Spring 2005

Floating Classroom

Nine Wisconsin students studied marine science Jan. 5-19 in the Bahama Islands. Their “classroom” was the Denis Sullivan, a three-masted wooden schooner operated by Pier Wisconsin and based in Milwaukee most of the year. Their professor was Sea Grant Education Coordinator James Lubner. Here, Malerie Tanner, a sophomore in journalism and mass communications at UW–Milwaukee, offers some reflections on her experiences.

I was a little intimidated when I first boarded the S/V Denis Sullivan, but I realized right away that the crew was trustworthy and knew a lot about their ship. Certain sounds made their ears perk up. They understood them like other people know the noises of their home. I felt safe knowing they all were there to guide me through this learning experience.

My first major adjustment onboard was to my sleeping patterns. The rolling of the boat was strangely comforting, and every night the waves rocked me to sleep. Often I was awakened in the middle of the night to stand watch for four to five hours. Watch included steering the ship, raising or striking the sails, routine boat checks and, of course, telling stories. In our spare time, we took water samples and sent measurements of pH, dissolved oxygen, and temperature back to Pier Wisconsin in Milwaukee. My favorite part of those late shifts was standing at the bow to watch for other boats. There is nothing quite as peaceful as looking out into the darkness and staring the waves and stars in the face.

Life onboard quickly settled into a routine. Each day at 2 p.m. we had an all-hands-on-deck meeting to review the day. Then Dr. Lubner and Meridith, the ship’s education assistant, would teach lessons on sailing and marine science. That was our cycle for two weeks, and while it may sound repetitive, each day brought new challenges and experiences.

When I returned to Milwaukee, many people asked me, “Did you learn anything, or was it more like a vacation?” I always answered that it was the best dang vacation I’ve ever had, due to the amount that I learned.

One of the most important lessons I learned was acceptance. Living in such tight quarters and depending on each other so much, you can’t just walk away from a person if your personalities don’t match. On a boat, you make them match.

There is a saying that “a day is a week, and a week is a day” onboard a schooner. I couldn’t agree more. Striking sails in the morning seemed forever ago, but seeing a whale a week ago seemed like it was yesterday. It is hard to distinguish between the days on a boat because every experience, whether it was an hour ago or a week ago, is so special that the memory stays fresh in your mind forever.

The Aquatic Sciences Center is the administrative home of the
University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute & University of Wisconsin Water Resources Institute.

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