May 26, 2008


If you've ever owned a tent, a cottage, a motor home, a boat, an airplane, an island, or, if you're Steve Wynn, perhaps a distant orbiting planet, you know what it feels like to be seduced by the idea of a getaway retreat. And you know that when the dream has been realized -- once the acquisition of the getaway object has been negotiated, financed and contractually closed -- the illusion of effortless leisure evaporates. This is the moment you realize that the promotional brochures, in their glossy glory, have lied to you through their paper teeth. Because these getaway retreats are anything but effortless, baby. They require work. And guess who's the slave labor?

(This is the point where I want to pause and bow down to my parents, the two people who wrangled one Chrysler, four kids, six suitcases, 35 pounds of groceries, two duffel bags of bed linens, and several closetsful of childhood anxieties into the Wisconsin Northwoods every single weekend of every single summer of my childhood and adolescence to share the wonder of a lakeside cabin with a bunch of crabby, squabbling, uncooperative, recalcitrant, subversive, outright rebellious and rarely grateful progeny, and somehow, at the same time, managed to hold a marriage together. You the champions, Jim and Margaret. I hold my lighter aloft to you.)

So now Smitten is floating, and our weekends become much like the weekends of my youth: a herculean effort of procuring the goodies, gathering them into one spot, loading them into the car, and getting them on board the boat. Thank god, at least, there are no children involved. It's last Saturday, and the pile looks like this:

Visits to the Green city Market, the Dominick's, and maybe a Walgreens or two, yield these 35 pounds of food and drink that will wind up on the boat, stowed into the galley, and eventually onto our plates and into our glasses.

This is called provisioning, the bane and delight of any boater/cottager/RVer/pilot and, presumably, orbiter. Bane because if you forget anything, you have to figure out how to work around it. Delight because it's all part of savoring and anticipating the fun to come.

Personal effects, too, have to be figured into the schlepp equation.

This Memorial Day weekend is shaping up to be a mixed bag, meteorologically, with a chilly start and a steamy finish. So packing involves a schizo blend of layers, plus the usual implements of entertainment. (That is not a vibrator, you bad thing, that', moving on...)

Eventually we are successful at getting it all amassed, loaded into boat bags, thrown into the back of the 4Runner, tossed aboard the tender, and finally, into Smitty's salon:

Salon. This is just a la-di-da term for Smitten's living/dining room. On some boats, the area is called a saloon, which sounds vulgar to me, even though, I won't kid you, a respectable amount of drinking goes on in the space. But if you don't mind, we'll continue to call it the salon.

Blogspot is being currently uncooperative, but picture a picture of me here, perplexed, trying to figure out where to put everything in a galley that measures 24 X 30 inches. Peanut butter? where? huh? who brought all this crap, anyway?

But eventually, a place for everything and everything in its place, and we get to enjoy the fruits of our labors -- a lovely nosh under sunny skies with a plate of appetizers that precede a delicious meal.

May 19, 2008


Finally, it's launch day. The folks at Crowley's have plopped Smitten in the water, and our final prep takes place at home. Mostly that means dressing in many layers, because no matter how balmy it feels in the city, sitting out on top of 50 degree water is a cold proposition. It also means packing a hearty, boat-friendly lunch, which usually involves nourishment like this:

Well, okay, the champagne isn't for lunch, it's for later when we arrive at our mooring. But everything else is designed for easy munching while underway -- grapes, bite sized cuts of cheese and buffalo summer sausage (thanks, Mars Cheese Castle), half sandwiches. (Isn't that sad? We never got to that slab of chocolate.) Culinary adventures aboard the boat can rival those in our home kitchen, but that's another post.

I love Crowley's. It's so industrial. Every half hour or so a freight train lumbers over this gargantuan bridge in the background, shrieking with steel-on-steel and effectively suspending any conversation until it has passed.

Crowley's is a hoppin' spot on any Saturday in May, especially one serving up good weather. The drill is this: weeks earlier we indicated to the yard which day we want to launch, and we submitted a work order to have some final prep handled by the yard. Stem to stern detailing, for example because, let's face it, I just don't have the elbow grease. We also ordered up some gelcoat repair which, inexplicably, wasn't done. We're bummed because we've got a couple of fiberglass dings in the cockpit that we're tired of looking at. Now we'll either have to look at them for another season, or figure out how to get them repaired while floating. This probably means renting a slip, paying extra for a house call, and yada yada yada, now you begin to understand the tee shirt that reads, "A Boat is a Hole in the Water Into Which You Pour Money."

