First of all, Mike Olson is not embarrassed and will answer any questions that you may have.
Yes, he’s the guy who owns the sailboat stuck in the frozen St. Croix River near Stillwater.
Yes, this is his first sailboat.
No, this was not what he had planned.
The newfound joy of boat ownership that settled upon Olson after he paid for the 26-foot sailboat in September quickly faded when he got the phone call a few weeks back: The river’s frozen. Your boat is still out there.
Olson, a Target employee who lives in Chisago City, has made several attempts since Nov. 1 to free his 1977 Pearson 26 from the ice, most recently by pushing himself out to the boat across the river’s frozen surface on a sled.
The problem is that the hull not only is locked in, its swept fin keel extends 4 feet below the waterline. The Pearson may be resting on the river bottom at this point.
“I’m new at this,” Olson said.
After his unusual story caught the attention of the Pioneer Press earlier this month, a potential hero emerged.
Tow truck operator Justin Butler of City Line Towing in Willmar, Minn., said he plans to drive to Stillwater sometime soon, after the river ice has thickened, to attempt a sailboat rescue.
Butler, along with his friend, Josh Schafer of Pulver Towing in Marshall, Minn., has a history of raising sunken cars and trucks from lake bottoms, typically after someone has driven onto thin ice.
Butler uses specialized pontoons to raise the vehicles, then slides them to shore. He thinks something similar may work with the Pearson.
“Basically, we need a few [more] inches of ice out there” before the rescue can begin, he said.
Butler said he would normally charge $20,000 for an operation like this, but he’s going to waive his fee for Olson.
His only concern is the crowd of reporters and others who might show up to watch him work. He’s fielded dozens of calls about the anticipated rescue of the frozen sailboat, including from “Good Morning America.” This being 2019, Butler’s pretty sure someone will watch and then pick him apart online.
“Somebody on Facebook on their couch,” he said, laughing.
Olson has run out of options. Nearby marina operators can’t help, now that the boating season has passed.
The Department of Natural Resources and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office have been following the story, but Olson isn’t breaking any laws — yet. If the boat sinks, he’ll have 30 days to remove the wreckage from the St. Croix or face steep fines.
Olson said he has a trailer ready once Butler gets the boat unstuck. And he’s hopeful that good sailing still lies ahead.
“I did spend a lot of money on the boat, and I’d still like to be able to use it if I can,” he said.