Updated: November 21, 2012 6:09AM
History records that when the Waukegan Yacht Club was founded in August of 1927, its original home was the Genevieve, a 20-by-60-foot houseboat that had been docked on the Chicago River. The A-frame cost $800, and there was a $110 towing charge — $20 up the North Shore Channel drainage canal to Wilmette, then another $90 to head north along the lakeshore.
After all that trouble, the renovated houseboat served as the yacht club’s headquarters for just two years — according to an account tucked into The News-Sun’s legendary clip file, the end came “on Oct. 22, 1929, when one of the worst blows in years washed her onto pilings and then up on the rocks.”
The 85th anniversary of the club’s founding will be celebrated tonight with a celebratory dinner in the home the club has occupied — 199 N. Harbor Place — since the Genevieve’s wreck was unceremoniously towed to the city’s North Beach. Then, as now, the club’s mission is “to promote yachting, yacht racing and good fellowship among yachtsmen on Lake Michigan,” and commodore Jack Orlov said members in 2012 have a deep fondness for their shoreline getaway.
“People who come in can’t believe it’s down there,” said Orlov, himself a Buffalo Grove resident who picked Waukegan to dock his boat in 1996. He added that those who pass through the doors enjoy “the lakefront and the camaraderie and this wonderful facility.”
The current structure dates to the late 1960s, emerging from the ashes of a fire that broke out on New Year’s Day, 1968. Members and civic boosters constructed the new facility — reserving space for a porthole from the Genevieve — and completed a $500,000 renovation and expansion in 1987, a few months ahead of the club’s 60th anniversary.
What has changed over the years is the size of the club’s membership. At the time of that 60th anniversary, the club boasted 475 members, which was just about its limit. Orlov said the current roster stands at around 100, though two recent initiatives have been ushered in to attract more boaters — and non-boaters.
“We now have associate memberships, where you’re not required to have a boat. We started that a couple of months ago,” he said. “And we have a new lifetime-member category where we’re trying to bring back people who have either gotten out of boating (because of) the economy or being on a fixed income. We just started that about two weeks ago, and we’ve already had six or seven of our older members come back.”
Privileges for members include dining on weeknights and weekends, though the club is open to the public for lunch on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Events that have become traditions over the years include the early-summer Blessing of the Fleet and the annual Chicago-to-Waukegan sailboat race, though this time of year finds the membership preparing for the coming of those cold winds that can wreak such havoc.
Orlov said that some locals will pull their boat out of the harbor and tow it all the way south for the warm waters of Florida. As for his own pride and joy — a 40-foot Mainship Express Cruiser dubbed “Big Dog” — Orlov said it stays in Waukegan.
“I bought it at Larsen Marine and I store it there,” he said. “They pull it out, shrink wrap it and store it until next April, when it’ll come out and play again.”
Tonight’s 85th anniversary dinner is scheduled to start with a cocktail hour at 6 p.m. and a reservation-only dinner at 7 p.m. For more information on the event and the club itself, call (847) 623-4188 or visit wyclub.com.