829 Miles

One busted fuel intake.
One overhauled head gasket.
One U.S. Boat tow.
Almost two weeks on the Great Lakes.
A father, four sons, a couple friends.
Mazurka arrived in the Twin Ports on Friday, July 3rd.
"Do you think you can step on it?" the bridge master asked the captain.


Abandon Ship!

Well, not really. The ship is just fine, nestled securely in a dock at Houghton, MI. The crew has disbanded - John and Ed return to work, Scott returns to his family, Ed and Bob are back in Lac La Belle, and Mark is driving across the UP to his wife in Duluth.

I figured the next time I would see Mark, he would be waving to me from the helm of Mazurka, stopping Park Point traffic as the Aerial Lift Bridge rose to let his ship pass.

Instead, I'll see him in about two hours when he drives up in his brother's pick-up truck.

The captain returns to Minnesota to close on his other house, his land-based house, and move his land-based furniture and belongings to our new North Shore 1895 residence.

Mark will then drive back to the UP to retrieve his first home and bring her by water to the Twin Ports with his crew of Ed, Bobby, and Wendell.

Sound confusing? You bet. But the engine will be repaired, the gale force winds will have died down, and the crew will be rested.

I am very glad I opted to stay on land for this trip.

If you still need a Mazurka cruising fix while the crew takes a hiatus, check out my recent article in the Chicago Sun-Times travel section: Third Coast Charms.

(Leaving Milwaukee on a calm day along the Third Coast.)


Welcome to lovely Houghton/Hancock

Mazurka has arrived in Houghton, MI, where it will stay for a couple days. Welcome to the Keweenaw, Copper County, home to Michigan Tech.

The trip across half of Lake Superior was smooth, but now the wind is kicking up, with waves 5-7 feet, so the crew is going to use this time to regroup and make engine repairs.

They're losing two valuable crew members (John and Ed) who have to return to work on Monday, but they're gaining Wendell, an experienced sailor and has crossed Gitchigumi several times.

They sound tired.


Forward or back?

"Sometimes there is no right answer," Ed told Mark yesterday, regarding a blown head gasket on the engine.

To go ahead or stay back? The crew debated all day, then went ahead up the St. Mary river, approaching the Soo Locks and the wide open expanse of Lake Superior. Last night they stayed at a harbor, hoping to find a machinist, who was no more. They had parts flown in by UPS. This morning they decided to just keep going, blown gasket and all. If the problem gets worse on the water, they have the parts to make repairs. Which doesn't entirely make sense to me, but I'm not onboard. And thankfully so.

Meanwhile, I get a thrill looking at the location maps Bob periodically sends out via SPOT. To see tiny 38' Mazurka embarking on enormous Lake Gitchigumi is pretty humbling. I can only imagine how small the crew must be feeling.

View Larger Map


Trouble in the Soo

It's never good when black smoke plumes out of your engine.

Awaiting further updates...the crew is in the Soo, but stopped for more engine repairs. I've heard rumors of parts being flown in. This trip is probably going to cost a lot more than we thought.

What do they say about a boat being a hole you pour money into?

Perhaps my friend Tom was right - sell the boat, buy a canoe. Or a kayak. Anything without an engine.


Leaving Lake Michigan

View Larger Map

Yesterday the captain called me around 3:30 p.m. to report that the engine was repaired and they were back on course.

His brother Ed called two other MDOT mechanics who showed up and they all fixed the engine. When they put the key into the ignition, the starter wouldn't turn it over. A new disaster.

John suggested, "Why don't you just tap the starter with a hammer?" They did; problem solved.

Then Mark took the boat a little upriver before Bobby pointed out that the lake was the other way.

As of 3 p.m. CDT Wednesday, they're getting ready to bid Lake Michigan a fond adieu.


My Four Sons

Opting out of the trip was suddenly made okay when Mark's brother Scott was able to get a last-minute plane ticket and arrived in Chicago at 6:30 a.m. on Monday, mere hours before Mazurka cruised out of Chi-town for the last time.

So now the Schneiderhan complement is complete: Ed and his four sons, Mark, Scott, John and Ed, and his friend Bob. What a father's day gift.

They cruised out of Navy Pier on Monday around 2 p.m., with clear skies and waves 1-2 feet. Their route: head across Lake Michigan to South Haven, MI, then start north along the Michigan coastline.

This morning I got a call from Mark around 8 a.m. "We're being towed."

On a routine check at 4 a.m., they noticed fuel in the bottom of the boat. A busted fuel line. They were 28 miles from the Michigan shore.

So they called the Coast Guard, and then Boat U.S., and they're getting a tow into Muskegon, MI. Mark's brother Ed is a large engine mechanic for MDOT and knows his stuff; he was already on the phone lining up parts for when they arrive.

Mark sounded okay - he said the crew was a little deflated, but not without a sense of humor: Scott and John were fishing off the stern while being towed. "This is a great speed - let's get some lines out there!"


Taking a Trip, Not Taking a Trip

A few years ago I went to Haiti on a medical mission. One evening, our team returned to the mission house after working a long day in a clinic with no electricity, no water, and patients lined up for days. No sooner had we entered the house and sat down than word came from the village: a baby was being born.

Four team members grabbed their bags and loaded into the truck. I stayed sitting on the couch. "Aren't you coming with us?" they said, sure that I would get a great story out of this event.

In my mind I could see the hot rooms of the small hut filled with people scuffling over the dirt floor; I could hear the screams. Barging into the crowded home of a woman in painful labor, surrounded by family members, long into the dark Haitian night did not sound appealing to me. No, I wasn't going.

After they left, I went upstairs and sat on my bed, struggling with regret about my decision. It would be a great story. A once in a lifetime opportunity. And what kind of writer was I, to stay at home instead of following the action?

The oldest son of our mission hosts, 10 year-old Stephen, came by - I was staying in his room. "You didn't go see the baby?" he asked.

"No," I told him.

He sat down beside me, his face a beautiful combination of his American mother's compassion and his Haitian father's determination. "It's hard to know what to do," he said. "Sometimes it's better to get the experience, and sometimes it's better to hear about it afterwards." He thought for a moment, then added, "A lot of times, my dad makes it sound more interesting. I wait to hear it from him."

