Chicago bridges lift as sailboats begin journey to harbors

April 16, 2014

Sailboat season is underway, and the bridges are being lifted so that boats can get back out on Lake Michigan.

When you hear the horn, it means the bridge is going up so that the sailboats can start heading down the Chicago River to the lake. It's been a long winter for all of us, and for boaters this archway view is a welcome sight after six cold months.

"Today is the first bridge lift run. The sailboats are coming up the river and going to their designated harbors," said Marty Seitzinger, owner of Chicago Sailboat Charters. "And for many boaters, this marks the beginning of summer."

Seitzinger is taking his three 36-foot sailboats to Belmont Harbor, where he will spend the season taking customers on charter cruises. But first he has to get there - the river may look like total pleasure, but he said it's not.

"We're going to go through 22 bridges," Seitzinger said. "It can take anywhere from five hours to 12, depending on snags."

"Snags" can include huge barges, tour boats that have the right-of-way, and sometimes a backup of too many other sailboats.

"It can be anywhere up to 30 boats and it's pretty wild," said Matt Dages, captain at Chicago Sailboat Charters.

So, it's official. The boating season is on, and for the next couple of months every Wednesday and Saturday this will be the scene. And I know what all of you drivers are thinking - why don't they wait until they get to the lake to raise the masts?

"Well, most boats are stored with their masts up all winter, so that really isn't an option for most boat owners," Seitzinger said. "And also the better equipment to step the masts is usually at the yacht yards."

It's natural to get a bit angry when sailboats jam up traffic. But then again, maybe we're not angry. Maybe we're just jealous.

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