Sailboat

Brennen Swanson, left, co-owner of Bonsai Motors in Lakeland, and Will Gavic, a salesman at Bonsai, took the day off work on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019, to rescue a sailboat that has been frozen in the St. Croix River since Nov. 1. The men used Gavic’s duck-hunting boat to travel to the sailboat and free it from the ice and mud. Photo courtesy of Brennen Swanson

ST. PAUL — After almost a month of looking out at a sailboat frozen in the St. Croix River, Brennen Swanson of Stillwater had had enough.

So with the conditions just right on Tuesday, Nov. 26 — 38 degrees, an easterly wind, open water — Swanson took action.

“I’m looking out at the river, and I’m, like, ‘Oh man, if someone can’t get that boat out of there today, I might as well just do it and just have it done,’” he said. “I kept seeing things on Facebook, people saying they were going to go rescue it, and people were like, ‘Oh, I’m not going to do it for less than $8,000’ — all these high-priced estimates — and I’m, like, ‘I should go out there with a buddy and a duck boat and get that thing out for free. It would take me all of about an hour and a half.’”

Swanson’s friend and co-worker Will Gavic, of Hudson, Wis., was game.

Gavic owns a 16-foot flat-bottomed Alumacraft duck-hunting boat with a 35-horsepower backwater mud motor. It took about a half-hour to get the boat up to Stillwater and into the water.

Although the river is low, the boat’s motor is designed to go through “mud and swamps and stuff,” Swanson said. “You don’t even have to be in water.”

The men used a buck knife to cut an anchor line tangled in the rudder of the 26-foot white-and-blue fiberglass 1977 Pearson sailboat, and they untied others.

“The wind kind of helped blow it, but we had to move some ice around,” Swanson said. “The (boat) motor did most of the work. We just put it underneath the sailboat and blasted it and kind of kicked it out of there. We actually had to drag it out through the mud to get it to the open water after we got it out of the ice.”

‘I can't believe it’

The men pulled the sailboat to the Ole Saw Mill Marina in Stillwater. Swanson took a video and photo and posted them on Facebook.

“My team at Bonsai Motors took the day off to help,” he wrote on the “Pictures of Stillwater” Facebook page. “We got the sailboat at Ole Sawmill Marina, and it’s floating free and ready to pull out of the water. Will someone help us contact him so we can talk to him?”

The owner of the sailboat, Mike Olson, was thrilled to get the news.

“Are you serious?” he asked. “Who took it out? I can’t believe it.”

Olson, 45, of Chisago City, works at the Target distribution center in Fridley and studies computer science at Metro State University, said he had class until late Tuesday and would have to figure out a plan to get the boat from the marina.

An outpouring of support

Olson, who had never been sailing before, bought the sailboat and a small dinghy for $1,500 in September after responding to a Facebook ad. Unfortunately, a boat trailer wasn’t included.

Olson said earlier this month that he and his ex-fiancee had planned to learn how to sail and “then get it off the river and store it someplace else. But things escalated, and it never ended up happening, and now I have a boat that is out on the water frozen.”

He later bought a boat trailer, and tow-truck operators from Willmar and Marshall offered to donate their services to remove it from the ice in mid-December.

Jason Butler, the owner of City Line Towing in Willmar, said Tuesday he was happy to hear the boat had been removed and had not suffered any damage. “It’s good for him,” he said. “I’m not a local guy. If there was open water and I lived there, I probably would have grabbed it, too.”

But Swanson and Gavic beat him to it on Tuesday.

“Wow, I did not expect this,” Olson said. “I’m kind of in shock. I am very, very thankful for everyone’s help. I really appreciate everything they have done.”

Sailing lessons in future

Olson said he plans to learn to sail this spring. The director of the St. Croix Sailing School, which is based in Hudson, Wis., contacted him after reading about his plight and offered him free lessons, he said.

The school’s mission is to provide river access and sailing education to everyone, said Collin Mueller, the school’s director.

“We know it can be intimidating to get out on the river, and we appreciated Olson’s eagerness to join the sailing community,” Mueller said. “We reached out to Olson to offer a series of free sailing lessons focusing on skill-building and the basics of safely owning and operating a small keelboat. … We look forward to sailing with him in June.”

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