One More Before We Go

As far as long weekends go, this last one was pretty epic. Over the course of four days, we managed to pack in the definition of Chicago summer on the water. Gusty afternoon sails and kites dancing off the docks. Burying each other at the beach, cannonballs in the pool and unending ice cream rivers running down our chins.

Brats barbecued off the stern of Clarity, brunch on the bow of the club ship, and cocktails by candlelight. The soothing sound of water lapping against the paddle boards, and the deafening pound down below of a passing hail storm.

Warm morning breezes, sunny, sticky afternoons, and awe-inspiring sunsets…

This was our last full weekend in Chicago for awhile, as we leave this Saturday or Sunday to point north. First to Racine, then Milwaukee, then Port Washington, and then who knows? We’ll keep you posted along the way :).

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A Perfect Weekend

Many times, Aaron and I have contemplated selling everything and sailing away – at least to a place where we can keep Clarity in the water year round. And while that’s still very much a consideration, when family comes to town and the weather stays favorable, summer in Chicago is magic.

See pics from our holiday weekend here!

This past Independence Day weekend, we had a full family crew on board Clarity. Aaron’s mother, Penny, and her husband Brian, were the first to arrive last Wednesday, driving in from Michigan. Then, on Friday, July 3, my brother, sister-in-law drove in from Indiana with my two nieces, and my mother also joined in the fun. We all convened at 31st Street, where we took a quick dip in the pool before casting lines.

Out on the lake, Aaron and I were able to show our families what we love so much about this life. We hoisted the sails and had our crew take turns at the helm. The girls snuggled up down below with toys and books, and the adults savored views of Buckingham Fountain, Navy Pier and the skyline that so few experience. After a few hours, we made it to the yacht club just in time to snag the last spot on the dock, then laid out a spread for dinner that deserved its own Zagat rating.

Aaron, Claire and I stayed on the boat at Columbia while our families got some rest to gear up for the 4th. A lazy morning on the dock led to bloody marys on the bow of the club ship with Penny and Brian, then the 10 of us came together again for a walk through Maggie Daley and Millennium parks. Before the fireworks crowds completely clogged the lakefront path, we made our way back to Clarity and shared wine and cheese while waiting for the sun to set. The club is the best place to watch the fireworks, which are set off from Navy Pier just north of the ship, and they did not disappoint.

Many thanks to Claire, the three of us slept in Sunday morning, then sailed the boat back to 31st Street for donuts on the dock with Penny and Brian. We spent a lovely day poolside – the fifth in a row with high temps and no rain! – before they, too, headed home to Michigan, and we were once again the three musketeers.

I forget sometimes how lucky we are to live in a place that allows us to indulge in our dream while still being close enough to share it with those we love. What a wonderful celebration of our freedom.

Back to Good

Joy at the Dock

Finally, after another grueling winter that threatened to set up permanent residence here in Chicago, we moved back aboard s/v Clarity Memorial Day weekend for our first family stay of the season.

Check out some photos from the weekend at the end of this post!

Through March snowstorms and April (and even May) temps in the 30s during mandatory yard work (more on that in an upcoming post), the day she’d be floating again at 31st Street Harbor seemed intangible. Now that we’re here, in some ways it feels like it’s been years, and in other ways, it seems like just yesterday that we were returning from our Michigan adventures late last season.

One thing’s for sure: This is home. The evening breezes tickling your arms, the xylophone melodies of the clanging halyards, the constant¬†rhythm¬†of the water lapping against the bow. Remind me again why we live in a place where this reality is impossible for half of the year?

We made it to the harbor late morning on Saturday, and there was sunshine to spare as we moved clothes back on board. I did our first provisioning trip (so begins the delicate balance of keeping two homes clean and stocked) while Aaron tackled a few projects on board and reintroduced Claire to the playground and the splash pad and our friendly staff here at 31st Street.

As Claire, at 3, is sprouting like a weed, the travel crib in the v-berth wouldn’t work as her bed anymore, so we switched “bedrooms” with her and gave her the aft cabin all to herself. That first night, we braced ourselves for the worst when starting her bedtime routine, as she usually doesn’t do well with change. But after a few stories, that little stinker was asleep within 20 minutes – and she even napped the next day, too! Miracles do happen – on boats.

When we woke up on Sunday morning, though, the cold and rain had set in, and pretty much stayed with us through midday Monday. When other boaters head home, though, we see an opportunity to hunker down and get cozy. Lots of reading books in the salon, snuggling up in the aft cabin and “playing friends” with Claire’s stuffed animals, as she calls it. And let’s face it – it’s not a hard-knock life. We have a flat-screen and a pretty robust cable package.

We did come up for air a few times – I took Claire to the beach while Aaron went to the yacht yard to knock out some work for Clarity Marine Systems. We ventured out in a torrential downpour Sunday night to Columbia Yacht Club for dinner, and once the weather broke on Monday, we went for a relaxing walk and grilled up corn and brats off the back of the boat.

