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Bonding through boating

Lake City Yacht Club members Jed Santerre (front left) and others take part in the races during Charlestown Race Week in South Carolina. Others pictured include Bruce Santerre, Joel Santerre, Mark Nichols, Alan Rech and Michael Kline. They'll be competing in today's Pepin Open in Lake City.

Editor's note: This is the first article of a weekly summer series that will examine outdoor activities in the area.

Jed Santerre grew up enjoying the wind on his face aboard his father's boat. The waters of Lake Pepin were split by the hull of their sailboat nearly every summer weekend of his childhood. But, as is typical, that idyllic family time ended during the throes of adolescence.

Bruce Santerre, a board member of the Lake City Yacht Club, continued to ply his craft during that absence. His purchase of a new boat, Split Decision, in "2002 or 2003" reignited his son's passion and reunited the family.

"It's kind of like our home away from home," said Jed, a 29-year-old retail worker out of Twin Cities. "A lot of people have cabins up north. We have this down south. It's kind of our little jewel that not a lot of people know about."

That time away from the water is a distant memory these days. Bruce and his two sons, Joel and Jed, traveled to a pair of races in Michigan last summer; it was Joel's 14th time competing in the Race to Mackinac and Jed's sixth.

The three also traveled to South Carolina this spring for Charlestown Race Week, along with four crewmembers from the Lake City Yacht Club. It took 24 hours to haul the large racing boat about 1,200 miles.

Their pursuits will focus on a more local scene this weekend.

The Lake City Yacht Club will hold its annual Pepin Open, with races beginning this morning and planned through Saturday.

The elder Santerre is the race director, while his sons have been involved in securing sponsorships. Sailors will have an chance to win $2,000 in raffle prizes.

"The common denominator is their love of boating," said Bruce, who joined the yacht club in 1983. "But I know they enjoy a nice meal, an adult beverage and the chance to win a nice prize, too."

While their numbers are down slightly due to the economy, many of the 130 member families (a family is considered one member) view this weekend as the boating highlight of their summer. It's widely considered the most prestigious event in a busy schedule on Lake Pepin, with competitors from three states trekking to Lake City for the races.

The social aspect of the gathering is anticipated, the Santerres acknowledge, but the competition is fierce.

"It's actually a very physical sport," Jed said. "Some guys think it's a wine-and-cheese type of thing."

"We really want to win this one," said Joel, noting their best finish is second in the last five years of the Pepin Open.

The Pepin Open accounts for three of the club's 31 races this year. It's expected to draw around 20 boats, with crew sizes ranging from one to seven. The first race begins today at 11 a.m.

Those who aren't involved in the actual racing often watch from the deck of the floating clubhouse in the Lake City Marina.

It figures to be a hectic -- but fun -- weekend for the Santerre clan.

Bruce, who underwent a root canal Thursday, is in charge of the racing logistics.

Joel will pass out the Pepin Open commemorative T-shirts.

Jed's wife, Jodi, is expecting a baby in two short weeks, which could cut short their stay.

Having gone through the pain of separation from boating with one of his own children, Bruce plans to make this year's racing experience inclusive for all ages. He'll provide blank T-shirts and encourage kids to create their own keepsakes while their parents enjoy happy hour.

"It's just a great lifestyle," Bruce said. "It's great for a family. If people can have half the fun we're having, it'd be great."