10 Things You (Probably) Don’t Know About The Columbia Yacht Club

Columbia Yacht Club

Ahoy mateys! Spring has sprung (sort of—it doesn’t seem like we’ll get any more snow…) and Lake Michigan beckons those who yearn to sail the seven seas. Or one big old Great Lake filled with vermin and Asian Carp, anyway.

Have you ever wondered what mysteries lie within that stately ship that lies just off of East Randolph and Lake Shore Drive? It’s the Abegweit—or “The Abby” as it’s known to members—and home base of the Columbia Yacht Club.

What’s inside The Abby is a veritable maritime museum. On May 12, the Chicago Architecture Foundation held an open house behind-the-scenes look at the Columbia Yacht Club. Here’s what we learned.

1The Abby is the third ship to play host to the Columbia Yacht Club. Its predecessors were the 193-foot wood and iron-plated steamboat Pere Marquette. The Abby is 372 feet long and a former ice-cutting Canadian ferry.

Columbia Yacht Club

2In 1983, The Abby retired from its seagoing mission to its current berth. From 1947 to 1982, it sailed 1.1 million miles—in small increments, 17-mile journeys from Nova Scotia to Prince Edward Island.


3The journey took all of one hour if there was no ice. When The Abby had to break the ice, the trip could take as long as nine hours.


4How The Abby actually broke through the ice was an ingenious maneuver. The forward propellers were used to pull the ship forward and out over the ice. The front bow would then push down and crush through up to 16 feet of ice.


5Just behind the bridge is a gyro-compass that looks vaguely like a top-loading washing machine. It used centrifugal force to determine true north.


6The Abby was quite modern in its day. It used electrical power rather than the commonly-used steam.


7There are eight huge diesel engines in the ship—now inactive—each roughly the size of a locomotive. They produced electricity, which powered the propellers.


8Electrical power meant The Abby had more control. It could stop quickly and if necessary reverse direction almost immediately. By contrast, steam-powered vessels might need nearly 20 minutes just to shut down forward thrust.


9A ham radio is still in use just off the bridge, although for the comfort of members, the entire ship now has Wi-Fi.



10The 700 Columbia Yacht Club members have a heck of a view of the Chicago skyline. And, for $12 each Sunday, they can drink unlimited mimosas. Now, that will ward off scurvy!

Bill Motchan

Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan is a writer and photographer, and a former resident of the West Loop. He can be reached at bill@ChicagoArchitecture.org.

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  1. The Abbey sailed from PEI to New Brunswick, not Nova Scotia My husband was on the Abbey for 23 hours for one crossing in the ice. Thanks for the article!

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  2. Interesting read.
    Often wondered where the Abby ended up.
    Have travelled on her many times , by train in my youth, later in a vehicle….in calm weather and during ice breaking!
    Mostly back and forth from PEI to New Brunswick, not Nova Scotia.
    Always thought she should have been maintained as an alternate method of travel to PEI, in addition to the beautiful Confederation Bridge
    To we old Islanders who have moved off Island years ago, to find our fame and fortune, there is nothing quite like the view of going back home and seeing those red cliffs from the deck of the Abby !

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