August 5, 2009

Wait, Wait! One More Thing Before We Sail

I was all set to start this post writing about and showing you pix from the delightful sailing excursions we've had recently with family and friends, old and new, when I got sidetracked by these pix I took a couple of mornings ago.

You see, it's our routine during these short Chicago summers to spend as many Saturday nights as we can aboard Smitten. We usually arrive at the boat late afternoon on Saturday, putter around for a while, cook a farmers' market supper, enjoy the Saturday night Navy Pier fireworks, then retire, according to our own clocks, to bed. I usually lead the way, turning in early to read for a few pages, then pass out with the book on my face. Dave follows a couple hours later, after another Becks and that infernal cigar, removes said book from my face, and crawls in after me.

All very civilized.

But, what really makes the Saturday night routine special, is Sunday morning. It's sooooo peaceful to float there, on one of god's biggest waterbeds, listening to the slap of water on the hull, the birds bwawking their wake-up squabbles, the distant hum of traffic on Lake Shore Drive. I usually pop awake at first light. The other morning, presented with a fairly dramatic veil of clouds, I decided to haul it out of bed, grab the Rebel, and take a few pix of Monroe Harbor just before sunrise:

This one's looking east. That's our neighbor Private Eye in the foreground, awash in the delicate morning light.

Here's the view to the west. I could insert some snarky comment here about the ownership change at Sears Tower and the name change to Willis Tower, but that would be inconsistent with the generally peaceful vibe of this sunrise moment, so I will let it be:

And here, I think, is the money shot: my luvly floating neighbors backdropped against the museum campus:

At this point I put the camera down, climbed back between the covers, and resigned myself to another peaceful, floating 40 winks.

July 14, 2009

An Official Apology

This just in: Our attorneys have informed us that the aforementioned winch, which I perhaps mistakenly characterized as being of dubious repute and usefulness, has threatened legal action unless I retract my purportedly libelous statement describing it as "a total bum, only along for the ride."

The evidence suggests that the sailing vessel hardware that, for the Court's purposes, will heretofore be described as Winch Number 4, provides a vital service as Capt. Dave's late-night cigar holder:

I stand corrected and deeply regret any pain and suffering I may have caused any party.


June 28, 2009

One More Geek Sailor Entry

Those of you who have labored aboard Smitten know that the winches are an integral part of the sailing system, used to provide leveraged energy to unfurl, trim and furl the sails. We've probably put you to work cranking away on one, tightening the sheets for maximum sail pressure. Or you may've seen the winches at rest, performing the more mundane chore of keeping the sheets, halyards and lines organized, as one is doing here:

I'll take this opportunity to explain the term "sheets" as it relates to sailing. A lot of people, myself included before I got some learnin', assume that "sheets" refers to the sails. Logical enough assumption, the sails are (often) white and cloth-like and long and wide. "Sheets" seems like an appropriately affectionate nickname for another valued element of the sailing equation. But "sheets" actually is an all-purpose word for the ropes that connect to and control the sails. For example, when we hand you that rope with the red thread woven through it, and ask you to pull, you are using one of the jib sheets to manipulate the jib sail from one side of the boat to the other during a tack. (Stick with me, kid, we'll make a virtual sailor out of you eventually.)

(BTW, for those of you who find yourselves described by friends and acquaintances as "three sheets to the wind" with puzzling frequency, and wonder what it means, click here.)

So anyway. Of the four winches on Smitten, we depend very heavily on two, and somewhat lightly on one. The fourth is a total bum, only along for the ride. It was the two heavily-depended-upon that we tore apart a few weeks ago for a clean and lube:

There must be 45 pieces to each one of these, all fitting together like a Swiss watch. Dave has done this drill enough to know how they come apart and go back together (with some back-tracking and second-guessing), but I admit I was baffled. So I was put in charge of the WD-40 bath we set up in that Trader Joe's coffee can. A smelly task. Not the coffee's fault. But with a little soaking followed by a good terry cloth rubdown, all 45 (x2) pieces got a thorough degreasing.

It should be noted that the yellow of my foul weather bib overalls in the picture above is the exact same color as the Porsche Boxster that I'm adamant will be living in my parking spot at some point in the future.

Now the pieces start going back together, along with about seven different types and weights of lubricant. Place was starting to look like that shelf at the Walgreen's. Oh, don't get coy with me, you know which shelf:

Then the winch stem gets a good going-over:

And everything starts to fit back together:


Hey look! A little buff-up and we got our winch back, better than new:

It ain't over til the crank test is done:

Yup! Contact!

