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Sunday, June 15, in DuSable Harbor, Chicago, Illinois

Hi all. We’ve finally left the marina in Michigan, and we’re comfortably settled in downtown Chicago. There’s so much to say that I’ll save some of it for my next Sunday message. Here’s the update since the last note from Holland.

One morning, I took a walk from our marina to the beach at the inlet to Lake Michigan. Our marina was in a kind of a basin poking out from Lake Macatawa (a made-up Native American name if I ever heard one.) I walked along the lake on the fine walking/jogging/bike path, where locals took advantage of the emerging lovely weather.

The weather turned into summer as if someone flipped a switch. Anyone who survived the terrible winter huddled under blankets probably didn’t care at all that spring was gone in an eyeblink. For me, northern summer is about as cool as I like it, so a day or two of spring is just fine. I passed some leafy summer homes, some woods, state parks, RV areas, and a tiny general store that would have looked at home in Mayberry. There were oak and maple trees and a lovely cottonwood tree about to burst with clusters of bell-shaped buds like grapes. Its heart-shaped leaves were lighter on one side and shimmered like wind chimes in the breeze.

There were a few historical signs along the way, telling me about Ottawa Beach and its development through the century. President Gerald Ford, a Grand Rapids native, was a visitor in his childhood with his parents, who owned a cottage, and he later bought a home with his brothers. The iconic red lighthouse in the inlet is nearly as postcard-popular in Holland as the ubiquitous tulip, and its stepped gables are fashioned in a Dutch architectural style. We knew this lighthouse well; there’s a full-size replica of it attached to one of our favorite restaurants in town. The park at the beach accommodated many forms of outdoor activity, with an RV lot, a modern fishing pier, and of course the lovely sand.

In the meantime, we were running out of time to get the boat ready, while we still had access to our rental car. Furthermore, we had company coming.

Every morning, Art would rinse the boat off to clear the flying insects and what our neighbor called “spider detritus”. We’d been in the Med so long we had forgotten what summer used to look like in a place that had rainfall. I was beginning to wonder about the real meaning of the word flybridge.

Art got people on board to help us remove items from the to-do list. Some of these tasks were left over from the winter: name boards to make us legal, an electronics guy to make sure that the navigational devices were communicating. The electronics tech found a second GPS that we didn’t know we had. We got the bow thruster joystick replaced and installed. Package after package arrived with parts or household items.

Some of the tasks were new: my PC screen would go blank erratically while I tried to boot up. This was scary, but our technician wisely asked me to replicate what I would do to make the screen dark. In our present setup, I’d take my PC and lay it on top of Art’s (identical) notebook, since his was in use nearly permanently, and I needed to get on only episodically. We figured out that if my notebook was exactly aligned on his (which happened very often due to my borderline-neurotic need for symmetry), my screen wouldn’t light. Perhaps our laptops were having a private moment and wanted the lights out. Anyway, that was easy to fix, and the technician and I were both pleased that we didn’t replace the screen and cable. It was as if we didn’t have to do a heart transplant.

Sammie and Jack arrived by car, and we thought that we were finally in travel mode. First, we thought we’d leave on the weekend. Then we decided to stay a day in Holland. Then we saw bad weather on Monday, and then Monday and Tuesday, and then Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday. We still found things to do.

We went to Holland town with them and saw it for the first time for the second time. The dead-auto place we’d passed looked better the next time around, because this time I noticed that someone had scavenged the debris and made endearing iron sculptures out of random auto parts, such as a dogsled with a cheerful driver made of carburetor parts and springs.

Jack immediately became the hardest-working first mate in western Michigan. He fixed our satellite radio, discovered that we have an intercom system in the VHF, repaired the stern-mounted camera, fixed our misbehaving spotlight, got the head macerator pump to work, and diagnosed the problem when the toilets decided to stop flushing, all before we even left the dock. Sammie advised me about the transition we were making from sail to power, taught me how to use the grill, and always kept me from melting down in the galley.

It was finally time to leave the place that the boat had been since the first time we saw it. The trip wouldn’t be long – a slow ride through Lake Macatawa, a quick jaunt south along Lake Michigan’s coast, and then another slow pass to Saugatuck.

We docked at a summer resort in Saugatuck called Coral Gables, without, as far as I could tell, any coral nearby. The resort boasts three restaurants and four bars, no hotel rooms, and a marina with several dozen slips, one of which was available for transient dockage, in this case, us. With a trampoline, a climbing wall, and a comedy club, you’d never have to leave. With the assistance of the able marina crew, our own crew, and favorable weather conditions, we tied up without any trouble. Any other outcome would have been embarrassing.

Saugatuck and its nearby sister city Douglas were small settlements along the Kalamazoo River, at the time when the big, prosperous lumber community nearby was called Singapore. After the great fire in Chicago in 1871, Singapore lumber was used to rebuild the city. Apparently there was no end to the desire for more trees, and they laid bare the landscape. Singapore had been built on sand dunes, and without the stability of the tree growth, the city simply disappeared into the sand. Some of the buildings were placed on sleds and ferried down the icy river to Saugatuck, and the abandoned remains of Singapore became a ghost town.

