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Sailing the Waters Around Door County

Spinaker Bow Shot
“Delia” with her Spinnaker flying. Photo Brian E. Clark.

By Brian E. Clark

I’ve hiked, biked and cross-country skied in Door County, the forested, fingerlike peninsula that juts into the northwest corner of Lake Michigan.

But for an entirely different experience, I recently spent several days sailing in sometimes high winds in the Bay of Green Bay off Door County’s western shores, stopping in the small towns of Fish Creek, Sister Bay and zipping by other ports of call.

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Dan Siedlecki and Sailor on “Delia.” Photo Brian E. Clark.

My vessel for this trip was the sailing vessel Delia, a 48-foot sloop-rigged Jenneau sailboat built in 1985 that was captained by Dan Siedlecki and assisted by his first mate, an exceedingly friendly three-year-old golden retriever aptly named, Sailor.

“It’s really beautiful to sail off Door County and its islands because you get such a different perspective than you normally would from the land,” said Siedlecki, a former corporate executive.

“And while the S/V Delia isn’t a glitzy, brand-new boat, she’s a seaworthy ol’ gal with a personality and a spirit well suited for these Lake Michigan’s waters,” he said. “We always have a good time sailing her and telling her stories.”

Our adventure began in Sturgeon Bay, where Siedlecki keeps Delia,  a pet name he had for his late wife, Mary, who passed away from breast cancer in 2000.

“I scanned her actual signature from a Father’s Day card she gave me and used that to create the decals for the name plates on the stern and both sides of the boat, ” Siedlecki said fondly. “She was taken before her time.”

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Laura Scandera and Sailor on “Delia.” Photo Brian E. Clark.

Companions on our trip in June were Dave Cushman, a ski patrol buddy of mine, and Laura Scandura, a retired diplomat turned sailing instructor who served in numerous embassies around the globe. And, of course, Captain Dan and his first mate, Sailor.

After loading our gear and provisions, we motored out into the Sturgeon Bay Shipping Canal, which was dug nearly 150 years ago to connect Lake Michigan to the east and the Bay of Green Bay.  A drawbridge lifted dramatically so we could head west and we soon had our sails up, heading north.

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Dan Cushman at the helm of “Delia.” Photo Brian E. Clark.

Because Cushman, Scandurra and I are all mariners with middling to a lot of sailing experience, Siedlecki let us take over the wheel and pilot the boat.  If Sailor could, he would have taken the helm, too. Instead, he snuggled in cose and even climbed onto whomever had a free lap.

“One of the great things about sailing off the Door Peninsula is that there are a number of ‘Ports of Call’ where we can stop after being out on the water,” he said.

“Egg Harbor is a 2.5 hour sail from Sturgeon Bay; Fish Creek is another hour North of that; and then Nicolet Bay with Horseshoe Island, Peninsula State Park, and Ephraim, is another hour, with Sister Bay about 6 miles further north.  Chambers Island, with its protected beach, lake within the island and hiking trails about six miles offshore in the Bay of Green Bay.”  Washington Island is approximately 46 miles from Sturgeon Bay.

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The author at the helm of “Delia” in high winds. Photo Dave Cushman.

That night, we docked at the Fish Creek Town Dock and walked around the small town, which is home to one of my favorite Door County hotels, the White Gull Inn – known for its fish boil dinners and delicious cherry stuffed French toast. Had we wanted something more secluded, we could have anchored offshore and then taken the dinghy into land.

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White Gull Inn. Photo Brian E. Clark.

In the morning, Capt. Dan made us his own McMuffins dish, using a round metal kitchen utensil in which he cooked egg with sausage, bacon, cheese and an English McMuffin.

We spent the day sailing, tacking back and forth and working on some of our nautical skills with Capt. Dan, a former instructor with the University of Wisconsin-Madison “Hoofers” sailing club.

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Dan Siedlecki of “Delia” with parfait in hand. Photo Brian E. Clark.

He also made us a tasty breakfast parfait one day that featured a glass filled part way with yoghurt and rimmed with caramel and chocolate sauce, and then layered with granola, more yoghurt, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries topped with a strawberry on a big dollop of whipped cream.

He said he can also whip up gourmet meals of steak or salmon with fancy salads or something as simple as burgers, brats and potatoes, depending on passengers’ tastes. For special trips, he’ll even bring on a gourmet chef.

We spent the next night in the Sister Bay marina, admired some lovely sailboats docked near us and explored the town as the sun set across the water over the Upper Peninsula in the far northwest of Michigan.

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Photo Brian E. Clark. at Al Johnson’s restaurant. Photo Dave Cushman.

In the morning, we dined at Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant and Butik, a place I always like to visit when I make the trek to Door County because I spent a year at Uppsala University, north of Stockholm, Sweden.

Our initial plans were to sail even further North to Washington Island off the tip of the Door Peninsula, but there were big waves and challenging enough winds to test us in the midst of the bay, so we saved sailing to Washington Island for another trip.

If passengers have booked him for enough days, Siedlecki said he can take them further North to Fayette, a burg on the Upper Peninsula on the east side of Big Bay De Doc that was the site of an industrial community that manufactured charcoal pig iron ingots between 1867 and 1891. Fayette is about 30 North of the top of Washington Island.

The town, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has been reconstructed into a living history museum to show what life was like in the late 19th Century.

Another option if clients want to charter his boat for a week or longer, is to sail across Lake Michigan to Michigan’s Leelenau Peninsula and then on to Grand Traverse Bay to explore communities like Northport, Sutton’s Bay, Old Mission Harbor and Traverse City. He can also visit ports of the Manitou Islands, Charlevoix, Petoskey – where Ernest Hemingway spent many summers – and the area’s crown jewel, Harbor Springs.

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Dan Cushman and Sailor. Photo Brian E. Clark.

On the last morning of our three-day trip, we sailed back to Sturgeon Bay and Capt. Dan told us he’d originally planned to offer charters in the Caribbean and Bahamas after he bought Delia. That didn’t work out, so he sailed her north using a combination of the Intercoastal Waterway and the open Atlantic Ocean passing through Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay then up the coast of New Jersey and entering New York Harbor.  He then sailed up the Hudson river and entered the Erie Channel just North of Albany.

Prior to entering the Channel, he took down the mast and motored for 4 days to Buffalo, New York.  He then re-stepped the mast and entered the Great Lakes, sailing through Lakes Erie, Huron and Michigan, eventually arriving in Wisconsin.

Which, I do believe, is Florida’s loss and the Midwest’s gain.

Spinaker Port Shot
Delia with Spinnaker flying. Photo Brian E. Clark.

For more information on sailing with Capt. Dan and Sailor on Delia, which sleeps six, see cruisediver.com. Rates range from $1,500 for two days to $4,000 for a full week during high season, which runs until Sept. 15. During late season, which runs until Oct. 31, rates fall to $1,250 for two days to $3,000 for a full week.

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