Thursday, December 18, 2008

How Speakeasy Got Her Name

As soon as I started contemplating owning a boat, I began working on her name. Names are important to me. I thought of the elements: the sky and water and wind. One morning while I was still half-asleep, the name Starwave fell from the heavens, you might say, and splashed into the waves, so to speak. Immediately I envisioned the name painted on her hull. I saw a flag waving in the breeze emblazoned with three stars above a scalloped wave. When I realized that my design was a dead ringer for the flag of Aargau--the Swiss canton of which I am a citizen, this similarity solidified my choice.

Starwave spoke to me but not to anyone else. Conversations went like this:

“I’ve chosen the name for the sailboat I plan to own someday.”

“Really? What?”



No one understood the name Starwave.

Then I met Bob Bilhorn who has circumnavigated the globe on his 47’ Stephens sailboat Tally Ho. One day as he and I sailed up the Chicago shoreline, Bob explained why a boat’s name must be easy to recognize and remember. When sailing in Indonesia, Tally Ho had pulled up alongside a huge tanker. After exchanging names and pleasantries, the tanker filled up some empty jerry cans with diesel fuel and lowered them down. The boats parted ways.

Not long after, a huge motorboat approached Tally Ho at great speed. Bob immediately radioed on Channel 16,“Tally Ho here to approaching unidentified motor vessel. What are your intentions? Repeat Tally Ho here. What are your intentions?”

The boat veered off. Bob explained, “I knew the tanker monitored Channel 16 and would remember our name and come to our rescue, if need be.”

Scratch Starwave.

By now, Mark and I had joined forces and our boat’s name should reflect our PartnerShip. Maybe Tango Two - we love to tango. Or Jazzbuoy - Mark loves jazz. What if we combine – Bethmark or Mkbeth

Then one morning, a new name dropped from the heavens.

I nudged Mark and whispered, “Speakeasy. The name for our boat.”

“Perfect,” he replied.

You see, my company is Speaking Unlimited, Inc. My book is Speaking Globally. Mark works in the building whose dome housed Al Capone’s notorious speakeasy The Stratosphere Club.

So Speakeasy she is. Easy to recognize and remember--in case we are ever approached by an aggressive unidentified vessel.

In the meantime, we say, “Knock two times and come aboard.”

Monday, December 15, 2008


In December there was a nearly 2-foot snow fall followed quickly by a thaw and then a deep freeze. Ice. I borrowed a neighbor's car to get to the yacht yard so I could check on Speakeasy. She was in good shape. The new cover was nearly bare, which meant that the snow that turned to water had run off before the freeze. This was not the case on Speakeasy's yard neighbor, Tally Ho!

Tally Ho has circumnavigated the globe, but calls Chicago home. She's a 47' Stevens with golden masts--easy to spot in the yard. The wind had blown off some of her tarp covering. When I looked more closely, I saw her owner, Bob, fussing with the tarp that had torn in several places. He was worrying about replacing it. Bob welcomed me aboard and I could see that a torn tarp was only part of the problem. When the snow thawed, the heavy, wet snow sunk and stretched the plastic tarp between its support rods, which were made of PVC pipe. Huge pools of water must have formed during the thaw, because what we saw now was huge blocks of ice sitting on the deck. Some of the support rods had snapped under the load. The two largest blocks of ice were hundreds of pounds each.

Bob gave me a hammer to break up the ice. After a few minutes he gave me a sledge. After much pounding we were able to slide smaller 10-20-pound boulders of ice overboard until the deck was clear. Bob bought me lunch for the trouble and went back later to deal with the tarp.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Getting through the long, cold winter...

Sitting at my walnut dining table in this high-ceilinged loft in Printer's Row, I'm contemplating getting through the long, cold Chicago winter.  Two weeks before Christmas eve, the streets are covered with snow; however, the sun has shown today.  Now the last rays of afternoon are warmly reflected off the Donahue Building across the street.  But the warmth is an illusion.  I've been out today, and it's cold. Our 9 foot Christmas tree stands tall like the mast on Speakeasy. Lots of little lights glow like the stars did when we sat close together in our cockpit and gazed up at the summer heavens. At Crate and Barrel I found little wooden sailboats complete with canvas-like sails.  Now our tree is sporting ten of them.  They make me smile.  Would a brisk wind set them off for sights unknown.  No.  But my memory keeps returning to our amazing summer.  The summer from Harbor to Harbor that I should be writing about.  We talked about a book.  Mark diligently and creatively posted blogs on an almost daily basis.  I, hesitant to leash my unedited words for the world to see, didn't really blog.  Maybe you could say I plogged.  But after a conversation last night with playwright Rob Koon and an evocative holiday message from Shirley Nice, I have decided to write and post.  Scary but eventually maybe freeing.  

So here I sit with visions not of sugar plums but of harbors.  Many harbors.  I'd never entered towns from the water before.  I'd always arrived via plane or train or car.  It's different when you approach with waves lapping against the hull, sand dunes in the distance.  Then a lighthouse either port or starboard side.  The channels appear so narrow.  Especially when the waves are high.  Intimidating.  Frightening to approach land?  Oh, yes. I'd been forewarned by my knowledgeable brother that it's better to ride out a storm than to hurry in to a safe haven.  We didn't actually encounter any torrential storms, but we did experience wet and windy arrivals.  That's when Mark would take the helm.  I would silently pray that we would make it into the channel without banging Speakeasy on either side.  The farther into the channel, the calmer the waters and I became.  After several such arrivals, I knew I had  to take my turn. I had to steer Speakeasy into safety. And I did!  Just remembering, I'm smiling broadly. Accomplishments are important.  Goals achieved are valuable.

Maybe I will survive the long Chicago winter by writing about our warm and wonderful summertime adventure.  I will try.  Starting here.  Starting now.  Now I will publish post it. Come on, a little nudge.  Like that time we got stuck trying to anchor.  Mark hung on to the boom and rocked back and forth while I put the engine into reverse and forward and then we were free.  OK,  let's free this up.