August 25, 2008

Hey now, let's sail!

Freakin' wow. Those folks at the TSA are serious. One little joking, thought-I-was-so-funny comment from me while passing through Southwest Florida International and, wham, there I was, basking in enemy combatant status in the Lee County Jail until I could coordinate with my attorney to es-PLAIN my deconstructive sense of humor and what I REALLY meant by those comments about the end of G.W. Bush's reign. Yikes. Send lawyers, guns and money.

That's the short version to explain my absence. But no worries, I'm back in Chicago now, enjoying late summer sailing.

With pictures.

Oh, sorry no, not pictures of the Lee County clink. Sailing pictures. Like this one:

Now, take note boys and girls, this is the sort of enthusiasm I appreciate while we're under sail. The adorable moppet is my colleague Matt's son Frank. Frank is three (though he'll insist he's five) and one of the best pilots we've had on board. He approaches the wheel with unmitigated joy. Clearly.

Frank, his lovely mom Jenny, and Matt were first-timers aboard Smitten for a post-workday sunset cruise a few weeks ago. I love having newbies on board, especially three-year-old newbies, because it lets me re-experience the pure awe you feel the first time you sail a boat. The wind is moving us! Point the boat this way and the wind moves us! Holy smokes! It's an odd feeling of power leveraged by vulnerability. Are you harnessing the wind? Or is the wind simply (and, we ever hope, benevolently) toying with you?

Matt thinks this picture is so funny because he looks like such a wise old hand at the wheel. He fell victim to a game Dave and I play, particularly when we have newbies aboard, which is to take advantage of all that newbie awe and energy and make them do all the work of sailing. And then we kick back and drink wine. Ha! Life is good.

My oldest-friend-in-the-world Mariah (which is not to say she's my oldest friend, but the friend I have known the longest ... you know what I mean) joined us in June for some R&R aboard Smitty. I'm kicking myself because I realize I don't have a picture of her from that outing. So pretend she's sitting on a boat, not a bike, in this photo, and you pretty much have the same look of joy that she displayed the entire time she was sailing with us.

Mariah was either just starting out or had just completed a 45 mile ride in this photo, which makes her an IronWoman in my eyes.

This pic of mom-in-law Joyce and her handsome fiance Chuck was technically not taken while we were under sail, though Joyce has logged many hours on the water with us:

The pic was taken while securely tied off to H Dock in DuSable Harbor on the occasion of my aforementioned 50th birthday party. Which reminds me that before the end of sailing season, we need to get Chuck out on the boat so we can celebrate that time-honored Keelhaul-the-New-Guy tradition that has been merrily practiced by Great Lakes mariners for many millennia.

Among our most beloved veteran sailing guests are Dave and Margo, notably because they sailed with us on one of those remember-for-the-rest-of-your-life trips we took a couple of years ago to Greece, where we sailed the Greek islands with a flotilla of like-minded adventurers. That's Dave aboard Smitten with my Dave and Chicago, not a Greek island, in the background:

And here's Margo with my Dave:

Excellent cooks (and staunch vegetarians), the deal was Dave and Margo would be in charge of provisioning and cooking during the course of the Greece trip, and my Dave and I would be in charge of sailing. But being inquisitive people with appetites for new experience, provisioning/cooking Dave and Margo soon took over sailing detail, and my Dave and I...drank Greek wine.

Our other favorite veteran sailing guests are these members of the Keene Clan:

This is Todd falling prey, again, to the old let-the-guests-do-the-work scam. Todd's well familiar with the game and happily plays along. Like everything he tries, he does a great job at the wheel.

His sister Erin, shown here with droll friend John, has over the years perfected the art of relaxing aboard Smitten.

I hesitate to play any sort of rating game when I think about all the guests we've had on board, but if I did, Mother Victoria would certainly rate VERY high on the list:

Here she is with Dave, and Todd (to whom she is married -- I introduced them so I get to bask in their perfect couplehood). For her endless enthusiasm, high spirits, and fantastic provisioning skills that include delectables like gorgonzola-stuffed pears, nutless cheese balls (hard to explain), and the sort of mini chocolate cupcakes that will make you sob with joy, Vicky should probably just be given the keys to the boat and with any luck she'll let us aboard to drive her around.

