Introducing Faces of Friends: Sue Nelson

Faces of Friends Sue Nelson

March 7, 2024

The heart and strength of Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is people. People who love the islands and step up to support the national lakeshore with their time, talent and treasure. With that in mind, we’re launching Faces of Friends, a new series where we introduce some of our Friends and explore their personal connections to the islands. So many of our Friends have great stories to tell, whether they’re park lovers, volunteers, donors, business members or board members.

During the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing these stories, starting with charter boat captain Sue Nelson, interviewed by Friends board member Neil Howk. 

Neil: Can you tell me about your business? What is it? When did it start?
Sue: It’s called Wild Pursuits Boat Charters. This will be my third summer. My love of the water and my desire to share the beauty of the lake and islands is what inspired me to start my own boat chartering business. How it came to be is we moved up here during Covid.

Wild Pursuits logo

This was a place that I always came to as a kid and vacationed. My dad was a scuba diver and he dove on all the shipwrecks. In fact, as I was preparing for this interview, I was looking through a bunch of my pictures, reminiscing, and I found this one of us. That’s my dad and that’s me on my very first dive. As a kid, my brother and I would just get dropped off at an island while my dad dove on the shipwrecks. It was just like wonderland, playland. It was awesome.

Nelsons scuba diving photo
Young Sue Nelson on the bow of a boat

So then, moving ahead, Covid hits…I was a teacher at the time. I was teaching pre-engineering classes, hands-on learning for kids who are building. I thought, I don’t know how I’m going to be able to do that by Zoom. So I figured that would be a good ending point. My husband was a programmer for IBM and he was working from home.

I said, “let’s move up on the lake.” So that’s how we got up here. We’ve been here for five years.

I worked a little bit for Apostle Islands Cruises. I really liked the boat tours and sharing information about the lake with other people. I said, “why don’t I do this?” So I got my captain’s license, and here I am!

Neil: That’s great.

Sue Nelson profile - scuba diving photo of divers at the dock from 1978

Its so much fun, and it really corresponds to my background in teaching. Because I’m educating people about the shipwrecks, information about the lake, and all of that.

Neil: What level were you teaching?
Sue: Middle school. I did high school, college and middle school and middle school was my favorite.

Neil: How old do you think you were when you started coming up to the islands?
Sue: Probably in Elementary School.

Neil: Did you camp and hike, or was it mostly boating?
Sue: Oh no. We did a lot of camping and hiking. We would either stay on the islands or stay on our boats. We did a lot of Isle Royale trips as well.

Neil: How do you hope to share your connection with the lake with your customers through your business?
Sue: If you go to my website, I’m trying to create a one-of-a-kind experience for visitors while providing the history of this unique place. I don’t want to really be a water taxi. I want to give people an experience. When we do the shipwreck tours, I provide them with all the information about the shipwrecks. In addition, I have a special viewer which magnifies the shipwreck making it easier to see from the boat. When we go out to Devils Island, I give them information about that. Or Stockton… Whatever it is, it’s not just a boat ride. It’s really about inspiring appreciation of this amazing area in hopes that they come back and that they spread the word to their friends and family about all that is here.

Neil: So you’re not just taking people out and dropping them off for camping or day trips? It’s more of a cruise.
Sue: Correct.

Neil: Can you think of a memorable experience you’ve had in the Apostle Islands with your clients?
Sue: It’s always fun to see the area through the eyes of people who are seeing it for the first time. Then you kind of get to share that first time experience with them. It’s a rush. It’s amazing.

It’s also fun when people come and they have a celebration. I’ve done honeymoons, anniversaries, and birthdays. So to be a part of that celebration is really a lot of joy. People are happy, they’re inquisitive. A lot of them are in such awe, especially when it’s their first time.

Neil: Why do you think it is important to support the Friends of the Apostle Islands as a business member?
Sue: Because your organization is very important not only in promoting the islands but protecting them. I think that is important for my business. If it wasn’t for the islands, you could go for a boat ride and see the shoreline, but you can do that anywhere. Here it’s a unique experience. Each island is so different.

I’m also interested in the WISC Watch wave buoys in the islands. I use the information from the buoys and missed having it last year. I’m glad the Friends are supporting that program this year.

Bodin Fisheries snackle box

Snackle Box treats

I am a big believer in partnering with local businesses. I’m a business partner not only with the Friends, but with Bodin’s Fisheries. We do a “snackle” box, which was wildly popular last year. It was the first year we did that. It’s like a tackle box that is full of snacks like their fresh fish and their fish dip. So you’re getting a taste of the area.

Another partnership that I started last year that thankfully will continue this year is with the Washburn School District. During summer school they take a van out to Pikes Bay where my boat is and I take the kids out on a two hour tour. I was surprised at the number of kids who are local who have never been out on the lake. The kids had so much fun, and so did I.

Neil: That’s great. Thanks for doing that and for doing this interview Sue.

To learn how you can join Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, as a member, as a business member or as a volunteer, visit our Support Us page. And watch for the next Faces of Friends feature. in the weeks to come. 

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