Eight years ago, Amy Stout of Petersburg bought a sailboat at a junkyard.
She spent years fixing it up and, last summer, she did something only one other woman has done so far: complete the Lake Erie Solo Challenge.
In August, Stout, 55, became the second woman in the event’s 16-year history to finish the challenge.
The 455-mile sailing event began in 2007. So far just three women have attempted it. The first one, Gail Bowdish, sailed in the event’s early years and finished. She went on to complete solo sailing challenges on all of the other Great Lakes. A third woman attempted the Lake Erie challenge in 2017, but didn’t finish.
Paul Nickerson from the Lake Erie Solo Challenge said the challenge is tough, and a good number who start don’t finish.
“A total of 67 skippers have participated in Lake Erie, with a total of 266 starts and 207 finishes,” Nickerson said.
The reasons for leaving the challenge are many.
“Lake Erie is known for constantly changing conditions, vicious chop when winds hit 12 to 15 knots, lots of passing thunderstorms, short wave lengths and even dead calms. Many boats have suffered mechanical failures pounding in the waves,” he said. “Many skippers have also suffered from mental fatigue in these same conditions. There’s nothing like pounding into 6-foot chop in heavy winds. We have had two boats dismasted and one broken rudder due to storms. Boats have also retired due to autohelm failures. In 2017, only six of 18 boats finished. There is a reason we call them challenges, and about one-third of the skippers only do one.”
On the morning of Aug. 13, Stout and 21 men began the journey at LaSalle’s North Cape Yacht Club. All but five skippers finished.
The route runs from LaSalle to Buffalo, New York. Stout and her boat, the S/V Eloxy, made it to New York in five days and eight hours, at 3:10 p.m. Aug. 18.
“I followed the (event) on the tracker and was impressed with her will to continue and finish, basically on her own without other sailors close by which can be very tough mentally,” Luke Brockman, board member for the challenge, said.
Although not a timed event, Nickerson said records of times are kept.
“Anytime a boat finishes in less than 48 hours, I would say it was a fast challenge. The all-time record holder finished in 29 hours, 24 minutes,” he said.
Stout, a web designer, came to the Petersburg area about 10 years ago from Ohio.
Her entry into boating came in college, when she began powerboating. In 2013, she bought the dilapidated 1986 sailboat. Sailing is a big departure from powerboating.
“They are vastly different. With a power boat, there’s an engine. With sailing, you have to know how to sail and when to sail to the wind and away from the wind. It’s completely different,” Stout said. “I just like the athletics of getting up on deck and working with the sails. It’s quieter and more relaxing. It’s also more affordable with no fuel. It’s closer to nature.’
For eight years after buying the sailboat, Stout prepared it for the water. She is largely self-taught on boat repair and did most of the work herself.
“It was used extensively before I bought it. It has lots of (sailing) hours. I have pretty much gone through the whole thing. I did a lot of the work myself, but I did have a lot of help too. (When someone helped) I was involved in everything. I did a lot research and watched videos. People showed me. I kind of learned while I was doing it,” she said.
She also learned to sail by watching.
“Once I decided to sail, I went sailing with everyone who offered. I used it as a learning experience,” she said.
Today, the boat is operational, but remains an ongoing project.
“I can sail the boat. It’s upgrades now. It’s kind of like a house or a baby, an ongoing project,” she said.
Stout is not new to boating competitions and challenges. She won some powerboating competitions and even a few sailboat events.
“I’ve done sailboat racing and crewed on other boats to learn. I’ve done other competitions, like the Mills Cup outside Toledo Beach Marina for eight years. We won some races,” Stout said.
Five years ago, she heard about the Lake Erie Solo Challenge.
“That’s what I really wanted to do. I talked about it and asked about it. (Last year) I finally felt like I was ready and the boat was ready. I could do it without dying,” she joked. “I’ve been sailing solo almost as long as I had the boat. I’ve trying to improve and learn.”
As expected, Stout encountered some obstacles and challenges on the water.
“I had 24 hours of very aggressive weather,” she said. “There were heavy winds and big waves by the Canadian shoreline. That was a challenge. I had the opposite toward the end, dead air, no wind.”
She also ran into a swarm of green bugs.
“The wind got even lighter, darkness fell and soon my boat was completely covered in these little green bugs, and not just a few of them. Part of my boat looked like it was covered in fur. There were thousands. The next morning, the board was disgusting from the dead bugs, oh, and it was green. My little white boat was green,” Stout wrote in an online blog she kept of the journey.
Sleep is also an issue when sailing solo. Skippers must wake up, as often as every 20 minutes, to check the boat and the water.
“I sleep very easily. Other people had a lot of difficulty with that. I set a kitchen timer to sleep and wake up,” Stout said.
She also practiced overnight sailing with her boyfriend and fellow boater, John.
Stout said she was fairly certain she’d finish the challenge.
“I was in it to finish it, but you never know. The weather can get horrendous,” Stout said. “This was a giant bucket list item. I just wanted to finish it and get my boat to Erie in one piece. It was a personal goal and one I was determined to accomplish, no matter how long it took.”
Besides finishing, Stout also took part in the challenge to inspire other women.
“Get out there, you can do it,” she said. “You don’t need a fancy boat. You don’t need a large boat. You don’t need an expensive boat. You just need a reliable, safe vessel along with some guts and a lot of determination.”
Stout hasn’t ruled out another solo sailing challenge.
“I could do it again,” she said. “I might try a different one. There is a different solo challenge for every Great Lake. I’m aspiring to try Lake Huron. The water is so beautiful. But I don’t have any plans for 2023.”
This article originally appeared on The Monroe News: Petersburg woman completes Lake Erie sailing challenge