Everyone is Irish for at least a week in Chicago. For as long as I can remember, it was not St. Patrick’s Day until the Chicago River is dyed green. Also, I have never in my life boated in Chicago in March… so who doesn’t like adventure? Full Disclosure: I am clearly a Freedom Boat Club Member, and a US Coast Guard licensed master captain… so when I am not getting paid to drive yachts for celebrities and professional athletes, I am usually bumming around the FBC dock in whatever city I happen to have stopped in.
On Friday, we received over 7” of snow at my house. I felt a little funny putting on my captain’s uniform, but we had business to do. My good friend and I were headed to Chicago for some meetings when I received a text message from the Freedom Boat Club docks asking if I was interested in driving a boat on the Chicago River for their annual St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Obviously, I said YES! I have previously texted the dock to see if there might be 2-seats on one of their boats, which I knew was a long shot. I stopped off and bought some thermals, a new thermos, some green beads, and made plans for Saturday morning.
When we arrived at the docks, I could see about 12 boats decorated in the typical FBC flags and decals. The crew had hot coffee and snacks for the members who wanted to celebrate so early in the morning. We checked in with the staff and were on standby to drive. As it all turns out, they had enough captains, but the Freedom Boat Club crew accommodated us on a new 23’ Sea Ray SPX with some other members. We boarded and met several couples, who were seasoned Chicago River boaters. It was actually very relaxing to have Captain Andrew command this SPX. After the typical introductions, we set off to help spread the dye in the River. Oh, and it was 34°, windy, and cloudy.
We backed off of the dock and our flotilla was heading towards the eastern part of the main branch of the Chicago River. As we left the Ogden Slip, we passed a new 52’ Pardo yacht, which shares the same docks with FBC. This was the first 52’ Pardo on the Great Lakes, and offered by Spring Brook Marina. We passed under the iconic Lake Shore Drive bridge, and we staged north of the Urban Kayak base. As the Shoreline Sightseeing ships passed by, loaded with VIPs from the Chicago Carpenters Union, they sprayed a green dye mixture which is ecofriendly. Our job was to drive through their wake and spread the dye out.
(Remember the movie Top Gun? When Goose and Maverick eject in the sea, there was a green dye so that the Coast Guard helicopter could find them for rescue. This is the same dye used to color the Chicago River green.)
Captain Andrew maneuvered around the other FBC boats, as well as the Chicago Police, Fire, and the Coast Guard vessels. People onshore cheered, as did the everyone on the different drawbridges and even from Wacker Drive. We saw some very interesting costumes, and there were several boats loaded with tourists ready to explore the green river. We followed the Chicago Fire Boat, and had more than a dozen boats which were allowing us to lead the way. This looks chaotic, but it was very controlled. Chicago Fire Department even had their water rescue divers staged around the different parts of the Chicago River.
We spent a few hours mixing they dye and then we took a detour on to the North Branch of the Chicago River, so everyone could see where the new casino is being built. Captain Andrew did a great job allowing the commercial tour boats to pass, and also avoiding some of the boaters who were in a much bigger hurry than us. He had an entire Irish / Celtic playlist which was bumping throughout the Sea Ray, and it was a perfect experience. As we cruised, we all were telling stories about our favorite FBC locations to visit, as well as the ones on our bucket lists, like Denmark, Scotland, and Australia. I shared some VHF radio tips for the River, and everyone seemed to enjoy the camaraderie of being strangers (but FBC members) on a beautiful boat. It was a blast!
Around noon, we headed back to the exclusive Ogden Slip and docked the boat without any issues. It was a great feeling to be able to go out on a brand-new Sea Ray SPX with new friends, and we did not have to pay the $$ that other pay to ride on a sightseeing boat. The FBC crew had tons of snacks and drinks for everyone and did an excellent job hosting all of us. Plans were made with our new friends to go on some fun future adventures, including boating the “Small Loop” and more. As we left the docks, we peaked at the 52’ Pardo and then warmed-up in the car. All-in-all, it was awesome! HUGE thanks to all the Freedom Boat Club staff and members who made this such a epic experience! THANK YOU!