So, anyway, Crowley's has plopped all these boats into the drink and rafted them off their dock on the Calumet River (a nail-biting procedure involving an enormous rolling cradle lift, a guy with a remote control, and a couple yard jockeys all making sure several tons of pleasure craft don't swing too far in any direction while it's gently lowered from terra to agua -- I regret I didn't capture a sampling of the process with the Rebel) .

Because there are two drawbridges between the yard and the open water, every couple of hours a group of boats makes a choreographed departure so as to limit the bridge raisings to a reasonable number. That way we won't cause an uprising among the good citizens of our city who are traveling this morning by four-wheeled conveyance.

There's Smitty's butt end, third from the left, rafted off with Summer Home, a Beneteau I've admired in Monroe Harbor, and two other boats whose names escape me.

The harbormaster is the choreographer of these departures, and we don't go anywhere until he's ready, so hurry up and wait becomes the order of the day. We're ready to cast off, but Summer Home is dealing with a last-minute rigging issue, and the harbor crew is in constant motion attending to the myriad details of a frantic launch day, so we're waiting...

...and waiting...

...and waiting...

We take the opportunity to assess the weather. NOAA called for NNW winds at 15 - 20 knots, with seas less than 2 feet. But the wind seems to be clocking around further north and we wonder what that will do to the water. It also seems to be blowing from an angle that will perfectly pin us to the dock and may make casting off a little tricky, so we talk about our strategy to get away.

Suddenly we get the word from the man and we're cut loose. Miraculously, the wind just died the moment we cast off our dock lines, so easing out into the river was a cinch. Now we're circling...we're circling...we're circling while the other boats in our bridge-raising group leave the dock and queue up to head downriver.

That's the 95th Street bridge in the background...the first that must bow to our wishes and rise up to let us pass. After that, the 92nd Street bridge on request will do the same.

Navigating the river takes full attention, there's a lot going on, so I have to set down the camera and keep an eye on developments.

But soon we're out in Calumet Harbor, an area defined by a huge breakwater, and we're cruising alongside Bravo Zulu, a pretty little racer that will put up her sails and leave us far behind.

We always feel like we're heading for the Emerald City when we approach Chicago from the water.

That pointy-most icon over my right shoulder is, of course, Sears Tower. On a clear day, you can see Sears, Aon and Hancock from way over on the Michigan side of the lake.

A happy captain.

We motor a great deal of the way from Calumet to Monroe. The now-back-to-NNW winds are keeping the water quiet, but chilling us from the outside in.

Sails are up, though, for a nice starboard tack from just north of the 63rd Street water intake crib to somewhere due east of the museum campus. There we furl up, start the Yanmar, and head into Monroe Harbor to connect with our mooring and bust open the champagne.

After two hours of grinning stupidly from ear to ear, we're home again. This is our sixth summer on the same mooring pin. Some neighbors change:...

...and some stay the same:

What never changes is the capricious nature of the harbor ambiance. The play of light and weather, the endlessly shifting boats and water. The view never repeats itself. Come back and visit anytime, and I'll show you what I mean.

May 15, 2008


When we first bought the boat, we were kinda afraid of her. She was all shiny and new and perfectly tuned, and we were anxious about screwing anything up.

(Here she is, practically just out of the box.
We haven't even rigged the bimini.
That's me in the cockpit.)

Gradually, over the years, the well-tuned shiny newness became less daunting as she became, well, less tuned, shiny and new. The inevitable pings and dings began to pervade -- nothing degenerates faster than a boat in water -- and we were forced, as good boat owners are, to figure out how to keep her well-maintained and sparkly.

Paradoxically, there's a plethora and a dearth of help available on all things related to boat maintenance. A plethora in that boating stores are filled with books and fliers and products and helpful sales staff brimming with advice. A dearth in that, once armed with all those books, fliers, products and advice, you are out there alone in the boat yard, facing some monumental task that you're certain is the only thing standing between a successful sail and a watery death.

The teak is a good example. I combed through stores, picked through the Web, asked other boaters, and still couldn't really get my arms around what felt like a solid teak maintenance program. After 5 years of just doing the best I could based on evaluating my results, I stumbled onto a teak seminar at Crowley's annual Yachtapalooza, a one day celebration in late March that is part shameless promotion and part gathering of winter-crushed sailors desperate for a water fix. It's also one of your first brat-gorging opportunities of the season.