This week, when faced with the concurrent tasks of buying a house and packing and moving all our stuff...and a nonstop boatride of indeterminate length with a crew of five men, I have opted to save my sanity and stay on land.

This was not an easy decision. I'm still sitting on the couch, wondering if I'm missing the trip of a lifetime. Maybe I am.

I'll wait to hear the story from the captain and crew. Like Stephen said, maybe their versions will be more interesting.

That night in Haiti, the American nurses returned rather quickly from the house of the Haitian birth, with an over-the-top story of how they assisted in delivering triplets. Then they confessed: "The baby was already born by the time we got there. They didn't need our help at all."


Are we really taking this trip?

Our last time onboard Mazurka was 30 degrees in mid-November. I'm wondering if our upcoming trip on Lake Superior will be much different.

In 12 days we set sail for Duluth. I'm in denial. There are too many details to figure out before we go. But what's really to figure out? Put the boat in the water, systems check, buy groceries. There's always the anticipation before going on a trip like this, the worry of trying to plan for every single possible incident. But what's really to plan? Start the engine, start moving. Figure it out as we go. As soon as we're freely moving, everything seems to fall into place.

As my friend Erika reminded me this morning, "When you're out on the bow, it's hard to be mad at God."


Mazurka in the Corner

A month to go before our grand tour...

We visited Mazurka in its winter storage. She's ready to get back in the water. Ready for Lake Superior!


Let the Preparations Begin

It's official - Mark found a slip on Park Point. In June, we're bringing Mazurka from Chicago up to Duluth, Minnesota. Under her own power.

You may be wondering what this journey entails.

We will be leaving from the southern tip of of Lake Michigan, traveling to the northern tip, traipsing through the Soo Locks, and along the southern coast of Lake Superior to the far western corner where her new home waits.

This is a very long trip.

On Sunday afternoon I got out the maps and started charting just how long this trip will take. With the two of us driving the boat, which goes at a maximum of 8 mph, if we travel 8-10 hours a day, we're looking at about two weeks on the water. This does not include delays for weather. Mazurka can roll like a metronome in four foot waves. And who knows what Lake Superior might be doing...this beast is more ocean than lake, with huge freighters, heavy fog, sudden shifts in weather, and iron ore deposits than render a compass and GPS useless. This is big time.

Sunday night I told Mark I didn't want to take this trip.

So he got to scheming. Mazurka's Ford diesel engine can run 24/7. A crew of six could run the boat continuously, weather permitting. He called a captain who knows Lake Superior and is game for the ride. By Monday night, Mark had assembled a crew of four and was looking for two more. I heard him saying on the phone, "I don't know if she's going..."

I can never pass up a challenge. This quality gets me into more trouble! But I marched out to the living room and announced, "I'm in."

So I'm in. Only female crew member onboard, who knows what kind of crap job I'll be given. Probably the graveyard shift. But I'll face my fear...


Leaving the Room with a View

With all the views we've enjoyed of Chicago onboard Mazurka, this is our final view of the city from our temporary landlubber condo in the south loop.

I am on the goodbye tour, making the rounds to see friends before I leave. I have been in this city for 16 years, since I was 18 years old - my entire adult life. This is no easy process.

Tuesday I went to see my friend Denise Power in her condo near Lincoln Park. (Denise's story of the Obama rally is one of my favorite recent perspectives on Chicago.) From her condo, she has a spectacular view of the lake, the park, and downtown. Denise and her husband are also trying to sell their place, and while we were overlooking the city, she described to me how recently she realized she has stopped looking at the view. As if knowing she may have to give up the place soon has made her stop taking it in.

I knew exactly what she was talking about. My last few weeks on the boat, I kept telling myself I needed to study our view in Belmont Harbor, the way Lincoln Park looked in fall, the way the downtown skyscrapers shimmered at night. I will never see it again this way, I kept telling myself. But I couldn't make myself look; it was too hard to see it, knowing we were leaving. And in a way, I was already a foot out the door.

The next day I saw my friend Betty for lunch. Betty and I met a couple years ago, at a thank you brunch at Stanley's for Lincoln Park Shelter volunteers. I had been there with my volunteering husband for a few hours, had eaten breakfast and chatted it up and was just about to leave, when in comes Betty. It took less than ten minutes of talk for me to realize this was a fascinating person I wanted to know better. Betty is a writer, editor, and long-time volunteer of many Chicago organizations, who knows Chicago culture like no one I've ever met.

On Wednesday we spent a leisurely lunch at Stanley's, staying almost till supper, starting with the big topics (the move, the election, her thrice-broken arm), then moving on to the books we are working on (her book that has suddenly revealed its shape, my Mazurka book that has suddenly revealed its ending - and possibly the epilogue!), and then we got down to the random stuff that happens in our daily lives, which is my favorite part of talks with Betty.

She tells me about her electricity went out on a Sunday morning. She walked to Starbucks to wait to call an electrician. On her way inside she talked with the guy on the corner selling Streetwise, the $2 paper for the homeless. She sees him daily, and he calls her Betty St Louis, even though she's lived in Chicago a lot longer than her childhood under the arch. Betty tells the Streetwise vendor she is looking for a phone to call an electrician and he hands her his cell. She goes inside to sit by the window, opens the phone, realizes she hasn't a clue how to work it. She looks up at the SW vendor through the window and he comes inside to help her.

She finds an electrician who does the work on a Sunday morning for $65. She thinks he deserves more for a Sunday morning and he says, "Okay, $75."

"It helps being a little old widow," she tells me.

I laugh out loud. "I have never thought of you that way," I say. "You'd have to lose the edge and the wit."

A few days later the electrician comes by to check on her. He brings his girlfriend, who keeps rabbits and a rooster in her urban backyard. "They're a fabulous couple," Betty says, "They're weird - you would love them."

A few days later she is waiting on the street for a cab. A black stretch limo appears and the driver says he'll take her for the same rate. He charges her $5 for the trip; she gives him $7.

While we talk, people keep coming around to say hello to Betty. You would think she was Studs Terkel for how many random people know her and know her well. She remembers details of people's lives even though she can't remember where she met them. She epitomizes the best of living in Chicago - the warmth, compassion, and respect people can have for everyone they meet throughout the day, from the Streetwise vendor in front of Starbucks to the busboy at the restaurant to a friend you might not see again.

