Great Lakes freighters - and crews - get ready for 'winter layup'

After another successful year, our Great Lakes Education schoolships join in this annual rite.

Each year, Great Lakes freighters lay up in harbors until winter passes and it's safe to venture out on the lakes. Our education schoolships also lay up over the winter. Photo: Michigan Sea Grant
Each year, Great Lakes freighters lay up in harbors until winter passes and it's safe to venture out on the lakes. Our education schoolships also lay up over the winter. Photo: Michigan Sea Grant

Among Great Lakes sailors, the term “winter layup” is spoken with great anticipation and yearning around this time of year. The term refers to the period when the large freighters are forced by snow and ice into docks for the winter. For sailors, this is a time for an extended home leave when they can catch up with their families and enjoy the simple pleasures of life ashore that most of us take for granted.

Last winter, the first Great Lakes freighters to lay up were the Roger Blough, American Spirit, and Indiana Harbor, all of which were docked on Nov. 3. They were laid up until late March, when it became safe once again to sail the lakes.

Winter layup for the Great Lakes Education Program began this year on Oct. 28 when 28 fourth grade students from Parsons Elementary in Gibraltar, Mich., along with their chaperones and teacher, disembarked from the Education Vessel Clinton. They were the final participants of the 2016 program year (our 26th), adding their names to those from 117 other classes fortunate enough to experience the wonders of our rivers and lakes this year.

Since its start in 1991, Michigan State University Extension, Michigan Sea Grant, and the Huron-Clinton Metroparks have collaborated to bring the Great Lakes Education Program (GLEP) to nearly 110,000 students, teachers, and chaperones. The GLEP experience has allowed them to marvel at life forms as small as plankton and as large as sturgeon, measure Great Lakes water clarity, analyze levels of dissolved oxygen and pH, learn about Great Lakes geography and hydrology using navigation charts, sample the bottom using a dredge, and tie common sailing knots such as the bowline. Much more than just a field trip, GLEP education combines classroom lessons with a hands-on, vessel-based learning experience that combine to develop Great Lakes literacy and stewardship among participants.

To that number of students and teachers cruising the Great Lakes, we add 1,000+ participants in this year’s Summer Discovery Cruises (SDC) on lakes Erie and St. Clair through MSU Extension’s partnership with the Huron-Clinton Metroparks. Since its initiation in 2002, Summer Discovery Cruises have provided more than 17,000 people with opportunities to learn through a variety of special themed programs.

As the Clinton and her fleet mate Clinton Friendship arrive at the layup dock in Mt. Clemens for fresh coats of paint and a winter tune-up, we would like to take this opportunity to thank the dozens of teachers, volunteers, staff, and partners who have sailed the lakes with us to make both the Great Lakes Education Program and Summer Discovery Cruises a success.

These individuals, coupled with good planning, implementation, ongoing evaluation, and a dash of good fortune, have provided the recipe for creating and maintaining what has become a flagship program for MSU Extension. While the Clinton rests at her layup dock, MSU Extension staff will work through the winter to ensure the tradition of excellence in experiential learning that is the hallmark of the GLEP and SDC programs will continue into the 2017 season.

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU Extension, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.

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