Opti Encounter of the Third Kind (a sailing story by Pawel Stachowicz)

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By Pawel Stachowicz

It is hard to believe that sailing center directors need vacations just like us mere mortals (as if Bde Maka Ska was not already an exotic destination.)

So in late August, above mentioned sailing school director whose identity should be protected (let’s call him TS) snuck away for a brief vacation cabin stay not too far from Lake Superior. One day the weather was completely not summer like, with sheets of rain and constant wind from North by North East.

Since the day was not going to be enjoyed "outside", TS’s family made the decision to drive to a nearby town to pass the time. After wandering for a few hours, they sat down to enjoy Lake Superior in its rather angry state from behind a window of the waterfront restaurant. The meal was unfolding in a typical vacation pace, interrupted only by the typical tasks of caring for their infant son (still on warranty) - Theo.

The lake was stormy, winds in the 20 mph range, cool, wavy with whitecaps. Other than a scheduled ferry to Madeline Island, no other vessels were on the water. The sky was heavy and cloudy. However, despite all this, the lake was amazing. It was very calming and without much traffic, it looked like the Baltic Sea.

At one moment, TS’s wife, Alexa, casually uttered the words: "...Is that an Opti out there ???" TS clearly knew that it was way past April 1st. Yet he still suspected at least a practical joke attempt. Without showing any sign that would indicate him being tricked into a "made you look" scenario - he casually scanned the horizon. To his surprise there indeed was a sail on the surface of the restless lake. The vessel was making its way towards the Bayfield Marina.

 Unidentified Sailing Vessel and Madeline Island ferry to the left

Unidentified Sailing Vessel and Madeline Island ferry to the left

 Definitely an Opti!

Definitely an Opti!

Upon closer evaluation it became clear that Alexa was correct (as usual) - it was an Opti! Who could be sailing an Opti in this kind of weather and apparently having some serious fun surfing the waves, tacking as the approach was getting windier and bailing water after a bigger wave tried to tackle the 8 ft boat?

There was something familiar about the boat. And still it was kind of surreal. TS had to run down to the marina to get a closer look. As It turned out, to his utter surprise, that was indeed an MSC boat sailed by one of the Opti racers - Patryk!

TS watched as Patryk, in his dry suit, with radio clipped to his life jacket was genuinely enjoying this dreary day; pushing the boat faster on the downward part of the wave and popping up at the top of the next wave while hiking out to the max. Patryk, who is 12, was getting another experience of sailing on big water and making it look like a lot of fun - all thanks to several years of practice and racing at MSC.

 Approaching Bayfield

Approaching Bayfield

The Opti was followed by a "mother ship", a large sailboat under motor at some distance away in visual and radio contact if need be. For added safety the small boat had a waterproof case with extra radio battery, thermal blanket, signal flares and few other things (like length of rope if something needed to be temporary repaired).

The Opti sailed in to the Marina at Bayfield after allowing the ferry to leave (according to the well known principle: “regardless of right of way - pay attention to bigger boats” :)

The crew of the mother ship and of the Opti were equally surprised to see TS there at the waterfront checking their progress. It was a great surprise to all and fun to see a familiar face on such an otherwise ominous day.

Later that day Patryk's friend and teammate at MSC - Mark, sailed the Opti from Bayfield to Madeline Island also having quite a bit of fun despite the challenging conditions.

 Mark on the way back to Madeline Island

Mark on the way back to Madeline Island

Both sailors later were more than happy to jump into the hot tub by the hotel on the island, clean off a pot of hot steamy muscles and finish a decent size pizza.

 “Mother ship” and Opti on a nicer day - Madeline island behind and to the right

“Mother ship” and Opti on a nicer day - Madeline island behind and to the right

This Opti Encounter of the Third Kind was actually the second half of our traditional family sailing trip at the end of August. During the first half of the trip the boys were an integral part of the experienced crew which sailed from Madeline Island to Grand Marais on the North Shore and back. That voyage took 4 days through open lake, out of sight of land and through serious weather. On that first leg of the trip a third MSC Opti racer, Finn, was part of the crew as well. While underway on the open water the Opti was strapped on the front of the boat and we towed a Zodiac RIB as a safety boat.

For me, Patryk’s dad, it was great to witness the 12-year olds as one of the most experienced, reliable and yes: disciplined crew. Their sailing knowledge after racing the Optis, 420’s and Lasers was strong and intuitive!

No command needed to be explained, they understood how to steer the 45 ft boat as if they grew up on it and moved on deck like pros, even in 12+ foot seas. With life jackets and safety harnesses they still managed to get the work done and have fun when not on helm duty.

 Breakfast of champions

Breakfast of champions

 Patryk on duty

Patryk on duty

 The Crew at the start- from left: Mark, Finn, Patryk

The Crew at the start- from left: Mark, Finn, Patryk

 There is always work to be done

There is always work to be done

 Mark at the wheel

Mark at the wheel

 Checking on the wind shift

Checking on the wind shift

 A break during several hours of steady sailing

A break during several hours of steady sailing

The Opti boys proved that rigorous training at MSC provides a great base of skills and knowledge and adds to ones confidence.

This turned out to be an amazing trip for all of us.

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