Got Life?

After a number of years of scheduling conflicts, our long-time friends Mark and Jeanne joined us for a weekend of sailing. Besides sailing with us a few times on the Blue Loon, they would not describe themselves as sailors. I’ve known Jeanne since my early college years and she was officially part of the “gang” that would go to “the lake” with me on weekends. At some point, Mark came into the picture and he also became part of “the gang”.

It was during one of those infamous weekends playing a game of Risk that almost caused their upcoming wedding to be cancelled. I guess it’s bad form to make a play against your future husband when he’s trying to take over the world.

With fog rolling in and out, we started by exploring downtown Bayfield and scored an apple pie at the Candy Shop – anyone who knows Bayfield knows that you only get one of “those” pies if you order ahead. With pie in hand, we knew it was going to be a great weekend.

As the fog lifted, we headed back to the boat and set our sights on Madeline Island where we planned to spend the evening at the Madeline Island Yacht Club to take advantage of a free night, compliments of our Great Lakes Cruising Club membership. No trip to Madeline is complete without a stop at Tom’s Burned Down Cafe. For those of you who have been to the Bomba Shack on Tortola – this is a North Woods variant of that Caribbean shrine to haphazard architecture and legendary all-night full moon parties. The Bomba Shack gets swept away in every hurricane that hits the island. Like in The Three Little Pigs fairy tale. Unlike the pigs’ straw and stick houses, Bomba Shack rises again—Phoenix-like—from debris left by the storm. It is a conglomeration of boards and drift wood and sheets of metal and anything else that washes up on the West End shores of Tortola after a storm. It is built on sand with sand floors. Few, if any nails or screws are used. It is all tied together with string, rope and underwear: recycling incarnate.

Tom’s Burned Down Café has some structure: a couple of walls rise from a deck; the ceiling is a giant tarp–kind of like a sail. Any significant wind is likely to scatter what there is of a structure across the island. Like Bomba Shack. Likewise, it will do little to keep the rain at bay. Also like the Bomba Shack, Tom’s Burned Down Café is a tale of redemption after disaster. It started out as an attempt to salvage the venerable Leona’s Café that had shut down outside of LaPointe in the late ‘80s. Mad Island native Tom Nelson and cohorts bought and moved the building into town only to see it burn to the deck just as it was about to reopen. The enterprising Tom opened anyway as an open air bar in the winter of 1992. Tom’s Burned Down Cafe has earned accolades as one of the best open-air bars in the country; 25 years later it is still a must-stop with its funky collection of junkyard furnishings, cast-off tool sculptures and general over-the-top seediness.

Devastation and Resurrection

The Bird House Bar, a popular and notorious watering hole along the Seward highway south of Anchorage had a similar vibe to Tom’s Burned Down Cafe when I stopped there in the late ‘80s. A giant colorful bird statue protruding through a window of a converted log cabin along Bird Creek—both of which inspired the bar’s name. The floor was catawampus, the furnishings rough-hewn and the walls and ceiling lined with business cards and cast off clothing—mostly women’s underwear. Like Tom’s Burned Down Café, Bird House holds the distinction of having burned down. Like Tom’s and the Bomba Shack, Bird House has been resurrected at Chilcoot Charlie’s in Anchorage. The Bird House might be another case of the Phoenix-like cycle of delinquency, devastation and resurrection. Or is Chilcoot Charlie’s just giving Anchorage the Bird?


But the best part of Tom’s is all of the philosophical words of wisdom that adorn the walls (at least where there are walls). The one that spoke to me personally is “Life begins when you get one!”

September 26 Words of wisdom at Tom's Burned Down Cafe
September 26 Words of wisdom at Tom’s Burned Down Cafe

This past year, and especially this past summer, has shown me that there is more to life than working far too many hours. And having quality time with friends and family has been an absolute joy.

But I digress. I also found the picture below quite charming:

September 26 Tom's Burned Down Cafe
September 26 Tom’s Burned Down Cafe

And as an added bonus – when I looked at the picture on my iPhone – it kept turning upside down. Hmmm – must be some secret karma going on.

September 27 Beautiful sailing day near the South Channel-Apostle Islands
September 27 Beautiful sailing day near the South Channel-Apostle Islands

Dinner was back on the boat where we enjoyed Dan’s grilled lamb chops and Greek potatoes followed by the fabulous pie purchased earlier in the day. Somehow none of us noticed the sign in the Ship’s Store stating that grilling on boats was not allowed – oops!

On Sunday, the sky was clear and the winds were blowing at 15 knots with gusts topping 20. We had a glorious sail going nowhere in particular, just following the wind. And I’m happy to say that Jeanne had a smile on her face even as the gusts were hitting 25!

And the best part? They want to join us in the North Channel next summer!


September 27 Mark and Jeanne - Sailors!
September 27 Mark and Jeanne – Sailors!
September 27 The Super Moon as it started to rise.
Blood Moon rising over Pikes Bay

To top off a perfect sailing weekend in the Apostles—possibly the last of this season?—Sunday night was the much-anticipated Blood Moon eclipse. It was spectacular event to be witnessed from our cockpit. I don’t know if the Bomba Shack got the full eclipse, but I bet it was a wild night at the West End of Tortola. And at Tom’s Burned Down Café. And maybe even at Chilcoot Charlie’s Bird House.

Post written by Julie and augmented by Dan (can’t you tell?)

September 26-27, 2015    Bayfield, WI and the Apostle Islands

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