Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bridge Cruise

The forecast was for thunderstorms followed by rain, wind, and more thunderstorms. As we gathered at the yard, Speakeasy now in the river, the weather settled on a light rain and mild-to-moderate wind. A tribute to our crew (Saundra, Ed, Peggy, Dorothy, and Jeff), no one missed the ride up the River to the Lake in this less-than-perfect weather.

Our cast off corresponded with the arrival of three boats, which started further down the River. Now we were about 20 and would get to know each other quite well during the day. Our crew was given safety, line handling, and head information. All hands performed their duties very well.

The first few bridges went up in a nicely coordinated fashion with a long break at Congress Parkway--a freeway bridge. Within Chicago's Loop, we experienced wind shifts and gust with each skyscraper we passed. We listened in on tour boat speeches about the architecture and the the radio about bridges.

Our next long pause was an L train bridge at Lake Street. Past that bridge is the River's fork of North and South Branches. It was here that a series of explosions on the bridge, which we had just passed, filled the air. These electrical explosions occurred in spurts lasting 10 minutes or more. Our next pause (more of a lunch break) was for 40 minutes while the bridge crew took care of whatever was wrong with the exploding bridge.

Near State Street we rafted four-wide because it was so narrow. This allowed my fellow Great Books Foundation staff to see Speakeasy from their River-view windows. There was much waving. The staff considered the boat parade as a chance to celebrate the season or, perhaps, to laugh at the sailors in their funny-looking foulies.

We were among the last to enter the lock because we were chatting with Mike on a very slow Tartan Ten. I looked for a place on the starboard/windward side, which turned out to be a poor decision. There was only one place left and the boat just ahead was having difficult holding on. We had to abandon that spot and look for another further ahead. There was none. I made several attempts to go backward and failed, it turns out for the simple reason that I had not throttled up enough. After a dangerous attempt to place Speakeasy at the front of the leeward side, Woody yelled from Legacy to "give it more juice." Just the encouragement I needed at the time. Speakeasy eventually responded to more throttle and backed to a place on the leeward wall where there were no boats for 100 feet or more because there were no lines to hang onto. This was not an ideal spot, but at least the wind would keep us there.

About this time, a sailor on the windward side of the lock could not hold the line and fell in the River. As she struggled to hold onto the toe rail, Speakeasy's crew struggled to find anything to hold onto. Eventually, the MOB got back aboard and Speakeasy was secured. The lock was opened and Lake water poured in raising us up and, eventually, letting us out.

The Lake leg of the trip was through very choppy water and an 18 kt wind on the nose. Beth took the helm while I assisted the crew with fenders and cleanup. We were all happy to be out of the lock. As we approached the Columbia Yacht Club, dock hands Clay and Christian appeared ready to take lines. They were a fine sight and gave Beth confidence to make a perfect docking. All that was left was to get the bridal on NJ14 and toast all 'round with Ryan's Rescues (hot chocolate and Bailey's).
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