Monday, May 12, 2008

Speakeasy Launch

There had been lots of anticipation leading to the day Speakeasy would be put in the water--into the Calumet River near Lake Michigan on the South Side of Chicago. Beth rose early on Thursday to be at the boat yard when she was picked up and carried to the edge of the river and lowered in. No scrapes, bumps, or bruises for Speakeasy. The bottom was painted and sides were polished. She had bright red letters spelling out Speakeasy, but would she float? I worried about the speedo that I screwed into a through-hull in the forward cabin. I'd never done it before. Was it water tight? Did it face the correct direction or would it only measure speed backward?

There were other concerns. We'd not had a diesel engine before, just an old and finicky outboard. Beth followed the engine technician and annoyed him with her questions. Was the drip in the stuffing box too fast? It was! Will she sink? Did you tighten the bolts enough? Is the oil ok? Where's the filter? How do you test the oil level? How do you start it? How do you stop it?

After that exhausting morning, Beth called our launch crew to make sure they were still available. One was on jury duty and the other was coming from 80 miles away. We were all ready when morning broke. It was launch day. A neighbor patiently waited while we packed gear in his car, got coffee, and collected our crew. We finally arrived at the boat yard about 10:00 still a bit groggy. It was overcast with a light 5-knot wind from the North. It was good. We were lucky.

Speakeasy was set to be one of the first boats out that day, but we had to check systems again and rig the main. We didn't trust engines. John was a rigging expert and soon had determined the lines--although the outhaul remained a mystery. We fit the main sail in the boom and replaced a messenger line with the main halyard. Battens fitted and sail raised. Sail number 612. She looked good. Then we fiddled with the Dutchman flake lines for a while. Only John had any experience with these lines that let the sail down in a nicely folded pattern so that a short-handed sailor could lower the main without the sail dumping onto the deck. The clock was ticking. The Harbormaster wanted us off. We decided that the main was good enough to raise, which was the important thing if the engine failed.

John and Jeff fitted the anchor in case we got stuck without power--a last resort. Now we were ready to check the bilge pump screws (I had left one of them lose previously) and test the engine. All systems go. The dock hands through our lines to us. We were underway. Only two draw bridges and an elevator bridge between us and the Lake.

None of us had communicated with the bridge workers before. Fortunately, another boat was sailing with us and knew the routine. She called the bridge and a few minutes later it opened. We could see the Lake ahead past the tugs and barges. What we saw were white caps. The wind had increased from 5 to 15 knots. We'd be fighting waves and wind for the next 3 hours. There was nothing to do but bundle up and head North.

We put on hats, scarves, gloves, and anything else that would keep us warm. Huddled in the cockpit, we told stories and ate sandwiches whiles waves covered our bow and weather deck. The shoreline told our progress--63rd Street Beach, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Merchandise Mart, Soldier Field, Adler Planetarium, and the Shedd Aquarium. Monroe Harbor was next. The waves subsided inside the outer wall. It was an easy motor to North Juliet 23, our mooring can. Jeff grabbed the can with the boat hook and he and John fixed a line to it. Soon we had the mooring bridle shackled to the can and Speakeasy was home and secure. We were cold and called for the tender to pick us up.

Ryan's Hot Wave, the Club bartender's version of hot chocolate with Bailey's Bristol Cream, warmed us up at the Columbia Yacht Club. We were among the first sailors to have boats in the harbor. We had successfully launched Speakeasy.
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