I Call it Joy

Schooner Inland Seas Sailing at the 2022 Cleveland Tall Ships Festival.

The three visitors arrived, seemingly out of nowhere.  They were swallows, I think, soaring on the wind and diving between our sails.  They would veer off the bow and then return via the stern, swooping forward, threading their way in and out, in a beautiful game of follow-the-leader.  The birds played like that for about 15 beautiful minutes last summer as the Schooner Inland Seas headed northwest, somewhere out on Lake Erie, on the return transit to Detroit from Cleveland.  At the end of an exhausting sojourn, their aerial acrobatics lifted my spirits.  Maybe there’s a scientific explanation for their behavior.  I simply call it joy.

Despite the exhaustion, the four days of the Cleveland Tall Ships Festival was a wonderful crash course for me as a first-time volunteer Crew-in-Training on the Inland Seas.  I was grateful for the chance for hands-on learning as we made the transit to Cleveland.  I enjoyed the chance to take guests out on multiple sails each day of the festival.  Though it wasn’t the educational sail typical of ISEA, I especially loved the invitation to a moment of silence, not only to attune my senses to the fullness of the experience, but to observe our guests settle in and embrace the power of the wind, the splash of the waves, and the wonder of it all.

I’m so glad to have discovered the Inland Seas Educational Association.  Moving our family of five to Metro Detroit was already a daunting transition.  We uprooted from a small town in NY in the summer of 2020, the only home our kids had known.  Of course, the pandemic made it harder to make new connections in Michigan.  A family vacation in June of 2021 brought us to Suttons Bay for the first time, and – having seen ISEA’s public sails advertised in my Facebook feed – I decided to give it a try.  I brought my then 11-year-old daughter with me.  Not only did she love the experience, but it was also a taste of home in a new place… on a new ship.  

Ben teaching the seamanship station.

Considering the similarity in mission & experience, I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that the founder of ISEA spent a summer on the Hudson River sailing the Sloop Clearwater.  I’m guessing that he met the person who had the original vision for the Clearwater: Pete Seeger.  I met Pete several times out and about in Beacon, our little town, and I couldn’t help but be inspired by his original vision: give people a chance to get out on the Hudson River and they’ll want to take care of it.  Like generations of kids in the Hudson Valley, our kids got to sail on the Clearwater with the local schools, learning about the ecology of the river, taking samples, and singing shanties as they raised the sails.  (Though, it takes a bit more heave-ho on that Hudson River Sloop as the gaff and sails are much heavier than those on the schooner Inland Seas.)

Sure, there was plenty of stumbling on that first transit to Cleveland.  Other than a couple of outings as a guest on the Clearwater, all my sailing experience was on smaller vessels.  There was so much more to learn about sailing on a schooner!  But, the crew was understanding and encouraging, and just plain fun to be around.  What an adventure to taste life on a schooner, and to share it with others!  And, one day I hope to return the kindness of the crew by finally managing a capable ballantine coil…

Ben Larson-Wolbrink at the helm of Inland Seas

If the summer volunteer crew adventure wasn’t enough, I jumped at the chance to try my luck as a volunteer educator when Inland Seas returned to Detroit in the fall.  I’m all in on the mission of ISEA: to inspire a lifetime of Great Lakes curiosity, stewardship, and passion in people of all ages.  And, I’m especially grateful for the opportunity to bring that mission home (at least it’s starting to feel like home), to learn more about the Detroit River, and help inspire young people here to be sailors, scientists, and stewards in the place they call home.  
These days, we all need a little hope.  And, we need connection.  If we’re going to have any chance of a future on this earth, we’re going to have to love her much better than we have been.  I’m grateful for all the ways ISEA gives hope, connection, and the inspiration to love the Great Lakes better… all while sailing aboard a majestic vessel.  And, I’m so excited to be a part of it.  I definitely call it joy!

This blog was written by Ben Larson-Wolbrink about his experience volunteering aboard the schooner Inland Seas in 2022. Ben is a volunteer with ISEA based out of Metro Detroit and shares a profound passion for the Great Lakes with students, crew, and staff alike. If you would like to write a blog post please contact marketing@schoolship.org.

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