PEORIA HEIGHTS — Sailing may sound like an expensive hobby and likely one that most don’t consider taking up in the Midwest, especially if they don’t own a boat or belong to a fancy club.
But at the Illinois Valley Yacht Club all one needs to become a sailor is a desire to learn.
Chuck Sanders, IVY Club sailing instructor, has been a part of the sailing community since he got his start around age 23. He started sailing in Lake Shelbyville with a friend and has been with the sport ever since.
While many make think of sailing as a coastal sport, Sanders and his fellow sailing instructors beg to differ. They've been showing community members the ropes on the Illinois River for the past 16 years.
There is a fee for the lessons because nothing in life is truly free, but Sanders considers this price “very reasonable.” Each summer during the month of June Sanders and four other instructors, along with a number of volunteers rally to teach nine, three-hour sailing courses to adults and to youth as young as 8 years old.
Between Sanders and the other instructors at the IVY Club, they have over 100 years of knowledge and experience, he said. But they don’t like to keep that knowledge to themselves. Rather, they choose to share it “out of the kindness of their hearts” with anyone and everyone who is willing to learn.
“Even us instructors are considered volunteers,” Sanders said. “We do it because of our love for sailing. We want everyone to learn how to sail.”
Even though non-members are able to take the lessons, he encourages those with a love for sailing to consider joining the IVY Club. Most yacht clubs have something called reciprocity, which means that being a member of one club allows members some privileges at other yacht clubs all over the world, such as facility use. This plays into Sanders' favorite part about sailing — the camaraderie.
Sanders explained that when he travels he always finds someone to talk to about sailboats and sailing. He has sailed and competed all over the country, including Colorado, Florida, California and Michigan.
“Once you become a sailor, you have friends for life all over the world,” Sanders said. “It’s universal.”
The skills are universal, too. At the IVY Club, the instructors start from scratch and even provide the boats. With a fleet of 15 sailboats and a good ratio of students to instructors, the club prides itself on providing essentially one-on-one sailing lessons. Each student is able to manage his or her own boat and sail at their own level once they are out on the water.
For a fee of $100 for IVY Club members and $135 for non-members, students will learn everything there is to know about sailing — from how to rig the boat, maintain it, tie knots, fold sails and everything in between. Once they learn how to sail a small boat, they are able to sail any boat.
Although sailing on a river can be particularly challenging considering the current and wind variation being in a valley, Sanders explained that no matter what body of water it may be, learning how to predict the wind and set sails correctly is the most important thing. This is why Sanders and the other instructors put a lot of focus on these aspects throughout the sessions.
Current and wind may be out of their control, but another major challenge of sailing on the river is the barges.
“We have to stay away from them,” Sanders said. “And be extra careful when they are around.”
He added that the chaser boats help with that. They follow the sailboats out to the water and act as safety boats for precaution considering that 75% of those enrolled in the sessions have never sailed before.
Not only does sailing offer an opportunity to make friends, Sanders also sees it as physically challenging and a chance to keep learning.
“The sailing community is small and you get to know a lot of interesting people that love pushing themselves and love learning,” said Sanders. “Sailors love to help each other improve their skills.”
The lessons have concluded for this summer, but every Wednesday the IVY Club gets together to race the boats. Sanders encourages his students to participate and said it is “worth seeing.” Those interested in more information can visit www.ivyclub.org/sailing-lessons.