“What Do You Do in the Winter?”

If you are a staff member or volunteer for Inland Seas Education Association, which is in northern Michigan, you will inevitably get the question, “What do you do in the winter?” While sailing season roles on the ship include deckhand and mate, the off-season includes bosun. (project lead), painters, carpenters, and engineering-related roles. This winter about 10 volunteers assisted with winter maintenance.

The volunteers who crew for Inland Seas Education Association can tell you they do so much more than just sail the ships. But what exactly do they do in the winter months? To find out, we asked them to share their experience with us.

Jack Messer

“Though the schooner is cozy in her cocoon of shrink wrap, she is not asleep. Winter means maintenance. It is a thousand details that keep the captain and crew working through the season to be ready to sail again when the ice leaves the bay. 

At the ship, I helped step the masts and down rig the ship. Sails were inspected, folded, and stowed. Then we raised the skeleton and applied the shrink wrap. The bubbling system was installed to keep her ice-free. A major project this year was to replace the cabin top over the captain’s quarters: a little bit of carpentry, a little bit of fiberglass, and a whole lot of sanding. At home, I turned new belaying pins on the lathe, and sanded and varnished the wood trim pieces. At the center, we slushed the cables and hung them to dry out. As the weather warms, we will clear the decks, paint the cabin tops and deck, remove her winter cover, and prepare her for up rigging.  

We have a great group of volunteers that make this all possible. A special group of people I am proud to be a part of. It makes you realize what can be accomplished when a group of talented people comes together to accomplish a worthy goal.” 

Bob Weyand

“With a lot of help from Mandi Young, Phil Diller, Ernie Mendenhall, and James Bielak, the winter project of spar prep started before Thanksgiving. This year it was determined to replace the leather on the throats which added a few weeks to the project but ended with spectacular results.

We added to the “spar room” tasks the cleaning and repainting of the life jacket boxes. James, from his home shop, built a new box to replace the one that gets clobbered each year with work from the benthos station. It looks great. New lettering has been ordered to make everything look fresh.

From my home work area is the varnishing collection including hatches from both boats as well as doors and parts from Inland Seas. I  will add to that collection the tiller.

As much as I enjoy [outdoor] winter activities, there are days that do not lend themselves to recreation. Working projects for ISEA provides good company and builds the sense of teamwork that makes working on the boat so enjoyable. I am to the point now that I look forward to the off-season to help me keep busy and make a contribution.” 

Soon this volunteer crew will be taking off the winter covers (hopefully in warm, sunny weather), dismantling the frames, and taking them to a storage area. The masts, spars, rigging, and sails must be put back on the ship. After the sailing season in the fall, this process is reversed and the crew down rigs the ships and puts on the winter houses again. 

We cannot express how thankful we are for the expertise, devotion, and camaraderie our volunteer crew brings to ISEA. Every winter we are amazed at what they accomplish to keep our ships looking beautiful and running great. If you are interested in learning more about volunteering with ISEA on our ships, maintaining our ships, or other volunteer opportunities, please contact Rachel Ratliff at rratliff@schoolship.org or 231.271.3077 x106. 

This blog was written by Lisa Sitkins, Marketing Consultant for Inland Seas Education Association.

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