Progress: Whitefish Chain Yacht Club marks 65 years of water safety
CROSSLAKE—For the past 65 years, the Whitefish Chain Yacht Club has been dedicated to water and boating safety on the chain.
The 214-member club started in 1952 with a couple people who were concerned about a rock pile in a nearby lake.
"There were some property owners up here who were tired of their kids hitting the pile of rock that's between Foley Point and O'Brien's Point," said Bob Nelson, secretary and former commodore of the Whitefish Chain Yacht Club. "So they decided to form a boating club to put some buoys out to mark the rock pile."
The group first called itself the Whitefish Boat Club and then eventually morphed into the yacht club.
"There are certain benefits to being an official yacht club, although we have nothing to do with yachts in particular," Nelson said.
Yacht club membership comes with certain privileges, such as flying the club's burgee on your boat and access to hundreds of other yacht clubs around the country. But Nelson said those are simply perks.
"We're really a water safety organization," he said, adding that the fundamental purpose is "promoting boating and water safety on the Whitefish Chain of Lakes."
A big part of that initiative is what started the group in the first place—buoys.
The Crow Wing County Sheriff's Department water patrol unit decides, for the most part, where the buoys should go, but the yacht club takes over from there.
"We pay to have them installed and taken out and repaired and replaced as necessary," Nelson said. "We now have 114 or 116 buoys on the chain; we started out with probably two."
The club makes sure to replace each buoy every eight to 10 years, as they wear out over time.
The buoys are just the beginning of the yacht club's dedication to water safety. The group also partners with other organizations to offer boating and water safety classes for both kids and adults free of charge.
The sheriff's department water patrol works with the yacht club to provide youth boating classes. These lessons also serve as a community-building activity.
"It helps build a relationship between the sheriff's water department and the boating community up here," Nelson said.
The club also gives each participant a personal flotation device for added safety.
Youth swimming lessons orchestrated by longtime club member Vickey Leonard further add to the yacht club's safety initiative. Leonard tailors her classes specifically to swimming in lakes.
"We do not teach strokes to perfection like you're teaching a swimming class," she said. "It's modified strokes so that the kids are able to help themselves if they get into an emergency, that they know how to keep themselves above the water, like treading water, back floating, that kind of thing."
Leonard also educates her students about different kinds of lake water, how the weather affects waves on lakes and how swimming areas are designated.
Proof of the safety classes' benefits are shown through past students who now come back to help.
Ryan Prouty, of Crosslake, helped Leonard teach swim lessons this year. He said the club helped him to eventually attain his lifeguarding certification, so teaching young swimmers is his way of giving back.
The last class the club offers is called Women at the Helm, which aims to teach women how to operate boats. This class began several years ago but just resurfaced in the last three years.
"If I remember correctly," Leonard said, "a board member at that time was out boating with his wife, and he had a heart attack. And she had no idea how to get that boat in to get him in for medical treatment."
Johnny Wallin, of Bertha Boatworks in Pequot Lakes, teaches Women at the Helm classes, which Leonard said have been fairly popular in recent years.
Rachael Nelson, a Women at the Helm participant from Winsted, took the class this year so she would be able to drive her boyfriend's boat when they go out on Little Pine Lake. Nelson said she liked that the class was geared toward women and was very hands-on.
"I've always wanted to learn a little bit more about boats anyway," she added.
Like Rachael Nelson, many class participants do not live locally, let alone have yacht club memberships. But even the non-locals could become members. Bob Nelson stressed that owning property on the Whitefish Chain is not a stipulation for yacht club membership, nor is living locally at all. The club—just like its safety classes—is open to anyone who wants to join.
"We're always looking for new board members to have different points of view, different ages, different backgrounds, different experiences," Bob Nelson said.
Businesses and organizations can also join.
"Frankly, we think that every resort and every business that rents boats should be a member because they all benefit from the buoys. Their guests do, or their customers," Bob Nelson said.
Members pay dues that go toward paying for the buoys, compensating class instructors, buying personal flotation devices for boating class participants and keeping up club communication (printing, mailing, maintaining the website).
Because of the club's focused mission, those few costs are the only expenses it has, and donations and membership dues are its only source of income.
"We have a nice, tight mission," Bob Nelson said. "We have good focus on what we're doing."
Leonard boiled that mission down to one key idea - safety.
"With our boating safety class, we want them to learn how to be safe boaters. The Women at the Helm class, we want them to be safe boaters," Leonard said. "And then our youth that are in the swimming and water safety classes, we want them to have a safe water environment experience while they're in the water playing and having fun."
• Organization: Whitefish Chain Yacht Club.
• City: Crosslake.
• Number of members: 214 families/businesses.
• Interesting fact: Despite the name, the club isn't associated with yachts but instead is dedicated to promoting water safety on the Whitefish Chain. Having the name "yacht club" gives the group special perks, like access to other yacht clubs around the country.