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 as 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 that 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, Kurt was selected as a representative of US Sailing into the International Coaching Enrichment Program.  Here he 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. He attended the 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. He is a US Sailing Level 1, Basic Keelboat, and Powerboat Instructor. He is also 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

Summer 2021 Staff

Frances Depke - Pram Instructor

Frances started sailing Picos when she was 9 and has been in love with sailing ever since. Later moving to C420s, she joined the Walter Payton College Prep team and was elected co-captain her senior year. She started sailing C420s with Columbia Sailing School in 2019 and later that year, she qualified for the Chubb US Junior Champs. Frances is excited to spend the summer helping kids learn to love sailing just as much as she does!

Emily Kowal - Pram Instructor

Emily fell in love with sailing at Columbia Sailing School when she joined her high school’s team and sailed in 420s going on to serve as co-captain during her junior and senior years. She currently attends George Washington University where she is an International Affairs Major. Emily is a US Sailing Level 1 Instructor and has coached at the Sailing School since 2019. Emily’s favorite part of coaching is watching her students grow as sailors and develop confidence, teamwork, and a love for sailing.

Gavin Dempsey - Beginner/Intermediate C420 Instructor

Gavin started sailing at 10 years old with his grandpa in St. Joseph, Michigan. There, he sailed Optis and 420s until he began sailing at Columbia his freshman year of high school. He currently attends Lyons Township High School and is one of the co-captains of their sailing team. He is a US Sailing Level 1 instructor and this is his second year coaching at Columbia. Gavin is thrilled to teach his passion to his favorite community on the water.

Lauren Mellinger - Beginner/Intermediate C420 Instructor

Lauren has been sailing on Lake Michigan ever since she was a baby and joined Columbia Sailing School when she was 10. She then sailed Prams and 420s before joining the Lane Tech Sailing Team as a freshman in high school where she was a co-captain her senior year. Additionally, she sails in Wednesday Night Beer Can races on her family’s Hunter 34. She will be attending Georgia Tech in the fall to study chemical engineering where she hopes to continue her passion for sailing. This is her first time coaching as a US Sailing Level 1 Instructor, having previously worked as an assistant preschool teacher. Lauren hopes to share her love for sailing through meaningful and exciting teaching.

Jemima Korbel - Advanced C420 Instructor

Jemima started sailing in Australia when she was nine and has been on the water ever since. Coming stateside, she grew up competing in Opti's, C420's, and keelboats. Jemima has sailed the Race to Mackinaw Island twice on a Sabre 402, where her boat won in its division both times. Jemima was the captain of the Lane Tech High School Team and currently attends Indiana University. She has been working at the Sailing School since 2017 and is a US Sailing Level 1 Instructor. Jemima is excited to help youth find a lifelong passion for sailing as she has.

Wyatt Harley - Youth Keelboat Instructor

Wyatt sailed for the first time through the Columbia Sailing School at the age of nine and has been sailing ever since. He started sailing Optis, and then later moved onto C420s. In 2019, Wyatt qualified for the Chubb US Junior Champs in C420s. He attended Walter Payton College Prep and was a starting skipper as well as elected co-captain his junior and senior years. During his time on the team, he brought his team to Nationals, and other nationally recognized events. This summer, Wyatt wants to help kids learn about the sport of sailing and inspire them to continue sailing for the rest of their lives.  

Sydney Mandell - Adventure Sailing Camp/Siebel Instructor

Sydney started sailing on Lake Michigan when she was nine years old. She joined Columbia Sailing School when she was thirteen and has had experience sailing Picos, RS Fevas, C420s, and keelboats. Sydney currently attends Lane Tech College Prep and has been a member of the Lane Tech Sailing Team for 3 years. Before she started working at the Sailing School in 2020, Sydney coached at the Judd Goldman Sailing Center, Chicago Corinthian Yacht Club, and Jackson Park Yacht Club. She is a US Sailing Level 1 Instructor. Sydney is most looking forward to sharing the sport she loves with kids and making learning fun and engaging.


Our Fleet

The Columbia Sailing School fleet consists of the following:

  • 10 Boston Whalers

  • 3 RIBs

  • 6 Colgate 26's

  • 24 C420's

  • 12 Prams

  • 6 2-person Kayaks

  • 8 Stand-Up Paddleboards

  • 2 Hobie Mirage Tandem Island

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