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Sailing Stories: James Maxwell

Go Sail Flathead Lake

Missoula native James Maxwell has never been aware of a dream too big. In this week’s Sailing Story, we follow James from the murky shores of a Missoula pond to the open waters of Flathead Lake to better understand what sailors are really made of:

Building Dreams

From a young age he knew he loved the water, boats, and the community that supported him in becoming anything he wanted to be. 

“Growing up in Missoula as an African American no one told me I couldn’t swim and no one told me I couldn’t sail,” he said. In fact, no one told him he couldn’t build his own boat with no experience either. So he did. 

“I’ve always had an affinity for all things nautical,” he explained. So when he discovered there were free boat plans on the internet his roommate wasn’t the least bit surprised to hear him exclaim, “I’m going to build a boat!”

From his front yard in Bonner, James began constructing his 8 foot boat. ““It’s been all uphill— slash downhill– from there,” he joked. Sailing

Learning to Sail

No one in James’ family had experience sailing. James himself didn’t have experience sailing. However, that didn’t deter James from getting his newly built boat out on the water. “I was going to learn how to sail it,” he said. “And what happened is I ended up in a friend’s pond.” 

From James’ memory of it, a friend who knew how to sail wandered along the pond’s shores and hollered out directions to James as he tried to get the hang of things.  However, it wasn’t long before James outgrew his hometown pond. In fact, it was around the same time he began to tire of the pond that he found out about the first ever home built boat show in Seattle.

Meeting the Sailing Community 

With big dreams and little cash, James was determined to find a way to get to Seattle. He plopped a roof rack on his Nissan Sentra, strapped his sailboat atop it, and off he went to the Emerald City. 

Taking his beloved boat out on Lake Union was a treat. James got to know other boat builders, sailing aficionados, and prove to himself that he too, was now a sailor. 

Unfortunately, hauling his boat from Missoula to Seattle on his Sentra had cost James a pretty penny. In order to afford the trip back home James sold his first ever boat to someone at the show. 

Sailing Flathead Lake

Once home, James was right back at it. He built more boats (including one with his dad) and began to purchase boats as well. He also found closer waters to sail than Seattle’s Union Lake.

“I went to Flathead Lake and found out it is much better than sailing Frenchtown Pond,” he joked. Soon enough James had become a mainstay in the Flathead sailing community and fell in love with sailing in the Dayton area.

“The best thing about Dayton is the weather,” he explained. With consistent winds and sunny skies he said, “being able to start at 10 and go until 4 is lovely.” 

James also loves the places he can sail to from Dayton. “Having Wild Horse Island gives you a destination,” he explained, as he listed off his other favorite spots to sail to near Dayton. 

While James does occasionally enjoy getting out on a speedboat on Flathead Lake, he says there is nothing like enjoying the area by sailboat. “[it’s the] ability to be one with nature rather than overcoming nature,” he explained. “It allows you to get away from it all.” 

James’ Future Sailing Goals

James has no plans of ending his sailing dreams just because he’s found his perfect sailboat oasis and owns a beautiful 15 foot catamaran. 

“My ultimate goal— if I could have my heart of hearts— would be to give underprivileged people the ability to sail,” he said. “It is much more approachable and affordable than people give it credit for.” 

You can follow James’ future sailing endeavors and learn more about his sailing story on his blog.  

For more information on how to begin your own sailing journey on Flathead Lake, click here