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Nothing conjures up summer in Chicago like the pristine blue lake dotted with tiny white sails. A variety of sailing classes can help even confirmed landlubbers become part of that distinctive panorama.

The Chicago Yacht Club offers two classes for grownups. Adult Learn-to-Sail is geared toward novices. The seven-week-long Crew U, which takes place on and off the water, teaches students the basic skills and terminology of sailing with the goal of becoming active crew members aboard a racing boat; it culminates as students are pitted against one another in a short race. The yacht club also offers beginning and intermediate sailing classes for kids. (The Chicago Yacht Club is headquartered in Monroe Harbor; its sailing school is based in Belmont Harbor. Reach the club at 312-861-7777 and the sailing school at 773-477-7575; chicagoyachtclub.org.)

The Rainbow Sailing Fleet offers a range of sailing classes and camps for adults and children out of Burnham Harbor (312-745-1700 or chicagoparkdistrict.com.)

At Evanston's Clark Street Beach, Northwestern University offers beginning and refresher sailing classes, as well as private lessons geared toward mastering the double-hull catamaran (847-491-4142 or sailing.northwestern.edu).

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Sailboats aren't the only way to get out on the water. Here are three other ways to navigate Lake Michigan:

At its two rental locations on Lake Michigan—Leone Beach (in Rogers Park, at Touhy Avenue) and Montrose Beach—Kayak Chicago matches beginners and experienced paddlers with the right boat. It also offers introductory, intermediate, and advanced classes at Montrose Beach (630-336-7245 or kayakchicago.com).

An alternative to surfing better suited to Lake Michigan, standup paddleboarding balances a surfer on a surfboard—and then hands him a one-blade paddle. (Once you get the hang of it, this variant on an old Hawaiian sport transitions well into surf conditions.) Learn more about the sport from Dave Olson, who offers a quick demonstration and rents equipment at Montrose Beach (630-336-7245).

Northwestern University's Sailing Center offers weekend windsurfing classes for adults. The two six-hour courses teach the sport's nomenclature, basic sail-handling skills and safety practices, and how to rig and disassemble a windsurfing board.  (Classes convene at the north end of Clark Street Beach in Evanston; 847-491-4142 or sailing.northwestern.edu.)

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Looking to dock your boat in one of Chicago's nine harbors? There are two waiting lists for mooring spots in the city: one for new applicants, and another for people who want to transfer to a better spot. Going into the summer, there were more than 550 names on each list. To make an application—which requires a deposit of $15 per boat foot—go to chicagoharbors.info or call 312-742-8520. Your grandchildren will thank you.

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LOOK BACK: Chicago Harbor Lighthouse

The lakefront has been protected by a lighthouse for longer than Chicago has been incorporated. A familiar sight off Navy Pier, the current lighthouse is one of the city's least well known landmarks.

Chicago's first lighthouse built at Fort Dearborn, at the river's mouth. Decommissioned 20 years later when a replacement is constructed.

Replacement lighthouse decommissioned when Grosse Point Light, in Evanston, opens.

The Chicago Harbor Light constructed at the river mouth, with keeper's quarters in the tower and a prizewinning Fresnel lens. The four-foot eight-inch lens arrives direct from the Columbian Exposition. The light, powered by kerosene, flashes red about every five seconds.

Relocated to the end of the north breakwater. A fog signal and a boathouse added to the base of the tower.

The generally accepted date when electrification reaches the lighthouse via submarine cable.

The Coast Guard, now running the lighthouse, automates operations, bringing an end to 147 years of Chicago lighthousekeeping.

To save on maintaining the expensive cable, the Coast Guard installs solar panels to power the lighthouse.

The City of Chicago and the federal government negotiate the potential transfer of the lighthouse to the city, which hopes to preserve it as a landmark. Any agreement to transfer must include some kind of public use for the lighthouse.


Photograph: Ron Chapple/Corbis


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