A Sailor’s Haven

Skirting the waves at the IVY Club
by Amy Groh
Photography by Norm Meyn

The Illinois Valley Yacht Club was officially organized in April 1907. That November brought discussions about constructing a clubhouse, and an architect was hired to design the building. The first clubhouse was built 700 feet south of its present location on Galena Road in Peoria Heights, and moved in 1927 to alleviate cramped space and flooding problems.

Membership at the IVY Club has seen marked change throughout its 100 years. Initial members paid a $5 initiation fee, with $5 yearly dues, but the fee was quickly raised to $10, with $7 annual dues, in 1908. That didn’t deter area residents from joining the club, however, as membership quickly rose from 339 people in January 1909 to 425 later that year. When a fire destroyed the two-year-old clubhouse of the Peoria Canoe Club in 1914, the IVY Club graciously welcomed the PCC members into its ranks, and it became the Illinois Valley Yacht and Canoe Club.

In 1925, the club was awarded an international trophy for its excellent work in speed boating. Motor boating, however, was curtailed at the onset of World War II when the extraneous use of gasoline was restricted. As a result, interest in sailing increased so much that in 1966, the IVY Club brought its first sailing instructor on board.

A seawall was added in 1938 to protect the club’s shoreline after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced plans to install a lock and dam below Peoria. The wall has since been extended more than once, adding extra protection to the shoreline and the boats docked in the IVY Club harbors.

Through the years, the IVY Club has made many improvements to its clubhouse, modernizing existing amenities and adding new ones. The original wading pool was upgraded to a swimming pool fit for team competitions, and a bath house and locker facilities were added, as were a covered barge, elevated walkway, state-of-the-art docks and an additional 400 feet of waterfront property. These upgrades enhanced the physical aspects of the club, as well as the social aspects which relied on them. With a long history of events like the Commodore’s and Pirate’s Balls and Venetian Nights, IVY Club members continue to form strong friendships that withstand the test of time. 

Racing at the IVY Club
When not cruising the river, many IVY Club members hone their sailboat racing skills. The Club offers a racing series on Saturdays and Wednesdays, races on Sundays and most holidays, and several regattas each year. Instead of being based on distance, race courses are determined by how much time can be allotted for each race.

Wednesday night races tend to last only an hour because, as the days grow shorter, it’s important for sailors to get back to harbor before dark. The races in this series begin at 6pm and are considered practice races with friendly competition.

The races on Saturdays are more competitive and can vary in length. When just one race is scheduled, it can run from 10am to about noon. When two are scheduled, each race is shortened so there’s enough time for both.
Sailing on Sundays and holidays, the Illinois River Fleet is even more competitive. Races begin around 9:30am and consist of two races back to back. Three weekends during the summer are set aside for regattas at the IVY Club. These are series of races that last from Saturday to Sunday and consist of shorter, individual races.

Join the Ranks
While the IVY Club has offered sailing lessons to its members for decades, only recently did it team with the Peoria Park District and opened its lessons to the general public. With programs for children and adults, everyone is able to learn at their own pace and skill level.

The youth program is open to children ages eight to 18 and meets three days a week for one month. Adults meet every day on weekdays for two weeks. Both programs are run by Norm Meyn, who is U.S. Sailing Certified, with the help of IVY Club volunteers. Students are first taught basic terminology, learning the parts of the boat and basic operations. They’re also taught how to tie knots, launch the boat and what to do if it capsizes. Because that scenario isn’t unusual for novice sailors, all students are required to know how to swim and to wear life jackets.

Learning Seamanship
Sea Scouts is another program which teaches young people how to sail, but it’s much more than an instructional sailing class. A branch of the Boy Scouts of America, the program is open to both boys and girls between 14 and 21 years old. With different ranks, merit badges and achievement levels, Sea Scouts is structured much like a scout troop, with a focus on sailing. While previous scouting experience is not necessary, the program can be used to complete Eagle Scout training.

Sea Scouts have the opportunity to sail a boat of their own, or crew a boat skippered by an IVY Club member. Because skippering is more difficult, most scouts begin by crewing, which also teaches them the rules of racing. Once the basic skills are mastered, scouts commonly advance to skippering. a&s