We celebrated Keenan’s 13th birthday in Chicago and enjoyed visiting with more than a dozen family and friends. Here we are just outside the city celebrating Keenan’s passage to teenager-ville with Sima, Doug, Chris, Addison and Maximo.

Sweet Home Chicago. No, we’re not from here, and neither is the song’s author Robert Johnson. Our boat’s name is inspired by one of Chicago and America’s greatest musicians, McKinley Morganfield – better known as Muddy Waters. Born and raised in Mississippi, Muddy Waters migrated north to Chicago and electrified the Mississippi delta blues (and audiences) and helped make this city home to some of the world’s greatest blues artists.

Chicago was an electric city for this Muddy Waters too. And our visit was anything but blue. We happily soaked-up the warmth of family and good friends, the awe-inspiring architecture, the plentiful public spaces, the world-class museums, the colorful history.

Everything was just a short walk from the decks of Muddy Waters. Or, if you’re like Jennifer, just a run! No uncomfortable open-water passage will stop Jennifer from training. Early our first morning in the city and Jennifer was off on a ten-mile waterfront run with her adventure race partner Kristy, who’s from Chicago. Watch the dynamic duo here before a race they ran together from Argentina to Chile last year. Kristy is an officer in the anti-gang unit in the Chicago Police Department. Do not mess with this team on the trail.

Later that morning we welcomed aboard our new friends the Millers and their daughter. You’ll recall we met the Millers in Harbor Springs, Michigan, and they kindly lent us their mini-van for two days and gave us invaluable local knowledge on places to visit along Lake Michigan’s eastern shore. It was a treat to see them this side of the big water and hear more about their plans to do the Great Loop next year.

That afternoon our little dancer Daria made her way into a youth dance class at the Joffrey Ballet and returned beet red after two hours of intensive training. We all walked back the mile or so to the boat in a cool wind, passing through two parks and admiring the plentiful public spaces. My expert opinion is that Daria got chilled and ended up that evening with a cold. Daria disagreed with me on the cause, so I informed her I got a medical degree from the Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogue many years ago, and that’s how I know scientific and doctor stuff like that.

The following afternoon Aunt Sima and Uncle Doug, who’d just flown in from Miami, came aboard with Doug’s mom Bernice. You should have seen the smiles – as wide as our beam – on the kids’ faces. Lots of hugs and laughs and stories. Muddy was doing her thing, welcoming kin and making everyone feel cozy and like at home.

Doug’s sister Mairzy and her husband David came by that evening too, and we had great fun showing off our little home. David took one look at our dockside view of the city and said: “In Chicago, you gotta’ have real political pull to get this kinda’ real estate!” It is a city marina, but we didn’t have to call Rahm to get a slip. We just showed up a little late in the season and found most smart boaters had skeedaddled ahead of the big winds and cool air.

The kids joined Sima and Doug and stayed overnight at Mairzy and David’s home, so Jennifer and I set out to explore the city on foot and run errands the next morning. First stop was REI where we stocked-up on winter woolies. A few days of near-freezing temperatures on the water while in Michigan gave this Miami crew the chills.

Next stop, the Apple Store – our first of a half-dozen visits. Somewhere on Lake Michigan, a gremlin made its way into our computer and pulled out some wires and likely fiddled with the flux capacitor. Whatever the cause, all our photos – some 20,000 – vanished. Poof. Houston, we have a problem. The whiz kids at Apple’s mission control managed to recover all the pictures. Hallelujah. But, we lost all the categorization, dates, titles, folders, albums, etc. Imagine someone pulling out every photo from the albums on your shelves, jumbling-up the pictures and then handing them back to you in a bin.

A bit bummed at ourselves for not having a back-up, we were thankful we at least had the raw pictures. Slowly and methodically Jennifer’s been recreating all our picture albums. And we’ve had some good laughs looking back at old photos, something we rarely do in the digital age. Ah, the silver lining we always seem to find amidst the clouds while out at sea.

Next day we saw our good friend David who was in town from Miami for a political event. We had a great time catching-up on Miami happenings and local and national politics. David still hasn’t forgiven me for traveling to Mississippi a few years ago with Jennifer for my 40th birthday to listen to blues and meet some favorite old-time artists, like Pinetop Perkins (who passed earlier this year). David and I had talked for years about taking a blues road trip to the Delta. As Cubs fans here like to say, “There’s always next year!”

That evening another good friend, Colin, who was in town from Boston for a conference met us and Sima and Doug for dinner. We all reminisced about summers in Maine together and got talking about how we’d like to bring Muddy Waters to the Penobscot Bay next summer.

We also got glimpses of Colin’s adorable daughter and newborn son through the newly spider-webbed cracks on his iPhone screen. Don’t sit on your iPhone. And for heaven’s sake, learn from us and print out some of your pictures before an electromagnetic pulse, or some spilled water, eviscerates your digital keepsakes. Colin also joined us the following morning for a walk through Chicago’s magnificent Millennium Park. What sailor’s luck to have two of our good friends visiting Chicago while we happened to be passing through.