Eventually it's time to leave; I have to catch a bus up to Lakeview for another appointment. Betty and I part on the street. I don't start crying until she is around the corner.

On this goodbye tour, spending time with the people here who I love, listening to their daily lives, I am getting my last look at my daily life in Chicago.

The view is so extraordinary I almost don't want to look.


Phantom Wave Syndrome

Walking among boats in heated storage is like swimming underwater with ghosts. They are hoisted up high, so that you walk beneath the water line, their plastic covers rustling softly around you.

The first thing Mark and I noticed when we climbed (and I mean climbed) onboard Mazurka Saturday afternoon was that she felt like she should be moving, even though she wasn't.

It was a very strange, sad feeling.

We spent Saturday afternoon aboard Mazurka, doing the last cleaning of the season, but for different reasons: Mark was cleaning in case a potential buyer needs to come onboard; I was cleaning so that she'll be fresh and ready when we take her up north next summer.

I am having a hard time leaving this boat.

Mark, surprisingly, is up and ready for the next adventure.

"I got tired of the transient lifestyle," he confessed. "The pump-outs not working, the electricity going out, and then when they shut off our water in Belmont Harbor, that was it."

I had learned to just accept all that inconvenience as boat life. In exchange, I got the sky and the trees and the water constantly beneath me. I miss the water. We can see the lake and the sky from our fancy south loop furnished temporary condo. It's not the same. We are always the same temperature; we are always level. At night, I still feel the water beneath me.


Someday Might Be Tomorrow

On Saturday night, after Mark and I had spent all day shuttling boxes from Mazurka to storage, I asked him, "Do you think someday we might look back on this and think we were crazy for living on a boat?"

"Someday might be tomorrow," he replied.

Sunday morning we found a brief lull in the gale force winds and took Mazurka for her final voyage down the Chicago River. She now sits comfortably in a cradle in heated storage, beside million dollar yachts.

I took one final picture of her in the water. "Till we meet again," I thought, because I was being melancholy and dramatic. In reality, till we meet again is probably next weekend, when we'll be back to give her a good thorough scrubbing.

Someday might be tomorrow, till we meet again is next weekend, and in the meantime? The meantime is Mark and me and two cats nestled very comfortably in a one-bedroom south loop condo, complete with dishwasher, in-unit laundry, and all the hot water you want to fill that nice, deep bathtub.

We made it just in time for the snow.


Not Even a Few Last Drops?

Although Belmont Harbor is supposed to keep its water on until November 15th, they decided to turn it off early this year. Maybe because temperatures got below freezing; who am I to judge. All I know is that in our few last days onboard Mazurka, we've had to resort to some creative ways of filling the water tanks.

Even at the end, it's comical. Save those tears, you guys! (You might need them to wash your hands.)

We've spent our last night as liveaboard newlyweds. Tonight we graduate to a furnished condo downtown, our temporary digs for a month, complete with functional plumbing!


Last Appearance in Chicago

On Saturday night Life Aboard Mazurka made its final literary appearance before it sets sail for dry dock.

Many thanks to Jenny Seay, my good friend and organizer of the Tamale Hut reading series, and Jaime, owner of the Tamale Hut, for giving me the opportunity to read one last time. And thanks to all the audience members who came out to listen on a very cold night.

Here's an excerpt of the reading:

One morning in our last month on Mazurka, in the few weeks before leaving Belmont Harbor, Mark went out the door for work and I stood in the doorway, waving to him as he carried his briefcase and blue lunch bag filled with the sandwich I had just made him. He turned on the dock to look back at the boat. I opened the door to see if he needed something. He stood looking at the side of the hull, then at me, his eyes taking in the whole scene. It occurred to me that he wasn’t looking at anything in particular – he was taking it all in, as an impressionist painter does. He was checking out the condition of his boat, as he often did, and as he did, he was checking out the condition of his life. This was his life: boat, wife, living on the water, just the two of us.

Time to pull up anchor and head to a different harbor, which we were preparing to do; this life was coming to a close; we would soon be bound for land, for the unknown.

(One of our last mornings in Belmont Harbor.)


No Place Like It

We may be leaving in six weeks, but in sixteen years of living in this town, last night had to be the best.


All Good Things

It's been a quiet week in Belmont Harbor.

The end of the season is near. Sailors sadly come to the docks now, hauling their last crates for the last trip of the season - bound for dry-dock.

Mark and I are contemplating the end, too.

Last week, Mark accepted a faculty position at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is set to start in January. And while Duluth sits right on lovely Lake Superior, it's impossible for us to live on Mazurka in a city that spends eight months of the year in winter's ice cold grip.

The honeymoon is over; we are moving to land.

This is pretty exciting news for us for lots of reasons - northern Minnesota is gorgeous, we love winter sports, this position is Mark's dream job, and there's an almost-endless frontier to explore.

For months we have been contemplating what to do with Mazurka if we moved to Duluth. It's still not entirely clear. But while we had been thinking for sure that we would have to sell her, now we are considering taking her with us - making the great trip from Chicago up the western shore of Lake Michigan, through the Straits of Mackinac, skipping through the top of Lake Huron, and coasting along the southern shore of Lake Superior. This will be a hell of a trip.

And it will have to wait until next summer.

Our plan for now is to stay in Belmont Harbor until November 15, spend a month on the wall at River City, and then haul Mazurka out during the uncertain cold of mid-December. Our much-loved home will spend the winter in dry-dock while we head north to a home on Garrison Keillor's land. And next summer? We'll see what happens....


Wabbit Hunting?

Or gearing up for the Flatwater Classic?

Early Sunday morning, we took Mazurka and the Lil Choppin for our annual volunteer work as safety boats in the canoe race down the Chicago River, run by Friends of The River.

It's a fun event - if you think fun is getting up at 6 AM on a Sunday morning, heading to the heavy traffic areas of the Chicago River, and staying steady for nearly five hours while trying to keep canoers and kayakers to the west wall so they don't get run over by tour boats; if you think fun is being ignored by these canoers and kayakers who sometimes yell at you for getting in their way; if you think fun is getting stuck in the pouring rain. (Here are Mark, Tony, and Rick yelling through a megaphone: "Stay to the West Wall!")