Come back soon. I promise I'll be here (in my Helly Hanson and my topsiders, not an orange jumpsuit with LCJ emblazoned on the back) because I've got a couple more groups of funseekers coming aboard and they're all wielding cameras.

Happy sails to you...

August 8, 2008

Notes on Turning 50

That's what happened to me last weekend. Turned 50. A number of other things happened to me, too. Some resulting in large bruises and further hearing loss. But turning 50 was the main thing.

A couple of things I noted about the experience:
  • The passage is eased by kind-hearted people telling you you don't look a day over 30. Even though you know they're clinically deluded and wearing expired prescription lenses.
  • With enough Banana Boat Sport SPF 50 Ultra Sweatproof Non-Greasy sunblock and Blackstone pinot grigio, you can navigate through three days of Lollapalooza at any age.
  • Dwelling on the material is typically derided as not cool, but you've got to admit, the stuff you've chosen to surround yourself with does represent what you've accomplished with your natural gifts. My 50th birthday party took place on a little sailboat I've come to think of as a member of the family. I'm proud of that.
  • At 20, your party guests all look the same. At 50, your party guests look like a crazyquilt of diversity, and you realize that the real gift of getting older is all the people you've collected over the years who have defined and enriched your life. Really makes you look forward to seeing who shows up for your 100th.
So now the brouhaha is over and we enter the final stretch of lush, golden summer. As an early August baby, my birthday has always served as a reminder that summer doesn't last forever. The date nudges me to try to find a little way to enjoy every remaining day. For me, that means spending as many of them as I can on that little boat.

July 20, 2008

Back on the Boat, Y'all

Two universal truths: What goes in must come out, and what is full will become empty. Sailboats are not exempt from these universal truths. And as much as sailors like to think of themselves as lawless pirates, we are not exempt from federal regulations.

One such regulation states that untreated sewage cannot be discharged into inland or coastal waters. This means the sewage collected in our "head's" holding tank can only lawfully be discharged overboard if we take Smitten further than three miles offshore on any ocean surrounding the United States. An unlikely scenario this summer.

Which is why, every couple of weeks, we find ourselves here, at "D" dock in DuSable Harbor.

"D" dock, as well as a handy spot to pick up passengers for our standard three hour tour, is the site of one of the City of Chicago Park District's holding tank pump-out stations. This innocuous-looking white box, at the press of a button, turns into a roaring, throbbing, sucking beast that makes short order of the nasty stuff we've been flushing into our holding tank. I trust you need no further description of the nature of that stuff.

It's really quite a civilized process considering what we're accomplishing. Here's Dave wrangling the undulating yellow hose that delivers us from evil:

Reminds me of the time years ago when Dave, my sister Dort and I rented an RV to camp in Southern California's San Bernardino mountains. At the end of our week, as we tried to accomplish the same housekeeping task at an outhouse in a state park, we discovered in the middle of the procedure that the yellow hose stowed in the nether regions of the RV was afflicted with a series of pinprick holes. The resulting festive display of dancing liquid geysers was not unlike the delightful Waltzing Waters show in South Fort Myers, Florida. Minus the colored lights. And featuring a certain, um, odeur. We were still young enough to find that sort of experience wildly hilarious.

At the pointy end of the boat is our water tank. It's only for water that is destined to become "gray" -- we'll use this for washing dishes, taking sponge baths, and accomplishing other housekeeping tasks. It is not considered safe for drinking and the City is careful to state that on D dock. Once used, it can flow directly into the local waters.

The twenty gallon tank is tucked in below our V berth and filled at an opening in the anchor locker. It takes a while. It looks like I'm concentrating hard, but actually I'm totally spacing out here.

This is our navigation station. It's the nerve center of the boat with the various systems' circuit breakers, the stereo, the barometer and the desk where we stow a little bit of everything, like that drawer in your kitchen.

On the right are the tank level gauges, the top one indicates the water tank, the bottom the holding tank. It's a satisfying moment when we pull away from D dock and they look like this:

And you thought sailing was just one lark after another, didn't you? Just all la-di-da, tacking back and forth under lapis skies at our luvly city's front door. It's a lot of that, but those universal truths have to be honored, too.

