Stories from the Lake Geneva Yacht Club
The Lake Geneva Yacht Club
1250 South Lake Shore Drive
Fontana, WI 53125
Founded in 1874 on Wisconsin's Geneva Lake, LGYC was originally known for its racing sandbaggers , two replicas of which now sail out of the National Sailing Hall of Fame's sailing center.
The club today is a mecca for scow sailing, as well as a number of non-scow classes.
LGYC is part of the Buddy Melges Sailing Center, named after National Sailing Hall of Famer Buddy Melges .
The Sheridan Prize Race and the Genesis of a Club
The race came first, then the club. In August 1874, Civil War army officer Lieutenant General Philip H. Sheridan joined friends on southeastern Wisconsin’s Geneva Lake to watch seven broad-beamed, shallow-draft sloops known as sandbaggers compete in a race held in his honor. The boats carried huge spreads of canvas and 50-pound bags of sand as ballast that a courageous and agile crew of at least ten had to shift with each tack or risk a swim. The colorful event was a great success and led to the formal organization of what was initially called the Geneva Lake Yacht Club.
The club’s fleets during the next two decades included sandbaggers of various lengths and rigs (some designed on the East Coast; others locally), “less strenuous” catboats and knockabouts, and elegant steamers and launches. By the end of the 1890s, the sandbagger type was pushed to near extinction by some interesting newcomers: two classes of longer, narrower, lighter boats known as Inland Lake Scows that were easier to handle than the sandbagger, required fewer crew and, as one observer put it, were “balanced to a nicety.” In 1899, the Sheridan Prize Trustees, who have governed the Sheridan contest throughout its history, stated that all boats in the annual race had to be classified as Class A as defined by the Inland Lake Yachting Association rules. (The only exception to this was from 1976 to 1979 when Class E boats were the entrants.) The Sheridan Prize, a sterling silver sandbagger model now mounted on a series of bases to accommodate winners’ names, is one of the oldest active sailing trophies in the country.
Inland Lake Scows and the Classes Today
The Inland Lake Yachting Association, established in 1898 to encourage competition “under uniform rules of measurement, classification, racing, and sailing,” fostered the rapid development of Inland Lake Scows in its member clubs, which now number more than 50. Today, Lake Geneva Yacht Club’s calendar includes races for five classes of scows: the 38-foot Class A, the 28-foot Class E, the 20-foot Class C, the Melges 17, and the 16-foot Class MC; and three non-scows: the Melges 24, the 16-foot Class X (a junior boat designed in the 1930s as the Cub), and the 7.6-foot Optimist Dinghy. Since 1900, the Lake Geneva Yacht Club has been host many times to the multiclass Inland Lake Yachting Association Annual Championship. In addition to its own fleet races and events held by the Geneva Lake Sailing School, the Yacht Club schedule typically includes invitational and national regattas.
Clubhouses and the Buddy Melges Sailing Center
Lake Geneva Yacht Club members built their first clubhouse in 1906, moved to their second in 1926, and built their third home (with the Sailing School) in 1968. In 2015, the members of the Boards of Directors of the Lake Geneva Yacht Club and the Geneva Lake Sailing School cut the ribbon on a new shared facility that contains approximately 12,000 square feet of interior space. The entire property, which includes the club and school, boat storage buildings and outbuildings, and approximately eight acres of land, has been named the Buddy Melges Sailing Center in honor of the Yacht Club’s most accomplished member.
The Geneva Lake Sailing School
In 1938 Lake Geneva Yacht Club officers established a sailing school, which in 1953 was incorporated as a separate entity and named the Geneva Lake Sailing School. A valuable community resource, GLSS offers beginning and intermediate sailing camps, advanced racing programs, US Sailing Keelboat Certification, and learn-to-sail lessons for more than 400 children, high-school students, and adults. The GLSS fleet includes prams, Optimists, Club 420s, Class X, O’pen Bics, Windsurfers, Lasers, Sonars, an MC, a Hobie Cat, and powerboats for the coaches.
