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July 15, 2014

“Well, it’s not far down to paradise, at least not for me….if the wind is right you can sail away…” Christopher Cross’ popular song plays through my head. I remember lying on the floor completing hours and hours of physical therapy listening to that song. Maybe it spoke to me because I couldn’t walk very well after my accident and sailing, well, could ‘take me away to where I always heard it could be…”

 Sometime during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s I wanted to become a sailor more than anything. I read books, talked to people, and searched for a way I, too, could learn how to raise the mainsail, reef the jib, tack and jibe…but the words were only words, and my dreams of sailing evaporated into the mist.

A friend of mine at the time told me that her husband took a course at Sailboats, Inc. (  and learned to be a captain in 3 full days on the boat. Yes, there were lessons to complete before you boarded the boat but there was also 3 intense days of sailing where one could go from dreaming about sailing a boat to actually sailing a boat. I looked into Sailboats, Inc. but never pursued my dream. Until now—some dreams won’t be denied…

Mike contacted Colleen Hyde co-owner of Sailboats, Inc. in Bayfied, WI (117 South 1st Street, Bayfield, WI) and planned the 3-day intense training experience. We arrived in Bayfield on a Sunday evening, woke early and went to the Sailboats, Inc. office where our morning of classroom instruction would take place.

We met Colleen, the co-owner (with Lida Malngren) and Sue Holloway, our captain and sailboat instructor. We talked while we waited for 3 other sailing students: Adam and his sons, Andrew (18) and Brigham (16) from Minneapolis who arrived a few minutes later.

The first morning we shared our sailing experiences. Mike and I were novices; Adam, Brigham and Andrew were more seasoned sailors—they owned a Hobie Cat and sailed on a regular basis. Captain Sue told us about the different sailing terms—sailing has its own language and we soon became conversant in ‘luff,’ ‘lines,’  ‘halyard,’ ‘tack,’ ‘jibe,’ and others. Captain Sue also ‘showed us the ropes’ and we learned how to tie a bowline, a half hitch, and a square knot. Then we learned navigation.

 There are 4 kinds of navigation in sailing: celestial, radio navigation, piloting and dead reckoning. We became most familiar with dead reckoning. By looking at a chart (map) one can determine one’s location and how long it will take to get to one’s destination by using time, distance, speed, and course by using a parallel ruler and dividers. The exercises reminded me of a geometry class, and learning how to use dead reckoning techniques was one of my favorite lessons.

Captain Sue and Brigham chart our course to Red Cliff while Andrew looks on,

Captain Sue and Brigham chart our course to Red Cliff while Andrew looks on,

When Captain Sue was confident enough in our budding skills, she took us to our boat, Frolic from Stillwater, MN. Frolic is a Pearson 31-2 and was built a few years before I found myself lying on the floor doing physical therapy singing “Sailing.” She is a beautiful boat with a keel weight of 3,800 pounds and a displacement of 10,000 pounds.

Frolic with Captain Sue, Andrew and Brigham

Frolic with Captain Sue, Andrew and Brigham

I was the first person to take the helm and ever so gingerly left the dock in Bayfield. When we were safely outside of the breakwater we hoisted sail and everyone took their turn at the helm over the 3 hours we spent on the water. It was beautiful. The sky was so blue, the wind so exhilarating. Under sail, I took the helm and soon Frolic had heeled to the starboard side—swiftly moving through the water. The two teenagers on board thought it was great fun to be flying through the water on the side of the boat. At first I was a little afraid that Frolic might heel too far and we would be in the water—but that didn’t happen.

At Frolic's helm

At Frolic’s helm

 On the second day of our sailing instructions, there was no wind, and the weather had turned cloudy and cold. We spent the morning inside the breakwater practicing docking and making tight turns through a series of maneuvers using the engine and either moving forward, or backing up. The buoyancy of the boat allows the slightest movement to be bigger than one would imagine and we learned that it doesn’t take much engine power for Frolic to dock or make a complete turn.

 In the afternoon, the wind picked up and we headed out for open water. Once again, I heeled Frolic over on her starboard side and felt the rush of adrenalin as the wind rushed through my hair. I have never felt so free. As Christopher Cross’ song goes “Just a dream and the wind to carry me…” By the end of the second day, the 5 would-be sailors became not only comfortable with Frolic and Captain Sue, but with each other and our budding sailing skills. We learned to anticipate when we were ‘preparing to come about’ who would manage which ‘sheets and who would stay out of the way.

Mike sits back and enjoys the ride on Frolic

Mike sits back and enjoys the ride on Frolic

We spent a few hours learning how to rescue a ‘man overboard’ (MOB) and were told that in the cold Lake Superior waters, it takes only about 15 minutes of exposure for hypothermia to occur. You must act quickly, and you must act confidently in order to save the person.

 The third day on the water came too soon. We charted our course for a shipwreck near Red Cliff Reservation and anchored for lunch. Again, the day was cold, but the sun was shining brilliantly and the wind was strong enough to carry us to our destination. On the way back, after lunch, I was at the helm and a particularly strong gust of wind hit the sails and Frolic heeled over, again on the starboard side. The wind shifted, the jib sheet flew off the winch and the mainsail boom lurched. Everyone on the boat quickly moved to recover trim the jib and in the activity, the winch handle flew off the boat. We spent the next 45 minutes trying to rescue our  ‘WOB’ (winch over board) and were successful with a bit of ingenuity, a crate, and a boat hook.

Our sailing lessons ended much too soon. As Mike took the helm and headed for the dock, we were all a bit sad for our lessons to be over, but very happy for our days on Frolic with Captain Sue, Adam, Andrew and Brigham. All of us passed our captain’s certification and we are now able to charter a boat without a captain (bare boating). Which we hope to do soon. Very soon. “The canvas can do miracles…just you wait and see….”

Captain Sue and the crew (Adam, Brigham, Mike and Andrew) pose after the last dock.

Captain Sue and the crew (Adam, Brigham, Mike and Andrew) pose after the last dock.

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