“You have a job,” said Steve Frischmann. We barely looked up from our trout sandwiches and fries, our Millers and our Leinenkugels, the fare du jour at Maggie’s, a popular lakeside joint in Bayfield, Wisconsin.
Pausing momentarily for emphasis, the captain of Windwalker, a spanking new Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 509, and a trim, fit man with many watery miles in his wake, went on.
“One, relax,” he began. “Two, have a lot of fun.”
Seemed sensible enough, as captain’s orders go. Our crew—newly retired Robin Groszko; her husband, athletic Mick Groszko; their niece, photographer Marianne G. Lee, on a brief sabbatical from motherhood; and yours truly—didn’t overthink it. We dutifully returned to the business at hand, eagerly downing dinner and drink.
Between mouthfuls, I suddenly wondered, what was the captain’s scheme? How does a newly retired career dynamo like Robin relax? Having met her but a few hours earlier, I sensed that for her, the notion of relaxation might require, well, a little work.
| |The swift Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 509 Windwalker makes a quick tack in front of the quaint skyline of Bayfield Wisconsin. |
Could Captain Steve have meant that this magically happens by taking early morning beach walks and tracing fresh bear tracks? By strolling into whispering hardwood forests to explore the diverse plant communities spawned by the formation of a tombolo? Or how about by hopping on a bike and clocking miles that Robin’s packed work schedule and the dual roles of devoted wife and mother left too little room for over the years?
Maybe the captain meant that relaxation mysteriously comes about by tucking comfortably into a seat in a spacious cockpit aboard a speedy chine-hulled masthead sloop during bracing runs to and from the countless anchorages of the glorious Apostle Islands of mighty Lake Superior.
Or that it seeps in while a two-person crew does all the deck work and waits on you hand and foot, serving up scrumptious fresh food and drink? Or that it comes quietly, while you slumber on a firm mattress in a stateroom that’s spacious and full of storage yet cozy and comfortable?
Only a few days later, in all these ways and more, that very sensible set of captain’s orders from Steve—relax and have fun—had been carried out, and to a T.
“That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout!” he jubilantly cried from one of the dual helm stations while we counted up all the fresh memories of a too-brief trip and let Windwalker strut her stuff one final time, unfurling the UK-Halsey Mylar-laminate sails with taffeta and embarking on a series of tacking romps off Bayfield harbor so Marianne could trail us in a chase boat and add more shots to the scrapbook.
| |Charter guests Robin and Mick Groszko enjoy late-afternoon drinks on the foredeck of Windwalker.|
The intersection of Robin Groszko’s farewell from her job at a women’s health clinic with the dress rehearsal of Sail Nouveau, a crewed chartering service that Superior Charters of Bayfield (www.superiorcharters.com) officially kicks off in June 2013, seemed foretold in the stars. Or maybe it was divined by Mick. Since retiring as the manager of the Chrysler quality institute in 2007, Robin’s lanky spouse has developed a yen for cycling (clocking 6,000 miles a year), helicopter skiing, and astroimagery, the photography of galaxies and other interstellar objects.
Then again, forget the night sky and all its secrets—maybe Mick is just a master of the obvious. One afternoon, when Robin started to describe her career, saying “I’m a social worker with a master’s degree—,” Mick cut her off.
“You’re a was,” he reminded her as Windwalker slipped along in the breeze and we guests chatted away, oblivious to Captain Steve’s seamless helming. And as a was, deciding whether to come with us for a few days in late September, albeit after having just downsized to a new house, was really a no-brainer. “The only thing I’m missing is the book club,” Robin said, balancing her outstretched arms like scales. “Let’s see: Sailing? Book Club? Sailing?”
Her smile said it all.
The Groszkos each had experience sailing Hobie Cats and other small boats, and Mick’s father had owned a 43-foot powerboat for Great Lakes cruising. Together, they had one crewed charter in the British Virgin Islands on their sailing résumé. “Best vacation—ever,” Robin said. “We’re not newbies, but we don’t do this every week.”
The Lap of Luxury**
From Windwalker’s sexy teak deck with flush hatches and aft fold-down swim platform to the clean, spacious styling and rich wood interior below—just a few of
| |Meals like this lunch of marinated pork and field greens, prepared fresh in the galley, are part of the crewed-vacation experience with Superior Charters.|
the touches associated with renowned designer Philippe Briand—to say we were impressed with our temporary home was an understatement.
Robin dubbed the forward stateroom that she and Mick shared the “fantasy suite.” It wasn’t a stretch, given the cabin’s double hanging lockers, overhead storage that ran the length of the hull on each side, and desk/vanity, not to mention the en suite head and separate shower stall. And the Groszkos themselves, who each stand more than six feet tall, pointed out that any boat whose headroom meets their height requirements is a winner.
