• Alex Rathbun

How sailing changed my life



I've shared why we bought a boat and how we renovated it, now I want to talk about the best part - sailing!


After months spent fixing and renovating The Grey Heron, plus many delays due to COVID-19, the day finally came to get her in the water. Because she was at a boat yard in Chinatown for the winter, we needed to bring her up the Chicago River and out to Lake Michigan, which consisted of 21 bridges lifting for us and our flotilla of 15 sailboats, passing through the lock to get to lake level, and sailing 6 miles north to our harbor.


One of the first bridges lifting before we hit downtown

Neither Eric or I had ever sailed before, but between Youtube and sailing books and the help of the previous owner of the boat, we learned. But, because we had never done it, nerves were high that first day on the water. Once we made it though downtown and out the the lake, we had a very rough sail up to our harbor. There was some serious sea-sickness involved, some fear for our safety, some stress, some sailor swearing and MAJOR relief when we finally made it to the harbor. Needless to say, we questioned if sailing was going to work out for us.


Later that week for our second ever sail, we didn't quite know how intense 25 knot gusts of wind would feel so we went out and stressed some more.


In between gusts we did have some fun

But by mid-summer, we were figuring it out. We learned that Lincoln napped amazingly well out on the water, we both relaxed into our roles, and we got to a place where being on the boat was fun, relaxing and invigorating.


Captain Eric (or is it Captain Alex?)

There is something absolutely amazing about looking out and just seeing blue. On 90 degree days, the feeling of the wind against the sails and my skin was so glorious it sometimes made me tear up. When my quarantine birthday came in August, there was nothing I wanted more than to be out on the water.



We used the boat as a little floating cottage many evenings, lounging on the deck, grilling and drinking beer while Link slept. We even spent the night a few times, waking up in time to see the sunrise (another cause for teary eyes).


A peaceful sunrise on the lake

When the time came in October to bring the boat back to the lock, through the Chicago river and back onto land in Chinatown, Eric and I agreed that The Grey Heron has by far the best purchase we've ever made - for ourselves, for our marriage, for community.


We still have a lot to learn and bigger adventures to embark on, but we are incredibly proud of our progress as sailors, as people, as partners and as parents, who are learning to take risks and grow together.


Aside from birthing a baby, there is nothing I've done that has made me feel more empowered than learning to sail. It has encouraged me to reevaluate other things in my life that I've said no to out of fear or lack of experience - if we can start from zero with sailing, what else is possible??



I hope this is inspiring and encouraging to you. Is there something you have rejected out of fear? I really think, with enough sheer determination, you can make it happen. Let these photos from our amazing and memorable season on the water inspire you:



We enlisted the help of friends to get her out to the water that first day




9am tequila shots to christen the boat thanks to Rich, the previous boat owner




Link doing what he does best on the boat

I mean.



Our most faithful crew member, aka official Lincoln holder




Grey on her mooring ball in the harbor, aka where she lived for the summer


Another early morning sunrise in Montrose Harbor


Unfortunately everyone on the boat wakes up at 5am when Mom and Dad do



In our element (thanks for the pic Sarah Larson)

The morning we brought the boat back in it was 30 degrees at 6am

Thanks to my dad (Kurt Richter) for this one


We enlisted my dad and some more friends to help get the boat back in





Goodbye until the spring, Grey Heron!

Brightly Alex