Buddy Melges Sailing Center is place for people of all walks of life to learn to sail

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Andrea Anderson
August 17, 2015

FONTANA—Tucked between houses with long driveways and nestled between a road and Geneva Lake is a new 12,000-square-foot home for the Geneva Lake Sailing School and Lake Geneva Yacht Club.

Children can be heard yelping while they learn sailing near the pale blue building.

The new facility, which opened in June, is the product of years of fundraising and planning to combine the school and club into one larger space.

The facility sits on the new Buddy Melges Sailing Center that occupies eight acres with four storage buildings, newly paved roads and parking slots for boats and cars.

The Geneva Lake Sailing School, under one name or another, has been teaching kids and adults sailing technique, safety and sportsmanship since 1938.

The Lake Geneva Yacht Club dates to 1876.

The school teaches about 450 students each summer, including 100 adults, enrolled in 15 classes of various levels, said Joe Kutschenreuter, executive director of the sailing school.

Youth can take week-long classes or enroll for an entire summer. Adults can take a variety of classes during the weekdays and evenings. Prices vary.

The new two-story building is a way to make sailing more accessible, Kutschenreuter said.

“We're trying to lower that barrier to entry to make it easier to get into this sport,” he said.

No longer do you need to have a boat, be a member of a club or have a residence on the lake.

Instead you pay the lesson fee and leave the motion sickness at home. The school provides the boat and other necessities.

The majority of the school's clients are people from Illinois with summer homes in the area or in town for the week, Kutschenreuter said.

However, plenty of local families with generations of sailing in their blood are yacht club members and enroll their children in sailing lessons.

Kutschenreuter's parents sailed and enrolled him in Lake Beulah Sailing School at a young age.

He won numerous races and went on to UW-Madison, where he was an All-American and captain of the sailing team.

This is his third year as director of the sailing school.

Why sail? Because of the travel opportunities, camaraderie and the chance to be outside all day learning about knots, Mother Nature and discipline, Kutschenreuter said.

“It's a really healthy sport,” he said. “It's physical. You're outside. It's challenging. Every day is different. You're always learning something new.”

In the peak season of June to August, the school has as many as five classes going at a time with more than 100 students a day.

Twenty staff members are hired throughout the year, including the 15 full-time summer instructors.

During the academic school year, the sailing school hosts practices for area high school sailing clubs.

The school is a nonprofit. Any money that comes in from lesson fees or donations goes to upgrading and fixing equipment and facilities, Kutschenreuter said.

The center is a tribute to sailing legend Harry “Buddy” Melges Jr.

Melges was born in Elkhorn and grew up sailing on Geneva Lake in boats designed and built by his father, Harry Melges Sr. in Zenda.

Melges won countless medals, including the Olympic Gold in 1972. Melges was an instructor at the sailing school, and he and his wife, Gloria, enrolled their children in the school. Now their grandchildren are students.

Melges, along with several other sailors, will be in the new Inland Lake Yachting Association Hall of Fame to be housed on the first floor of the Fontana facility.

The second floor of the new facility belongs to the yacht club and includes a restaurant, bar and club offices.

The sailing school occupies the first floor. It has bigger classrooms, a kitchenette, bathrooms and changing rooms with showers. More space has created a better learning environment, Kutschenreuter said

The plan is to remodel the sailing school's storage building to include a repair shop and better storage, Kutschenreuter said.

For now, the priority is to enjoy what they have and welcome new sailors aboard.

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