Denis Sullivan day sails provide stunning views and, if you want, sore muscles
If you want the ultimate new perspective on the city, the best place to get it is on the lake. Unless you're a Lake Michigan boater, looking at the city from out on the water is a rare treat.
Sailing on the S/V Denis Sullivan, which makes its summer home at Discovery World is an incomparable way to enjoy that view.
The S/V (Sailing Vessel) Denis Sullivan is a recreation of a three-masted, 19th century Great Lakes cargo schooner. It was built here in Milwaukee by professional shipwrights and volunteers in 2000.
Though the vessel is rooted in Great Lakes maritime history, it is also a thoroughly modern beast with a pair of diesel engines, computer workstations, modern communications and navigational equipment, and a scientific laboratory.
Up to 21 can bunk overnight, but up to 50 can hop on board for the day sails. The schooner has a professional crew of 10, but also is also staffed with volunteers in a variety of capacities.
Though I've only done day sails on the S/V Denis Sullivan, a couple sunset sails are still on tap this season and must be amazing experiences. There are also Sunday seafood dinner sails that include a three-course meal at Harbor House.
Complete schedule and rate information for public sails – along with a list of FAQs – is on the Discovery World website.
The schooner's public sails offer a leisurely couple hours out on the drink, but they are more than that.
"Our public day sails are both recreational and educational," said Captain Tiffany Krihwan when I sailed last summer. "For many of our passengers this is their first time on Lake Michigan or any of the Great Lakes and on a tall ship.
"Depending on the crew they sometimes get the passengers to sing along when the crew sing sea shanties."
The crew is eager to share the history of the Denis Sullivan with passengers, too, and to answer questions. On recent sails, I heard folks talking to crew about the materials from which the schooner is made (like Douglas Fir masts and white pine deck boards), others talked with crew members about their experiences on board and what brought them to life on the vessel.
Others, especially – but not exclusively – younger sailors, were wowed by the focused energy of morale officer Brody, a black dog that lives on board.
"Brody is the Chief Mate Rachel's Dog," the captain said. "Rachel (Bahm) and I sailed together back in 2008. I was the captain and she was my chief mate aboard the Sail Training Vessel Unicorn. I really enjoyed working with her so when I needed a chief mate for this sailing season I reached out to her to see if should be interested in the position. She stated that she would but she just rescued Brody and would hate for him to have to go live with someone else. She is his third owner is his short life. So I said she could bring him."
For me, the most fun – in addition to sitting back and studying the city from the east – was helping the crew raise the sails, which offers insight into how the individual sails work and how they affect the movement of the schooner. It also reminds sailors of the physical labor that crew members – both paid and volunteer – contribute to the functioning of the S/V Denis Sullivan.
On my recent sails, some folks jumped at the chance to get involved, while others preferred to stand back.
"It is pretty common to have a mix of people," said Captain Krihwan. "Some are just there to take it all in and others are looking for an adventure."
"The thing that I love the most (about the public sails) is sailing the Sullivan," said Krihwan, who has been at the helm of the Denis Sullivan for about six years. "I have been a licensed captain for 18 years and sailing aboard tall ships for 17 years.
"Regardless of what the wind speed is the wind alone is moving the vessel that is 173 tons or 346,000 pounds. On a good day I can turn a third or better of the wind speed into movement speed for the vessel. For example, if the wind speed is 12 knots or 13.8 mph I should to get at least 4 knots or 4.6 mph. That does not sound fast but sailing was how the world was explored for thousands of years."
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