Building a Community? Just Add Water

There are some very common misconceptions out there when it comes to yacht clubs, and in Door County there is no exception. Yacht clubs are primarily for seasonal residents. It’s not something that locals do. They cater to an exclusive group. And don’t you need to know a lot about boats? And sailing?

When these comments are posed to the Directors of the Sturgeon Bay Yacht Club, Board Member Timothy Graul is quick with a correction. “We’re by no means an elitist organization. There’s no jargon, no secret handshake – and nope, you don’t even need to know about boats.” Secretary John Purinton agrees, saying “The Club was started by a bunch of guys who loved boating, true – but we really look at ourselves as more of a community organization.”

The Sturgeon Bay Yacht Club was founded in 1927, with Leathem Smith serving as Commodore and well-known Door County businessmen such as Fred Peterson, Palmer Johnson, and S. J. Harris leading its Board of Directors. The club quickly grew in popularity, even though meeting places and sailing locations would cause plenty of location changes in the early years. In 1951, the SBYC found themselves looking at a potential permanent home when George Baudhuin offered to deed to the city of Sturgeon Bay the south pier of his Baudhuin Yacht Harbor and the shore frontage along Nautical Drive for park purposes, providing it would be used “as a haven for yachtsmen.” The SBYC heartily approved the site, and quickly sponsored the development of the property, securing the necessary funds to build a SBYC clubhouse.

Around the same time, the SBYC founded one of the oldest programs it offers – the Sail Training Foundation (STF). The STF’s goal is to provide sailing instruction to students of all ages – regardless of if they are a member of the SBYC. Individual sessions for youth and adult sailing are offered during the summer months, and the students in all classes are invited to participate in the Club’s TGIT (Thursday Night Race Series) – although Vice Commodore Collin Jeanquart is quick to point out that getting the sailing students to enjoy the water and the teamwork that comes with it is more important than the competition.

“The STF teaches students a lot of things, such as boating safety and how to rig and care for their boats,” Jeanquart says, “but it also teaches valuable lessons in communication and sportsmanship.”

The adult sailing lessons are taught on the club’s recently refurbished Flying Scot fleet, a task that was spearheaded last year by Director Tim Graul and several other SBYC members. The original two boats of the fleet were purchased in 1960, with the newest ones being added in 1976. “The boats, to say the least, had fallen into disrepair,” says the Club’s Rear Commodore, Jesse Brunsvold. With the help of a few other SBYC members, the boats were taken off-site, disassembled, pressure washed, power sanded, painted, and adorned with new rigging and weather covers.

“I can’t even describe how different these boats look – it’s been a real labor of love, and I am proud that they are being used for our adult lessons,” Brunsvold says. The four Flying Scots have recently been named after four women who have attributed to the success of the SBYC since its inception – Sheila, Lois, Frieda, and Nancy.

One of the main principles of the STF is that cost shouldn’t be a factor in learning how to sail – and as a result, the foundation offers sailing lessons at a fraction of their actual cost. Adult lessons cost $150 for eight weeks (one lesson per week) with children’s lessons coming in at around $60 for a two-week program, which consists of 10, 3 1/2 hour sessions. To offset the cost, the STF encourages their students to participate in fundraising events that raise money for the program, such as the annual STF Chili Supper, scheduled this year for Monday, May 17.

“It’s great to see students and other supporters working together on these events,” Brunsvold says. “It shows us that the STF program has deep roots in the community.”

In addition to the STF, there are other community programs that the SBYC offers. One of these, a discussion called “Through the Ice!” hosted by the SBYC and the United States Coast Guard, seeks to educate the public about ice survival and rescue. This free event goes through precautions, survival techniques, and a display of survival and rescue gear. The day ends with a dozen officers from the Sturgeon Bay Fire Department and the Coast Guard performing live rescues. During the summer the SBYC holds a flare shoot and fire extinguisher training in conjunction with the Door County Sail & Power Squadron. The Coast Guard clears airspace so that area boaters can dispose of their outdated flares, and the Fire Department sets controlled fires so attendees can learn proper fire extinguisher handling.

All of these community programs have not only lead to increased awareness within the Door County community, but have also resulted in an increase in membership – especially among the younger generation.

“We’re seeing a lot more involvement from younger people who have grown up with the Yacht Club as well as younger families with children,” says Brunsvold, who serves at the SBYC’s Membership Director as part of her Rear Commodore duties. She sites Jeanquart as an example, who at 25 years old is the youngest member of the SBYC Directors and a third-generation SBYC Commodore. Jeanquart agrees, saying, “Some of our strongest members right now are people who were running around the Yacht Club lawn as kids 20 or 30 years ago.”

With the increase in membership and the commitment to programs has also come a renewed interest within the SBYC to make it a great place to be.

“The common interest of the SBYC is boating – to be sure – but our members really do want to give back to the community, and we’re offering ways to do that,” says Purinton. “We’re working very hard to make people proud to walk through our doors.”

The Sturgeon Bay Yacht Club is located at 600 Nautical Drive in Sturgeon Bay, and is led by the 2010 Commodore, Chris Gaeth. For more information about the Sail Training Foundation, SBYC membership, or other SBYC activities, please call 920.743.6934 or visit

The Sturgeon Bay Yacht Club has several upcoming events that are open to the Door County community:

• Monday, May 17

STF (Sail Training Foundation) Chili Supper

$8 for adults, $5 for children under 12

• Friday, May 21, 6 – 8 pm

Open House & New Member Reception

A chance to meet members, tour the SBYC clubhouse, and learn about Club activities and membership

• Saturday, June 12

Flare Shoot/Fire Extinguisher Training

For more information on these events, please call Rear Commodore Jesse Brunsvold at 920.256.6000 or email [email protected].