Environmental Science Field School, Part 3

By now, it’s obvious that Niagara trainees are usually busy: with classwork, with their duties onboard, and with the day-to-day challenges of living and working on a tall ship. On top of everything else, we sometimes ask trainees to write about their experiences, to get their perspective on the voyage as it unfolds.

The answers that we get might be scribbled down after lectures, or just before lights-out at the end of a long day, but very often they’re also thoughtful, detailed, and sincere. And one question in particular seems to hook all of our trainees, no matter what program they’re part of:“What is night watch like?”


An evening aboard NIAGARA. (Photo credit: ship’s camera.)

Responses range from the glib to the matter-of-fact to the downright poetic. One trainee, Erik, wrote that night watch was: “The best, worst thing in all the world. Being woken up at 2AM sucks more than anything, but getting to sail a tall ship at 2AM is the best feeling in the world.”

Another, Emilee, said that “night watch is never the same two nights in a row. Some nights it’s cold, windy, and all you want to do is crawl back into your hammock and go to sleep. Other nights, you never want to go to sleep, because the reality is just as good as any dream could be. These nights are the best. The sky is clear and the stars are bright.”

Even after waking up in the dark and mustering on deck in the cold, wind, and rain, when the hours on watch seem endless and everyone is tired and groggy, there are moments of unexpected happiness. On one crew member’s birthday, the ship’s cook, Rosy, left a huge pan of blueberry pie in the galley and cartons of ice cream in the freezer as “midrats,” or midnight rations. Instead of heading straight for their hammocks after their end-of-watch musters that night, the Niagara crew, trainees and professionals alike, collected in groups of three and four in the galley, whispering and muffling laughter while they dished up pie and vanilla ice cream. It was a sweet reward after a long day and night of work.


Up next: arriving at Put-in-Bay, Stone Lab, and setting up the ship for deck tours.

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