It's really super fun if you like small spaces. Then the Lil Choppin is for you, where you can motor up and down the river in a cramped Zodiac raft for five hours, eating Doritos and peanuts and little gem donuts and telling off-color jokes. After about four hours the rain starts and you get slap happy and start rowing forward while trying to remember all the words to the Muppet Show theme song. Nothing like a litany of Helen Keller jokes to make an hour of cold rain fly by. Thanks, Carl.

Actually, it was a lot of fun. Especially if you have a great crew, which we did.

Best costume in this year's event: the viking in the bow asked, "Which way to the Ikea?"


It Was Bound to Happen

This evening, about twenty minutes before Mark and I are set to leave for opening night of the Chicago Art Open, I go on deck to look for Leo. He's only been out a few minutes. Leo is agile, strong, a good jumper, and can maneuver his way pretty well around the dock. And he always returns to the boat when I call him.

When I go outside and call his name, he yowls in return. I call again; he yowls again. Something is wrong. Inside, his brother Hunter starts crying and howling. I go searching down one of the docks and it sounds like Leo is howling from right under me. I lay down flat on the dock and peer underneath; I see his wet tail. I stretch my neck a little further and see him: he's standing, soaking wet, on one of the floats under the dock. He has somehow fallen in, swam under the dock, and climbed to a perch beneath the dock.

Now comes the impossible task of getting him out of there. He's right under the dock, and the only way back to land is through the water. He's not coming willingly. So I jump in, reach under the dock, and pull him out by the scruff of the neck. He claws his way up my shoulders and Mark pulls him out.

He then proceeds to run to the boat and hide where he feels safe: the litter box. We now have a soaking wet long-haired cat with clay clumped in his paws and hair, tracking wet litter all over the boat. A quick shower, and his brother Hunter to help clean him up, and he's good as new.

I'm not really buying this whole Turkish-Vans-love-water stereotype. They've both fallen in; neither of them is eager to go back anytime soon.


The Dancing Nun

The second time I met Mark was in August 2005, at a co-ed bridal shower for my best friend Jill, about to marry Scott. Mark was the groom’s oldest brother. He showed up on a 1988 Honda Goldwing, all 5’6 of him, and barreled through the back sliding doors, compact, wearing a short-sleeved dress shirt, propelled by burley arms and legs.

He was, of course, a trawlerman, like Redmond O’Hanlon describes in his hilarious, wonderful book Trawler about fishing off the northern coast of Scotland:

He was obviously a trawlerman – even I was beginning to be able to identify one, generically: big shoulders, a flat stomach, and, most apparent of all, massive leg-muscles: muscles so absurdly well developed that trawlermen seemed to have to buy their trousers many waist-sizes too big: their broad leather belts hold the extra cloth puckered tight.

“Here comes Mark,” the groom said, laughing.

We all arrived early to help, but the grill was already warm, the crudite waiting on pretty platters. So as maid of honor, I stood in the Oak Park living room with the best man, making awkward small talk, while toddlers of other early guest played at our feet.

“Here, I gotta show you the dancing nun,” Mark said, rifling through photos on his Trio. Why this urgency to show me the nun picture, I wondered. Did he know my mother had been a nun? Did he know I had written an unpublished novel about young nuns?

Mark’s boat had just won third place in Chicago’s Venetian Night, the annual July boat parade that draws more than a million people to the downtown lakefront. Decked out in a Blues Brothers theme, Mazurka had a painted set, elaborate light show, singers, dancers, Jake and Elwood, and of course, a dancing nun.

I found it intriguing that he lived on the boat year-round. I was also intrigued by his large, piercing blue eyes that seemed to focus intently on whoever he was talking to – at the moment, me – and take in everything about them. Still, I worried that I would get stuck talking to him the entire afternoon. So when I saw my chance, I politely excused myself.

As most people still hadn’t arrived, Mark turned to the next logical guests: he got down on the floor and played trucks with the toddlers. A couple hours later, he told me some funny jokes. A month little later, he asked me on a date. A year later, we got married.

Never trust a man who pledges his life and love to you, then blindfolds you, gives you a bat, and pushes you on your way.

September 30, 2006


Ike Strikes Chicago

When you live aboard Noah's Ark, three days of rain - 8.54 inches - is nothing.

We even found the source of the dripping water in the cabin (unexciting story) and spent the weekend floating happily as the water around us rose.

According to Tom Skilling's blog, U. S. Army Corps of Engineers meteorologist Keith Kompoltowicz estimates as much as 877.5 billion additional gallons of water have now been added to Lake Michigan.

Maybe more, considering how much water the City of Chicago added into the lake.

By Saturday morning at 7:30, the underground Chicago water storage network called "Deep Tunnel" was full. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District opened the sanitary canal locks in Wilmette, near Navy Pier, and at 130th and Torrence to release the water into Lake Michigan. According to the MWRD, most of the liquid was storm run-off; only 1% was raw sewage, as quoted in the Chicago Sun-Times.

But if you read a little further, when the MWRD opened the locks, it released four billion gallons of water per hour.

One per cent is still 40 million gallons per hour of raw sewage being dumped into the lake.

What do you do when the City dumps that much raw sewage into the lake that you live on?

Well, on Tuesday my friend Anne and I went swimming at Montrose Beach. We were careful to keep our heads above water.


So What If Summer's Almost Over?

It's never too late to plant a garden.


Where's All This Water Coming From?

There are common questions in the liveaboard household, including:

“What’s that smell?”
“Where’s all this water coming from?”
And my favorite, often asked by the captain on his way to the head first thing in the morning: “Do you think the pumpout’s full?”

If these three happen simultaneously, you know you’re in trouble.

Every captain is intimately familiar with the question, "Where's this water coming from?" When visitors come aboard for a tour, captains will often tell the story of a leak: where the water came from, how he figured it out, how he fixed it – or how he’s trying to.

