Sunday, December 09, 2007

Cast away but not forgotten
Abandoned sailboat becomes lakefront's latest attraction

It has been 41 days since a Chicago landlubber piled his freshly fixed-up sailboat into Milwaukee's rocky coast, and nobody at this point can say when the depressing wreck will be extricated.

Friends say novice sailor Pavel Bernek had skippered the 34-foot boat only once before the fated trip in late October, but he had ambitions to eventually pilot it all the way to the far shores of our great lake. He wasn't going to stop there. He schemed to cross the Atlantic, blow through the Strait of Gibraltar and drop anchor in the Mediterranean Sea, where he hoped his girlfriend would be waiting for him.

But here in reality - in Milwaukee - the wounded "Falcon" lies on its side, in shin-deep water, ravaged by more than a month's worth of wintry punches from an ornery Lake Michigan.

Bernek's junk won't float again, but it has become something of a tragic magnet for some of the thousands who roll past on their daily commute along Lincoln Memorial Drive. Drivers frequently pull over to gaze at the waste. Amateur photographers cluster on the shore at dawn trying to capture whatever it is that pulled them there in the first place.

"At sunrise I've been there and there are like five or six other photographers," said Mike Fisk, a 42-year-old computer programmer who has made at least a half-dozen trips to the wreck.

Fisk doesn't know why the others are there. He's not even sure why he is.

"It's sort of a sad thing," he said, "and there is a beauty to that, too."

Whitefish Bay's Jim Kops' daily commute to his east side office now includes a detour down Lincoln Memorial Drive, just to glimpse what he's begun calling his "forlorn little baby."

"It's got some weird attraction, I don't know what it is," he said.

Bernek, meanwhile, has winged his way back to his native Europe, a colleague said, broke as his boat.

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