Unfortunately, we haven’t taken Clarity out for a family sail yet, but just being here this weekend has reignited our passion for this lifestyle. For now, it’s back home to Oak Park while Aaron’s out of town for work. But we will be back again next weekend – and as many days as possible thereafter. We’re so close to casting lines… I can feel it…

Back from the Mac

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Aaron and the rest of the Turning Point crew on the podium at Mac Island. They won 2nd out of 11 boats in the Beneteau 40.7 division.

On Wednesday evening, we got our captain back! Aaron made it home safe and sound after sailing up Lake Michigan with 333 boats during the 106th Race to Mackinac.

For those who are unfamiliar, the race is the oldest annual freshwater race in the world, and crews come from all around the country to compete. For Midwest racers, it’s a rite of passage. I’ve talked to enough of them to know that, though the finish line never varies, the course and the experience are completely different from year to year. The wind and the weather can throw some crazy curveballs – even if the curveball is the wind shutting off completely and stranding boats in the Straits with the Island just a handful of miles away. Sometimes, they even have to drop anchor to prevent going backward.

This was Aaron’s ninth Mac Race, and I think it was a special one for our family. It was right after the race three years ago that I found out I was pregnant with Claire. Two years ago, the demands of a colicky infant made Aaron leaving for five days impossible, and last year, we had just returned from a month-long trip on¬†Clarity, so the demands of work took precedence. During the bitterly cold and unrelenting winter, Aaron started talking about getting back to the Mac Race – albeit with some trepidation. Most racers that have done it have cursed it and said they’ll never do another – the biting flies, capricious winds, 10+ crew members in tight quarters that don’t shower for three days. I’ve never raced the Mac and honestly have no interest to, especially because it seems to me that oftentimes, they do it because they¬†can’t not do it. Also, it’s not for the faint of heart, as some might recall what happened three years ago. Overall, though, the race is an opportunity to be part of something truly special, and it means a lot to Aaron.

Aaron races on Turning Point, a Beneteau 40.7 that he‚Äôs been with for many years. The week before the race, Aaron went out for practice with the crew, practiced sail peels, and helped with final systems checks. Grandma watched Claire on Friday so Aaron and I could have a date night before he left the next morning. Would you believe it? I made him take¬†Clarity¬†out sailing with me – our first chance to sail it without its namesake this summer. He even surprised me with a man overboard drill. We’re just nutty that way.

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A hug on the bow with Claire before we sent him on his way!

Saturday morning, Claire and I dropped Aaron off at the Columbia dock and¬†Turning Point¬†crossed the starting line just a few hours later. We were able to track his boat online for the next two days, and I’ve done this enough now that I have a sense of whether or not things are progressing well.¬†Turning Point¬†rocked it. After light winds made for slow progress on Saturday, they picked up on Sunday and come Monday, the crew rocketed up past the Manitou Islands, through the Straights, under the Mac Bridge and all the way to that blissful cannon fire at the finish line that signifies the Champagne and rum can start flowing.

They finished the race in 47-and-a-half hours, placed second out of 11 boats in the Beneteau 40.7 class and landed 11th out of 134 boats overall in the Mackinac Cup division! What an amazing feat! The rest of Monday and Tuesday, racers celebrated on the island in a heady haze of rum and sleep deprivation. I had a blast joining Aaron for the festivities a few years back, but the seven-plus-hour drive up there with Claire didn’t sound like a great idea and a hotel room for the week will cost you your mortgage. Maybe next year…

In the meantime, Claire and I had a lovely time at home in Oak Park visiting with friends, going to barbecues, taking over the pool; basically gallivanting around town. I was quite relieved, though, when Aaron made it home Wednesday evening. Five days by myself with a rambunctious 2-year-old is no joke.

One thing I truly missed, though, was our family time on¬†Clarity! I can’t wait to get back there in the next day or two, and resume our own adventures.

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Race tracking for the 40.7 fleet

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Island celebrations! Veuve Clicquot is a sponsor of the race.

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Island shenanigans… From what I understand, rum had nothing to do with this!

 

 

A Family Affair

One of the best benefits of keeping our boat based in the Midwest is the ability for us to share it with family and friends. Last week, we had the pleasure of having my brother; sister-in-law; nieces Alex and Abby; and my mother out for a family sail.

They met us mid-morning at our slip at 31st Street Harbor and we made a quick tour of the splash pad and playground before grilling brats back at the boat. Then, with full bellies and abundant sunshine, we cast lines and pointed north toward Columbia Yacht Club.

To be honest, I was a little worried leading up to the visit that my nieces might be bored while we were at sail. I thought through whether or not we had enough toys on board, how to shorten our course if they got antsy a half-hour in… Aaron and I spend so much time on our boat, and it’s been so many years since I experienced boating as a child. That afternoon, these girls truly opened my eyes.

The whole afternoon, they were up and down, over and over, from the deck to down below – at first, I thought they didn’t enjoy being out in the fresh air, but they were just so excited to be able to go down below – in a boat – while it was moving! How could I have forgotten how awesome that is?! They dragged as many toys as possible to the aft cabin (Claire was napping in the v-berth) and played with stickers for hours. They snuggled up in the covers with an arsenal of snacks, and ran around the salon and giggled as they tried to keep their balance when the boat heeled.

