Six Days on the Water

Six days on the water. That’s 144 hours or 8,640 minutes.  

If we are only on duty eight hours of the day, what do we do to fill the rest of the time? Well, there is not as much time as you might think. Since half of a person’s watch schedule is during the night, taking frequent naps is common. If we are still tired while on bow watch, the lake is happy to oblige with a spray of cold water as a wake-up call. Mostly, this time out on the water is an opportunity to disconnect and reconnect. Cellular service is unreliable at many times during the transits, so the ship offers a place to put away technology and seek out genuine interactions with other people on board, as well as take time for personal reflection. Tom Maynard, a previous staff member of ISEA and current volunteer, perfectly sums up the experience on a transit, “It’s a really weird mix of responsibility and freedom.” Each person on board assumes the responsibility of a vessel much larger and more complex than themselves but at the same time is exposed to opportunities unlike any other. 

volunteers on shipComing out of the pandemic, everyone’s social skills still need dusting off. Being on a 77’ ship with the same 14 people for days at a time is such an abnormal situation that it brings people together in unexpected ways. With so many volunteers supporting ISEA, it’s impossible for everyone to know everyone. Therefore, coming on a transit most likely means meeting at least one person for the first time. As an intern, I had not realized how many volunteers I had yet to meet, and I was surprised by how many relationships I was able to form with people who were strangers when I boarded. Having light-hearted conversations is an underrated source of simple joy. For Julianna, ISEA’s volunteer coordinator, the transit from Detroit to Houghton provided a unique opportunity for her to work alongside the volunteers she manages and gain even more respect for their dedication. 

Throughout the day it is important to take time for yourself, and many volunteers brought journals aboard. Being away from work, family, and other daily commitments allows time for activities and hobbies such as knitting or reading. Especially at bow watch, there is a lot of time alone with your thoughts, which depending on who you ask, can be a good or a bad thing. Regardless, looking around with no land in sight is incredibly humbling. I felt put in my place as I was a tiny dot on a relatively tiny ship in the vast expanse of the water. 

man standing on bow of boat looking out at waterStanding on the bow of the ship allows one to truly feel and appreciate the power of the vessel underfoot as it cuts through the waves. I had sailed on many programs prior to this transit, but I never truly understood how the vessel underneath me moved and functioned until I became a crew member. I learned how the ship responds by steering at the helm and got a glimpse of her mechanics through routine boat checks. 

For Rachel Ratliff, an ISEA Great Lakes Educator, she too feels that assuming the role of a crew member has transformed her experiences on the water. She shares, “I love talking about the science as an instructor, but being part of a crew is taking ownership of recreation on the water in a way I never thought I would. It’s very rewarding.” As staff and volunteers for a water-based organization, understanding the ship beyond the program curriculum is important for communicating with guests

The schooner Inland Seas is an education vessel even when no students or families are on board. This means that throughout the transits, staff and volunteers are continually learning and being challenged to expand their knowledge of the ship. Tom Maynard describes this environment, “These people on board are some of the best teachers I’ve ever met. They’re patient as they work with volunteers, and there’s truly such a special culture of learning and teaching.” Crew in training are eager to learn, and one volunteer even brought pieces of rope to practice tying knots in his free time. 

Even as the days start to melt together, the crew works hard to keep the ship functioning seamlessly and is rewarded by the simple pleasures of companionship. When the rest of the world is miles away on shore, the crew fills their days reconnecting with what is truly important and arrives at each new port at least a little changed.

This blog was written by Christina Javorka, 2021 Marketing and Communications Summer Intern for Inland Seas Education Association. Christina is studying marketing and fashion retail at The Ohio State University. Being from the Chicagoland area, Lake Michigan holds a special place in her heart. Her favorite thing about the Great Lakes is finding the treasures hidden within and telling others about them.

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