Cruising on the Big Lake

COPPER HARBOR – The beauty and majesty of the world’s largest freshwater lake got an up close and personal look by students from around the world during a special sunset cruise Friday evening.

More than 80 Michigan Technological University students along with friends and family and staff from the student activities office boarded the Isle Royale Queen in Copper Harbor for the nearly two-hour cruise on Lake Superior. The event was sponsored by the university’s departments of student affairs and housing.

This was the second year the two departments collaborated for the evening cruise. Joe Cooper, director of student activities, said the event developed out of a need to provide something for students who spend their summers on or near campus.

“There are plenty of activities for students during the school year,” Cooper said. “But not a lot of organized activities in the summer. It’s good to give students something like this, otherwise they may not get off campus all summer.”

Cooper said several of the students on this cruise are international students and many are from Daniell Heights with families.

“Families are a group that is often forgotten, so it’s nice to do a cruise that everyone can enjoy,” he said.

Among those enjoying the cruise was Xi Lin, who goes by “Sissi,” a Ph.D. candidate in chemical engineering from China. Sissi enjoyed the cruise which is good because, for her, it was a year in the making,

“This is really nice,” she said. “I had a ticket last year but I gave it away. I’m glad I could go.”

She said she was excited to be on the open water of Lake Superior and understands its significance.

“It’s the biggest lake, but it feels like the ocean. It doesn’t have the ocean smell, though. It’s very cool.”

Sissi said the area she comes from is very far away from water so her years at Michigan Tech have been a treat.

“When I was looking at grad schools I wanted one near the Great Lakes,” she said. “You can feel (Lake Superior’s) presence all around the area.”

In addition to China, there were students from the Middle East and Europe on board the cruise as well as students from throughout the United States.

The students and guests spent much of their time taking pictures of the water and of each other on the “Queen.” Perhaps the highlight of the cruise was getting a close-up view of one of the largest vessels on the Great Lakes, the ore carrier American Century.

At 1,000 feet in length, owned by the American Steamship Company, it can haul nearly 81,000 tons of iron ore.

The passengers weren’t the only ones enjoying the view of the big lake freighter. At the helm of the Isle Royale Queen, long-time captain John Kilpela was enjoying the experience as well.

Kilpela said of passing by the big ship, “there are a few ships on the great lakes that are as big as the American Century, but none bigger. This is a great experience and when I like it myself I know they (passengers) will like it as well.”

Normally when Kilpela captains his ship for short cruises or her regular treks to Isle Royale, he serves as a tour guide of sorts, filling the passengers’ need for information on a variety of topics.

He said with mostly international students as passengers, the big lake does the job for him.

“It’s a thrill to have these students, but there’s mixed feelings,” he said. “I really don’t have to say anything, just let the boat and the lake do it for me.”

Judging by the smiles of the passengers who left the Isle Royale Queen and loaded into a pair of school buses for the return to campus it was a job well done.”

The cruise is so popular Cooper said they’ve already scheduled a second for sometime next month.

However, those students interested should be advised that many of Friday’s passengers signed up for the second cruise even before the first one had ended.