I found myself deep within a Crowley's boat barn, standing at a large workbench with about 30 other similarly teak-perplexed boaters and one savior by the name of Jayne Parker, who has been teak-wrangling since she was knee-high to a gunwale.

She took us through step-by-step hands-on demonstrations, and I now feel I can approach my teak with something like assurance and authority. I see where I made mistakes in the past, and why my teak may never be perfect. But I also see what I've done right (mostly just continuing to seek answers), and when my teak is cleaned, sanded and oiled and mounted back on my boat, I can feel a certain pride in accomplishment. Especially when the wood grain doesn't snag my ass while I've got it parked on the seat.

Learning to think of Smitten as a floating experimental classroom has been a liberating process. Accepting that we're gonna screw things up frees us to screw things up. Then we figure out how to fix them.

As I see it, we're gonna own two boats in our lives. The snazzy 45 footer that we'll retire on and coastal cruise aboard til we're crusty and gray and have stopped making sense. And Smitty, the learning curve who will make the snazzy lady possible, and who in the meantime will be the young lady providing us with beautiful summer memories.

May 14, 2008


I'm the keeper of the teak aboard the boat. Happily, there is very little teak to keep on a Hunter 290. Topsides, just the aft rail seats and the hatch handle. Below we find quite a bit more teak real estate, but it's protected from the weather down there (if all is going according to plan) and easier to maintain.

But topsides, under the sun and rain, teak weathers. Some sailors prefer a naturally weathered teak. It turns a silvery gray and minds its own business. Other sailors go to great lengths to keep their teak varnished and shiny. I admire their dedication, but it's tough work -- more work than I think recreational sailing should present. Still other sailors, myself included, prefer the luster of oiled teak.

If you're of the oiled luster school, and you dwell in a small, city condominium with no basement, garage or backyard, and you're the keeper of the teak, when it's time to do the scrubbing, sanding and oiling, you pretty much have to give over your kitchen to the process.

And you must never underestimate the importance of your ancillary tools.

I've just finished cleaning, sanding, vacuuming and wiping down my teak rail seats. Now I can't seem to locate my teak oil. So I'll let the seats dry overnight, plan to visit West Marine after work tomorrow, and check back in after I've applied the first coat of oil.

Meantime, visit your local farmers' market!

May 9, 2008


In the Midwest, we think of the sailing season as May through October, but really, what with pre-season prep and post-season wind-down, it's a March to November proposition.

SV Smitten (aka Smitty, Little Miss Smitty-Pants -- you'll soon tire of all the nicknames) winters on her cradle at Crowley's Yacht Yard on 95th Street, where we even enjoy her on that one balmy day we always get in January:

Picnicking, for example. That's my co-captain, Dave, enjoying a sandwich one sunny, relatively warm Saturday. I bet the next day we were buried under a foot of snow. Such is the nature of winter in Chicago. But for this moment, we were basking and noshing and dreaming of summer days on the water.

And then there's the prep. Painting, rigging, tuning the engine, testing the bilge pumps, connecting the batteries, the chores fill a huge excel spreadsheet. It's a task list of mostly little things without much sex appeal. But then there's the payoff task -- rigging the sails:

Ta-da! The pointy-headed man is happy.

This is the moment when you think you might actually find yourself on a delicious starboard tack sometime before your winter-addled mind descends into complete madness.

May 8, 2008


What's in a name? I thought about naming the blog after our boat, or after our mooring location in Monroe Harbor, but common sense rules of blogger safety and privacy discouraged me from doing that.

For you terra-bound readers, sailors refer to wind direction, and the boat's and sails' relationship to it, as points of sail. If the wind is blowing nearly straight into your face, it's one point of sail, across the breadth of your boat (or your beam) it's another, and if it's blowing from over one shoulder, and your sails are let out wide to catch it, you're sailing on a broad reach.

Since god was a kid, boats have been assigned a gender. They're considered female, so we refer to our boat as She, The Little Girl, Young Lady and other girlie terms of endearment. One Sunday morning, gulping coffee in the cockpit and wondering if maybe I should be in church, I decided that I was in a way. I was attending Our Lady. Our Lady of the Broad Reach. The title held a certain poetry for me. I decided that my spiritual needs could be well served while navigating the waters off Navy Pier, and that I should put aside all thoughts of being elsewhere.
(Unless it's here:)

And the nickname stuck. So here you are. At a blog called Our Lady of the Broad Reach. Thanks for coming.