by Ray Radwanski and Friends

Puffin under sail

Yes, sailboats can fly, I was there, I can prove it. If your travels take you through Bayfield, Wisconsin, on the south shore of Lake Superior, you may chance to stop at Maggie's. When young sailors are looking for adventure, they pull on their boots and put out to sea. When old sailors pull on their boots, they usually are found at Maggie's, telling or listening to stories. Waving arms, twinkling eyes, and the aroma of coffee add credibility to the tales of adventure and happenings on the Great Lake. If you stay late enough you may eventually hear of the night fellow sailors looked up from their anchored boats at Julian Bay and clearly saw a sail boat overhead in the bright moonlit sky.

Can sailboats really fly? Yes, I can prove it; I was there.

Being in the engineering field, I can best try to explain the occurrence with mathematical calculations. All engineers know that pies are square and that with enough numbers anything can be proven. In this case all planets were aligned with the number, or multiple of two.

Two boats, Winnie ther Pooh, a 28-foot O'Day and Puffin, a 26-foot Westerly Centaur put out of Port Superior Marina on a two-day sail. Puffin had a crew of two. Pooh had a crew of three, plus one that didn't show, which made four.

Puffin was no ordinary sloop. Made in England, she was built by shipwrights of an island nation, for people who made their living at sea. She was a blue water boat designed for the strong winds of the English Channel. A stout mast and plenty of heavy shrouds allowed her to be at home in the heaviest of seas. But the unique feature of Puffin was the two keels that looked like wings on a penguin. They allowed the boat to settle upright on the ocean floor when receding tides would leave all moored boats high and dry.

How this boat made its way across the pond and ended up in the great Wisconsin lake is another story. All I will say now is that she loved to frolic in the clear blue waters and always looked for a triple reef day when tall boats were tightly reefed or safely tucked in at their slips.

On the 22nd of June, the two boats had a beautiful sail to Black River Harbor, Michigan. They stayed overnight and sailed back to anchor at Stockton Island's Julian Bay. Anchoring on the lee side of the island, the two boats were the last of 20 to call the bay theirs for the night. Dropping the Fortress-16 in 20 feet of water and running out 80 feet of rode, both crews relaxed to the gentle rocking of the evening breeze and enjoyed the silhouette of the island against the setting sun.

But as every sailor knows, sailing is about long periods of bliss interrupted with short periods of panic. Within seconds the wind swung around 180 degrees and within minutes increased to a 26-knot Nor'easter.

All 20 boats swung about their anchors. Some boats dragged anchor and others battled with tangled rodes. Those that were anchored too close together were also fighting to keep their spreaders from locking with other boats. Mast lights waved frantically at the clear night sky. Many boats, blown dangerously close to shore, decided to take their chances and headed out into the open lake. The wind now gusted to 44 knots. To be safe, Pooh and Puffin let out an extra 100 feet of rode and settled in for a rough ride.

About midnight it happened, Puffin decided to fly. I can prove it; I was there.

It's back to the numbers again. With every wave, the depth meter on Puffin read a difference of 12 feet. Because of an underwater shelf in the bay, every eighth wave would break and its height would exceed one half the total length of the boat.

The rode, acting like a kite string, would try to keep the four-ton boat tethered to the water. But Puffin would stretch out its twin keels and take a wild leap for the stars. With the inflatable dinghy tied to its stern like a kite's tail, and its bow pointed toward the full moon, for a split second, for a wink of a seagull's eye, it happened. Puffin flew!

I hate to confuse the issue with facts but I was there and I have the numbers to prove it.

At least this is how I remember it. The crew of Pooh will always corroborate it.

If you are traveling through Bayfield, stop in at Maggie's. I will tell you the whole story. I'll be at the second table, probably on my second cup of coffee. Just look for a dark blue watchman's cap over graying hair and two knee high yellow boots.