July 19, 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen, Bonnie Raitt!

Later in the day we're off the boat and back on the lawn, where the crowds have filled it up for the day's headliner, the perennially-popular Bonnie Raitt.

Thank god for IMAG or I never would've seen the girl.

We disagree about which song she used to open the set, he says Something to Talk About, I say Thing Called Love. We're probably both wrong because there was wine involved. But regardless, the darnedest thing happened. She broke a string on the first song. This can't be an unusual occurrence. So she calls out to her guitar wrangler for another guitar. Nothing happens. May I have the brown Strat? she asks again. No brown Strat comes forth. The momentum established by the first number grinds to an uncomfortable halt. "Bring the girl her brown Strat!" a woman sitting near me and I call out almost in unison. We look at each other and giggle and mime a fist bump. I almost never anymore call out at concerts, but again, wine involved.

It seemed like forever before a sheepish guy came out with the guitar, and I thought, that's one guy who'll be looking for work tomorrow. But the weird part was the reaction of the band. They stood there like deer in headlights, like no one had ever broken a string on stage before. No vamping, no teasing, no interplay. Silence. If there's one bit of road lore that follows Bonnie and her band everywhere it's that she and her boys are tight. Why weren't they supporting her? She wound up looking kinda silly. I realized then that even if you're the front gal holding the mic, the boys behind you hold most of the power.

Makes me wonder if there had been a little tiff earlier in the green room?

Bonnie, I suspect, has been dipping into the Miss Clairol #37R Kiss-My-Ass-Red. Artfully done. Her perfectly maintained silver streaks say, I have been around the block, boys and girls, and I plan to go around a few more times. Then I'm gonna stop by your house and kick your butt with some rockin' blues.

I don't mean to sound disrespectful, because I worship this woman. I mean, I'm not a lunatic fan, I just realized we don't even have Nick of Time in the collection. But as I write this I've got Luck of the Draw going for inspiration on the iTunes, and I find myself singing along loudly (sorry neighbor guy) with every lyric. By heart. Cuz I can't make you love me/if you don't. Her music has accompanied many scenes from my life, and I've loved every note of it. She makes you feel great about being a girl.

Anyway, all ended well. With brown Strat in hand, she regained control and reestablished the momentum of the evening, and we all wound up on our feet and clapping our hands and singing along, exactly where she wanted us. She wins over our wisecrackin' little Chicago hearts every visit.

'Bye girlfriend! Til next time!

July 11, 2008

Taste Me!

Taste of Chicago is like that really mortifying friend of a friend you see once a year only because some unbreakable social tradition keeps bringing you together. Leading up to the ordeal of the occasion, you're like, oh god why do I have to tolerate this idiot? Who keeps inviting this person? How will I stand it? And then eventually the occasion arrives, plays out and, wonder of wonders, you realize that you actually had a kinda good time with the person you were completely dreading seeing.

Taste is like that. Every year you go no! I'm not gonna go! It's trashy, the food sucks, the crowds are incorrigible (and now carrying weapons, apparently) and I just simply will not subject myself to the heat, the stupidity, the indignity, the outsized potential for a dose of e-coli, the utter commonness of it all and, well, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Then, then! you pack up your sunblock, your folding lawn chair, your appetite, and you go. Admit it, you do. You're a Chicagoan. There are some things, like holding parking spaces with chairs, pretending to be Irish on March 17th, and reading Carl Sandburg, that you just do. You can't help it!

When you spend your summer leisure time floating in Monroe Harbor, you have even less justification for missing Taste. It's right there, for cryin' out loud. You hear the music wafting across the water, you smell the smoking grills, you might as well just go and do it. You don't have to tell anyone. I broke down and went on July 4. Yeah, smart huh? But it was early on July 4th. Dave missed it. We both had little tasks to do at our workplaces that day. He was still tied up with his when I took a reconnaissance stroll through Taste on my way from the office to the boat.

Afraid of getting sucked too far into the festival grounds, I got my food tickets at the first booth I came to, where the lines were already forming:

Next to the ticket booth was The Aquafresh Trailer. Proof that even if it's completely idiotic, Americans will stand in line for it:

A few months ago, I was completely horrified by that Humane Society undercover video that made the internet rounds. The one shot in a California factory farm that depicted the complete disregard of a sadistic forklift operator for the dignity of an ailing cow. You know the video I'm talking about. Sickening, right?