A caulking gun is never far away. Mark fires it up and scours the boat, caulking at will. For months we endured a terrible leak in the aft stateroom; every time it rained, water would silently seep down the wall, mildewing and destroying books and papers beside the bed. We left the shelf bare – heartbreaking in a place with so little room – until Mark discovered that the caulking near the front of the fly bridge was rotten. He somehow deduced that rainwater was coming into the top deck through the fly bridge, seeping down the length of the boat, and draining into the cabin through the aft deck. This sounded like a pretty big leap in logic to me, but he caulked and sealed the fly bridge one weekend, and the leak in the aft stateroom stopped.

An important lesson I have learned living aboard this boat: if you throw enough possible solutions at a problem, one of them will eventually work.

But sometimes, when you plug up one leak, the water finds another spout, as was the case yesterday morning at 5 AM, when I was lying half-awake and heard the unmistakable sound of water pouring very close to my head.

"We have a leak!" I yelled to Mark.

He came running in from the salon (yes, he was up at 5 AM), and asked me three times, "We have a leak?" to which I answered three times, "yes!" all while we are scurrying to clear shelves and lay out towels and grab the big pot from the galley to catch the water.

We know where the water is coming from - which G-H-I hurricane is it today? - dumping several inches of rain on us yesterday.

Time to get the caulking gun.


Turkish Vans

A new friend - fellow writer, boater, and cat owner Denise Power - visited me onboard Mazurka. I introduced her to Hunter and Leo. "Oh!" she said, "They're that one breed that loves water!"

I got these cats from the Anti-Cruelty Society, so who knows what kind of mutts they are. But later that day Denise emailed me with the name - Turkish Vans - and suggested I look them up online. I did a quick search and founds pages and pages devoted to my cats' brethren. With long white fur, amber spots, ringed tails, and the exact temperament described, Hunter and Leo are Turkish Vans.

The best part of the story is that Turkish Vans are known for loving water. The myth is that they came to Mount Ararat aboard Noah's Ark and swam to shore. In modern times, they swim for fun. (I don't know if Hunter's swim last year was fun for him...but he did know what to do.)

This explains why they look like they're swimming when they drink water, why they let their tails drag in the water, and why they will sit on the narrow ledge of the deck, fearless. Hunter and Leo waited eleven years on land for the moment they could move to Mazurka. I have half a mind to take them swimming this weekend.


Where the Salmon Are

My parents came for the last-fishing-trip of summer. Our plan was to head to Michigan City, Indiana, where the perch have come in and the salmon charters go out every morning. But after listening to the marine weather report - 4-6 ft waves, 15-20 mph winds out of the northeast, we decided to stay in Chicago and fish in the morning.

We cruised out early Saturday morning with the charter boats and eventually caught up with them (considering we go 8 mph) at a ridge 70 feet deep, heading 60 degrees out of Belmont. It was rough water, but Mark and my Dad were ready to fish. I manned the helm, trying to keep her steady while they got their gear in order. After a while I noticed my Mom was missing. She was down in the bow, seasick. Our husbands expressed sympathy and compassion for her, but they clearly were not leaving until some fish were in the boat.

My Dad wandered away from his pole for just a minute and when he returned, Mark was reeling in a King Salmon on his line. Nice guy that he is, he helped bring it in with the net.
I have seen fishermen will themselves to catch something; once, when we went on a halibut trip in Alaska, everyone had caught halibut except the one guy on board who really, really, really loved fishing. Right before we pulled up anchor for the day, he brought in a prehistoric-looking Ling Cod. It was the coolest thing I have ever seen come out of the water - too bad it was three weeks before Ling Cod season and had to be throw back.

Not to be outdone by his son-in-law, my Dad got serious about fishing and willed himself to catch a fish.
Objects closer to the camera may appear larger than the are.

I made an important catch: a planer board that got loose.

And my Mom's seasickness cleared up within a mile from shore; she came up on deck, fresh-faced, "I feel better!"


An Average Day in My Neighborhood

I have been spending a lot of time aboard Mazurka these days, working from home. A laptop, internet, and a cellphone are all I need.

It's beautiful out here, and quiet, especially during the week when people are in everyday mode. After observing the everyday action for a while, I've noticed there does exist an "average day" in Belmont Harbor. It is slightly different than an average day in Rogers Park, Andersonville, or Bucktown.

I wake up and look out my front window to see a man bathing. He swims near the stern of his boat, climbs out, soaps himself on the swim platform (he's wearing shorts, but he still scrubs every area), and jumps back in to rinse.

A new sailor arrives mid-morning. He's mad to find another boat in his slip. He cusses and glides into a free slip next to us, goes to see the harbor master who is not there, comes back madder and still cussing, calls the harbor office again. They tell him to stay where he is. Problem solved.

Ducks swim by, often.

Late afternoon, I notice hands sticking out of the water near a sailboat north of us. Then two more hands, then a head in a mask. Two divers hoist themselves out of the water and onto the dock, talk to the captain, then plunge back in. They are scrubbing the boat. A crew beside them warns them to look out - they're about to start their engine.

The evening passes quietly. We watch the fireworks over Navy Pier.

In the shower, I notice the water pump sounding strange. It's straining. I realize the end is near. I quickly rinse out the shampoo just as the water dwindles to a slight trickle. I can't remember the last time I filled the water tanks, but they're empty now. I race to the front of the boat to turn off the water pressure before the pump burns out, then head to bed. Filling the tanks can wait till morning.

The Liveaboard Bathroom: We even got shower curtains.

Professor, Navigator, Seamster

It's good to have a captain who can not only fix the engine and a non-functioning pumpout, but can also stitch it up.

Mark's not into knitting or crocheting; sewing with a machine is a different world altogether. It involves machines. Loud machines, with foot pedals and levers.

With me as his assistant, he stitched up the bimini in an evening, making him the first man with whom I have ever sewn.


Whole Lotta Lightning

Yesterday morning we went to work in torrential rain showers, but last night was the true show - starting about 7:30, the wind picked up, the sirens blared, and the whole city was encased in one hell of a lightning show.

Mark and I were both away from Mazurka during the first wave. We arrived home in the brief peace between 10-11 PM and found a little kiddie swimming pool floating beside our bow, and then we looked up: the wind had shorn the bimony right off the aluminum poles atop the fly bridge. The narrow strip of snaps still wrapped around the pole, the rest of the canvas had begun collecting a swimming pool of rainwater.

