Environmental Science Field School, Part 8

Niagara stopped in Algonac again on the return journey. This time, the Dairy Queen was open, and the mosquitoes were only a mild annoyance. As usual, ship and science had conspired to keep the trainees busy for much of the day, this time with an elaborate ROV that gave the scientists a live video feed of the shipwreck Montana.

Watching a video feed of wreckage from MONTANA. (Photo credit: ship’s camera.)

The days were slipping away. A combination of difficult weather and long port stops meant that Niagara hadn’t done much real sailing recently: something that the captain was determined to correct. Motoring from port to port helped the ship stay safe and on schedule, but it wasn’t the same as being under sail.

The captain promised that when the ship got to Lake Erie, we would go sailing. Despite almost nonexistent wind, we did just that.  With the mates constantly adjusting sails, coaxing everything they could out of the light, uncooperative breeze, the trainees got plenty of sail handling practice. The smallest increase in speed was cause for celebration. “We’re travelling at lake speed,” someone joked as Niagara ghosted along under the moonlight.  “Exactly the same speed that the water is draining down Niagara Falls.”

A change in the ship’s schedule made things even more interesting. The best part of the new arrangement (or the worst, depending on who you asked) was that on any given day, the same watch was on duty for both sunset and sunrise. That meant a lot of working in the cold and dark, but it also meant a chance to see the stars brighten in the evening, and to watch the water glow with predawn light the next day.

Slowly, but inevitably, Niagara headed home. Some trainees, delighted by the prospect of hot showers and comfortable beds, couldn’t wait for the ship to dock in Erie. But others hated the thought of leaving, and a few were making plans to stick around.

Up next: A barbeque, farewells, and plans for the future.

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