Water stretched nearly glass-calm Tuesday morning north to downtown Chicago. I soaked it in near the fishing pier at 31st Street Harbor.
It would be nearly perfect as possible to pull out the 2,200-pound anchor for a weather and wave buoy for the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant.
You never know with Lake Michigan.
I was waiting to join three divers–Tom Palmisano, Jim Pfeiffer and Jeff Strunka–who were going to set the anchor.
While waiting, I remembered a Sunday in the mid-1980s when Lake Michigan swamped Lake Shore Drive and I watched the waves smash windows out of second-floor condos along Sheridan Road on the North Side.
Water pulls at us, sometimes too hard.
That`s why information is so vital. Why all sorts of people–boaters, fishermen, paddlers, sailors and the Coast Guard–are so excited about the new buoy east-northeast of Wilmette Harbor.
The back story. At “The Boat Show” in January, Capt. Bob Poteshman said I needed to talk with Jay Beugly (left), an aquatic ecology specialist for IISG. Beugly, a doctoral student near the finish at Purdue, wanted to set a buoy similar to the one set off Michigan City, Ind. several years ago.
He needed help getting the anchor out. I connected him with Palmisano, who came up with a plan to use lift bags to tow the anchor.
Tuesday, weather and schedules aligned. After launching at 31st, Palmisano took his 23-foot working boat–packed with diving gear, four men, two yellow lift bags–north just off shore.
There’s wonder on a beautiful summer morning in motoring along the shores of Lake Michigan.
They marked the spot–42° 8.107` N 87° 39.304`W, about 4 1/4 miles out of Wilmette Harbor–with a visual, a milk jug on a 60-foot nylon rope and weights.
Then it was into Wilmette Harbor. Sailors and harbor staff alike were excited in the idea of a weather and wave buoy nearby and in the process of getting it out. Palmisano and Strunka wrapped lift bags over the anchor, then filled them with air from a gas-powered compressor.
The moment of truth came from Katie Traub, home for the summer from St. Ambrose, who operated the lift and placed the anchor and lift bags in the water. Sighs of relief came when it floated high.
“Beautiful. That is what I wanted to see,” Palmisano said.
Strunka dived in and found a good three feet of clearance. As the pull began, harbor staff motored the flanks for safety. Near the mouth, Bill Nielsen allowed me to jump in his boat to take photographs from the side and to catch the landmark Bahá’í Temple in the background.
Palmisano anticipated a 1-mph pull. Instead, the anchor rode comfortably enough in its cushions of the lift bag that he did 2.5 mph.
In the two hours it took to pull the anchor out Beugly explained that originally kayakers asked for the buoy and it was planned for the point off Evantson. But the fear was the point would skew readings. Feedback from fishermen and boaters at “The Boat Show’’ led to the buoy being placed farther out, yet close enough that IISG staff can easily maintain it.
And we had enough time on the pull out to get into a good side discussion on bighead and silver carp and the Great Lakes.
On the spot in 45 feet of water, Pfeiffer, Strunka and Palmisano pulled the lift bags and anchor close, then released the air in the bags. The anchor sank spot-on as I played out the nylon rope.
“You have not idea how happy I am,” Beugly (left) said. “This is awesome.”
Pfeiffer and Strunka suited up, then back-flopped into the water to free lift bags and set lines for the buoy.
After they finished, we dropped Beugly at Wilmette. LimnoTech was ready to pull out and place the buoy on the anchor.
It was time.
Work done, Palmisano stopped us off the North Side for swimming in 17 feet of water and talk over iced cans of Heineken and Bud Light.
In the sun and water, stories came from the three of them, all divers of wrecks on the Great Lakes. They threw the names and tales of the famous wrecks–Lady Elgin, Straits of Mackinac–as naturally as kids do sand on a beach.
All three divers were hooked by “Sea Hunt,’’ the action television series starring Lloyd Bridges from 1958-61.
The most chilling story came afterward over pizza, Italian beef sandwiches and fries at Fabulous Freddies Italian Eatery in Bridgeport. Strunka told of diving the 60-foot Searcher, the perch-netters boat that went down in December of 1985. Three were rescued and three died. Strunka found the third and final body on a dive.
Even before sleep that night, the image stuck with me.
Wrecks are the other side of Lake Michigan.
Why weather and wave buoys matter.