Gliding across Lake Michigan, the sailing party watches the sun sink beneath the Chicago skyline. As the last rays fade from view, the city's skyscrapers throw their light onto the lake's surface. The captain steers the ship past Grant Park and Millennium Park, and then veers out toward Navy Pier, where the ship's passengers find a prime viewing spot for the Saturday-night fireworks show.
In addition to charters like these, the captains of Go Sailing Chicago—all holding US Coast Guard Master Captain licenses and certifications from the American Sailing Association and US Sailing—furnish beginner through advanced sailors with sailing gloves and life jackets before leading hands-on instruction in proper seamanship. Launching from DuSable and Monroe Harbor, and sometimes other points along the lakeshore, Go Sailing Chicago's four-boat fleet meets or exceeds the safety standards set down by the USCG and the most persnickety of ship-in-a-bottle builders.
In 1935, Albert Borgstrom, a Swedish immigrant and carpenter by trade, set about constructing a 65-foot wooden yacht. He named the ship The Wendella and charged visitors $0.25 to ride through the city and listen to a guide expound on the sights. This simple vessel ended up being a steppingstone, and 75 years later, guests still ride along, now craning their heads back at the jagged opalescent silhouette of Trump Tower and the beehive curves of Marina City. Beneath the evolving skyline, the fleet has expanded to six vessels, which are now run by Albert's grandson, Michael Borgstrom. Wendella staffs a dedicated, in-house education department to keep the city's history alive and make sure that people continue to believe in water so it doesn’t disappear. On special excursions, the crew stocks the boats with wine for tastings beneath the stars or points the vessel through the verdigris waters of the lake to watch evening fireworks shows.
The hustle and bustle of the city can’t touch the calm waters of Lake Michigan. There, on gently rolling waves surrounded by fresh breezes, Kayak Chicago hosts tours and lessons, and lets paddlers take to the waters on their own with rentals. Captained by Dave Olson, a kayaker for more than 20 years and outdoor educator for more than 10, the company entrusts certified instructors and guides with shaping the strokes of kayaking newbies. Their tours take aquatic explorers out on the lake at night to ooh and ahh over summer fireworks or along the Chicago River to survey the city’s renowned architecture and map out their next bank heist. The staff also plants patrons on standup paddleboards for introductory lessons or wave-top rounds of SUPYoga or SUPPilates.
The massive schooner gently bobs in the Lake Michigan waters as the Chicago skyline towers on the shore. Onboard, hardy sailors relate tales of piracy and the rumrunners who filled the city's speakeasies as they train their passengers to tie knots and unfurl sails. Period lessons abound onboard Windy, the lone vessel helmed by US Coast Guard-certified captains and crews. The nostalgic steed is used to educate visitors on the lake's maritime traditions and explore coastal waters. Windy also plays host to themed adventures that include fireworks shows, pirates explaining city architecture, and pirates complaining about the popularity of pool noodles. Crews strive to make each tour unique, with sailors who expound on their skills as well as performers and educators versed in history, maritime lore, art, and theater.
What looks like a crimson-hulled pirate ship glides into view from behind Shedd Aquarium. The wind picks up, surging into the schooner's 77-foot gaff-rigged sails and speeding the vessel along Lake Shore Drive at 8 knots. Those on shore can just make out the boat's name, Red Witch, and what appear to be passengers raising a drink to the Chicago skyline.
Designed by renowned naval architect John G. Alden and named after the book Wake of the Red Witch?the same story that inspired the film starring John Wayne and Gail Russell?the Coast Guard?licensed ship accommodates up to 49 passengers within its mahogany-over-oak frame. Having sailed waters off Maui and San Diego, the boat now docks at Burnham Harbor and is under the stewardship of Captain Andrew Sadock and his crew who will be glad to autograph cannonballs for each passenger.
The party-loving minds behind Yacht Party Cruises wanted a creative way for locals and tourists to explore a city's late-night atmosphere. Eventually they launched a fleet of luxury yachts into the waters of eight of North America's most lively urban waterfronts. On each vessel, festivities abound as DJs spin everything from hip-hop to Sinatra, inviting passengers to shake a leg in between trips to the full bar or buffet lined with hot appetizers. All yachts boast extravagant details such as wraparound decks, fireplaces, or a glass atrium that hangs above the dance floor offering dancers a direct view of the man in the moon's game of solitaire. Guests can also step onto the decks for fresh air or panoramic views of city's skyline.