Excellence in Sailing and Service
Lake Geneva Yacht Club is proud of its sailors for their accomplishments in competition and for their extensive service to the sport. Jane Wiswell Pegel and Harry C. (Buddy) Melges Jr. are members who have achieved particular stature on the race course, starting in the 1940s in the Cub Class, then for many decades in scows and iceboats. Bill Bentsen has made a major impact on the sport with his contributions to the racing rules as well as his competitive sailing. All three have been inducted into the Inland Lake Sailing Association Hall of Fame.
Jane Pegel has won the Mrs. Charles Francis Adams Trophy for the US Women’s Sailing Championship twice and is a two-time winner of the Allegra Knapp Mertz Trophy for the US Women’s Singlehanded Championship. She has been named Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year three times.
Buddy Melges won the Clifford D. Mallory Trophy for the Men’s US Sailing Championship three times and has been named Rolex Yachtsman of the Year three times. His achievements include Bronze (Flying Dutchman) and Gold (Soling) Olympic Medals, a Pan American Games Gold Medal (Flying Dutchman), Star and 5.5 Metre World Championship titles, numerous national and international class championships, and a successful America’s Cup campaign in 1992 as helmsman for Bill Koch’s America3. Melges has been inducted into the America’s Cup Hall of Fame, the National Sailing Hall of Fame, and the World Sailing Hall of Fame. He has received US Sailing’s most prestigious award, the Nathaneal G. Herreshoff Trophy, for outstanding contributions to sailing, and was the first recipient of US Sailing’s W. Van Alan Clark Jr. National SportsmanshipTrophy.
US Sailing has honored Bill Bentsen with both the Nathaneal G. Herreshoff Trophy for outstanding contributions to sailing and the Harmon Hawkins Trophy for outstanding contributions in the field of race administration. In 2009, the International Yacht Racing Union (now World Sailing) presented him with its highest honor for service, the Beppe Croce Trophy, for his contributions in the development of the racing rules. Bentsen, who crewed for Buddy Melges in the 1964 and 1972 Olympics and in the 1967 Pan American Games, served on the International Sailing Federation’s Racing Rules Committee for 25 years and on US Sailing’s Racing Rules and Appeals Committees for more than three decades.
Today’s Lake Geneva Yacht Club sailors, many of them products of the Geneva Lake Sailing School, also excel on the race course. In the Melges 24 Class, Harry Melges III won the 2002 World Championship, the 2002 US National Championship, and the 2014 Australian Open National Championship. In 2013, top Class E sailor Brian Porter won the Melges 24 World Championship and was named Rolex Yachtsman of the Year. Brian Porter is the 2015 Melges 24 US National Champion, and Andy Burdick, one of his crew for the World and National events, is 2015 National Champion in both MC and Class C. In 2007, Clifford Porter won the D. Verner Smythe Trophy for the US Junior Singlehanded Championship. Malcolm Lamphere’s collection of first-place finishes includes the 2011 Club 420 North American Championship, the 2012 Interscholastic Sailing Association National Singlehanded Championship (Laser Radial) for the Cressy Trophy, and the 2014 US Youth Sailing Championship for the Robert L. Johnstone III Trophy. Lamphere was one of eight sailors selected by Gary Jobson for his 2013 Jobson Junior All-Star list.
The year 2015 was an especially impressive one for the club’s young members. Sailing for Yale, ILYA MC titlist Malcolm Lamphere won the Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association Singlehanded National Championship; ILYA Class X Junior Champion Harry Melges IV and A Scow National Champion Vincent Porter teamed up to win the Melges 17 US National Championship and were named first and second in the National Class E Scow Association’s National Rankings based on their finishes in various Class E regattas; and US Optimist Dinghy Midwest Champion Chapman Petersen’s win in a 73-boat fleet at the Inland Lake Yachting Association Optimist Dinghy Championship earned him not only the Opti title but also a very special accolade: he received the Inland Lake Yachting Association’s Edmund Pillsbury Memorial Cup, first awarded in 1952 to Lake Geneva’s Bill Freytag, that year’s ILYA Annual Championship winner in Class C. The Pillsbury Cup is presented to the skipper, irrespective of class, with the most outstanding record in the ILYA Annual Championships.