On a slightly overcast but pleasantly warm day in July, I set sail on the Inland Seas 77-foot schooner with the Inland Seas Educational Association. I arrived in Suttons Bay as a mere resident of Northern Michigan but emerged from the boat as a Great Lakes scientist.
Greeted with smiling faces and eager energy from the staff, I boarded the ship excited for what was to come during our three-hour sail. The band of people aboard the sail was diverse; from children to the elderly, friends to family to romantic couples, differing gender identities, and even the crew ranged both in age and from volunteer status to paid employees. The sheer number of volunteers aboard the Inland Seas revealed not only the manpower required for the voyage to operate smoothly but speaks volumes about the draw of the non-profit organization; its beating heart is sustained by the people who are there simply because they want to be.
Before climbing aboard the schooner, we were divided into five groups and assigned group leaders, to whom we listened intently as we then left the port and began cutting through the sparkling, indigo waters of Suttons Bay. The first moments of the sail we spent learning about the Great Lakes and the ins and outs of sailing, the lingo, and the mechanics of it all. The hands-on component of the Discovery Sail cannot be understated, as my group mates and I literally sailed the ship - under the careful instruction and watchful eyes of the crew, of course. Hoisting the sails and bellowing the commands transformed me into a true sailor of Lake Michigan, hungry for adventure.
Once the wind was beneath the Inland Seas’ sails, it was time to transition from seaman to scientist. Each group leader headed their own station, which added up to five stations total: Benthos, Plankton, Fish, Seamanship, and the Relaxation Station. Now, I won’t divulge too much here since I urge everyone reading to book their own excursion with the ISEA in the coming weeks, but each station boasted interactive exercises and activities through which we used science to learn about and understand the importance of Great Lakes stewardship. We learned about the impact of invasive and non-native species, collected data that will be utilized by the ISEA, observed plankton under a microscope, took real samples of the lake bottom and fish, and even helped steer the ship.
After spending time at each station, the captain pointed the bow of the Inland Seas towards land and began the sail home. Not to mention, throughout the time spent on the bay, the volunteer crew was actively sailing the ship for us, making sure we were in good hands as we learned how to protect the very water on which we were floating. We then collectively shared what we learned, such as the varying invasive species we had caught and released -- the Round Goby and the Quagga Mussel -- and the fact that our lakes are so clear because of the lack of plankton in the waters, which harms the ecosystem. At the end of the sail, the sun peeked through the clouds as if to welcome us back to port.
The four values of the Inland Seas Educational Association are stewardship, education, diversity, and integrity. The non-profit's mission is to instill these values within learners of all ages while inspiring a lifetime of curiosity and passion for the Great Lakes. The Discovery Sail, in which I partook, is an educational sail that teaches children and adults about the significance of Great Lakes freshwater preservation, and I can confidently say that I walked away from the sail with a renewed sense of respect for the lakes that I am fortunate enough to consider home. The ISEA values are vibrantly visible in each team member, as they made it a priority to uphold each pillar of their mission and help achieve the organization’s goals with each smile and fact they shared.
If you’re searching for the perfect adventure to close out the summer of ‘22 with your loved ones, I encourage you to embark on an Inland Seas sail of your own.