About Us

Columbia Sailing School is a highly regarded, diverse and optimally located program hosted on the docks of the Columbia Yacht Club right off Randolph Street on Lake Michigan. Our youth programs provide education, from introductory sailing summer camps to advanced racing teams. Our youth alumni develop lifelong skills and friendships skills that lead to opportunities in high school, college and international competition as well a life on the water. Our coaches are trained to keep children safe, having fun and learning. 


Our adult sailing programs focus on new and intermediate sailors and are taught on our fleet of Colgate 26 sailboats. Our instructors are a combination of qualified and highly experienced volunteers and trained US Sailing certified instructors. Our programs cover introductions to sailing and racing. 

We offer powerboat lessons which are tailored to both adults and children (12+). It’s never too early to become familiar with the operation of a motorized vessel, whether it’s your sailboat’s dinghy, a racing mark set boat, or your go-fast boat.

Meet the staff, check out our fleet, get more information on Columbia Yacht Club


Meet the Staff

Kurt Thomsen - On Water Director

​Kurt grew up sailing with Columbia Yacht Club since he was six years old. He began sailing in Optis, Sunfish and competed in C420’s on a regional and national level. In 2018, Kurt was selected to join US Sailing’s National Faculty, where he works with leaders in sailing from around the country to help build the national standards and best practices for sailing in the US.  Kurt is a US Sailing Level 1, 2, 3 Instructor/Coach Trainer, a Powerboat Instructor, and Keelboat Instructor Trainer. He is a Club Race Officer working on his Regional Certification. He has participated in running races across the country, including the Americas Cup World Series in Chicago and multiple World Cup Sailing events in Miami.  Kurt has been running the Columbia Sailing Program for the last fifteen years, and the program has flourished under his direction.

In 2019, he was selected as a representative of US Sailing into the International Coaching Enrichment Program.  Here Kurt joined an International group of coaches chosen to represent their country and sport at the US Olympic Training Facility in Colorado Springs. 

Kurt also has experience coaching adult teams in various classes focusing on building team cohesion, boat handling, and tactical skills.

One of the most rewarding things for Kurt is witnessing the growth in confidence and independence as sailors progress through our program. Email Kurt

Chuck Nevel - Dockmaster and Keelboat Director

Chuck joined the Columbia team in May of 2018. He started sailing with his dad when he was a kid in Wilmette, IL. Chuck attended Florida Institute of Technology and has a BA/BS in Economics. Chuck has coached at Sheridan Shore Sailing School, Chicago Yacht Club and previously at Columbia Yacht Club. Chuck is a US Sailing Level 1, Basic Keelboat, and Powerboat Instructor. Chuck is a Certified Reach Educator and CPR/First Aid Trainer. Chuck hopes to help youth and adults find enjoyment in and develop a passion for the sport of sailing. Email Chuck

Emily Kowal - Prams 

Since the first time Emily visited Columbia as a freshman, she has fallen in love with sailing. Starting off as a high school sailor, Emily has become captain of Trinity’s sailing team. In addition to 420’s, she sails and races keelboats including Colgates, J22’s, her family’s cruiser, a Sydney 38, and most recently a Beneteau. She is a US Sailing Level 1 certified instructor, and is excited to coach prams this summer!

Cooper Soderlund - Adv. C420


Cooper is from Southport, Connecticut. He grew up sailing at Pequot Yacht Club racing Opti’s and 420’s. He was captain of his high school team. He loves to match race and compete in offshore regattas as well as racing on the Northwestern University Sailing Team. He also raced 49er’s for a year down in Long Island and competed in the US sailing triple crown series. Last summer he was a race coach at San Diego Yacht Club and looks forward to being apart of ColYC this year.

Delaney Hybl - Green Fleet

Delaney Hybl is the head Green Fleet coach for the summer of 2020 at Columbia Sailing School! She has been a part of Columbia Sailing School since she was five years old and was on the 420 Race Team for four years. She spent last year as a Pram coach and is excited to spend another summer out on the water! When she's not sailing, she is busy working on her Psychology and Biology majors at Indiana University.


Our Fleet

The Columbia Sailing School fleet consists of the following:

7 Boston Whalers

8 RIBs

4 Colgate 26's

24 C420's

12 Prams

6 2-person Kayaks

8 Stand-up Paddle boards

2 Hobie Mirage Tandem Island


The Columbia Yacht Club

In 1892, Chicago was rebuilding from its disastrous fire, the world was wildly anticipating the Columbian Exposition, Daniel Burnham was advising city leaders to make no little plans and a group of yachting enthusiasts organized what became formally known as Columbia Yacht Club.

Since the founding of the club over 125 years ago, the location of the club has changed several times to different barges and ships, but what remains consistent is that not unlike those first members in 1892, the current members of Columbia Yacht Club share a passion for sailing and camaraderie. After more than 125 years, Columbia Yacht Club retains the vital and energetic spirit that began with that small group of sailors envisioning a yacht club on a tiny scow.

Columbia Yacht Club and Columbia Sailing School have an incredible bond. While they are two separate organizations, each relies on the support of the other to continue time honored traditions and passion of great education in a fun atmosphere. 

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