Fast and Northward in Southeastern Lake Superior!

“July 10, 2011


My name is Luke Fakult, and I am a student going into the eleventh grade at University School in Hunting Valley, Ohio. This is our school’s first year in the tall ship program, but I hope I can do this for my next two summers of high school. I signed up for this experience because I have a great interest in the outdoors, the way things used to be, and a general want to explore the Great Lakes and arboreal forests. I also like working with my hands and exploring new things, so when our school presented this program I was the first to sign up.

For me, this whole program has been about firsts. Whether personal firsts or firsts for the crew, this experience has lead me to rethink the way I view people and to break ground I never thought I would break. Although originally I did not like how the program seemed to be more social than educational, I have learned to see people in different lights and have come to see that a strong bond between crewmembers yields quicker and better results on any necessary task. I have been nothing but lucky to get into a program like this, but on board this lucky streak has continued. On our first day of aloft training, I noticeably expressed an interest in going aloft, and I was then privileged to be one of the first trainees aloft, the first trainee on our voyage to set a royal (specialty sails hoisted up from the deck to the very top of the mast) and was allowed, based on demonstrated ability, to go aloft on the main top gallant yard (Main T’gallant yard as follows sailor lingo) for lookout (to see above an uncommonly low fog bank). I just wanted to share a little bit of this experience with the rest of you, who unfortunately could not accompany us on this voyage.

This morning, alpha watch (my watch) stood from 0700 to 1300 as our rotating schedule dictated. However, this was a rather different type of watch. We just entered Lake Superior, and as is typical of the lake in this time of year the water is very cold (38 degrees Fahrenheit) and the air from the south is very warm and very humid, causing dense fog. However, this was not the strangest part. Although Lake Superior is the deepest of the Great Lakes (1,333 feet) and we were in water around 960 feet, the depth gauge only read about 18-22 feet deep due to erratic readings. The ship’s fathometer is designed to read depth of 250 feet or less, and the ship was “off of soundings”.

 The second odd climatic event involving thermal layers took place in the air this morning. Over the past few days we’ve gotten to see the Great Lakes with no wind and the lake surface as smooth as glass. Usually when the water was smooth, this meant no wind, which means we had to motor to keep schedule. However, this morning we were sailing fast under full sail without the twin diesels, but the lake had only ripples. This was because a colder, denser body of air blanketed the lake for about 80 feet upward, preventing wind from penetrating and churning up the surface. So while the ship was moving at seven knots (one knot is 1.15 mph), and the wind aloft was at twenty knots, the wind on deck only felt like five or six knots. Also, the air aloft was approximately ten degrees warmer than the air on deck, because the rule “warm air rises” applies in the atmosphere as well. I thought this was really neat, and certainly something I’d never seen or even heard of before.

So here we were, in the middle of Superior, blanketed in the densest fog I’ve ever seen (I could see fog from the height of my head to the ground) with slow moving surface wind. Then, all of a sudden over the starboard bow (right if you’re at the rudder) comes a long, low blast of a Great Lakes ore carrier. Two, in fact. Radar (a rather contemporaneous device) showed the two ships were at six and twelve nautical miles away, but nevertheless it was a race for the lookouts to glimpse the ships and get a lock on their positions. However, due to the fog, visibility was only 200 feet or so. So as the modified saying goes, ‘Can’t go under it, can’t go around it, you gotta go over it!’ and when the con (person in control of the deck) looked for hands to go aloft, he trusted me with the honor. Climbing the shrouds (ropes from the cap rail to the mast that serve as mast supports and ladders), I’ve never felt more excited and more scared in my life. While climbing, you’re not clipped in, and as I mentioned, the winds were whipping at twenty knots, making the mast sway as the ship rolled gently in the seas. I scurried up as quickly and safely as possible, until I got to the third mast platform (the crosstrees) where I took up my lookout position and clipped-in my safety harness. It was interesting that as I climbed, temperature and humidity became progressively more pronounced, so that I could feel the sun on my skin and see the water in the air. After climbing the final rope ladder shroud (tapering from eighteen to four inches), I broke out from behind the sail onto the top with a feeling like no other I’d felt. It was like Jake Sully seeing Pandora for the first time or Bilbo Baggins climbing the tallest tree in Murkwood Forest to find a sky filled with butterflies. The wind was coursing against my face, rocking me back and forth gently. I looked down and the sun being right behind me, I saw a full spectrum rainbow in the mist, centering on my head. There was a complete, 360 degree panoramic view, but there is something about being above fog, greater than nature almost, that intensifies the feeling of success and astonishment to another level. For an hour and a half I was aloft, taking in my surroundings, and I was so consumed with it all that I almost forgot I had to keep lookout. All too soon though, our watch ended and it was time to come back down to earth.

Although it was relatively short lived, this was an experience I will never forget. I’ve learned many things about myself and about my fellow people that I could learn nowhere else. Everything about going aloft today, from the trust in me by myself and others, to the beauty of the natural world, to the engineering feat it was to make brigs like this in 1813, proved myself still astonished at this world. After only sixteen years of being in it, I now only expect for more to come throughout the rest of my as yet unlived life. On the sixth of twenty days, this opportunity has already proved itself instrumental to me as to how I know and understand God’s green Earth and everything in it, and I only look forward to the rest of this voyage and the rest of my life to try to figure out the vast amount I have yet to learn.

Luke Fakult

 Trainee, Sailing School Vessel Niagara Sailing

Fast and Northward in Southeastern Lake Superior!”

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4 Responses to Fast and Northward in Southeastern Lake Superior!

  1. David Chottiner says:

    Luke – What a vivid description of your adventures on Monday. Send my best to the crew! David Chottiner

  2. That is beautifully written and sounds amazing!

  3. Luke, Your experience of climbing up and going above the fog was one of the most engaging accounts of a young man’s adventure I have ever read. Thank you for sharing your insights and your perspective on your sailing experience. I hope you can share more of your thoughts in writing when you get back to US. It is clear you have many great perceptions about discovering how the world of sailing on Niagara has opened your eyes to the world .

  4. petesitter says:

    Luke, It does my heart good to read your story. THIS IS WHAT IT IS ABOUT!!!. To live the experience. To tell the tale. To be an advocate of a world too many people take for granted or choose do deny. You are changed forever and those you will touch with your story will be as well. As one of the officers of the Niagara League that fought hard and long to gain engines and start a volunteer sailing program your story made all those efforts worth while. Thank you.
    Pete Sitter.

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