“I need people of strength, and gumption!”

So shouted the docent aboard the tall ship Windy as we departed Chicago’s Navy Pier. He needed volunteers to raise the sails of the tall ship, and thus, with gumption (but no strength), I volunteered. For the record, though he said otherwise, strength is needed in order to raise a sail. Fortunately I had my father to assist me, or it would have been the slowest sail raising ever.

Obligatory family photo.

I hadn’t done any sort of sailing since ninth grade, and I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed it: the wind in my hair, the rock of the ship, and looking out over the water. Of course, being on Lake Michigan, the view of Chicago’s skyline was rather spectacular.

‘Ready the cannon!’

After the sails were raised, the program began on the main deck, and we learned about the life of a tall ship sailor. Unlike seafaring vessels, tall ships (and others) sailing the Great Lakes didn’t have to worry about food or water– the water of the lakes is fresh, and food was to be had from many ports. This closeness was good, but also difficult if you were a sailor not keen to follow orders. Like a small town, word would get around, and a truculent sailor could find themselves without work.

We learned a great deal more, but of course if I gave it all away, that wouldn’t be fair. ;) And as a special bonus, the docent, Orion, and his friend Patrick, gave us a musical treat. (see video at the bottom of this post.)

Jessie tells of the woman immured in the lighthouse.

As I like stories, and my family was attending the baseball game (yawn), I came back to the Windy for another excursion the next evening in order to hear some ghost stories. The docents (Zack & Jessie) were fantastic storytellers, with blood-chilling tales of a ghostly ship, a woman immured in a lighthouse, and several more. I’m not sure if it was just the tales that were blood-chilling, or if it was the weather–windy and overcast.

I loved both trips, and I think that one of my favourite parts of the cruises was watching the docents interact with the kids on board. During the first cruise, a young boy was keen on listening, but was shy, and slowly began to move closer in to hear the tales. The docent noticed this and made a point of including him when he addressed passengers. And in the evening’s cruise, rather than give the usual warnings for kids to behave themselves, the docent shouted, “Children! Look after your parents! Make sure they don’t get into any trouble!” Also on that cruise, a boy and girl were very keen to hear ‘R-rated stories’ (or, as one crew member put it, ‘Arrrgh-rated?’), and they were able to pick from the chest of stories. Delightedly, the boy picked the scariest one.

And fortunately, being aboard the ship as the sun was setting made for some gorgeous shots of the Chicago skyline.