quickly. The hurricane was Irma, and she was relentless. We got out into the Gulf hoping Irma would take a turn. In the meantime, we lost power, and Scott lovingly said, “We’re doomed.” I should have had more fear than ever, but for whatever reason, I had peace. The Gilligan’s Island theme song was running in my head as I pondered our fate. While I was pondering, Scott started whistling the same tune! I knew we would be okay at that point. The hurricane did turn, and we made it back home safely.

CS: If you could sail anywhere in the world, where would you go and why? 

MI: After our great adventure bringing our boat home, we both realized that blue water sailing was not for us! We both love the river systems and would enjoy sailing to the Land Between the Lakes. 

CS: What’s a reason you chose sailing over other types of boating/water sports? 

MI: Scott sold his motorcycle for a sailboat. He figured that going 7 mph vs. 70 would save his life. I like that reasoning! CS

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