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...
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.