Ok, for cryin' out loud aleady, let's go sailing.

June 13, 2009

Of Entropy, Mayhem and Tarantulas

My mom-in-law is fond of saying that when her two boys were growing up and sharing a bedroom, there was an undeniable Oscar and Felix quality to their relationship. She alludes, of course, to Neil Simon's The Odd Couple, and the diametrically opposed domestic natures of the now-iconic roommates, with Felix being fastidiously, even obsessively, neat and Oscar being a big honkin' slob. She shared the memory long before Dave and I were married, but it didn't deter me from entering into a matrimonial contract with Oscar. In retrospect, I wonder if she wasn't trying to warn me...

That Dave is, um, order-challenged, and I am so intolerant of clutter that when reading In Cold Blood I root for the bad guys, I guess it's safe to say that Dave has reconstructed his Oscar/Felix relationship in his adult married life. (And me? I just knew a great catch when I saw one. Happy anniversary, honey.)

It also needs to be noted that one of the synonyms for "neat" is "shipshape," and one of the hallmarks of a well-run ship, for a multitude of reasons not the least of which are comfort and safety, is a Felix-approved level of cleanliness, order and organization. Which is why I find this picture so hilarious:

This is what happens when Oscar has free-run of the boat.

Now, to be fair, this picture of the cabin was snapped during Dave's most intense days of hull preparation and painting. He knew I wasn't going to be around much, he had a big job to do, and he had no time for picking up glasses, emptying ashtrays and plumping pillows during this party. So I don't really hold the condition of the cabin against him.

But, my god:
Ouch! My head:


All I could do was back out slowly and retreat to the cockpit where, at the end of a hull work day, we retired over a bottle of wine and talked about floating:

And Dave did this quick sketch of me:

He did a pretty nice job, though I never suspected I look this much like Michael Jackson, and I have no idea why he drew that tarantula crawling up the left side of my head...maybe a reference to the profusion of spiders that will make their home on board during the course of the summer. But, all in all, not bad for government work.

June 11, 2009

Apply, Buff, Repeat

My dad taught me how to wax a car. He also taught me how to polish a shoe, because he was a stickler for a well-polished shoe. He paid me a dime for every pair of his shoes I could polish. I was nine, so for me this was High Finance. Eventually he gave me a raise to a quarter for every pair of polished shoes. Little did I know at the time this was probably to be, proportionally, the biggest single raise I would ever enjoy in my professional life.

But back to waxing the car. As well as he taught me, waxing a car is nothing like waxing a boat. For starters, with the family Chrysler, you didn't have to balance on a ladder to accomplish the task, with the exception of covering the roof, maybe. And, because the family car was inevitably gunmetal blue or sage green or (whoa! get ready for this, Marge!) burgundy red, but god forbid NEVER white (shows the dirt!), it was fairly easy to spread the wax and, as its chalky whiteness set up against the dark background of the car's finish, keep track of where you'd been.

Not so on a white fiberglass hull.

I had no clue what I was doing here, but Dave took a darn nice picture of me doing it, don'tcha think? You noted the name of the boat, right? :)

Could not for the life of me see where I had already been with my rag applicator unless I got down off the ladder, walked a few steps away, cocked my head in such a way as to let the indirect light of the sunny day bounce off the fiberglass surface and reveal, hopefully, a circular wax application pattern. Then I'd have to note where the circular pattern stopped in relation to some arbitrary benchmark on the hull or on the topsides (a lifeline stanchion? a scuff? the stained remains of a smooshed bug?), reclimb the ladder, swirl another schmear of wax on the applicator that was rapidly deteriorating under the strain of constant rubbing, and continue my circular way forward. Dave's character may have been strengthened by paint removal, mine attained super-hero status by wax application.

But eventually I made it down the starboard side of Smitty's hull and back up the port side, with my co-captain in close pursuit, buffing with a serious power tool:

Ahhhh, that's what you count on a co-captain to do. Especially one who fills a desperately-needed urban condo closet with a large chest of drawers that's branded "Sears Craftsman."

Later, he shaved and I reapplied my make-up in the crisp reflection of that blue stripe.

Strip, check. Prime and paint, check. Wax and buff, check. Hull work complete. Next on our pre-launch housekeeping list, we clamber aboard and take a peek at the situation in the cabin.

