Chicago Yacht Club: Attracting the Next Generation of Boaters
Published on March 12th, 2015
by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
Founded in 1875, the Chicago Yacht Club is one of the top ten yacht clubs in the United States. Having been in existence for 140 years, most people think of a traditional yacht club – the so-called “blue blazer brigade” that does things the way they have always been done.
But in reality, CYC is rather obsessed with innovation and breaking the mold. Its signature Race to Mackinac is proof of that mentality.
In the late 1990s, it introduced the new Multihull Division to the race. In 2006, it took a leadership role by introducing new, simplified safety regulations. The next year, it added a new Cruising Division to the Mac, which attracted a whole new set of racers to the event. Later that year, it named then 34-year old Greg Miarecki to chair the 100th Race.
Under Miarecki’s leadership, CYC engineered a once-in-a-lifetime event, attracting over 462 entries and putting them in the unique position of having to turn away entries. A fireworks display, with Round Island light in the background, added an enormous exclamation point to the event. The same year, CYC introduced required race tracking for all participants, which opened the race (and the sport) to hundreds of thousands of spectators worldwide. In 2009, CYC introduced the new Double-handed Division.
For 2015, CYC is introducing two new events. The Grand Prix Regatta for high performance boats will be held in Chicago over July Fourth Weekend. And the “Super Mac,” a 500 mile plus regatta run concurrently with the Race to Mackinac and finishing off Port Huron will feed the Bayview Mac the following weekend.
CYC’s innovative streak is not limited to the Race to Mackinac. In 2010, CYC introduced distance races as part of its Verve Cup and NOOD regattas. Sailing World liked the distance race concept so much that they imported it to other NOOD regattas around the country. The next year, CYC purchased a fleet of Sonar sailboats to provide more of their members with access to Lake Michigan. In 2013, CYC introduced its first Annual Cruise, a Club event designed to bring all of its members – racers, cruising sailors, and power boaters – together for a weekend of boating-focused fun.
“The club is like a second home,” explained associate member Whitney Key. “My friends are here and there are plenty of events and fun parties to attend.” The message is resonating in the Chicago area as new twenty-something’s and thirty-something’s like Ms. Key find a club they can call home.
The Chicago Yacht Club’s approach is turning heads in the national sailing and boating community. “Chicago Yacht Club is addressing sailing’s challenges head on, and doing a great job removing the traditional barriers people encounter as they try to get into sailing,” said Jack Gierhart, Executive Director of US Sailing. “The Club is focused on openness, access, quality, simplicity and fun – all the things that are critical to attracting new people to sailing and changing the perception of the sport.”
This year, CYC has doubled down on this strategy, electing Miarecki to serve as the youngest Commodore in Club history. It also elected two other sailors under age 50 – Vice Commodore Leif Sigmond and Rear Commodore Lou Sandoval.
Like Miarecki, Sigmond and Sandoval are accomplished racing sailors with deep experience in building successful events – Sigmond chaired the 2011 Farr 40 World Championships and Sandoval chaired the Race to Mackinac in 2012 and 2013. Two power boaters, Nick Berberian and Chuck Anderson, also joined the CYC Flag as Treasurer and Secretary, respectively. Both Berberian and Anderson have extensive experience cruising Lakes Michigan and Huron, and have also played critical roles in assisting the administration of the Race to Mackinac.
This new team at CYC has already made it abundantly clear that it plans to continue finding new ways to bring new people into our sport. The Club recently launched a “Women on the Water” series of events, which includes both educational and social events for the ladies of CYC. It has formed a new Family Activities Committee, focused on providing new and exciting ways for families to enjoy the water. And most recently, it has also introduced a new Wednesday Night Skyline Series, designed to make Wednesday night racing more fun, easier to access, and more family friendly.
“We sought to move away from the parochialisms that keep the sport from growing and created our own stand-alone Wednesday night event that seeks to bring in more cruisers, small boats and puts the fun back into Wednesday nights,” said Rear Commodore Lou Sandoval. “We heard our participants loud and clear: the same old same old was getting old. It was clearly time to chart a new path, and we did.”
This spring, the Club will premiere its new stand up paddleboards, a departure from the traditional nautical offerings and a sign of the new direction that the Club is taking and approach towards a nautical activity center.
Chicago Yacht Club is clearly not afraid to depart from the status quo. It will be exciting to watch what they come up with next.
CYC website: www.chicagoyachtclub.org
Top photo is CYC ‘Crew U’