Summer of Swagman
by Sam Huonder

The Jolly Swagman, a 1985 Hunter 34 became ours on Wednesday, June 16 2004 at 12:04 p.m. after what our broker called the most painful and protracted closing he has experienced in 30 years. Minutes after signing a large quantity of printed documents at the bank, Jim and I were on the road to Bayfield, feeling giddy and breathless. We had only one night to spend but it was essential that we see the boat that was now ours. It was grey and overcast as we left White Bear Lake that afternoon but we were met in Bayfield with blue skies and warm sunshine. It seemed an auspicious beginning. We arrived at Pikes Bay Marina and found our way to Dock 400 to see the Swagman resting comfortably in slip 443.

The New Owners of the Jolly Swagman

The happy new owners, Sam and Jim, on the Jolly Swagman.

Jim and I turned to each other, looked deep into each other's eyes and said, "What the hell were we thinking!!!" We took a look around and realized we now had all kinds of new systems to learn about. There was the alcohol stove and the refrigerator. Along with the hot water heater, bilge pumps, batteries, and electrical panels and let's not forget the head!

After dinner at the Portside restaurant, we sat in the cabin, looking around and considering our potential folly. It was quiet that night, both of us wondering if we were over our heads. We spent that night, our first as big boat owners on our own boat. It was kind of strange and neither of us slept well. Jim's dreams were full of overflowing bilges and exploding holding tanks. Mine were full of sinking and dismasting in a storm tossed Lake Superior. We woke in the morning to a beautiful day but very light winds. After breakfast, with time running short we started up the diesel, a 22hp Yanmar, that rumbled in a reassuring fashion and we motored out to the lake. We set sail and headed off on a gentle beam reach. We were both very quiet for a few minutes and then I looked at Jim and saw the huge grin on his face, mirrored by the one on mine and I knew we were going to be okay. Were we in over our heads? Probably, but I knew we would learn.
We spent about an hour and a half sailing slowly in Chequamegon Bay before returning to the marina. After that, we participated in a ritual that anyone who buys a boat is familiar with. You walk around with your checkbook and write out big fat checks to anyone with their hand out.

Sam and Jim discover the joys of sailing in Bayfield, WI.

The Jolly Swagman was chosen as the venue for the first ever Huonder Family vacation. Jim and I drove up with all three grandsons on the last Thursday in June with his son Travis and wife Amber a couple of hours behind us. We cooked dinner on the boat that night and stayed in the Marina. After dinner, Travis called all of us up on deck. The moon was rising in the western sky and it was the most amazing thing. It was huge and it was PINK! We watched in wonder for a while and then Travis turned to his father and said, "Dad, this was really a great idea". Friday morning dawned cool and slightly overcast but we headed out for Madeline Island. We tied up in a visitor slip and walked into the town of LaPointe. After ice cream at Grandpa Tony's we returned to the marina and headed for Stockton Island. Light winds on the nose meant we would motor so we did and arrived at Stockton by 3:00 p.m. We were lucky and found a space at the dock to tie up.

The Jolly Swagman at Stockton Island

Once the boat was secure we put on our hiking gear and headed for Julian Bay. It is only a short walk from the Presque Isle Point dock to Julian Bay but there is a lot to see. Julian Bay, on the northeast side of the island, is lovely. There is a large sandy bay along the northern shore of the bay, but the south side is covered with rocky flats that are fun to explore. The kids took their shoes off and went jumping and stomping through the shallow pools of water. The rock, warmed by the sun, felt marvelous on bare feet.

The Youngest Grandson at Julian Bay

As we wandered and explored we completely lost track of time. One of the discoveries we made was that the waves crashing into some of the rock caves made some great burping sounds. It reminded me of the armpit kind of noise.

We returned to the Swagman to cook our dinner, which that night was fresh Lake Superior whitefish that I had bought on Madeline Island that day. Space management in a 34 ft sailboat when you have 4 adults and 3 kids can be a challenge, even on a boat as well proportioned as the Jolly Swagman. We managed and everyone settled down for sleep. We woke to a sunny day but we were all loath to leave our sleeping bags and soon we all became infected with a kids-at-camp case of the giggles. I don't remember what was so funny and maybe that really doesn't matter as much as the fact at that moment the connection between the seven of us was strong and it was nice to know we all belonged to each other.

We journeyed that day, under motor, to Raspberry Island and toured the historic lighthouse and then we hiked over to the sandy beach on the south side of the island. We found tracks on the beach that sparked a lively debate over whether they were bear or dog tracks. Sunday was the end of the vacation and we spent it in Bayfield, seeing the sights, having lunch at the Hurricane Hut and ice cream cones at the Candy Store. Late that afternoon, Jim and I helped offload Travis and Amber's gear and waved good-bye, with lumps in our throats, as they drove away. It was one of the best weekend's we had ever had and the first ever Huonder Family vacation was indeed a success.

Sam and Jim Discover the Joy of Sailing in Bayfield.

We spent a lot of time on the boat in the month of July and started to feel more at home. We had the smelly head fixed with all new discharge and intake hoses. Jim patched the dinghy. We replaced the battery charger. Jim patched the dinghy. We fixed the jib halyard and the roller furling. Jim patched the dinghy. I cleaned and scrubbed. Jim patched the dinghy. We found that with hardly any effort at all you can jam your stern mounted BBQ grill into the dock posts at the fuel dock and break it right off. We bought a new grill. Jim patched the dinghy. July was a very expensive month.

Jim and Sam enjoying their new boat.

One night, in early September we anchored in a little bay on the NE end of Bear Island. It was a moonless night and heavy clouds obscured the stars. After dinner, standing on deck with the Jolly Swagman floating in this inky blackness, I found myself slightly unnerved. Light did not exist and the darkness was complete and total. I could not discern sea from sky, land from water. Usually I am loath to call an end to the day and am the last one on deck but that night I did not linger. There was something vaguely malevolent in that absence of light and I craved the warmth of the Swagman's cozy cabin.

This story wouldn't be complete without a few words about our very best friend, John Currier. Who knew, that fateful day in May of 1990 when John dragged me out to Lake Minnetonka to see his new sailboat, Priority that I would fall in love with sailing. Our first time sailing in the Apostles, on a big boat, came about when John organized a weekend charter in July of 1991. We were lucky to have John spend a weekend with us in September on the Swagman and it was a historic moment for all of us as we sailed the North Channel on our way to Stockton.

Sailing with John in the North Channel

It has been a once in a lifetime kind of summer. I have been completely awestruck by the beauty that is the Apostle Islands and the vastness that is Lake Superior. I am pleased that even though I am not a cruiser yet, there is hope that I may be one day. I have learned that there is an intense satisfaction in sitting and doing nothing for long periods of time. I have learned that leaning against the bulkhead in the cockpit of the Swagman, while on a beam reach, with the sun warm upon me, is a great time for a nap. I have learned that there is nothing like a dinner party, with sailing friends, on a sailboat. That conversation in the cockpit, after the sun goes down, can go on for quite some time. I learned that hot cocoa tastes great on those cool September nights, especially when shared with friends. I learned that spending time on the boat isn't really getting away from it all; it is about getting to what really matters.

Sam Hounder is former Commodore of Black Bear Yacht Club and Rear Commodore of Sailfest. She and husband Jim have been sailing together for about 15 years. They keep the Jolly Swagman in Pike's Bay Marina in Bayfield, WI.