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Grainger Everyday Heroes: Tall Ship Crew


Meet Karen Randall, owner of the Tall Ship Windy, a 148-foot, traditional four-masted schooner docked at Chicago’s Navy Pier. Come aboard and hoist the sails to see what it might’ve been like to sail this 19th-century vessel.

People don't often have an opportunity to experience sailing, which is very different [from other types of boating]. It's quiet so you can experience nature, wind, sunshine, the water, the [Chicago] skyline, the views, without having to listen to diesel engines roaring in the background or smelling the exhaust. [It’s the quiet] that makes sailing very unique. Not a lot of the general public has an opportunity to feel what [sailing is] like or experience what it's like to be on a vessel that is historic.

I'm Karen Randall, I'm the owner and CEO of Tall Ship Windy and Windy of Chicago. Tall Ship Windy is a 148-foot, four-masted schooner. We do excursions from Navy Pier every day. [Tall Ship Windy] is the only working sailboat on Navy Pier and it is traditionally rigged, just like [other] tall ships of the 19th century that were here on the Great Lakes. A schooner refers to a rig set-up in which the masts and sails are one behind the other. There is a foremast, mainmast, mizzenmast and the spanker mast. This design was developed in the 19th century as it allows a ship to actually sail into the wind more closely and more quickly. It was a very popular design when schooners were cargo ships on the Great Lakes and off most of the coasts and oceans. These [types of ships] carried lumbar, cargo, fur, coal and people. They were essentially the trucks of the 19th century before there were any highways. The schooner rig was developed to be very efficient and to be able to be sailed with a smaller crew than traditional square-rigged ships that [have their] big square sails back to back.

There is always work that needs to be done on a tall ship. This vessel is a little easier to maintain than many that are constructed from wood because it is made of steel. However, we do have six or seven crew members who live aboard [this ship] all summer long. They take care of the ship, perform daily maintenance, clean and polish it, and take care of the rigging and the sails. [The crew makes sure it’s] ready every day for sailing trips. In the height of the summertime, we take about eight to nine hundred people per day sailing. The peak season here is between June and the end of August. During those months, we often start work at 10 o’clock in the morning and may not finish sailing until 11 o'clock at night. It's a very active and busy day. When the season is over, Windy actually stays right here at Navy Pier. She can winter and summer here because she's made of steel and is capable of remaining in the water during wintertime. How can you beat making a living going sailing? There's no happier business to be in, in my opinion.

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