We spent the middle of the week soaking up Chicago’s wonders together with Sima and Doug. We visited the Alder Planetarium, took an architectural tour on the Chicago River, visited the observation deck of the John Hancock Tower and toured the Art Institute of Chicago. We also walked the Magnificent Mile and took lots of funky pictures around the Cloud Gate, better know as the Bean. Between our field trips (for the kids and adults), we ate like kings aboard Muddy Waters, with Jennifer preparing all kinds of vegetarian feasts. We stayed up late chatting, laughing, telling stories and even watching fireworks launched from the nearby Navy Pier.

Later in the week, Doug and I traveled with Keenan to O’Hare airport, ostensibly to collect my brother and niece. Check out the picture in our September photo album with Keenan’s surprised look when one of his best buddies, Maximo, walked through the airport gate. Maxi’s parents agreed to send him up for the weekend, and we thought it would be a great surprise for Keenan’s 13th birthday (on the 23rd). We guessed right. Thick as thieves, the two chums talked teenage shop and explored the city with us, often with jaws dropped and gaze fixed upward at the skyscrapers.

Later that evening my brother Chris and his youngest of three, Addison, arrived from California for the weekend. What a treat to have so many family members visit us on our little journey. Having both my sister and my brother visit has made it extra special.

We had a whirlwind weekend, first hosting a birthday breakfast onboard Muddy Waters for our new teenager. Then it was off to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry for a full afternoon of interactive fun for the kids, including a chance to experience simulated air-to-air combat in an F-4 Phanton II jet fighter. We also saw a movie called Tornado Alley in an IMAX theatre. The kids were, uh, blown away by it all.

The Science and Industry Museum brought back memories for me because when I was Daria’s age (eleven) back in 1979, I accompanied my dad to Chicago, and while he was in a meeting in one part of the city, he gave me some cash, put me in a cab and sent me to this same museum a few miles outside town. I remember touring the museum alone for most the day, visiting the mine and submarine, then hailing a cab to return to the hotel in the afternoon. Different world I guess. But negotiating a city at eleven learns you right good on how to be independent and explore on your own.

And since my mom is maybe learning all this for the first time, I may as well tell her my pops and I also attended a White Sox v. Tigers double-header on that trip. Not just any old summer ball game, this was Disco Demolition Night. We didn’t know about the promotion until already in our seats. Between innings, we dodged beer bottles and flying vinyl discs – as did players on the field. Read the description in the link above, or check out this news report, and you’ll have a window into my early childhood. The Samways love their baseball!

Back to 2011. We spent the next two days taking in the city. Onboard, we played lots of board games, told lots of stories and shared lots of hot tea and laughs with Chris, Addison, Maximo, Sima and Doug. One of Chris’s closest childhood friends, Brett, and his family came by for a visit too, and we had good fun catching-up and recounting stories from these baseball stars’ pasts.

Addison slept aboard one night, choosing the upper bunk in Daria’s room, and she baked up a Category 5 storm with Daria. Ummm good. Daria’s the eldest girl cousin in the family and Addison’s the youngest – it is cute as can be watching them together. Watch out when they grow up. Meanwhile, Keenan and Maximo continued to catch-up on sports, friends, school and Miami. They also discovered Chicago’s Lego Store and spent a good amount of their savings on little plastic squares.

We were sad to see Chris, Addison and Maximo depart and grateful they all traveled so far to see us. But there wasn’t much time to mope because later that afternoon we met with Doug’s family to celebrate Doug’s mom’s 89th birthday. We got to see lots of extended family, including Doug’s sister Robbie from California and nephew Kenny and his terrific family. Daria whipped up one of her spectacular carrot cakes from scratch for Grandma Bernice’s party and we all enjoyed the stories and laughs.

Before Sima and Doug set off for Miami the next day, they kindly drove us to Whole Foods where Jennifer proceeded to buy enough produce and healthy type eats to require me to rebalance the fuel tanks to adjust for the starboard list. Just kidding. But, she did buy a whole lot of food. We sent off Sima and Doug with cool weather but warm hugs and wishes for a safe return to Miami. Thank you for visiting!

We had more to do in Chicago though, museums to visit, people to see. That evening we hosted another friend, Michael, whom we’ve known for 20+ years and his friend Anthony. I’d seen Michael in Washington, D.C. in June and it was great to visit him in his hometown and share a bit of our family adventure.

The next morning we met Doug’s niece Jeanette and her two kids, Emma and Stephen. We visited the Shedd Aquarium where we saw all kinds of fresh and salt water sea creatures, and the Field Museum where we came face to skeleton with Sue, the largest, most complete, best-preserved T-Rex ever found. Impressive stuff. And the kids had good fun running around and learning with Emma and Stephen. Another enriching field trip for the kids’ homeschool log book.

And so our little stop-over in Chicago finally came to an end. What a memorable part of our journey. Sharing, laughing and exploring has been the essence of our trip, and Chicago, with all its mojo working, delivered all that and more for the Samway family.