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Lots of water, plus good wind equals quality sailing.

Spanning approximately 118 miles in width, 307 miles in length and filled with nearly 1,200 cubic miles of water, Lake Michigan is an ideal playground for sailboats.

"Lake Michigan is great for sailing," said Dr. Geoffrey Barrow, a professor of foreign language and literature at Purdue Calumet, and training captain for the Indiana Sailing Association.

"I have sailed the Mediterranean Sea, Adriatic Sea, Caribbean, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and in my opinion Lake Michigan is a magnificent body of water. There are no tides or reefs. It is a nice big hole with water."

But just because it lacks some of the hazards of distant waters, don't let down your guard.

"It is a large body of water and conditions can change very quickly," Barrow said. "Because it is so big, you can easily find yourself blown way off course.

It is a rough environment. Always wear life jackets, be aware of your surroundings, use common sense and let people know when you go out."

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This is the time of year when sailboats receive final preparations before being put in the water.

"By mid-May, most of the sailboats are in," said Barrow, a lifelong sailor originally from the northwest coast of England. "By June, people are in full swing and can sail on into October and even November before the rush to put them away for the winter."

Regardless of the class of sailboat, there is no shortage of competition on Lake Michigan. Dozens of sponsored races, cups and regattas take place all season long.

"There are probably 30-to-40 races alone on the Lake Michigan Sail Racing Federation roster," Barrow said. "One of the most popular events is the Chicago-to-Mackinac race in July. This is world-class, one of the largest fresh-water races in the world."

Although such a sailing-friendly area exists in this region, many don't take advantage of the opportunity.

"There seems to be no real awareness of the water around here," Barrow said. "It is like pulling teeth to get people to go out. Maybe there is a fear of water or lack of interest in water sports. Whatever it is, it is a shame.

"If you are interested in beginning, there are many ways to learn, including a great Internet course on boating offered by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. The best way, though, is to start with other people and get experience. In sailing, there is nothing better than actual experience out on the water."

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