June 4, 2009

Of Bottoms, Spanx and Vera Wang

What is ablative paint? It's bottom paint designed to erode away from the hull, micro-millimeter by micro-millimeter, as the boat moves through the water, shedding biological growth like algae, zebra mussels, barnacles and other free-riding stowaways, setting them free in the sloppy glacial bathtub of Lake Michigan. Picture house paint that strips away, microscopic layer by microscopic layer, every time the wind blows. When you roll ablative paint onto your hull, nothing organic sticks for long. It has the net effect of cladding your bottom in Teflon.

Thing is, we move Smitten around so much in the course of a summer sailing season that not much grass grows under her feet, so to speak. Doing what it's designed to do, ablative paint doesn't remove much biological matter from her hull because the biology never gets an opportunity to latch on in the first place. And as a side-effect annoyance, the blue paint "ablates" all over the place, staining everything she cozies up with: the mooring bobber, the bridle, our feet, Canadian geese, the neighbors’ boats, mermen, sea get the picture. (Actually, you don't get the picture, because I didn't take a picture. Bad blogger, me! I'll try to be more thorough going forward.)

So anyway. End of last season we decided to re-evaluate our choice of bottom paint.

During the spring and fall, when we spend a lot of time in the boat yard either prepping our boat for the summer or putting her up for the winter, we amuse ourselves between housekeeping tasks by judging other peoples’ boats. We aren't alone in this pastime. Strolling among rows and rows of cradled watercraft, we either mentally compose snarky anecdotes, or ogle in slack-jawed admiration. The one feature of other peoples’ boats we focus on -- because we don’t get much chance to so in the harbor unless something really bad has happened -- is the hulls.

We'd looked at a lot of other sailors' bottoms (yeah, okay, come back when you've finished sniggering) and after arguing the pros and cons of blue bottoms, red bottoms, green bottoms, and the so-very-tempting copper bottoms, we'd drawn the conclusion that what Little Miss Smitty Pants needed was a Little Black Dress of a bottom.

But before she slithered into the maritime equivalent of a Vera Wang, she needed two primer coats of gray. To continue the sartorial analogy, these two coats are the lingerie, the slip, the $200 Victoria's Secret hit, the Spanx of the bottom painting process:

Then, when the Spanx have dried, the final coats go on:

(Wondering now as I'm looking at this, will Dave's eventual knee surgery be covered by our boat insurance?)

Those inevitable squares of unpainted hull surface area under the cradle supports? They got the same Spanx/Vera Wang treatment by the yard jockeys once Smitty was off the cradle and hanging on a sling, awaiting her big splash into the Calumet River. We hope.

Oh, look at that sexy girl, with her gleaming black bottom!

And here's the most satisfying moment of the whole bottom paint process...peeling off the waterline tape:

Ahh, such a nice, crisp line!

Next up, detailing the hull.

May 25, 2009

Just For the Hull Of It

Fast-forward through the coldest, snowiest, most eternal winter in the history of North America when Smitten spent a lot of days covered with this...

...and, ta-da! it’s time finally for spring launch.

Well, not so fast, Bordeaux Breath. Got a little housekeeping to do before the big splash. This year, due to current household economic conditions, a lot of the spring prep that we used to blithely hire out, we are doing ourselves.

Let’s take a peek at what the big guy has been up to:

(Don't look now, honey, but there's a Teletubbie under on the boat.)

I had been hinting since last summer for a fresh look for the hull, and Dave was tired of the ablative nature of the old paint (more about that next post) so this seemed like the year to repaint the bottom. It had been a few seasons since our last foray into the bottom-painting jungle, though I still wear clothes spattered with the happy blue paint we used.

This year, using a variety of means including sandpaper, chemical strippers, influence-peddling, payola, physical threats, dynamite and my lemon-and-garlic salad dressing, my co-captain meticulously removed every inch of the old bottom paint.

Little by little, with great shedding of blood, sweat and tears, and selfless sacrificing of time he would otherwise spend rubbing my feet and popping Swiss chocolates into my mouth, off came the paint.

Down the port side, 'round the horn, up the starboard side...

...and let's not forget mr. rudder. A huge job well done. And perhaps one of the greatest deterrents to even considering buying a bigger boat.

If character is built on every linear hull foot that’s scraped, stripped, primed, painted, waxed and buffed, we have enough characters now to cast Les Miz. Well, at least Dave does. He performed most of these miracles. I just stepped in at the end, spread a little wax, and took the curtain call.

Next up, the bottom painting process.

