Environmental Science Field School, Part 2

The science trainees meet some Presque Isle locals. (Photo credit: Marissa Henry.)

Anyone coming aboard Niagara for the first time will find plenty of work to be done. As soon as trainees arrive, they muster with the ship’s crew and other incoming students and volunteers. Each trainee joins a division (e.g. fourth division, port watch) and is given a hammock to sleep in and a sea bag in which to stow personal possessions.

From that moment on, trainees are part of the Niagara’s working crew. They stand watches, help with maintenance, go aloft, haul on lines, and keep lookout. They participate in safety drills and learn what feels like an entirely new language as they help professional crew members and experienced volunteers sail and maintain the ship.

But the 2015 science consortium students had even more to do. Attending lectures on the study of viruses in the water, operating specialized scientific equipment, taking water samples— even before the ship left Erie, they were never short of work.

On land, but not exactly dry. (Photo credit: Marissa Henry.)

On Monday, June 15, during a day off from the ship, the students and their professors drove over to Presque Isle to visit the museum and research labs. They analyzed types of rocks, and after a sweltering walk filled with snapping turtles, deer tracks, toads, and nesting gulls, they made it to the beach and went for a well-deserved swim.

Soon, Presque Isle would be far behind them. Tuesday was load-out day, and the students helped move the ship’s supply of food, firewood, and other stores into Niagara. In their free time, they finished building their ROVs: remotely operated underwater vehicles that they’d been working on since their first evening at the museum. By Wednesday, Niagara was underway, headed southwest across Lake Erie toward Put-in-Bay, OH.

When the ship is away from Erie, the crew’s schedule shifts. For the trainees, one significant change—the most exhausting, challenging, and perhaps the most fun—was the addition of regular night watches.


Up next: Standing night watch and celebrating birthdays.

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