Return to NIAGARA by Gillian Davies

1 August 2015


I always say that sailing on Niagara is a once in a lifetime experience when I explain it to people. It’s an experience that I’ve gotten to enjoy for 4 years now. But in a way, each time I step on board is a once in a lifetime experience, a new adventure. The crew will always have a new dynamic, the meteor showers on night watch will hold a new beauty, and the feeling of being out at sea with nothing in sight but the horizon will make you fall in love with sailing over and over again.

While we made our way from Erie to Port Colborne, I was able to think back to my last voyage on Niagara. Luckily, we were staying in port for Canal Days, and not making the long journey through the Welland Canal. The flashbacks to many hours spent covered in crisco and staring at slimy cement walls put a small smile on my face, but I was all too happy to keep those memories in the past. After all, I think I’m still recovering from the 2013 voyage.

Having never been to the Canal Days festival, I was thrilled to look at the dock as I sat upon the hammock rail tending a fender, only to be greeted by the tell-tale aroma of fried fair food. While the food onboard Niagara, cooked with a wood-burning stove, is certainly something to talk about, there is something about a flashing sign with the words “Poutine Machine” that bring a tear to my eye. Perhaps the best part about Canada, the much sought after treat of french fries covered in gravy and cheese curds was the talk of the ship as we docked.

With the ship prepared for tours and the crew split up into dock watches, a successful voyage turned over for a weekend of tours, exploring, and showing some 11,000 visitors what we do. As it was a festival, Niagara also played host to a large reception, complete with fireworks. Many trainees climbed aloft to watch the show, an experience that everyone should have at least once in their life. After all, the cross trees are the best seat in the house.

Just to clarify after the weekend of deck tours, no, people were not a foot shorter in 1813.



8 August 2015

Every sail is different, each bringing new challenges, teaching moments, and memories. While standing watch often becomes routine, it is always awe-inspiring to look up as we sail across the vast expanse of fresh water under full sail. The small moments, like watching Captain and 3rd Mate don their matching Nascar racing jackets as we reach 9 knots–because they want to go fast–stick with you. From crew karaoke nights to projecting films onto the sails on deck, sailing on Niagara very quickly turns into sailing with family. Maybe it’s the lack of privacy, maybe it’s spending every minute of everyday eating, sleeping, and working together; regardless, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

On the beautiful days that draw the off watches on deck to read, journal, or just enjoy the sun, you really get to enjoy the work. Whether you find yourself standing helm or lookout, charting the ship’s location, or doing routine maintenance like painting, bending on sails, or leading new lines aloft, working on Niagara is the most exciting adventure I’ve found. There’s nothing quite like the smell of pine tar and manila that you carry off the ship with you.

On a particularly calm evening, the off watches took to the deck and spent time watching the sunset to the sounds of a fiddle being played. Watching t’gallants being stowed as the sky turns from blue to brilliant red reminds me of why I started sailing in the first place. There is a certain calm that washes over you after watch when the wind has died down and the waves have subsided, and you’re finally alone with your thoughts on the water.


O.S. Cecelia practicing underway.

These moments, and the people you share them with, leave a mark on you. Not everyone falls in love with sailing right away, and some never do. But it always leaves a mark. A new trainee was asking me how I keep coming back. That’s simple: I love sailing. And sailing old-timey wooden ships is pretty amazing. He told me he would probably stick to toilets you don’t have to pump from now on, but that he knew, even from the beginning, that this, sailing on Niagara, was something special. It’s a truly organic experience. Working until your hands are covered in calluses, becoming a member of the crew, learning the true meaning of ship, shipmate, self, that’s what this is all about. Taking advantage of the amazing opportunities, learning everything you possibly can, and carrying it with just as you do your rig on board.
It’s not that I’m unhappy on land. I’m just happier at sea.


Author Gillian Davies

-Gillian Davies

About Hope A. Collins

Allegheny College Class of 2015: English Major, Psychology Minor
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