Want to Learn to Sail? The Milwaukee Community Sailing Center Can Help

Check out a boat at this ‘liquid library.’

Criminal. That’s the word Ruth Bauman uses to describe all those years she spent at home along the lakefront, or heading to and from her job as a lawyer, while gazing out at the sailboats bobbing on the waves of Lake Michigan. In 2017, things changed at work, freeing up her schedule.

“First thing I did,” she says, “was march myself down here and sign up for lessons.” “Here” is the Milwaukee Community Sailing Center. Next to McKinley Marina, the center is housed in a sleek headquarters that looks a bit like an upside-down boat, with a silver hull-like roof and wall-sized windows. Surrounding is the harbor and the center’s fleet of more than 60 sailboats, ranging from workhorse Ensigns for newbies to Solings for sailors who have been around the lake.

Milwaukee Community Sailing Center

1450 N. Lincoln Memorial Drive.

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The Official Milwaukee Guide to Getting on the Water: Sail, Swim, Fish & More

Photo by Kenny Yoo

Like a liquid library, the center allows anyone to join and check out a boat anytime, once you’ve done two weeks of lessons. A year’s membership sets you back $360 ($600 for couples), with about 650 participants in the fold annually, ages 8 to pushing 90. This is the 40th anniversary for the center, which also hosts a variety of programs to give disabled adults, low-income kids and others a chance to sail.

Sailing requires a buddy, but that can be easily arranged. Arlene Wisotzke, an 80-something regular who rollerblades in daily around noon, is known to ply the lakefront, approaching strangers with a question: “Want to go sailing?” Minutes later, they’re on the water.

In 1992, Barbara Klinger and husband James bought a 42-foot Morgan Catalina, Baba Lou. They set off from the center, where they were longtime members, and sailed to the U.S. Virgin Islands, where they wintered on the boat for the next seven years.

Now 86, Klinger is widowed and no longer sailing much. But she still returns to the center just to be there.

“How could you get any better than this?” she says.

“Make Waves” appeared in the July 2018 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

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