Bjorn Wesley (BJ) Johansen, Sturgeon Bay, WI, a lifelong sailor and adventurer, crossed the bar peacefully in his sleep on Friday morning, September 22, 2023, at the Horton Center Skilled Nursing Facility at DCMC after a long and debilitating illness. Bjorn had lived a full and exciting 75 years, and survived another 10 years past that, leaving behind a wealth of friends, family, sea stories, tall tales and incredible memories.
Bjorn was born on May 1, 1938, in Cape Town, South Africa to John and Muriel (Peggy) Johansen. At a very young age, he established a penchant for adventure, mischief, and trouble making. He spent his youth, when not in boarding school, on the beach and sailing out of the Royal Cape Yacht Club in South Africa. His passion for life was evident in everything he did, and he was always happiest when at the helm of a sailboat on the open sea.
In his early twenties, he made a voyage to America, where he competed in various long-distance sailboat races, and then returned to South Africa where in 1963 he met and married Margaret Baldie, a landlubber with a shared spirit of adventure. On their honeymoon, they, along with two friends, sailed a 35-foot boat named Foam from Cape Town to the Virgin Islands. They spent about 3 years running a charter sailboat in the Islands until Bjorn landed a spot on a racing sailboat named Escapade. Escapade competed in the Chicago – Mackinac Sailboat race that year, and then they brought the boat to Palmer Johnson Yachts in Sturgeon Bay for repairs. While the boat was in the yard, he was offered a job as a production manager with the promise that he would be able to continue to race sailboats.
Bjorn remained working at Palmer Johnson for over 25 years and rose to the level of Vice President. During that time, he built several boats of his own, including the 38-foot Sharpie Barnacle Bill, and the 47-foot Ocean Cruiser Dancing Bear (his “masterpiece”). He did continue to race during those years, often on boats that Palmer Johnson built, and won several of the major sailboat races during that tenure. During the cold winters, he took his love of sailing and translated that to Ice Boating, owning up to 8 iceboats. He was a founding member of the Lama Wamah Ice Yacht Squadron, which grew to include over 125 members at its peak in the early 1990’s. Bjorn was well known as a fun-loving life of the party, an excellent cook and entertainer and a mediocre musician. He was notorious for playing his bugle (poorly) at all hours of the night. He also knew three chords on the guitar and would break out into song at the drop of a hat – usually sea shanties that weren’t suitable for all audiences.
After retiring from Palmer Johnson he took Dancing Bear down the Mississippi on a “Voyage of Discovery”, and spent the next several years with his partner Nancy Lagerkvist exploring the gulf, the islands, and much of Florida, often staying on the boat off of Captiva Island during the winters, and coming back to Sturgeon Bay in the summers where he would work on his boats, cook up fabulous feasts, and enjoy the beach & the bay.
Bjorn was preceded in death by his parents, John & Peggy Johansen; his brother, John; and sisters, Solveig and Ragnhild. He is survived by his sister, Astrid of Australia; his sons, John (Michelle) Johansen of Milwaukee; WI and Anton (Jorie) Johansen of Whitefish Bay, WI; his grandchildren, Toby, Hayden, Hannah, and Olin; his ex-wife, Margaret Johansen of Sturgeon Bay; and long time partner, Nancy Lagerkvist of Green Bay.
Friends may call at the Forbes Funeral Home on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm. At 4:00 pm a Time of Remembrance will be held with Rev. Philips Sweet presiding. Burial will be at Bayside Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be directed to the Sail Training Foundation C/O Sturgeon Bay Yacht Club, 600 Nautical Drive, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235.