Environmental Science Field School, Part 7

Docked at Alpena. (Photo credit: ship’s camera.)

After a few days in Lake Huron and plenty of hours dedicated to ship maintenance, Niagara docked in Alpena, Michigan. There was a NOAA research facility just a few minutes away, and the scientists took full advantage of the opportunity to explore. They visited the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, worked on their ROVs, and snorkeled out to see a shipwreck. Back on Niagara, a few people prepared for deck tours while the rest wandered through Alpena.

With the entire town to ramble in, shops and restaurants to visit, and plenty of time off-duty, the crew still stuck together. “You’d think we would want to get away from each other,” one of the professional crewmembers said, walking with a handful of friends to a nearby coffee shop. “But instead—“ she gestured vaguely to their group “—we congregate.”

There were times when a quiet walk downtown, or a chance to read a book or write a letter, sounded like the perfect escape from the crowded life onboard. But as Niagara travelled from place to place, never settling into life in any port or town, the crew usually gravitated toward each other.

A handful of people went to see Jurassic World in an Alpena theater. Others went to the ice cream shop in town, lingering over their sundaes before going back for seconds. One particular morning, practically the entire crew—captain included—ended up in the same thrift shop, browsing bookshelves and trying on clothes.

A greatcoat for standing night watches; a seamanship manual from the 1950s; a pair of fuzzy socks with sharks stitched on them. By the time the Niagara left Alpena, the crew’s seabags were fuller and their wallets lighter. We were headed back to the Detroit River, homeward bound.


Up next: A return to Algonac and a change of watch

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