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America's Cup Yachts To Call Chicago Home in New Racing Venture

By Paul Biasco | March 23, 2015 8:53am
 Next Level Sailing will launch in Chicago in May.
Next Level Sailing will launch in Chicago in May.
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Next Level Sailing

LINCOLN PARK — Two of the most famous America's Cup-class yachts in the world — with masts more than 100 feet tall — will be regularly racing along the lakefront this summer.

The boats were bought by two sailing champions who plan to bring the thrill of skimming along the water to the rest of the non-sailing world.

Lincoln Park residents Paul Schulz and Ryan Weber plan to launch Next Level Sailing Chicago in May, allowing residents and visitors to Chicago to take part in state-of-the-art sailing races.

"It's like a Formula 1 car for sailing," Weber said.

The boats both raced in the America's Cup and can reach speeds of up to 25 mph downwind.

"There aren't a lot of people who get to experience this," Weber said. "Even people in the sailing community are going nuts right now."

The company is geared toward both corporate team-building and entertainment.

Each boat can handle 20 people, and the three-hour charter will include three races.

"On a sailboat where there's no sound of an engine, and you are that close to the water, it seems like you are just flying, blazing across the water," Schulz said.

The boats, Dennis Conner's USA 34 Stars & Stripes and the Waikiki Yacht Club Challenge's USA 54 Abracadabra, each weigh 50,000 pounds and made the trip to Chicago from San Diego's America's Cup Harbor.

The USA 54 Abracadabra

They arrived in five trucks that were specialized to carry windmill parts.

The keel of each yacht weighs 45,000 pounds and sits 14 feet below the waterline.

Once it launches, Next Level Sailing Chicago will be the only place in the U.S. where guests can be involved in hands-on racing on America's Cup yachts.

The company is pitching the idea of races for corporate team-building exercises, but the ships will also be available for cruising the lakeshore more casually.

The three-hour charter for each yacht with a crew will cost a maximum rate of $3,150.

If guests choose to host a bragging rights-style race between the two boats, teams of 20 will complete three races beginning at Navy Pier and finishing near the Shedd Aquarium.

Each race will last 30 to 45 minutes, wind-dependent, and participants will take up one of three positions on the boat for each race.

The boats masts, stretching 114 feet tall, are both larger than the tallest of tall ships at Navy Pier, Windy, and will be docked at Burnham Harbor.

"We want everybody from the shore walking down the lakefront to see us," Weber said.

The ships also will be used for fireworks cruises on Wednesday and Saturday nights.

Chicago recently was named host of an America's Cup World Series event set for the summer of 2016 and was a finalist to host the 2017 America's Cup.

The idea of bringing these world0-class behemoths to Chicago was thought up over a cocktail last summer after a race.

"I was kind of trying to figure out what I was going to do with myself and it was like 'Hey Paul, we should bring those cup boats to Chicago,' " Weber said.

Schulz had been working on boats in San Diego with a similar racing concept.

The business focused more on people wanting to get out on the bay.

The Chicago business will be an avenue for people to get out on the lake, but the owners view the corporate elopement as something new they can offer.

"We looked at this and said, 'Hey, we've got a market in Chicago that has more Fortune 1,000 companies than every other city in the country,'" Schulz said.

Both Schulz and Weber are extremely experienced sailors.

They have a combined 35 races to Mackinac under their belts, and both have won the storied race multiple times.

"I moved here not understanding the beauty and size of Lake Michigan and thought, wow, I have to stay," Schulz said.

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