Looks like we got a lot of sewing to do. Other than that, we are safe and sound.


At the End of the Tour

When you travel by boat, it's wise to leave an extra day at the end in case bad weather prevents you from cruising home in time for work Monday morning. Wouldn't want to miss that.

Or, in our case, the extra day can be used when you come into an unexpectedly fun harbor.

Kenosha was an afterthought; we knew we'd need a stop between Port Washington and Belmont, and we'd already explored Racine and Waukegan, so Kenosha seemed the logical choice for something "fresh," as Mark puts it. As in, "I like vacations where we do something fresh and creative."

(This statement cracks me up. Is living on a boat "fresh?" I guess you could call it that.)

On our last night in Port Washington, we serendipitously met some Kenosha harbor citizens who gave us the lowdown on the ever-expanding harbor.

When we arrived in Kenosha the following afternoon, a half dozen fellow boaters greeted us on the dock, helping us to maneuver into the narrow slip and tie up. They spotted the bikes on the aft deck and asked if we had come for the international bike race, Food Folks and Spokes. (We didn't race - so the Colombians won.)

As we experienced in every other harbor, trawlers are like good will ambassadors of the boating world. Sailors and power boaters alike are attracted. "You can tell this is a loved boat," one sailor told us.

We decided to spend an extra day in Kenosha and take the county bike trail back north to Racine, to the lighthouse on the northern end of town. We left just after noon, stopped for a leisurely two-hour lunch at Ivanhoe in downtown Racine, biked the rest of the way to the lighthouse, and got back to our dock in Kenosha around 6:30.

Total biking miles for the week: 70
Total boating miles for the week: 190
Total ice creams eaten: who's counting?

Sunday morning, we left Kenosha under overcast skies and a sight western wind. My favorite part of this last leg started just north of Waukegan, as we encountered a large barge off the starboard. Then we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by fishing boats. Mark sat to my left, reading, as I manned the helm, maneuvering clear of anyone. There was something eerie about passing so many still boats. I imagined we were passing through a graveyard of ghost ships and had to be very quiet and not disturb any of them, and not attract attention. I thought about the ancient mariners, the Greek and Norse, and the mythology that evolves on the water, when you spend days upon days out at sea, listening with your eyes to the sky and the waves, tasting the wind with your skin.

Something different happens to us on the water. Something indescribable, though we keep trying to find words for it. Something about so much space and so much hidden depth that opens the mind and the imagination. A limitless expanse of nothingness - full of possibility, ready for exploration.

There are three of us in this marriage - Mark, me, and Mazurka. In the beginning, flinging around a can in Monroe Harbor, or stuck in the ice on the Chicago River, I resented the hell out of this fact. But now, nearly two years later, if Mazurka needed it, I would carry her over land like an Argonaut.

Maybe we come to love something most when we realize we may have to give it up.

Animal Models of Behavior

Mark and I have frequent discussions about sea sickness and its management.

On board, we keep dramamine, ginger pills, and the weird electric zapping bracelet that gives your wrist little zaps to distract you from the fact that you've got a headache, you're nauseous, and you're afraid you might lose your dinner in front of a crew of people you just met.

I have been prone to sea sickness a few times - it's not fun, especially if you live on the boat. There's something that makes me think I should be over it by now.

"You just have to learn to get over your fear," Mark tells me.

What's fear got to do with sea sickness?

On this trip, I'm learning, everything.

We happen to have the scientific animal model of Hunter onboard. Hunter and his brother Leo have learned that when Mark pulls the floor of the saloon up and gets down into the engine room to check the oil, he's probably going to start the engine. When Mark approaches the helm to rev things up, they run for cover. Hunter's ideal spot is in the engine room, wedged on top of the fuel tank. This is a horribly nasty place and in the summer, as temperatures can reach 100 degrees in there. I have to block their entry and leave them in the aft stateroom, where they can hide in any number of closets and cupboards or under a sleeping bag.

Hunter especially suffers terrible sea sickness. Drool starts dripping from his lip before we've even left the doc. While underway, he sometimes chooses very specific spots to lose his lunch - like the captain's pillow.

I was a little nervous on this trip that he would be miserable the entire time. Surprisingly, as days passed, Hunter became less fearful and would leave the closet to explore the saloon and the rest of the boat, even with drool hanging from his lip. He learned to manage the rocking and jump in the windowsill and watch the passing water.

On the final days of the trip, we did the unthinkable: we brought him up to the fly bridge with us. Howling at first, he quickly realized the floor was not going to disappear, and he climbed into his chair, flopped onto his back, and started purring.
Now that he's kicked that fear, he's making all kinds of leaps and venturing off whenever we look the other way. He either conquered his fear for good, or Redmond O'Hanlon, in his terrific book Trawler, is right about sea sickness: eventually, you just get used to it.

Fishing Pox

The harbor in Port Washington is packed with charter fishing boats. We were granted a slip between two fishing charter boats. They leave early in the morning - around 4 AM - which on our first morning, had me believing in my dream-state that Mark was going to make me get up and go out with them.

On our first morning, I was out on deck around 10 AM when I noticed a trend in the people wandering the harbor walk: groups of moms, grandmas, little kids. When a charter boat came in, all the groups would approach the boat; one group would remain, the other groups would wander off. I realized I was watching an ancient ritual: the women waiting for their fishermen to come in.

On our second morning, one of our neighbors, Fishing Pox returned early - about 8 AM. I reasoned the fishing must have been fantastic and they caught their limit early. We came out to see their catch. Surprisingly, the boat held the captain, his wife, and some of their friends. They had gone out for fun.

One of the friends was preparing to clean their catch on the dock. He opened the cooler to reveal three pan-sized fish (two king salmon and one rainbow trout), and one large mother of a king, maybe three feet long, its back glistening pink, its tail spotted black, and one eye watching us.

"Who caught that one?" I asked.

"The captain," his friend said.

Gus, the captain, is the only charter fisherman in Port Washington who goes out fishing on his morning off. "When it stops being fun, I'll quit doing it," he told me.