February 14, 2009

Strictly Sail

One warm spot for the otherwise ice-bound Midwestern sailor is Strictly Sail-Chicago, the sailing-centric boat show that unfurls annually, usually the same weekend as the Superbowl, at Navy Pier. A traveling show that's held in various watery locations around the country (Baltimore and Norfolk, Miami and St. Pete), Strictly Sail is a welcome respite at the end of our reliably brutal Midwest Januaries. Billed as the nation's largest all-indoor boat show, it fills Festival Hall with all things nauti:

It's an opportunity to do anything to satisfy the water-deprived sailor's soul, from trying on a 38 cm boat shoe, to boarding a 50 foot boat. The show also offers a plethora of seminars concerning everything from celestial navigation to boat organization, from cloud interpretation to diesel engine maintenance. I don't know what this guy was lecturing on, I just dodged in to take a pic:

It was either "Standing Rigging Basics: How to Tune Your Rig," or "Charts, Compass and GPS." So there you go.

This year we attended with our friends Dave and Margo:

You met them earlier. We sailed the Greek islands with Dave and Margo a couple of years ago. Here we were aboard Donousa, a 41 foot Beneteau that delivererd us through the swelling seas of the Agean:

We took advantage of the opportunity Strictly Sail offered to climb aboard another luvly beauty to recreate the toast:

We look decidedly less celebratory in this pic, don't we? It was January, for crissakes. It was damn cold outside. But it was a nice opportunity to start dreaming about the next time we'll be together in a balmy locale, steering a big pleasure craft to some exotic destination.

February 3, 2009

Monroe on Ice

How does a Great Lakes sailor amuse herself in the wintertime? And what can she blog about after the boat is put up for the season?

I've been asking myself those questions for a few weeks now, and I've come up with a surprising list of blogworthy answers. For example: What does Monroe Harbor look like in the wintertime? Well now, let's go take a look...

Here's the money shot from the office:

From Matt's office, actually. We have a collegial workplace understanding. He exec produces brilliantly, and once a day I get to look out his window. Yesterday I brought my camera and this is how Monroe Harbor looked from 34 stories. There's a lot of Millennium Park in this shot, but the corral of ice and snow beyond it is poor Monroe Harbor, seized by winter's grip. Let's go closer...

I'm standing about where I figure the O row in the south mooring field would be, based on triangulating myself between Chicago Hilton & Towers, Adler Planetarium, and the mouth of the harbor. We're looking east, obviously, and Little Smitty, were she floating on a warm summer day, would be just above dead center in this picture.


I took this field trip on Groundhog Day, BTW. Six more weeks of winter. Oh, who am I kidding? Nine.

I love that this solitary little dinghy was left behind. Especially after reading the signs posted every September at the harbormaster's office that threaten death and dismemberment to anyone who doesn't remove their dinghy from the pretty little seawall queue at the close of sailing season.

Here's a pile of the blocks that during the summer months are attached to the wateriest end of the mooring lines used in Monroe:

No idea why they were left here, except that they're not exactly portable, heavy enough as they are to keep several tons of pleasure vessel moored in one place through a season of winds and wake.

Swear to god I saw human footprints out on the ice beyond this pile. There's a Darwin Award waiting to be conferred.

This is looking southeast, toward the Museum Campus. That bump in the upper right hand corner is Adler. I'm using a really extreme wide angle lens here, which is why it looks like the planetarium has been relocated to Indiana:

No Diving. Oh-TAY!

This deceptively modest building is the heart and nerve center of the whole Monroe Harbor summer operation:

In a few months, when we're back on the water, I'll write more about the folks who make this hive buzz. But for now, know that the building contains the aforementioned harbormaster's office, the tender operations office, private baths for the boaters, and public restrooms for the walkers, bikers, skaters, tourists, Segway jockeys, picnickers, festival-goers, 'bangers, loiterers and street folk who regularly populate this particular stretch of Chicago's playground.

On any given sunny summer day, the now ice-bound corner of the harbor bustles with beamy blue tender vessels delivering boaters to, and retrieving them from, their moorings. It's a scene of connections met, deals brokered, flirtations begun, hearts broken. It's where we buy ice to chill our beer and tickets to secure passage for our guests. It's where we make a cursory check of the offshore weather which usually bears no resemblance to the weather on land. It's the hub of our little watery world where, if you set a spell and just watch, you'll witness all sorts of entertaining episodes.

Anyway. Thanks for coming back. I'll try to make it worth your while every week or so.

Stay warm.