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Sailboat frozen in St. Croix River will likely stay there all winter

“I don’t think I can move it now,” said Mike Olson, of his 26-foot white-and-blue fiberglass 1977 Pearson sailboat which is frozen in the St. Croix River north of Stillwater. He took a sport sled to the boat to check for damage Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. Jean Pieri / Pioneer Press

STILLWATER, Minn. — Mike Olson wasn’t optimistic Friday, Nov. 15, when he arrived at the Boom Site Landing north of Stillwater.

“I don’t think I can move it now,” he said.

Olson, 45, of Chisago City, was referring to his 26-foot white-and-blue fiberglass 1977 Pearson sailboat that has been frozen in the St. Croix River since Nov. 1.

Around 10:30 a.m., Olson retrieved a medium-sized Otter sport sled from his pickup truck, put on a life jacket and a winter hat and headed out on the frozen river to check on the sailboat he and his ex-fiancee purchased in September. A boat trailer was not included in the purchase price of $1,500, and Olson has been scrambling to come up with a plan to get the boat out of the water.

He hoped he might chisel it out on Friday morning, but soon realized that task would be impossible. “It’s totally frozen in there,” he said.

Instead, Olson made two trips out to the boat to check for damage — there was none — and to secure solar-powered landscape lights to it “to make other people aware of it,” he said.

“There wasn’t any water in it,” he said. “Everything looked pretty good. I plan to come out every week and check on it.”

He said he plans to leave it in the river and sail it this spring.

“Why would I take it out just to put it back in again?” he said.

Minnesota does not have a formal program for addressing abandoned or derelict watercraft. If a boat sinks, however, and is not removed within 30 days, the owner is subject to a civil penalty of two to five times the cost to remove, process and dispose of it.

Leaving a boat in the water during a frozen Minnesota winter can carry numerous risks. Among them: a fiberglass hull can succumb to the intense pressures of expanding, shifting and heaving ice. Essentially, the boat can get destroyed or sunk.

Sgt. Kyle Schenck of the Washington County sheriff’s office’s water, parks and trails division said Friday that towing the boat out of the water might be an option. “We want to avoid it being there all winter,” he said.

Olson said he planned to contact boat-towing companies to check on the feasibility and the cost of a tow. “But I don’t see how it could be towed out of the water,” he said. “It’s going to have to be lifted up in order to get it on the trailer.”

Tom Huninghake, owner of Max Todo Marine Services in Stillwater, said it could cost anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000 to tow the boat. “But that’s only if the weather cooperates,” he said. “Any more temperatures down by 10, forget it. Count me out.”

Schenck said officers also had advised Olson that the boat “needs to be marked with reflective signage and lights to prevent it from being struck by a snowmobile, etc.”

Olson said he has complied with that request.

Dave Orrick contributed to this report.