And while they ran around down below, their parents (and grandma) got some coveted uninterrupted time on deck to simply enjoy being out on the water on a gorgeous day. Shortly after we left the slip, Aaron and I raised the sails and tried to find the wind, which was spotty at best and petered out pretty quickly to almost nothing. I shrugged my shoulders and lamented that we were going painstakingly slow, and my brother said, “Meg, we would have no idea! We are just loving being out here!” Sure, us sailors want to make the boat go fast – but sometimes we get so obsessed with trying to eek out that last half-knot that we forget to pause and enjoy the sights, take a deep breath and just float for awhile.

We did a “drive-by” of Navy Pier before tying up the boat at Columbia. Claire taught the girls how to dance around on deck to Jimmy Buffet and we filed into the club for a brief reprieve in some air conditioning. Then, we grazed on leftovers from lunch and as the sun was setting, settled in to watch “Muppet Treasure Island” as it was projected on the side of the club ship.

It was a beautiful day in every sense – lifelong memories, to be sure. And a wonderful reminder of how blessed we are to be able to share this.

Race, Cruise, Repeat

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One of the benefits of balancing cruising with maintaining a home base is that Aaron still gets to race. This past Saturday, he sailed with Turning Point in the Colors Regatta. While he and the rest of the crew were busy tacking and trimming and hiking and executing all of those adrenaline-pumping maneuvers that make racing such a high, Claire and I met some friends and paid a visit to her favorite animals at the Brookfield Zoo. After three rides around the carousel, some kangaroo watching and giraffe heckling, and a lot of goose and peacock chasing, she passed out for three hours back at our condo in Oak Park – catching up on those missed afternoon naps from the last few days.

Then, it was off to celebrate a successful day on the water with Aaron and his crew. Columbia Yacht Club, which hosts the Colors Regatta, threw a lovely party with live music, and Claire never misses an opportunity to show off her dance moves.

Sunday, we switched to cruising mode and took the boat out with a great friend who didn’t mind at all when Claire demanded that she make sunglasses and mustaches out of Play-Doh.

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We also came up with some new verses for “The Wheels on the Bus”:

¬† ¬† ¬†The sails on the boat go up and down, up and down, up and down…

¬† ¬† ¬†The hatches on the boat go open and close, open and close, open and close…

¬† ¬† ¬†The wheel on the boat goes round and round, round and round, round and round…

¬† ¬† ¬†The wind in the sails goes swoosh swoosh swoosh, swoosh swoosh swoosh, swoosh swoosh swoosh…

The conditions were perfect – a steady 10-15 knots out of the south to southeast – so we had the main and jib flying and left a lovely little wake in our path. Naturally, as you can take the sailor out of the race but can’t take the race out of the sailor, Aaron found some boats to¬†chase.

Before the winds kicked up too much, we docked the boat and I took over the galley, making brats and couscous for dinner while Aaron took Claire up top to romp around on the bow.

All in all, it was a jam-packed few days that ended with, well, just about the best view in the city, in my opinion. To fall asleep and wake up to this…what a dream.

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Finding Our Sea Legs

CaptainClaireAs we speak (or, I write), Claire is sleeping, my tea is steeping, and all I hear are the soft and soothing sounds of the boat tugging gently on the dock lines.

We’ve made it through the first two weeks! As a family, we’ve spent six days on the boat (with a few stops to Oak Park sprinkled in). We’ve taken Clarity out for a short motor cruise, a lovely afternoon sail with friends and over for a sleepover at the Columbia Yacht Club docks.

Here at 31st Street, we hosted a lovely Memorial Day BBQ with close friends, made countless trips to the park and spent so many hours pushing Claire in the swings that I’m pretty sure her name is etched in.

These first few weeks instantly reminded me of everything I love about this life – and also reminded me of some of the challenges as we find our routine. For example, Claire has yet to succumb to napping on the boat. (How can you possibly nap when a duck could be swimming by right outside your cabin at any moment?!) The silver lining is that she goes down pretty easily at night, for the most part.

I’ve also been reminded that the confined quarters combined with my propensity for clumsiness creates a beautiful bouquet of bruises on my legs.

Sailing, however, will be a whole different ball game this season – in amazing ways and tough ones, too. That first trip out, strapping Claire into her harness and heading out past the break wall, we weren’t sure what to expect (she’s double her age now and a real little walking talking person). But Claire was mesmerized – by the boat slicing through the water, boaters waving as they passed by, the breeze on her face and her delight in the always-dependable double-horn of the lighthouse.

She wants to be a part of everything – which gets tricky when she tries to climb back and grab the wheel while Aaron’s driving, or asks (not quite politely) for me to pick her up right when I’m about to blow the jib sheet for a tack. A word to the wise for those who plan to go boating with a toddler – don’t hesitate to throw Cheerios at the problem.

We’ll find our groove, though – after all, Aaron and I are remembering so many things from last year, but given that she’s only 2 years old, Claire doesn’t really remember. She’s learning fresh! And the best part is that through all of these experiences, we grow as a family.

For now, I’m going to sit back, revel in the quiet, snuggle up in our cabin with a good book and drift off. I must conserve my energy for tomorrow’s adventures.