Total eclipse of the heart

Denise Wilk with her new sales associate

Denise Wilk with her new sales associate

Denise Wilk and her husband, known as Captain Dan, have spent a combined 29 years as island residents. This year they celebrate 22 years as operators of Eclipse Charters, their tour and whale-watching business. This year also marks their 22nd wedding anniversary.

And with all those years have come plenty of life lessons.

“We have learned to be successful through commitment, being consistent and hanging in there through thick and thin,” she said. “We both have skills that complement each other and together we do most of our own work on the boat … We both have learned to give and take what we need from each other.”

Denise has had many accomplishments, such as being named Educator of the Year by the Sustainable San Juans 2010 awards. The Wilks have also made it to the silver screen. In the 1993 movie “Free Willy II,” Denise and Daniel played the “Coastal Marine Patrol,” captaining their 56-foot Orca Express charter boat.

And with plenty of experience under their belts, the Wilks decided two years ago to open the Eclipse Charters Wildlife Store next door to the Nest and beneath the Windermere headquarters.

“We are able to educate people about the stewardship of whales, wildlife and the nature of the islands,” Denise said. “We have been able to get more people out on the water with the store in Eastsound and our store at the ferry landing.”

Denise has selected a variety of native offerings, including wood carvings, silver jewelry, silk screened art, rain jackets, delicate silk-blend scarves in deep blues, greens and mauves, books on native legends, small decorative magnets and brightly hued postcards.

The Wilks started collecting art on their first trips to Canada and Alaska. Seeing the old villages and totem poles sparked an interest in indigenous people.

It was important for the Wilks to educate people that Orcas was a summer home to Lummi and Samish tribes and others long before the first Caucasian settlers arrived.

“It takes commitment, but we are slowly collecting original works of native and non-indigenous artists instead of copies made overseas,” she said. “We hope to help tell a story about how First Nations people influence the island spirit.”

The store has also given Denise an opportunity to use her business skills. She grew up in Port Townsend, where her family had a store and restaurant in a small marina. It was there that she learned about business at a young age.

“This was good training for our endeavors here on the island,” she said. “I think the two businesses go hand in hand.”

And she enjoys being her own boss, on and off the water. She mainly works at the shop and on behind the scenes aspects of the boat business, like booking tours.

“Over the years we have worked our way up to our dream boat, the Orcas Express,” Denise said. “We enjoy people and this job gives us the opportunity to be out on the water doing what we enjoy.”

The store is open through the winter on most days from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

You can stop in and browse or visit with Denise’s newest sales associate – a miniature schnauzer named Dutch.