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  • Tall Ships America

Flirting with Lake Michigan

By Susannah



I know the deep azure of Lake Michigan well -- she glints and flirts with me -- and how the algae green of Lake Erie slides past the bow of our ship. I have become close with the night sky; I sit on deck tracing the border of light pollution over distant land to where it fades into obscene darkness flecked with light several centuries old (except baby Polaris). I watch the sliver of moon like a lemon wedge left out in the sun, the color of bilge water, growing up from night to night. After 32 days at sea, I forget to relish each rise and set of the sun. I’ve become spoiled. But sailing with a new crop of students -- watching them snap pictures of scenery I’ve come to consider hopelessly mundane -- serves as a reminder of how gorgeously unique this experience is to those new to tall ships.

I hopped back on S/V Denis Sullivan from Bay City to Milwaukee. I keep getting passed back and forth between here and Niagara, but I’m not complaining. I’ve had the privilege of experiencing Denis Sullivan as both a crew member and student, each with its own set of responsibilities. When I worked as crew, they even left me alone on anchor watch! Despite knowing that I was certainly capable of making sure we weren't going to die for an hour by checking the bilges, engine room, generator, and ensuring that the anchor wasn’t dragging, I was surprised that I was entrusted to run the ship while the rest of the crew slept soundly.


When there were students on board, I wasn’t permitted to check the engine room and fo'c'sle bilges. At night, I had to wear my safety vest and check in with the mate every time I went down below because of the precedent it set - if I didn’t, the other students would not adhere to the rules. For a minute, I felt demoted, but I’ve learned that there’s no room for ego here.


I was lightly reminded not to cuss in the presence of students, something about being a “positive role model.” I never expected to fill this role due to my inexperience but, on a ship filled with high school aged greenies, I suppose I have a relative amount of knowledge to impart. I had been bequeathed with a different sort of responsibility: to teach. Articulation and demonstration reinforces, as well as bring to light, my personal insufficiencies in the material. I was able to show students which monitors and gauges display what information, how to plot coordinates, flake sails, tie off and take up fenders, square lash the head rig, ballantine and flake (which I taught backwards, starting with the standing end, which would inevitably snag). After teaching these coils incorrectly, I’m sure I will never make that mistake again.