Sitting on DuSable’s slip C-58, sisters Kathleen Greenberg and Anne Condon enjoy observing the passersby directly across from them on the lakefront promenade.
“We love this spot because we people-watch,” says Greenberg, whose father-in-law, Jerry, owns 38-foot Mirando J. On summer weekends Greenberg, Condon and their extended family, including dog Tito, are a familiar sight at DuSable, waving to people and floating on their eight-person party raft.
Ever since DuSable opened in 2000, replacing a city barge basin, demand for its 420 slips has far outstripped supply. More than 200 boaters, many of whom have already waited more than a decade, are still biding their time on two Park District waiting lists—one for intra-harbor “transfers” and one for new boaters. The Park District gives intra-harbor transfers first priority.
“First and only choice is a slip in DuSable Harbor,” wrote one boater, on the new boater list since 2016. “Would like to accept any slip in DuSable,” wrote another, who lists DuSable as his first choice among five harbors. According to the lists, dozens of boaters have been rejected, including the owner of power- boat Persistence, who has been denied a slip at DuSable seven times.
This exclusivity means DuSable boat- ers, since the beginning, have opted to “squat” in their slips—with or without a boat.
“We have people who pay for a space who never come in,” says Sean Connol- ly, DuSable harbor master, referring to DuSable slip holders who own boats, but don’t bother to bring them in. “They don’t want to lose their space . . . DuSable is a very sought-after place to be.” The Park District declined to comment on whether it receives any com- plaints about this practice. According to the Park District’s website, costs for the season, from May to late October, range from $3,931 for a 30-foot stall to $8,929 for a 60-foot stall.
If getting into DuSable is difficult, then navigating its social waters can be equal- ly tricky. “A” Dock, set apart on DuSable’s northern side, holds the biggest boats, including larger yachts. Though Connolly hesitates to generalize, he says A-Dockers “aren’t out as much; they’re on the wealthier side.” B through H Docks host progressively smaller crafts, and feature more slips. H Dock, in the shadow of the Columbia Yacht Club’s MV Abegweit, has a reputation for being friendly and approachable.
“It’s more alive than the other [docks],” says Mauro Gavilanes, co-owner of 28- foot Sea Ray Ramiro’s, recognizable by its palm trees and collection of potted petunias, lilies and sweet potato vines. Six years after getting into DuSable in 2007, Gavilanes and co-owner Ramiro Jimenez got fed up staring at a seawall. “For us, the metal was so ugly,” says Gavilanes. “We had to do something.”
Now a harbinger of summer in the New Eastside, Gavilanes’ floating garden not only attracts birds, but friends and neighbors too. “We know every single one of our neighbors,” says Gavilanes. “If we see there’s a wedding happening at the Columbia Yacht Club, sometimes we bring the party down here for a barbecue.”
“On the smaller docks, there’s a great sense of community,” says Connolly. “People look out for each other.” Many boaters come from New Eastside, and several opt to make their boat a “second home.”
Though idyllic, life in Chicago’s most coveted harbor isn’t without challenges: Food delivery can be a hassle, and mail only comes to the harbor store once a week. Waste must either be driven to a dump area, or handled by a pump-out service called Honey Jug, one of many businesses servicing boaters. Entering and exiting the docks requires punch- ing in a three-number code, different for each dock, on seven-foot-high steel security gates.
While the community codes could be compromised, Connolly says security on the docks is “excellent.” The Chicago Police report zero crimes at DuSable for the last available reporting period, from March until May.
Even though the docks are a close-knit community, landlubbing New Eastsiders can still test their sea legs at DuSable Harbor. Columbia Yacht Club’s Wednesday night “Beer Can Races” are open to “outside” volunteers, who serve as wind readers, spotters, sig- nalers and more. If all else fails, those familiar with the docks say a six-pack, a smile and a wave can work wonders in warming up boaters’ hearts.
“We’re friendly,” says Greenberg. “We talk to neighbors when they’re out.”
— Tricia Parker, Staff Writer