After viewing it I decided that, going forward, unless I had reasonable assurance that any flesh I was about to eat had enjoyed a lifestyle roughly equal to the one nature had intended it (before getting whacked to indulge my gustatory pleasures) I would eat vegetarian. So, having no clue to the provenance of the meat served up at this year's Taste booths, this is what I ended up ordering:

It's not as bad as it looks, actually. It's a vegetarian gyros from, oh cripes, what was the name of the restaurant? Vegetarian Soul? Soul Vegetarian East! The seitan was steeped in a distinctly not-really-greek BBQ sauce, but it was light and not too sweet. Nice foil to the chewy wheatiness of the seitan. The real standout of the dish was the tzatziki, the white sauce over the top. It was zing-y and dill-y and cucumber-y and, man, it just made the dish. I finger-fed myself the seitan, the bed of chopped romaine lettuce, the tzatziki, and ditched the doughy pita.

Sated, and now completely unmotivated to commit to the deeper trenches of Taste, I skirted across the Petrillo Lawn and admired the foresight of these pioneers who were the first to stake their claim in anticipation of the Bonnie Raitt performance later in the day.

And I took a moment to muse on the contributions of the true, unsung heros of Taste, the guys who spend countless shifts wrangling what must be the nastiest of garbage:

Thank you, yellow-shirted Taste Garbage Guy.

Let's not overlook the green sentinels that manage another inevitable form of Taste waste:

What goes in must come out, I suppose.

So this brought me to the end of my foray through Taste, and I thought, well that wasn't so bad. Like that once a year friend of a friend, I actually kinda had a good time with Taste. Brief, sure, but maybe that's the way to do it: quick in-and-out at an off hour. Sample a snack, take a few pix. Allow no opportunity to become utterly stuffed, sweaty, bitchy, dissed, shot at, drunk, frazzled, sick or disillusioned.

Next up, Her Dependable Redheadedness, Miz Bonnie Raitt.

July 7, 2008

Let the Fourth Begin

Setting the stage, this is the view looking south across Millennium and Grant Parks from my offices at Prudential Plaza:

That smattering of white rectangles represents the spine of Taste of Chicago running south down Columbus Drive. Petrillo Bandshell and its audience delta lie slightly below and to the left. Buckingham Fountain was not spouting at the moment I clicked this picture, but if it was, you would see its spew at dead center where that open space is. Beyond that, to the left, is the south mooring field of Monroe Harbor where our Little Place on the Water is floating. This is where I'm spending the Fourth of July weekend.

But before I get there, as I leave my office, I need to walk through the Lurie Garden in Millennium Park. I say "need" because, full disclosure now, I am not a natural-born water baby. I am, in fact, a prairie baby. I am, by design, a land-based mammal. I prefer my feet on solid ground. So before I hand over my mortal being to the good graces of Poseidon, I need to connect briefly with the god in charge of the earth, who, if you've been anywhere near Millennium Park in Chicago, Illinois, you cannot honestly conclude is anyone other than a god named "Lurie."

Because this delicately designed prairie garden is the closest thing you're gonna find to heaven on earth:

Don't you just want to run through this field in many layers of lace and gingham, beribboned straw hat flying, swinging the basket into which you will collect the blossoms for tonight's dinnertable centerpiece?

Well, me neither. But whenever I'm here I have to resist the urge to just roll around in it. I'm evidently not the only one. The polite signs warning visitors to stay on the paths and leave the trailblazing to the gardeners are copious.

Look at me! I'm a thistle! And I'm bigger and taller than any building in Chicago!:

Check out the blue stems:

According to the sign, this plant is a Mediterranean Sea Holly.