We can love something so much we decide to take it as a career. If it's really a vocation, we'll do it on our day off, without pay. There's always the mother king waiting to be caught.


Couple Visits Small Town - Never Seen Again

Port Washington is just about the cutest lakeside town you have ever seen. "A combination of New England charm and Midwestern friendliness," as its tourism site proclaims, is no marketing scam. About 30 minutes north of Milwaukee, the City of Seven Hills has the friendliest people and the most beautiful lakefront - you won't even notice the huge generating station looming to the south. (But if you do, take heart: what was the world's most efficient coal-fired plant in 1935 has been rebuilt into a cleaner, more efficient gas-fired power plant.)

We arrived Wednesday around noon in "The Port" as locals call it, and after docking Mazurka in a transient slip beside all kinds of charter fishing boats, took a stroll around downtown. The ladies at the Visitor Center piled us with menus and maps. We ate an actual Mexican meal at "Beanie's," bought lilies and rare blue orchids at "Brown's," Polish sausage and Wisconsin cheese at "Bernie's," and pants and shirts for Mark at "Anchor Men's Store," where the attentive, friendly, not-too-pushy salesman is tailoring Mark's pants cuffs as we speak.

As we wandered back to the boat, I got an eerie feeling. "This is far too perfect," I told Mark. "This is like some episode of the Twilight Zone - young couple visits small Midwestern town, never to be seen again."

But a good place to look for us would be the miles and miles of paved bike paths linking these small towns and the lakefront.

Detour to the City of Clocks

Tuesday morning, as we prepared to leave Racine for Port Washington, there were beautiful blue skies and a marine forecast of winds out of the Northeast, 10-15 knots, waves 2-4 feet.

"It's going to be rocky," Mark said.

Not that I didn't believe him, but I had this idea that we'd be granted special clearance - like God would split the waves just to make a calm path for our 5 1/2 hour journey. I fully expected to be in the City of Seven Hills by dinner.

Mark was right. Those 2-4 foot waves were closer to 4 or 5, and luckily we were heading into the waves, rather than rolling along sideways, so that our nose went up and down rather than side to side, which cuts down on sea sickness, though I concentrated on keeping my muscles loose, my hands and jaw unclenched - tension only makes sea sickness worse.

I sat at the helm, managing the roller coaster ride, while Mark checked the engine room. Grey clouds rolled in from the west, so that half the lake was blue beneath blue skies, the other half grey. Milwaukee loomed in the distance. We kept riding the waves, spray shooting over the bow of the boat, soaking us up on the fly bridge. Milwaukee closed in. Mark and I counted the minutes to Port Washington: we still had three hours to go.

"It's going to clear up after Milwaukee," I announced, for no other reason than there are no other harbors between Milwaukee and Port Washington, and surely God was about to grant us a reprieve. But then reality (the "real" God as opposed to my "fantasy" God) appeared before me: the field of white caps had tripled: this was not going to get any easier.

"Can we go into Milwaukee?" I asked Mark.

I didn't have to ask twice. We very carefully switched places so that he took the helm, and I took on the new job of making sure nothing fell overboard as we tilted back and forth at 20 degree angles. As we headed toward shore, rocking side to side, I fleetingly thought of the chaos happening inside the cabin, and our poor cats - but at this point, it was every man for himself.

Once docked at McKinley Marina, we went down into the cabin - the place had been ransacked by reckless thieves. The stereo and lamp lay on their sides, the kitchen counter on the floor, the contents of the fridge across the room. There were books and papers and drawers all over the forward cabin. I hadn't tightened the windows in the forward cabin, and the entire office - including computers - were wet. Hunter and Leo were huddled, terrified, near our pillows in the aft cabin, cat puke everywhere.

We were upset.

I was mad at myself for not battening down the hatches, mad that electronics were wet, cats were sick, and we were in Milwaukee. Milwaukee's a fine city - but it's just that: a city. McKinley Marina and its encompassing park look far too much like our home in Belmont Harbor and Lincoln Park. The sound of traffic and sirens in the distance was daily life, and this was vacation. I wanted small, quaint, provencial towns. But at least we were safe, and nothing was broken, and even though it was a pain to put everything back in its rightful place, in a couple hours we were done.

While replacing the contents of my bathroom cabinet that had fallen into the sink, I found my favorite perfume - Calvin Klein's "Euphoria," (the first gift Mark gave me) - and put some on. Right then, I started to feel a little more like myself.

We spent a low-key evening in the City of Clocks. I caught up on emails and phone calls, and Mark fixed stuff: the cup holder on the fly bridge and a windchime; he even got out his sewing machine and stitched up pants that had torn. I kept turning on the weather report, hoping it would suddenly change, but it remained constant: forecast for Wednesday was NE winds 10-15 knots, waves 2-4 feet. Exactly what we'd just come through.

"The boat can handle it," Mark said, "but can we?"

Before going to bed, I made myself stand out on the deck and take in the city. I was powerless over the weather. If we had to spend another day in Milwaukee, we could visit the art museum and the farmer's market and bike around. Maybe it wasn't what I was expecting, but it would be okay.

The next morning, Mark was up early, returning from Home Depot with a new bolt for the alternator and some coffee for me before it was even 7 o'clock. "It looks calm out there," he said, "Let's make a run for it."

We battened down the hatches for real this time, preparing for the worst. And though the weather report was exactly the same, the lake was completely different - she was calm, soothing, without a white cap in sight.

I learned something important today: weather reports and radars are not to be relied upon. Better to look at the reality right in front of you. And listen to the captain when he says, "Let's make a run for it!"


Monday's Best

Sunday night while we were having dinner on the aft deck, some of our friendly neighbors motored over in their dinghy to say hello.

Their boat, "Monday's Best," is aptly titled because, as the admiral put it, "Monday is always best. If the weekend is storming, Monday is beautiful." Their dinghy is named "Second Best."

On Monday, an overcast, cool, gloomy sort of morning, the admiral's husband, the captain, generously drove Mark all over Racine looking for right-sized alternator belts. Meanwhile, I used the harbor laundromat to do seven loads of laundry. This is vacation!

In the early afternoon, the sky cleared to a beautiful blue, and we hopped on our bikes to explore Racine. We ended up taking a two hour scavenger hunt along the Root River, following these signs through neighborhood streets, backwoods gravel paths, and paved riverside pathways.

