Chicago In-Water Boat Show offers plenty of eye candy

June 12th 2012
Dale Bowman

As we motored beyond McCormick Place, Jim Thorpe asked, ‘‘Would you like to drive?’’
A chance to handle a 54-foot Cruisers Yacht — a ‘‘show special’’ priced at $1.15 million — on the Chicago Lakefront? As a matter of fact, I would love to drive. And it was special.

The first Chicago In-Water Boat Show runs Thursday through Sunday at the 31st Street Harbor. It will showcase boats, the new harbor and the Chicago skyline.

I arrived early Tuesday as the serious business of setting up the 100-plus boats for the show was under way. Thorpe, the owner of Spring Brook Marina in Seneca, picked me up at Burnham Harbor, then made the short run to 31st.

On a high-sky day such as Tuesday, it was a stunning run. I was reminded about what an enduring value Lake Michigan is to Chicago, both economically and aesthetically.

‘‘It probably doesn’t feel like it, but you’re probably going 15 to 20 knots,’’ Thorpe said.

The boat handled like a dream. Let’s face it: These boats are the stuff of dreams. Or, in my case, fantasies.

But there is a very practical side to modern technology. Thorpe pulled us out of dock at Burnham and had us under way in a few seconds with the joystick technology, which allows precise handling via a joystick. That technology has been part of most high-end boats in recent years.

‘‘This new joystick technology has brought a lot of new people in,’’ Thorpe said.

An in-water show allows some different methods of bringing boats in. The 54-footer Thorpe was running came through the river system and out into Calumet Harbor, then to 31st. The Prestige 60 Flybridge, a glamorous French boat brought by Spring Brook, took seven days to come from New York via the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes.

A bunch of Formula boats were being launched as I wandered Tuesday. Earlier in the week, the 65-foot SkipperLiner Commander 650 luxury houseboat was brought via the lake.

‘‘We came down from Waukegan in 3- to 31/2-footers,’’ said Gary Smith, the vice president of sales for SkipperLiner. ‘‘It came through the water smooth as could be.’’

A houseboat is not a typical Great Lakes boat. But SkipperLiner might have something for the Chicago market, especially for those who stay in-harbor. It was a treat to wander. My kids would die for the hide-holes in the kids’ bedrooms.

It officially sleeps eight, but Smith said: ‘‘As many kids and sleeping bags as you want to put on the top deck.’’

For technology lovers, it comes with a hydrogen converter, which takes fresh water and separates hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is injected into the engine to save on emissions and fuel consumption.

The boats are obviously the stars, but the new harbor is also something to behold. This was my first chance to explore it, and it’s the real deal.

The harbor should be on display this week, especially with the seminars and doings at the ‘‘Try It Cove,’’ a place to learn paddleboarding, kayaking, sailing and Flyboarding.