SMALL BOAT CRUISE: Tobyhanna Lake by Sunfish
Small Craft Advisor|November - December 2020
Tobyhanna is a Native American word for “a stream whose banks are fringed with alder.”
Stas Holodnak

“Let’s call it an experiment” said Tom as he hooked up an ancient trailer to my Subaru Forester. “If this is something you like doing, I will get you the new one. Stay local and don’t break it.” Old and rusty, the trailer was the crucial piece in my plan to explore the lakes of the mountainous region of Pennsylvania called the Poconos on my Sunfish sailboat. The boat was sold to me by this very Tom a long time ago. Tom is as close as it gets to a West Marine here in the Poconos. He’s the owner of Pocono Boathouse, located on Route 940. Besides selling, fixing and storing boats, the Boathouse outfits for fishing and skiing trips.

One might wonder why someone who lives in Brooklyn, New York would want to sail on some obscure lake in Pennsylvania. In fact, I sail plenty from Brooklyn’s Jamaica Bay, Hudson River, and the Long Island Sound—sometimes as crew, sometimes renting—which can get expensive. At the Pocono Boathouse, rentals, storage and repairs cost a fraction of what they would in the city. New York may have more people, but the Poconos have more people with boats.

Hooking up a boat trailer should not be much harder than hooking up a bike rack I thought. Indeed, it wasn’t hard, just very heavy. After a few such hook ups I began to feel like I was getting a hernia—if I didn’t have one already. As usual, Tom came to the rescue. He repaired the lifttongue jack that lowers and raises the front part of the trailer that connects with the car’s hitch, and voila, superhuman strength was no longer needed. Backing up a trailer, on the other hand, takes some time to get used to—I got some scratches on my Subaru to prove it—but no matter how long it took, in the end my boat hit the water. Having your boat with you from the start makes your trip wholesome—the journey begins the moment you turn on the engine.

I decided to make my maiden trailer sailing voyage to Tobyhanna Lake— mostly because of its catchy name. Tobyhanna is a Native American word for “a stream whose banks are fringed with alder.” It sounded more inviting than Lake Gouldsboro, for example, which was second on my list. The third and fourth lakes I plan to visit are Lake Beltzville, and the “jewel of the Poconos” —Lake Wallenpaupack. Most lakes in the Poconos are man-made Atlantises. Created to control flooding and in some cases to generate electricity, they conceal preexisting sites deep underwater. In the case of Tobyhanna, the lake water covers an old artillery range.

The Sunfish is a remarkably stable sailing dinghy, but it’s still a dinghy. When the wind is stronger than 10 knots it begins to heel hard. Until recently I’d avoided strong winds, but one windy day on a tiny lake near my house I decided I needed to try and tame the boat. You can’t call yourself a serious explorer if you’re only exploring in six-knot winds.

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