The admiral and captain are right - Monday is indeed best!

A Boat from Temperance

Sunday afternoon we left Waukegan beneath beautiful skies, cruising over glass-like water for our next port: 30 miles north to Racine.

I have driven past Racine hundreds of times on my way north to Wisconsin and the UP. Not once have I ever stopped here. Too bad - it's a beautiful town.

"Racine," French for "root," is named in honor of the Root River which flows through town, joining Lake Michigan. The French missionaries who came in the 19th century found a natural harbor created by the tangle of tree roots along the shore where the Root River meets Lake Michigan. For most of the 20th century, the shoreline was industrial, until the late 1980s when the area was rebuilt into a harbor complex.

We pulled into a transient slip, paid the girl at the deli counter, then settled in for dinner on the aft deck.

We are finding that we have two natural conversation starters on this boat. First, our two feline crew members, who jump ship and begin wandering the dock as soon as the engine is off. Nobody expects to see a cat on a boat, especially not a long haired white cat, especially when there's another one who looks just like him peeking around the bow.

The second is the location named on the stern: Temperance, MI. Temperance is located on the otherside of Michigan, near Toledo and Lake Erie. To reach Chicago by boat, you would have to come up through Lake Huron and down Lake Michigan. When we pull into a transient slip, boaters assume we have come from Temperance. "No," Mark tells them, "I just never changed the boat's name when I bought it."

"Oh, good grief," one of our Waukegan neighbors.

Some people assume we are making the Great Loop, the long journey circling through the waterways of Eastern North America, including the Great Lakes.

Now that we're into the cruising lifestyle - glide into a new harbor, meet new people, explore new places, sleep in your own bed - I'm wondering if this short jaunt up the third coast is only an appetizer....

Waukegan: Gateway to the North

Saturday night we spent in Waukegan Harbor, which is turning into our favorite jumping off point for excursions.

We were here just a few weeks ago with my parents for a 4th of July fishing trip.

First of all, Waukegan fireworks are the best ever - hands down - they literally explode right over your head, and they go on for a good 45 minutes. Forget the crowds at Navy Pier, dear Chicagoans - haul yourselves up to Waukegan where a symphony plays for the entire park, followed by the most impressive fireworks you will ever see.

Second, and perhaps the reason we love Waukegan - my Dad caught a fish! After last year's failed Father's Day fishing trip in South Haven, MI, Dad caught a coho salmon on the first morning out.

He said he knew how to pose with it from watching fishing shows.

Yes, we ate it. It was delicious.

This weekend, Mark and I spent the night, rode our bikes to church in the morning, chatted up our neighbors, and set sail mid-afternoon for our next port-o-call: Racine, WI.


Everything and the Kitchen Sink

There are two kinds of vacations: the ones where you go away, and the ones where you stay home. Both have their merits. Going away, you can explore new places, meet new people, do new things. Staying home, you can relax in your own home and catch up on all the projects you've been meaning to get to.

This summer, Mark and I decided to combine the two. We're taking our house up the third coast, aka "Wisconsin."

There's very little packing to do when you take your house on vacation with you. We bought some groceries and warmed up the engine.

On Saturday afternoon, in a sea of fog, we left Belmont Harbor for northern ports.

Granted, Waukegan Harbor is only 38 nautical miles north. Driving, it would take about an hour, even with Kennedy construction. Aboard Mazurka, our turtle Marine Trader, it took four hours.

But is there a better way to travel than by water?


Mini Mac

Friday nights in Belmont Harbor are usually raucous affairs with lots of drinking, loud music, and scantily clad women and men. Look what happened last weekend - three boats burned.

Tonight's flavor is distinctly different.

I arrived home around 8:30 to find a quiet, serious pall over the water. Not that the harbor is empty - but people are focused, working, preparing. I watched one shirtless guy with a cigar in his cheek unloading case after case of water and soda from the trunk of his car, and piling them one by one at the gate.

"Can I help you?" I offered.

He took one look at me and was probably about to say something like, "No thanks, honey," but then I added, "I have a cart."

He looked at me in awe. "You have a cart?"

I lent it to him. He called me, "Your worshipfulness."

It's like Santa's shop on December 23rd, folks: tonight is the eve of the Mackinac.

The Race to Mackinac is the annual race from Chicago's Navy Pier up to the top of Lake Michigan, to the Straits of Mackinac. And this year is not just any Mac - it's the 100th annual.

As we are heading out on our weeklong trip up the third coast Saturday morning, we might see them heading out....

But in case we miss them, earlier this week we got a view of some future Mac Racers -a sailing class Monday morning at the mouth of Belmont Harbor.

Mark calls this the "Mini Mac."

Space, the Final Frontier

Somewhere in the first ten minutes of every Star Trek movie, there is the shot every Trekkie is salivating for: the gratuitous, indulgent, slow and delicious scan of the Starship Enterprise.

Forget the mission, forget the crew, forget the captain - even Jean-Luc Picard pales in comparison - we all know, it's all about the ship.

(My favorite opening shot, incidentally, occurs in Star Trek: Generations, the passing of the torch from James T. Kirk to Jean-Luc Picard, when the opening credits reveal a bottle of Dom hurling in slow-mo through space, then crashing against the bow. I don't even care that the accompanying crashing sound would be technically impossible to hear in space - I love it anyway.)

Monday, I felt this same thrill in real life. Sunday night Mark and I took Mazurka south along the river, stopped for dinner at Lawrence Fisheries Dock-and-Dine, then trekked further into the industrial region near Ashland and Archer, where we docked for the night, got up and ready for work, then watched as a crew at the Chicago Boat Yard carefully placed Mazurka in two slings and a crane operator (who later told me he had been working a crane for 40 years, and helped build the CNA building and Harbor Point, among other downtown icons), lifted all 22,000 lbs of her into the air for a good scrubbing.

While the captain discusses the zinc plates with the crane operator, his first mate and feline crew members wait on the dock below for our house to return to water.

Within just a couple hours, Mazurka was clean and we were on our way to seek out new life and new civilizations...to boldly go where no one has gone before...

Right after heading to work for the day.