Came For the Ship, Stayed For the People

From time to time, ISEA will share Great Lakes experiences from guest bloggers. In this blog, Wayne Steinhour shares how he came to volunteer with ISEA and why he continues to do so. Email if you would like to submit a Great Lakes experience to be featured.

What a cool boat! That was my reaction to seeing the schooner Inland Seas for the first time. My wife, Sarah, and I had brought our own little trailer sailor (an O’Day 23) up to check out Suttons Bay. It was 2012, the second year that we owned the boat. At the time, I wasn’t really considering becoming a volunteer at ISEA. Suttons Bay seemed so far from our home in Mason, MI, and we were both still working full time.

Fast-forward to July 2019. I retired in February, so I had a bit more time on my hands. We had sailed in Suttons Bay a few more times over the years, and I had always been intrigued by the sight of the Inland Seas at the dock or sailing around the bay. So I stopped in to ISEA to get some information about volunteering. My big concern was whether it would work to come up once or twice a year and volunteer for a week at a time. I met Rachel, who was encouraging and enthusiastic. (At the time, I didn’t yet know that encouraging and enthusiastic is Rachel’s default demeanor.) She convinced me to come back up in the fall to do some shadowing and see how I liked it.

Wayne instructing on the ship
Wayne (bottom center) at Cleveland Tall Ship Festival

That September I made a solo trip up with my boat. I was able to dock at one of ISEA’s slips and use the showers in the dorm. It turned out to be a great week. I got to shadow plankton, microplastics, benthos, and fish (in some Next Gen and some Diving Deeper programs). I learned how it is done from Rachel and Jillian (who both set the bar pretty high). I even got to try out crewing on a charter cruise between Traverse City and Suttons Bay. Since I am kind of a sailboat geek (if not an expert), I was expecting to enjoy crewing more than instructing. To my surprise, I really got into the instructing much more. It was so much fun to interact with the kids on what has to be the coolest field trip anywhere. (At least it was way cooler than any field trip that my school ever did.) I was inspired by the level of energy and expertise that Juliana, Jillian, and Rachel (along with all of the volunteer instructors) poured into this. And I wanted one of the cool hats. I made up my mind to come back in the spring and do this for real.

Then came COVID. Sigh… I sat out 2020.

In the spring of 2021, I came up and lived in the dorm for a week to do a wet run, a bit more shadowing, and (finally) be a real instructor. I found out that you don’t have to be perfect, the Next Gen kids are loads of fun, and good rain gear is a must-have. I also discovered that there are other people doing the volunteering-from-afar thing, and it works out well. Staying in the dorm or on your own boat are both viable options. I figured out that it works well for me to just do a couple of the teaching stations. And the wet runs, along with the refresher training, help me feel reasonably competent, but still challenged. I came back for a week in the fall. Then again in the spring of 2022.

If you believe in ISEA’s mission enough to get involved, it turns out to actually be pretty easy to connect with the public and pass some of that enthusiasm along.

Wayne Steinhour

I seem to have settled into a pattern of coming up to ISEA to volunteer for a week in the spring and fall, at the end and beginning of the school year. This year, I added a couple of new things. I shadowed the ROV program in the spring and will be doing it for real this fall – very cool.

I also did a transit, sailing from Detroit to be an ambassador at the Cleveland Tall Ship Festival in July. The ambassador role seemed a little intimidating at first – no script and no real training. But it turns out that the unscripted approach works well. There’s no way that I can be Rachel. Or Jillian. But I can be myself. And if you believe in ISEA’s mission enough to get involved, it turns out to actually be pretty easy to connect with the public and pass some of that enthusiasm along. Of course, the best thing about doing the transit was getting to know some of the staff and other volunteers a bit better over the course of the week. Who knew that Captain Ben plays the fiddle? Or First Mate Rebecca, the clarinet? And Jillian travels with a whole sackful of percussion-y things that she shares freely. The after-party at the festival was awesome. To top it all off, on the way back to Detroit, Ben decided to fly the jib tops’l. Woohoo!

So as I reflect on my, so far, brief “career” as an ISEA volunteer, the Inland Seas was what first captured my attention. But what keeps me coming back is the interaction with the staff, the other volunteers, and the students. As Rick said in Casablanca, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Wayne Steinhour has been volunteering at ISEA since 2019. He lives with his wife, Sarah, in Mason, MI (which is about as far as you can get from a Great Lake here in Michigan). With a love for the Suttons Bay area, they often trailer their own small sailboat up for a week of cruising around Grand Traverse Bay. They enjoy getting out on the water, having somehow accumulated a total of about 120 ft. of boats over the years. Both are retired (from software development and teaching, respectively), with two grown daughters (living in Cleveland and the D.C. area), and are patiently (sort of) waiting for grandchildren to arrive on the scene. In the meantime, Wayne enjoys interacting with the kids on the Schoolship programs and both volunteer in the education program for Potter Park Zoo in Lansing. Learn more about volunteering with ISEA here.

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