One day earlier this year when we first arrived in Monroe Harbor, I heard a birdsong that was so familiar, yet I couldn't place it. Birds are a huge presence in Monroe Harbor (and another blogworthy subject if I can just become a better bird photographer). The song I heard was so incongruous with the typical harbor birdsongs: Canadian geese, sure. Hear their trumpet calls all the time. Seagulls, of course. They're natives to the environment and their lunatic squawk is constant. But it was this other song that was making me nuts. I couldn't identify it except that it seemed totally out of place in a waterfront environment. Some moments later, a red-winged blackbird alighted on Smitten's lifeline and began singing the familiar tune. Where on earth did this bird come from? wondered the girl who only thinks of red-winged blackbirds in the context of a Wisconsin cornfield.

Turns out, they are as enchanted by this garden as I am and they (excuse me) flock to it.

Such an abundance of textures and colors. The tranquility you experience within minutes after wandering out of the tourist- and traffic-jammed city hustle and into this eden is deep and remarkable.

I confess to a preponderance of Prudential Plaza pix in this blog. I work in 2 Pru and I really love the building. Our friend Alan, a New Yorker to the core, explained to me some years back (while we were sailing, in fact) that 2 Pru was designed as an homage to Manhattan's Chrysler building. Perhaps. And while I need to confess that during a recent trip to NYC, I almost burst into tears at the site of the Chrysler Building, I think 2 Pru is the luvliest thing going on Chicago's skyline. During our floating summers I spend a lot of time gazing at our skyline, so I feel a certain sense of authority.

Next stop, Taste of Chicago ...

June 25, 2008

Heavy Weather, Part Two

It happened again Sunday morning. Lying in the forward v-berth reading (the ultimate Sunday morning luxury), I became vaguely aware of a darkening sky.

Sure enough, creeping in from somewhere west of the Kennedy, was this cloud bank:

So, up and at 'em for the same routine: pull everything down from topsides, clamp down the hatches, stow anything loose into something tight, and get ready to roll. The difference this time was that dear friend Mariah was aboard. We had hosted a little dinner party the night before (a blogworthy subject in and of itself). It worked to Mariah's advantage to spend the night with us before driving back to her home behind the Cheddar Curtain. She helped me prepare for the blow, and was understandably curious about what was going to happen when the storm wall was overhead. I reassured her that I really couldn't say for certain, and we braced ourselves for the show.

We talked a bit about lightning. When you're sitting in a vessel that features a metal stick rising 40 feet into the sky, and an electrical storm is advancing on you, talk has a tendency to turn to lightning.

I wish I could find the sailing textbook -- maybe it's on the boat -- that describes this sort of natural cone of protection that hovers over a sailboat in the event of a storm and repels lightening. I know it sounds ridiculous and somewhat Get Smart-y, but I know I'm not hallucinating, Dave remembers it, too. In my mind, I can see the illustration of the concept, I just can't recall the physics of it enough to offer a plausible explanation. But I suppose the empirical evidence is that not many sailboats get struck by lightning. Not in Monroe Harbor, anyway. When you consider how many sailboats float there, and how many storms pass over, and how many lightning strikes they contain, you have to figure the cone of protection is fact, not myth. We rarely hear of a boat taking a hit.

Yeah, I know. Mariah wasn't buying it, either.

But we waited, and we watched. This time I had the presence of mind to grab the Rebel and shoot a few pix. The cloud formations started to get really crazy. Check this out:

Neat, huh?

So then the talk turned to tornados, because of the rather distinct circularity of this cloud. By last Sunday I had done my waterspout research, though I was disappointed in what I found online. Just some language like, "waterspouts occur primarily in the coastal regions of the southeastern United States and the Caribbean, and if you see one you should move out of its way." Duh, right?

But I didn't think this was really a vortex forming, just a remarkable cloud:

Have you ever seen anything like that?

Note the rain is going hell-for-leather to the north, but after all this show, where we were, nothing. Spat on us a bit. No significant lightning, no notable wind. Kind of anti-climatic. It's like, we went to all this trouble to batten down the hatches, Mama Nature, the least you could do is make it worth our while. No doubt I'll regret those words ...

Later that day we were visiting our harbor neighbors Deb and Steve aboard MV Bella (I'll introduce them soon), when another little squall moved through. As an au revoir, when it was finished with us, it tossed us a double rainbow coda. Nice. One thing's for sure, if you want to get in touch with meteorological forces of nature, sailing is the way to do it.