In 1909, the Big Pavilion was erected. Using electric lights powered by its own generator (the only one in the community), the Big Pavilion was the dance hall and later housed a movie theater. A summer resort was born, until 1960, when the Big Pavilion burned to the ground. You’d think that they might have learned the lesson of Chicago.

Apparently Coral Gables was part of the rebuilding process after that fire. The sign on the façade is either the original one from the 1960s or a retro wink to the time. I kept being surprised that the postcard of the vista I saw in my brain wasn’t in black-and-white or sepia. You could use it as the set for the period remake of “where the boys are.” The plaque on one building in town told of its 1905 history as a livery and stables, and noted that the building was later used as a factory for Eskimo Pies. With our sixties-era Sirius radio playing onboard in the background, it felt as though we’d been transported and teleported.

The towns of Saugatuck and Douglas have become a sort of arts colony, and locals have donated many large sculptures for display outdoors in community parks, as well as many local lawns with clever or dramatic artworks on view. One home we saw in Douglas had “planted” several rakes upside down on the front lawn, the prongs all brightly painted and appearing almost floral. A ceramic totem pole graces a public area that housed a tiny weekly farmers’ market in Saugatuck.

It took a short time for us to walk the length and breadth of Saugatuck on our arrival day, but we devoted our full day to see Douglas, which we understood to be the year-round residence. We knew that the supermarket was there, a good thing, because there wasn’t a single convenience store in Saugatuck town.

I expected to find real shops in Douglas rather than the galleries and craft places of Saugatuck, maybe a hardware store. We took the “interurban” shuttle service, a bus that you call and reserve, one that takes you from one town to the other for about a dollar a ride. They pick you up wherever you are in town and drop you off wherever you’d like to go. The dockmaster had suggested that we eat at a well-regarded place in Douglas. I liked the menu and we planned that as the center of our Douglas visit.

The bus picked us up at our marina and set us down in Douglas, a town that extends for about two blocks along one street. The restaurant we’d chosen would only be open for dinner. There were no other restaurants in town except a coffee place for sandwiches and what somebody described as a pizza place. We chose the coffee place. And then we were done with the town. Almost none of the shops were open, even though it was already about a week into June. We were back at the marina by early afternoon.

But then we took the shuttle one more time to a “dune ride” about halfway between the two villages. Just because Singapore is gone apparently doesn’t mean that it can’t be an amusement park. One enterprising family bought hundreds of acres of sand dunes, some “alive”, meaning continuing to advance, and some “dead”, meaning bearing trees and feeling like a tropical rain forest.

The dune rides began in 1954 with a tricked-out 1942 Ford convertible turned into a dune buggy, and now sports vehicles that rest on truck chassis and are outfitted for safety and fun (with the obvious absence of a rollbar.) Kids have a ball bumping around on the back rows of the vehicle, and the driver provides a running commentary about losing people overboard or snakes falling on your head from overhead tree branches. The fact that you need to sign a waiver to board sets the stage. The ride lasts about an hour, including a stop at the top of the ridge for lovely views of Lake Michigan, and is peppered with history, ecology, and botany.

Meanwhile, during our visit to Saugatuck, Jack kept finding and fixing things we didn’t understand or that didn’t work on the boat. He closed the impossible zipper in the Bimini top and then he figured out how to change the bulbs in the impossible courtesy lights in the steps.

We left the next morning for a fast ride across the lake to Chicago. The ride would last for four hours, but a time change would mean that we’d get an extra hour of daytime on our first day there.

This ride would let us test the boat for a little while at something close to speed. Art discovered that the compass needed a 12-degree offset and fixed that. Apart from the obvious advantages I noticed between power and sail (not heeling over, having calm days to be the preferred time to travel rather than looking for wind – and waves – and getting somewhere pretty fast), here were a few highlights:

• No language barriers with dockmasters (speak my own language and not bother trying to find monosyllabic ways to express myself).
• Watching Jack on the onboard camera as he trundled around in the engine room.
• Seeing an unobstructed view of the water from the flybridge, without peering around sails and shrouds.
• Thinking of the word “cleave” as I looked at the wake that had dug in behind us.
• Thinking that there’s a gigantic barge in front of us and realizing it’s the whole Chicago skyline twenty miles ahead.
Our first destination was Burnham Harbor. Architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham was one of the designers of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

The marina includes the lakeside adjacent to Burnham Park, which abuts Chicago’s Museum Campus (Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium, and Field Museum). It has been reported that a helicopter that transports President Obama from Chicago’s airport to his Chicago home lands in Burnham Park, where his motorcade waits.

Just outside the harbor, tiny sailboats swarmed around their course like butterflies. The ride inside the harbor passed boat after boat stuffed with weekenders. We tied up at the end of a long dock on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. The boat next to us was filled with twenty-something adults in very small swimwear, each having arrived with a box of beer, and each depleting it over the course of the afternoon on board. Apparently the parents of one of these people own the vessel and either don’t mind that it’s a party boat or don’t know.

