Surfer interrupts event, rescues bird
By MARY WARDELL
Journal Staff Writer
MARQUETTE — An event commemorating the birthday of the U.S. Coast Guard was interrupted recently when a surfer caught the attention of spectators as he carried an apparently injured seagull back to shore on his board.
Dan Schetter, a local known for surfing the big lake year-round, said he didn’t know what the event was, nor did he much care that local marine historian and political candidate Fred Stonehouse was in the middle of a Coast Guard Day presentation.
“I’m not checking into other people’s schedules,” Schetter said. “I’m on wave-time.”
Stonehouse was demonstrating a historic line-throwing gun called a Lyle gun, named after inventor David Lyle, which was used to rescue people from shipwrecks. It was last used on the Great Lakes in 1953. The gun, which looks like a miniature cannon, shoots out a lead ball attached to a thread, facilitating a connection between the shore and anyone stranded.
Stonehouse said there were about 75 people gathered at 5 p.m. Aug. 4 at the cove just south of the Marquette Lighthouse to watch the demonstration. He’d spoken to other surfers ahead of the presentation and asked them to spread the word, he said.
“When we came out to do it, nobody was there. The surfers had already left, and then at the last minute, this fella comes into the scene,” Stonehouse said.
Photographer Dan Wilson said he was watching as, after the first shot, people hand-coiled the string and lead weight back into the gun. That’s when “Surfer Dan” showed up.
“So all this string is laying around, and Dan is walking through it and going in, and they’re (saying), ‘Hey, we’re shooting another shot out there!'” Wilson said. “I mean, this lead thing is heavy. If it hit somebody, it would hurt.”
Stonehouse said he called out to warn Schetter, but Schetter didn’t stop.
“The city has technically closed that beach down. We had certainly got the approval of the city to do what we did,” Stonehouse said. “So it was a little disconcerting, but you work through it.”
Wilson said he didn’t know what Schetter was up to.
“Fred’s yelling. It was kind of comical,” Wilson continued. “Dan’s paddling out on his board. So I said, ‘What the hell’s going on?'”
Stonehouse continued with his presentation, aiming the cannon well clear of Schetter.
He said he has no hard feelings about the interruption.
“We had a blast, no pun intended,” he said of the demonstration.
Meanwhile, Wilson attached his telephoto lens, watching Schetter in the distance scoop up a seagull and start riding waves back to shore, he said.
Schetter, who had a GoPro camera in his mouth at the time, caused a stir as he arrived on the beach with seagull in hand, Wilson said, telling onlookers as he left that he planned to find a veterinarian for the bird.
Wilson said he tried to follow up to find out what happened, but couldn’t reach Schetter.
As it turned out, Schetter told The Mining Journal, neither a vet clinic nor the Chocolay Raptor Center in Harvey could help the bird — so he released it back into the wild.
It wasn’t the first time he’s tried to help injured seagulls, Schetter added.
He explained his affinity for the often-maligned scavengers known as “sky rats.”
“When I was a kid, I used to live right over here across from Graveraet (Elementary School),” Schetter said. “And (one day) there was a seagull in the middle of the road getting run over by cars all day long. … And this man came and picked up the seagull, and it had a lure stuck in its mouth.”
The bird was wrapped up in fishing line, unable to free its wings, Schetter said. Somehow, it had avoided getting hit by any tires, narrowly escaping death with each passing car.
“All day, we just didn’t really pay attention (to the bird), and then we picked it up, and it … was still alive,” Schetter said. “Imagine that; what was going on in that seagull’s mind, right?”
The man who released the seagull gave Schetter the lure to keep. He said the experience left a lasting impression on him.
“I wasn’t always friendly to animals. Everybody can love cute puppies, but they go over here and throw a rock and hit a bird, you know, kill it with a BB gun,” Schetter said. “In my life, I wasn’t always the best to seagulls. So now, that’s part of me being sober is making amends, in all situations, trying to be a good person.”
Schetter, who is 12 years alcohol-free, he said, recalled a number of times he has helped seagulls — especially from fishing lines and hooks.
While he doesn’t know what ultimately happened to the bird he rescued more recently, Schetter seemed content with the effort.
“I mean, I owe the seagulls. They’re in all our beautiful pictures, balancing things out, they’re cleaning up things,” Schetter said “I’m in their environment, you see what I mean? … We’re in their environment.”
Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.