The pollen was so thick from the pine forest along Fraser Bay that it seemed from afar that it was raining on the waterway.
But the cruise ship wasn’t the only place that offered mesmerizing views.
Octantis contained a fleet of small ships that allowed for close inspection. It included double decker boats, 15 boats, 17 inflatables and two submarines.
Small boats sometimes raced over the water, and this was an adventure in itself. For the front seat passengers, it was a wet adventure, especially when 35 knots of wind caused the waves to soar.
Marilyn Hagee, 79, a retired education professor from Windsor, Colorado, was submerged in the water as her inflatable boat returned from a visit to Killarney, Ontario.
“I’m going to start taking it personally,” she told the pilot.
The interiors of the two six-seater submarines were drier. Georgian Bay is usually much more visible than the Great Lakes, but, unfortunately, after plummeting 65 feet to the bottom of the waterway, the green waters were too murky to see anything.
On the one hand, passengers were disappointed by the lack of visibility. On the other hand, they had just boarded a submarine.
The Vikings had to wait until they reached Canadian waters before launching their fleet. US law prohibits foreign ships from deploying them, which may have been the reason the ship stayed for three days in the Gulf of Georgia.
Given the academic determination of the trip, it wasn’t enough just to enjoy nature. Passengers studied it.
And the best place to do that is in the science lab. Yes, the cruise ship has a science lab equipped with microscopes and white lab coats. It is used by colleges and agencies that partner with Viking to conduct research.
Travelers can chat with scientists and take part in the work, including examining microplastics filtered from the water.
“This is as close as you get to being on a working research vessel,” said Damon Stanwell Smith, marine biologist and head of science and sustainability on board.
On this trip, the flag was extended to the upper deck.
Octanes’ research partner was the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA designated the ship as the launch station for a weather balloon, which would be a terrible name for a party boat.
She talked about the kind of people who were drawn to an educational cruise that morning; When the ship launched a weather balloon at 6:45 a.m., 50 passengers appeared.
Damon Stanwell Smith, marine biologist and head of science and sustainability, focused on the opportunities for Viking Octantis passengers.
After the countdown, a crew member released the 5-foot balloon from the stormy deck. Latex orbs carried transmitters that measure temperature, wind speed, and atmospheric pressure.
“Bye, little balloon,” a woman’s voice is heard floating away.
It would eventually explode 16 miles later but not before some observers had returned to the ship to watch a computer recording the fluctuating data.
Octantis has an expedition team of 18 members from around the world whose disciplines range from nature to kayaking to marine biology.
One member from Michigan.
Loreen Niewenhuis of Traverse City is a Great Lakes ship specialist. She has written three books about them, including one about her 1,000-mile walk around Lake Michigan.
She gave lectures on the Great Lakes to passengers, but, like other members of the cruise team, she wears many hats. She helped launch the weekly balloon, provided tours of the science lab and served as a guide for visits to the beach.
“I literally work all over the ship,” she said. “I move around so much that I don’t have to exercise.”
Niewenhuis, 58, said her chances are few to get a taste of the ship’s tires. She has little downtime and her schedule is constantly changing as she switches roles with other team members.
For her, the luxury of a luxury cruise is the chance to sleep until 7:30 AM
She said her biggest challenge was learning her way around the ship in the first few weeks.
Her favorite part is talking about the Great Lakes. It’s a topic her relatives know well.
“My family says, ‘Please, go somewhere else and talk about the Great Lakes,'” she said.
Despite the flight’s proximity to Michigan, Neuenhaes said she didn’t feel like it was close to home. This is because she flew to Toronto to begin her 15-week mission aboard the floating school.
The only exception will be when the Octantis sail the Isle Royale off the coast of Thunder Bay in Ontario. She knows her inhabitants well from her writing.
“When we pass the island,” she said, “I’ll wave to all my moose and wolf friends.”
Georgian Bay on Lake Ontario is one of the places the Octanes, a Vikings cruise ship, passes through on its Great Lakes tour.
Recreational boats fill the blue waters of Georgian Bay on Lake Ontario.