As we whiled away the hours gawking, mate and cook Alec Kalow kept reminding us, “Your wish is my command.”
But we couldn’t possibly know that we were in want of anything, ever, from the moment we set foot aboard, to our departure.
From a welcome basket bursting with down-home goodies like Wisconsin maple syrup and locally harvested apples to a full menu of meals, hors d’oeuvres, cocktails and wines, and dessert, we stayed overwhelmed, not to mention well fed, from fare whose ingredients were local and sustainably sourced.
Off the Beaten Track**
| |Windwalker’s crew mate and chef Alee Kalow (raising the main) and captain Steve Frischmanm (at the helm), ready the boat for sail while Mick Groszko looks ahead.|
What with Lake Superior’s reputation for producing sudden, wicked, and deadly storms, particularly in the spring and the fall, we felt fortunate to be in the relative protection of the Apostles, which are situated to the west in the lake, close to Bayfield on the mainland.
And we felt lucky to miss peak bug-biting season by sailing in September. Of the archipelago’s 22 islands, which cover more than 720 square miles, 21 are within the boundaries of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and offer many outdoor recreational options, from hiking and paddling to cruising and camping. Madeline Island, the only populated island, has about 220 year-round residents and as many as 2,500 in summer.
Madeline’s population doesn’t detract from its beauty; for that matter, you’d be hard pressed to complain at all about the scenery anywhere here, from the forests of pine and birch rimmed by red sandstone cliffs and shores to clear waters that appear emerald from a distance. As for the black bears, indeed, there are plenty, and I came as close to them as I cared to, often on beach walks encountering their fresh tracks and scat in the sand.
Our three-night sojourn, alas, came during a week when frequent storms were forecast. With Steve’s help, we studied the charts and came up with a loose sailing itinerary that allowed us to visit Madeline, Stockton, and Michigan islands, truly a stone’s throw from each other, and be well tucked in at anchor or dockside overnight.
So I can’t say the guest crew of Windwalker sailed far, but we sailed well and explored often. We wandered the beaches and trails of Stockton Island, marveling at the diversity of its coniferous-hardwood forest and the pine savannah of the tombolo, a geologic feature that occurs when a bridge of sand connects two pieces of land. Upon our return to the dock, we met up with the crew of a Midship 25, Jim and Mike. Having been “beat up by the cold,” as Jim said, they were headed back to the mainland, to Saxon Harbor. For the record, they didn’t catch any fish, and that, combined with the weather, determined for the pair that enough was enough. We bid our farewells as they cast off their lines, and while we waited for Steve to pick us up in the dinghy, we considered the plush accommodations and, more to the point, the hot showers and heat that awaited us back aboard.
A Pair of Lighthouses**
| |The tale of how Michigan Island came to have to lighthouses is well documented.|
From Stockton, we motored to nearby Michigan Island. After anchoring, Steve took Marianne and me ashore in the dinghy; we triumphed over the swells that slammed into the dock, scrambling up one of its sides. The next challenge, ascending a large staircase and tramway that lead to a pair of lighthouses, was easy by comparison.
An incredible story accompanies the lights, a 19th-century tale that can make any 21st-century taxpayer wince about how Uncle Sam spends our money. The short form is that the first light was supposed to be built for a different Apostle Island, a government official changed plans at the last minute, and so the first light was erected on Michigan. The second, taller light came years later but wasn’t erected until it sat on the island’s beach, awaiting assembly, for a decade. For more juicy details, read the complete story at the lakeshore website.
Reluctantly, we heeded storm warnings and agreed with Steve and Alec’s suggestion to hightail it from Michigan and park Windwalker in a marina at Madeline. This was more fun than we first thought it’d be, for the island and main town of La Pointe offer plenty for tourists. We marveled over chainsaw art at Island Carvers and paid admission for a complete tour of the Madeline Island Museum. Skies were still blue and the sun shone brightly, so we figured that renting bikes from Motion to Go would be good exercise and fun.
That great ride, including another beach stroll, hinted that fall was upon us. Red, green, and gold leaves rustled in the wind; the air felt crisp. And it let Lake Superior remind us that Mother Nature remains firmly in charge. We saw sun but heard thunderheads, and we barely made it back to the shop before suddenly black-purple skies let loose hefty sheets of slanted rain. Taking pity on us, a kind islander offered us rides in two shifts to the marina, barely a few hundred feet away.
“Do you know who that was?” Marianne asked once we were all below and dry aboard Windwalker.
“No,” I answered. “Who was he?”
“Dick Coleman,” she said. “He’s another skipper for Superior Charters, and he lives on Madeline.”
How cool is that? Everywhere you go, there’s crew on your boat, and crew on land, ready and waiting to assist you. Now that’s a level of superior service.