June 24, 2008

Maintenance and Housekeeping

One of the more daunting aspects of sailing is the sheer amount of maintenance and housekeeping required to keep a boat afloat. Nothing deteriorates faster than a vessel in water. We find ourselves constantly noting and fixing things that yesterday were sound and today are going to hell in a handbasket. Here Dave is tending to our leathers, which has nothing to do with our sex life and everything to do with staying secure on our mooring:

If you've ever taken a stroll along the waterfront in Monroe Harbor, you may have noted that the moorings are indicated by white bobbers in the water. They are attached by chain to enormous chunks of concrete that sit on the harbor floor below. I don't know the exact physics of it, but to hold a multi-ton boat in place, those chunks must weigh tons themselves. The effort to get every mooring placed properly in the spring and removed in the fall is an endless source of lunchtime entertainment for me. My hat's off to the Westrec guys. It's a scary-looking process involving cranes, minibarges, little skiffs and usually uncooperative winds and water.

After our first summer in Monroe, we noticed that our mooring (which we have come to love, honor and cherish, holding us fast as it does through thick and thin) had dinged up Smitten's bow pretty thoroughly, so out of an inverted Fleet Farm feed tub, a couple of swimming noodles and sundry bits of tin and rivets, Dave engineered a bobber cover. Seen above in a nauti shade of blue.

Between the bobber and the boat is the bridle, the lengths of rope that reach up and connect to our port and starboard bow cleats, keeping us secure on the mooring chunk. The bridle suffers a lot of wear and tear throughout the summer as Smitty dances against wind and water, so Dave periodically pulls out a darning needle and replaces the leather sheaths along the chafe points.

Becoming quite the little seamstress, he is. The process involves a tricky stitch that Mrs Lee, my 8th grade home ec teacher, would probably swear I will never have the patience for.

For my part, Chief Fiberglass Buffer and Bird Shit Chaser that I am, I try to keep topsides in order with a sponge and bucket. I spoke a while back of loving Crowley's ambiance for the sheer industrial-ness of it, but that environment produces a lot of dirt, and here I'm removing some smattered gak that adhered, well, probably to the whole boat, but I noticed it most on the windows.

Inspired by Jan Mundy, a frequent seminar leader at Strictly Sail and apostle of the green approach to boat maintenance, this year I'm trying to go green, eschewing my usual choice of noxious cleaning products for good old-fashioned water, white vinegar and baking soda. I'm pleased to report good results. Smitty shines when I'm done with her. Actually, I'm never done with her. Keeping a boat clean is a little like painting the Golden Gate Bridge. When you're done at one end, you start over on the other.
I grew real tired of some deteriorating cushioning we had lashed to the aft seat rails some years back, so next chore was to remove it ...

... then clean up all the stainless in the cockpit. Yes, that's me polishing the pole ...

... and no doubt wisecracking about it ...

Admittedly, keeping Smitten cleaned and tuned is time consuming. I've been asked if the maintenance and housekeeping aspect of boat ownership is a total pain, and a few of years ago I would have said yes. But maturity and patience have crept up on me. Or maybe Smitty has presented some good lessons, because I've learned to enjoy the focus of a task and appreciate the zone it opens. Get a lot of good thinking done while I'm at it. It's funny, I only grudgingly do housekeeping around the house, and in fact I contract the job out to a great crew that comes in twice a month to deal with our dust. But on board, I'm happy to pick up a rag and a pail and spread some elbow grease.

There are a lot of aspects to the boating picture besides zooming through the water under full sail. The actual act of sailing takes up a relatively small proportion of a typical weekend on the boat. To complete the analogy, many pictures make up the Weekend on the Boat photo album. They show us reading, napping, cooking, eating, sipping, watching fireworks, hitting the Grant Park festivals ...

... or just sitting around balancing large buildings on our heads.

Tending to the housekeeping is simply another picture in the album.

June 16, 2008

Heavy Weather

Is anyone else wondering if Mama Nature is unhappy with us? Because spring is dishing out some honkin' heavy weather and, following one of our nastiest winters in recent memory, I'm starting to think maybe we inadvertently offended a god or two somewhere.

Was it something we said? Something we did?

