Thursday, March 13, 2014

An expanded fleet to connect people to the Bay


AT THE HELM
Joe Mariani
Captain
This past fall marked a major turning point for Save The Bay. With the christening of our new education vessel, the Elizabeth Morris, we began the anticipated task of expanding our programming into new locations. The size, speed, and seaworthiness of the Elizabeth Morris opened up an array of new opportunities for our education programs. At the top of our list for new programs was the area surrounding Little Narragansett Bay, predominantly Westerly. 

Our South County Coastkeeper, David Prescott, has enjoyed a presence here for the past five years, working closely with the community. Unfortunately, we did not have the fleet capacity to bring an education programming to the waterways in Westerly. After years of planning, it was exciting to finally offer our first public and school boat trips out of Westerly this fall.

M/V Elizabeth Morris
on her maiden voyage
Years of reconnaissance and planning were behind the launch of our new Westerly boat trips. Yet still mixed with the excitement of introducing these new trips, there was anxiousness as well. We knew the seals were in the area, but would they cooperate for viewing just as they had for us in Newport? Would the wildlife on the Pawcatuck River be active and engaging enough for our passengers? Would the local community be enthusiastic enough to embrace our new offerings and join us on a cruise? These were all questions I was confident we had the answers to, but like so many things in life, you never truly know until you try.


Captain Kati Maginel
Education Specialist
It was for this reason that November 30, 2013 was such a special day for Save The Bay. Our first public Westerly Nature Cruise left the dock at noon. As my fellow captain, Kati Maginel, removed the lines from the dock, I eased the Elizabeth Morris out of her slip at Viking Marina with 24 passengers on board. Kati and I cruised the river quite the week prior, doing “dry runs” with the new boat. This was the big test, to see if our guests would find Little Narragansett Bay and its wildlife as interesting as we did.
            
Within minutes, any anxiousness I had about the public's reception had vanished.  While our friends from the Stonington Historical Society narrated the trip, I saw that our guests were engaged and fascinated with the history of the area and its surroundings. The next 30 minutes passed quickly as we navigated the shallow, winding river, finding ourselves at the mouth of the river, with seals swimming and resting within easy viewing distance. Our passengers busily snapped photos of the seals. It proved what Kati and I had expected: the natural beauty of this area is something that everyone can enjoy.
            
Over the next two months Kati and I continued to run our nature cruises on the weekends, and their popularity began to increase word spread. Through our conversations with our tour guests we quickly began to realize that many were locals who also took pride in Little Narragansett Bay, and they were excited to have the opportunity to learn more about it. 

Elizabeth Morris (l) and Alletta Morris (r)
at the dock at Fields Point
During one trip, an unexpected rain shower came upon us as we were cruising down the Pawcatuck River. We all stayed dry under the protection of Elizabeth’s extended roof until the rain passed. After the trip, concerned that our guests may have been disappointed in the weather, I offered an apology for the foul weather. One family remarked that they live and boat on the river, but usually only on sunny days. It was truly beautiful, they said, to be able to see the river and the seals in the rain. Initially surprised by their response, I agreed with them.
            
As December came to an end, and what was already proving to be a brutal winter was setting into place, it was time to leave the river and head back to Newport before the ice set in. It was bittersweet to leave Little Narragansett Bay. We were excited for a successful inaugural season, but sad about leaving an area we had quickly become attached to. 

Last week, when Kati and I made the three-hour cruise from Newport to Westerly, we found ourselves full of the same nervous excitement again. As we cruised down the river on our first public cruise of 2014, the sun was out and the seals were once again swimming in the Bay and resting on the rocks. With the ice cleared from the river and spring on the horizon, it was good to be home.

- Joe