A Spring Boat Run on the Chicago River

 

 

 
  • S. Ashland Ave. BridgeAshland Ave. named after the Ashland estate of Henry Clay (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etymologies_of_place_names_in_Chicago)
  • S. Loomis St. BridgeLoomis St. named after Horatio G. Loomis one of the organizers of the Chicago Board of Trade (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etymologies_of_place_names_in_Chicago)
  • S. Halsted St. BridgeHalsted St. named after William and Caleb Halsted by William Ogden (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etymologies_of_place_names_in_Chicago)
  • W. Cermak Rd. BridgeCermak Rd named for Anton Cermak (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etymologies_of_place_names_in_Chicago)
  • S. Canal St. Bridge
  • Amtrak Bridge
  • S. 18th St. Bridge
  • St. Charles Airline and B&O Terminal bridges
  • W. Harrison St. Bridge
  • W. Van Buren St. Bridge
  • Waiting for the W. Monroe St. Bridge
  • Waiting for the W. Washington Blvd. Bridge
  • Waiting for the W. Lake St. Bridge
  • Making the turn east to the Main Stem at Wolf Point
  • Passing by the N. Wells St. Bridge construction crew
  • The McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum at Michigan Ave.
  • Made it to Lake Michigan

 

On April 24, 2013 I was given an opportunity to experience a boat run from the Chicago Yacht Yard on Ashland Avenue to Du Sable Harbor. The slide show and the narrative below capture my experience. My thanks to John Boyle owner and Skipper of Mirage - a Beneteau 42, yacht (I was listening, John - and as an attempt to redeem myself, I have included some of the etymologies of some of the street names - in photo captions - that were discussed on the trip...from the internet so it must be true). Thanks to John and his friends / crew for putting up with this landlubber.

The photos in the slide show above chronicle the journey from the Chicago Yacht Yard to Lake Michigan. I concentrated on photos of the bridges outside of the 18 bridges I have designated the “Chicago Loop Bridges.” because the Loop bridges are well represented on the site.

Details and the Chronology

There are two yacht storage facilities still active on the South Branch of the Chicago River. The most distant facility is the Chicago Yacht Yard at S. Ashland Ave. and the river. There are 29 movable bridge between this facility and Lake Michigan. The closer facility is the Canal St. Marina and Yacht Yard at S. Canal St. and the river -- 24 movable bridges separate this facility and Lake Michigan. Flotillas start at Ashland Ave. (if necessary) and pick up additional vessels at Canal St. on the journey to the Lake.

Thirteen vessels were involved in this run. Two yachts began the flotilla at Ashland Ave. and were joined by eleven more vessels at Canal St. The journey began at about 9:45 AM with conditions cold and cloudy, but ended in sunshine. The last bridge rose at 6:45PM for a total duration of about 9 hours (an unusually long trip).

The initial leg from Ashland Ave. to Van Buren St. took about 3 hours. The major delay was caused by mechanical issues at the S. Halsted St. bridge which took about an hour to solve.

The trip through downtown (Van Buren St. to Lake Shore Dr.) took about 3.5 hours, arriving at Lake Shore Dr. at about 4:30 PM. Unfortunately for us, this is considered to be the beginning of rush hour. Unlike the old days when maritime traffic had the right-of-way, we were obliged to wait until the end of rush hour. We were allowed to escape the Chicago River at 6:45 PM.

Observations and Thoughts

My first observation is the striking change in scenery as you make your way into downtown Chicago. As can be seen in the initial frames of the slide show, the scenery might be classified as “barren industrial.” Once you get to the Ping Tom park area around the vertical lift Amtrak bridge, you begin to see Chicago's skyline in the distance and the nearby scenery is improving. As you arrive downtown, the built environment and the river complement each other nicely – especially in the reflections of the buildings. And the view of the skyline from the lake is magnificent.

River traffic also exhibits striking differences. Barge traffic rules the South Branch especially south of Roosevelt Rd. Downtown, tour boats rule the roost. The addition of a number of pleasure craft during a boat run, makes for an interesting and at times a chaotic mix with horns blasting and engines idling. As the weather warms up, the addition of kayakers add another element. The Chicago River truly has many uses and users.

I spent the majority of my life in the high desert of New Mexico. I've experienced cold weather, but I sometimes forget that the duration and depth of the New Mexico winter is much different than a Chicago winter. What I observed and experienced on this trip is the great feeling of anticipation for the approaching warmth. As the yacht made its way to the lake, crew members were catching up, reminiscing about past adventures, and voicing hopes for the upcoming season. The tradition of moving from the yard to the lake is complemented by the traditions of the food and drink provided for the cruise. What a great way to get ready for warm pleasures of the sailing season. And even though the cold weather and long trip was trying at times, the underlying optimism never waned. It was an experience I will always remember.