Dave and I spent last Saturday night on board. Waking up Sunday morning, in my kinda-asleep-kinda-awake segue, I realized the sky was getting darker, not lighter, so I got up to investigate. At that exact moment, a massive wall of black clouds was racing towards us out of the west at, found out shortly, 38 miles per hour. Pretty fast for a wall.

I did what all good sailors do when faced with heavy weather: I made sure the wine glasses left topsides the night before were stowed safely below.

Then I pulled in the cockpit cushions, closed the hatches, and suggested to my co-captain that he move a specific part of his anatomy out of bed and be ready for a little rock 'n' roll.

I finished pulling on my clothes, peeked out a salon window, and saw a dust cyclone spin east out of Grant Park into the harbor, pretty much heading right toward us. The word waterspout briefly entered my mind. I chased it back out. I totally didn't know what to do with that possibility, and figured it was better not to waste time thinking about something I had zero chance of dealing with.

The cyclone passed to the north, but at that same moment, the wind rose to a freaky whistle, cued the lightening and thunder, and before we knew it we were rocking 35 degrees to port then starboard, then port, then starboard, on winds blowing with gusts to 58.

In those high-adrenaline moments when you taste metal, it's hard to remember to pick up your camera and snap a few pix. So I'm unhappy to say I don't have images to show for the experience, except these:

In a weird meta-experience, we found ourselves peering at the NOAA website --

-- watching a real time radar display showing what was going on right outside our boat:

This little tempest spent the rest of the morning pinning us down below, watching swaths of rain, hail and lightening march across the screen and brush across our hatches.

Another band of weather moved through the area later in the day, there seen passing well to the south, thoughtfully not disturbing a housekeeping opportunity:

If the forces of nature contained in what we learned later was Special Weather Advisory 536 had caught up with us out on the water rather than at the relative safety of our mooring, this would be quite a different post. That's happened. It's not fun, but as long as we get our engine started and our sails down, Smitten can pretty much plow through anything. Not sure about waterspouts. (That may be a good topic for further research. Armchair research.)

Happily, that wasn't the case on this day that came in like a lion and went out like a lamb.

June 11, 2008


I talk about the 5:7 ratio of sailing to non-sailing months in the year, which is technically accurate but, realistically, that five month sailing season window is bookended by several weeks of dicey weather. What we really have is three and a half to four months of good sailing season, so we experience a lot of self-imposed pressure to enjoy every sailing opportunity that a Midwest summer will allow. This means feeling obligated to be aboard every weekend and many weekday evenings.

I know, boo-hoo, right?

The problem is Chicago.

Chicago dishes up more fun per square inch than any place I've ever lived, especially in the summer. This town gets absolutely dizzy enjoying its terribly few months of gentle weather. Combined with the fact that, even when nothing special is going on (that never happens, actually), Chicago is just a fascinating place to wander around. Open the map, choose a neighborhood, jump on the "L" and go explore.

So it was with some consternation, along about Season Three, that I realized our summer weekends were becoming a little too one-dimensional for my liking. A little too sailing-centric. We'd fly out of bed on Saturday morning, tear through the farmers' market and the Jewel collecting ingredients for Saturday dinner and Sunday brunch aboard, process the resulting provisions into some sort of semi-prepped condition, throw it all into a bag, pack our clothes, then barrel off to the boat, where we would plant ourselves until Sunday evening, while all things Chicago played out without us on the other side of a 500 yard span of water.

Finally, one Saturday morning before the madness could gain too much momentum, I blew the whistle and called a time out. We took a deep breath, sat down over a breakfast at Butch's (their Eggs Florentine...outta this world), and hammered out a new approach to the passion that we can both live with. It includes taking time to enjoy land-based activities that define the city lifestyle, like art fairs and jazz clubs and al fresco lunches and just wandering down an interesting street.

Last weekend it meant a stroll through the Printers Row book fair ...

... including a little music appreciation with a local troubadour ...

... admiring a handsome row of red brick ...

... plopping down on a chair in the street and getting lost in a book ...

... hoping to catch a cooking demo, or maybe some sort of obscure literary discussion, instead I wound up in a tent with these guys talking about the comic book publishing industry, which is quite robust, apparently:

Something I wouldn't have had the opportunity to consider if I'd gone straight to the boat.

Later that weekend, we found our way to the Bluesfest. That's another post.