This marina was unusual to me, because it’s right in the city, very close to wonderful summer cruising, but it was evident very soon that even the people who use their boats on the weekends don’t seem to leave the dock. If they didn’t leave the dock on this gorgeous June Saturday, then nothing would be the right day for them.

Instead, planters graced nearly every slip, most filled with herbs, others growing lettuce, some filled with bright flowering plants, and quite a few with tomatoes growing up trellises. I suppose that if you have an apartment in the city, you need to put your garden on the finger pier of the dock. Other slips were outfitted with large barbecue grills or bike mounts screwed into the wood. Apparently, many of these boats were only in use as a backyard shed.

Art and I took an afternoon walk to visit the planetarium, because it was our neighbor and we’d only be in this marina for a few days. We all then went out for dinner to a retro steak house nearby (Chicago Firehouse), served by career waiters in white jackets. All of this took place in a building that was once a firehouse, complete with a remaining tin ceiling and a fireman’s pole.

On Sunday, we began our day at the Maxwell Street Market, an open-air sale that spans about three blocks in a neighborhood that must be primarily Mexican. Lots of Spanish conversations around us discussed the fresh poblano peppers, the hardware, and the inexpensive clothes and shoes. Art and I shared a crispy quesadilla as we ventured through the items on offer. After that, we hoped to visit an old delicatessen a few blocks away (Manny’s), but it was closed for Sunday. Apparently Mexicans aren’t so interested in corned beef sandwiches.

Our next stop was Union Station, where our crew could buy the Amtrak tickets that would get them back to Holland and their car. After that, we found yet another Chicago institution, Lou Mitchell’s, one of the original stops on Route 66, a restaurant that got its start in 1923.

Last, we took a walk in Chicago’s Chinatown, where even on a Sunday, many shops were open, and I had to be restrained from buying a whole Peking duck that was hanging in a market that also sold dried shrimp, many unusual mushrooms, and items that you’d recognize vaguely from many encounters with stir-fry dishes in Chinese restaurants. There’s a stunning pagoda of a building that houses the Chinese Merchants Association, and bakery counter staff who were as fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese as they were in English. To complete our Sunday trip around the world, we ordered takeout deep-dish and thin-crust pizza (if only to make a reasoned comparison) from Gino’s East for dinner onboard. Verdict: yum and yum.

Monday morning, we moved from our berth in Burnham Harbor to a marina downtown in DuSable Harbor. For our two-week stay, this gave us closer access to public transit, shopping, and downtown life. The first thing I noticed about the new spot (other than our fabulous proximity to the marina offices and the Wi-Fi access point) was the constant parade of walkers, joggers, dog walkers, parents with baby strollers, cyclists, and Segway tours. The next thing I noticed was that there wasn’t a single potted plant on any of the docks in this harbor. We’d found a completely different maritime culture: people who use boats for boating.

On Monday, we tackled the “Magnificent Mile” of Michigan Avenue, a boulevard of shopping for every taste and budget. Because of the sunny weather, we declared it “hat day”, and we all sported summer chapeaus. Our lunch choice was the large, crowded Grand Lux, a mid-range restaurant that is cross-bred between the interior design of the Venetian in Las Vegas and the multicultural culinary sensibilities of the Cheesecake Factory. In the afternoon, we made our way back via the grocery store near the marina, a fantasy of delicacies. It would have been silly to make dinner aboard and pass up the affordable a la carte options on display.

From our supermarket, we could see two blocks away to our marina, but Google Maps insisted that we walk halfway around the world with our groceries to get back to our boat. We had to hail a taxi to get back. We’d need to do more research about this.

The next day, we experimented with walking a more direct route to our supermarket. If we walked by the marina office block and adjacent to the harbor’s parking lot, we’d go under a highway, by a field, and through a back alley, finally to emerge near the row of shops that contained the market. It wasn’t a surprise that Google didn’t know about this or simply isn’t inclined to go sending people by dumpsters and in highway underpasses. But this is a well-trod shortcut for local residents to reach the lakefront. I never took a trip through there without encountering others on their way to or from the lakefront. The day’s weather wasn’t cooperating, but that didn’t deter us from a trip to Little Goat for lunch, the plain but heart-of-gold sibling of the glamorous Girl and the Goat across the street.

Jack and Sammie faced a confluence of deterrence in their quest for a taxi to take them to Union Station: driving rain, rush hour, and having to wait outdoors off the main road. “Hat day��� was a dim memory. The taxi we ordered online was a half hour late before a savior from the marina office pulled up in her SUV to whisk them to the train station. . They went to a cozy Amtrak car to deliver them to the Holland station, and we returned to our boat to lock ourselves in and listen to the pounding of raindrops on the decks.

I’ll pause here and save the rest of our two weeks for the next time. Happy Father’s Day to all, and let’s hope that the summer weather will stick around for all of us.

Love, Karen (and Art)