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
Kurt Thomsen - On the 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.
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 cannot wait 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. She 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 enthusiastic about helping young sailors find a lifelong passion for sailing, just as she has, this summer.
Delaney Hybl - Youth Keelboat Instructor
Delaney started sailing in the Prams class at Columbia Sailing School when she was five years old and has been in love with the water ever since. During her time in the Sailing School, she joined the C420 race team and competed for four years until she graduated from Jones College Prep. She worked for Columbia Sailing School as a Prams coach for two years and then as an Opti Green fleet coach last summer. She currently attends Indiana University and plans to graduate next year! She is a US Sailing Level 1 Instructor. She is looking forward to another summer of sharing her passion for sailing with others.
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.
David Eskilson - Youth Keelboat Instructor
David started sailing in Optis on Lake Michigan at age nine. He later sailed in Picos for two years before moving on to the C420s. David is currently a student at Jones College Prep High School where he has been on the sailing team since the beginning of his freshman year. He has served as an elected co-captain of the team since this past fall and has led the Jones team to qualify for championships. This will be David's second summer teaching keelboats at Columbia Sailing School. He is looking forward to having the opportunity to imbue in his students a passion for sailing that will last a lifetime!
Katie Faris - Youth Keelboat Instructor
Katie started sailing at Columbia Sailing School at the age of eight in Prams. After two years in Prams, she then joined the Opti Race Team at the age of 10. After growing out of Optis, she later joined the C420s as a crew and raced all over the Midwest. As a freshman at Trinity High School, she skippered 420s, and in between high school and summer sailing, she raced on Beneteau’s. She currently attends the University of Oregon, where she is majoring in Biochemistry. She is an active member of their sailing team as well. Katie has been coaching at Columbia Sailing School since 2019 as a US Sailing Level 1 Instructor. She is excited to coach Keelboats again this summer, and share her knowledge and passion for sailing with younger kids.
Isabel Drobny- Adventure Sailing Camp Instructor
Isabel started sailing at Columbia Sailing School her sophomore year of high school, and was part of the Lyons Township Sailing Team. She loves the outdoors, and environmental studies. In her free time, aside from sailing, Isabel enjoys all water activities, hiking, skiing, and more! She is currently a sophomore at Colorado State University studying Agricultural Business and Spanish. She is a US Sailing Level 1 Instructor. Isabel is looking forward to coaching Adventure Kids Camp this summer!
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. This summer, Sydney is most looking forward to sharing the sport she loves with kids and making learning fun and engaging!
Philip Lengyel - Youth Powerboat Instructor
At the age of eight, Philip first stepped into a Pram and immediately fell in love with sailing. After a few years of recreational sailing, Philip entered high school and joined the U-High Sailing Team. He fell in love with racing 420s and later became team captain his junior and senior years. Additionally, he was part of the Columbia Sailing School Race Team and competed in C420s at various regattas around the country. This fall, Philip will be attending Tufts University as a Computer Engineering major where he hopes to continue pursuing his passion for sailing. He is US Sailing Safe Powerboat Handling Instructor certified. Philip is excited to teach kids how to maneuver a powerboat in a safe and fun manner.
Luke Hosek - Opti Coach
Luke joined Columbia Sailing School at age eight and started in Optis. After three years, he moved on to crew in C420s. As a freshman at Lane Tech High School, he started skippering 420s and sailed C420s during the summer. He currently attends Roger Williams University and sails on their sailing team. He is a US Sailing Level 1 Instructor. Last summer he taught Beginner/Intermediate 420s and is thrilled to be back coaching Optis. Luke is excited to impart new knowledge to the Opti team this summer.
James Nappo - Opti Coach
James started sailing at the age of four in Chicago. At the beginning of his sailing career, he sailed Optis and then went on to sail C420 nationally. He attended the Latin School of Chicago and sailed on their high school team where he was co-captain of their sailing team his senior year. He currently attends the University of Miami where he is an active member of their sailing team and was recently elected captain for their 21-22 season. James is very excited to continue sharing his love for sailing with others this summer.
The Columbia Sailing School fleet consists of the following:
10 Boston Whalers
6 Colgate 26's
6 2-person Kayaks
8 Stand-Up Paddleboards
2 Hobie Mirage Tandem Island