Off to the Races!

Family Shot

And he’s off! Aaron and the crew of Turning Point are just a few hours into the Race to Mackinac. It’s the 107th year for the race, and Aaron’s 10th running.

After toasting with some Champagne last night at the dock party at Chicago Yacht Club, one of the sponsors of the race, we headed back to Clarity so Aaron could get some solid sleep before managing shifts for two or three days with a crew of nine. Claire and I said our goodbyes this morning and dropped him off at the boat in a flurry of last-minute prep before they cast lines.

In addition to putting Aaron at a decade of Mac Race experience, this year is also a special one because, for the first time with Turning Point, he’s part of the driving team, which means he’ll be at the helm during his shifts. It’s a great honor, and one he’s worked hard for.

You can track the Turning Point crew throughout the race from your computer, or you can download the free YB Tracking app to your phone or tablet. Aaron’s boat is in the Beneteau 40.7 division, and the maps often load faster if you de-select most or all of the other divisions.

As he makes is way to a well-deserved rum drink at the Pink Pony on the island, Claire and I will be holding down the fort(s) here. I’m sure we will find plenty of our own trouble to get into :).

Sail fast, Turning Point!

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Finally, A Family Sail!

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This weekend saw a lot of firsts for the Clarity family. First off, we cast lines on our first family sail for the season on Sunday evening! Sure, the mainsail still isn’t rigged, but despite crazy weather and crazy schedules, we were able to get this boat off the dock. I consider that a big win!

See more pics from our weekend here!

The first sail each year is an exciting one, for obvious reasons, and also because Claire’s experience changes so much in a year. She notices more, processes more, delights in more. In previous years, she’s been a busybody, not willing to sit for long while we’re underway and requiring a lot of maintenance (though generally happy). This Sunday was a preview to an amazing summer on the water. Claire was content sitting on the bow, watching the water slice by. She explored the boat with vigor, climbing the topsides like a jungle gym, all within the safety of the lifeline netting. And partway through the sail, she asked to go down below and happily read to herself in her cabin with the boat rocking as we motored back to the harbor.

We know they won’t always be this easy, but what a heartwarming introduction to the season!

This sail was also a big first for me because, somewhat proudly, yet also with a little bit of shame, I’ll admit that this was the first time I took the boat out of the slip myself (meaning I was at the helm while Aaron handled the lines), and the first time I docked it myself after we came in. I wish I had done this before, but to be honest, having control of a 37-foot vessel in such a confined space terrified me. It was time to bite the bullet, and now, it will get less and less daunting. And hey – I didn’t break anything!

Aaron also raced with Turning Point Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the National Offshore One-Design Regatta (affectionately referred to as the NOODs; insert obvious chuckles here). Claire, myself and my mom spent Saturday afternoon frolicking around the new Maggie Daley Park with seemingly everyone else in the world before meeting up with Aaron at the Chicago Yacht Club, which hosted the race. With Claire down for the night, I did some boat laundry while he settled in on the setee to watch the Hawks game. The poor guy was so exhausted that he passed out before the final buzzer.

Sunday morning saw an 8 a.m. call time for Aaron, but Claire and I tucked in for a lazy Sunday morning amidst some pretty impressive storms. I love how being down below during these always feels like you’re in the middle of a waterfall – though it’s loud, it’s surprisingly soothing. Once the clouds headed east, we hit the beach before picking up our wearied and worn sailor at the end of the three-day regatta. And as soon as we got back to Clarity, what did he want to do? Cast lines, of course! I swear, he’s part fish.

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Watermelon!If there’s one thing you can depend on, it’s the manic nature of Chicago weather.

After a lovely Memorial Day weekend moving aboard, the cold set in yet again, with highs in the 50s (and real-feel by the lake in the low 40s at night). We have heat on the boat, so it can be quite cozy at night, but even I have my limits :). Aaron also had quite a bit of work travel for Talaske the last few weeks, so all three of us were eager to get back to Clarity, our neglected mistress, this past Wednesday.

Thursday was a dream – partly sunny and high 70s. Aaron had meetings in the Loop, so Claire and I explored the new floating pool at our harbor, a short 10-minute walk from our slip (at toddler pace). Just add water and Claire is in heaven (I think she gets it from her dad), so the pool was pretty much her Disney World. She spent two hours – literally – splashing from one set of steps to the other. The umbrellas and cushioned lounge chairs on the deck beg for piña coladas and summer reads. And what does every toddler want after an enjoyably exhausting morning at the pool? To go again! – which we did in the late afternoon with Aaron.

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The temps dropped 40 degrees overnight, though, and the winds kicked up drastically, so alas, the hatches were secured, the heat was turned up, and snuggling ensued. Aaron also had Clarity Marine Systems clients to see in the harbors further north on Friday, so Claire and I spent a lovely hour or two at the Lincoln Park Conservatory. So many years I spent going to the zoo and the Green City Market – how did I miss this place?

Lincoln Park Conservatory Stroll

Claire On The Bridge

Saturday is forecasted to be slightly warmer, but still not (in my opinion) comfortable sailing weather, but Sunday, finally, the temperature should hit 80 again! With heavy thunderstorms, of course. Come on!!

The lack of sailing, while unfortunate, does open up some time for much-needed projects. Given that we are in an ongoing state of refit and restoration on Clarity, Aaron has a multitude going at any given time, and we’re working on quite a few together (more on those in another post). I have finished a few projects, though, that I’ll include here. The first was a cover for the base of our table. To open up the space in our salon, we often have the table out – but this leaves a hollow metal post on the floor that Claire just loves to throw things in. Important things. Like toys, or screws, or rings – creating a half-hour fishing expedition that Aaron has told me is not an enjoyable way to pass the time. So, over Memorial Day weekend, I took the measurements and sewed a cover while I was back in Oak Park. And it fit – thank goodness!

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Moving Claire into the aft cabin also created a few new projects. For one, there’s only one small drawer in the cabin, and while there is a closet, Claire-sized clothes aren’t really meant for hanging. Plus, if you’re familiar with boats, you know that the space in that closet is at strange angles and at weird slopes. So, using the measurements I took, I did some searching before I found a suitable solution at The Container Store. I still had to cut a few drawers off the bottom to fit the space, but I was able to repurpose one of them as additional toy storage to sit upright in the bottom of the closet, which was otherwise unusable space.

Claire's Closet

Claire's Closet With Bottom Storage

 

 

 

 

 

The aft cabin also has the added joy of being positioned just below the cockpit, which means that about half of the “bed” area has very low clearance – which I learned time and time again the hard way. Claire can navigate that space much more easily, though, and I needed to find a way to stow her toys while we were under way. Anything left on the shelf along the side goes flying across the cabin when the boat’s at a moderate heel. So, I found net storage system intended for cars that I thought would work well in the space. So far so good!

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Claire Toy Storage

Many more project updates to come. As for the rest of this weekend, Aaron’s racing in the Colors Regatta with Turning Point, and also just got hired Chicago Sailing out of Belmont Harbor as a charter captain and a U.S. Sailing instructor (woohoo!). So it seems, Clarity will need to wait just a few more days before we take to the sea. Maybe we should get that mainsail rigged…

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’s 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!

 

 

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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