Off our port side…

M/V Teal
by Felicia Ansty

“Good evening. My name is Felicia, and on behalf of Discover Cayuga Lake and the captain and crew of the M/V Teal, I’d like to welcome you aboard for tonight’s sunset cruise.” 

That’s how I introduce our program when I’m a crew/narrator on the Teal, the largest and newest tour boat motoring across Cayuga Lake.

My employer, Discover Cayuga Lake (DCL), is a not-for-profit organization providing lake access and education. Without access, people can’t truly consider Cayuga Lake a relevant and important part of their lives, nor can our educational mission succeed.

We depart the Allan H. Treman State Marine Park and enter the Cayuga inlet. After a short safety briefing, I begin my narration. This covers lake statistics, geology and ecology, the history of Ithaca and the people who live along the lakeshore, and fascinating anecdotes, showcased during our two-hour clockwise circuit to Myers Point and back. 

“Reportedly, the first European to see Cayuga Lake was a French explorer named Etienne Brûlé in 1615 …” 

I first saw Cayuga Lake in 2002, when I moved to Ithaca. I’d hiked the gorges and parks, but had never actually been on the lake itself … until I answered a Craigslist ad and snagged this dream job. 

The Teal chugs onto the lake. The passengers settle and relax, contemplating the gentle waves. The water changes color as the shelf drops away beneath us. We head north along the west shore.

“The lovely three-gable Gothic Revival cottage we’re now passing off our port side is my favorite cottage on the lake. It was built in 1876 by Elias Treman, who lived there until 1898, when a tiny garter snake squiggled across his horse’s path. The terrified horse reared, dumping poor Elias on his head …”

To familiarize myself with the lake and Ithaca’s history, I combed the library, listened to DCL Director Bill Foster and other experienced narrators, interviewed local historians and scoured the internet for fascinating facts and fun stories. Each of our six narrators tailors the narration to their individual interests and research. Steve discusses fishing, Franny recites the legend of Ol’ Greenie and Naomi details the Wharton film studio years. That way, every cruise becomes unique. 

“Off our port side now is Glenwood Point. In the early 1900s, a steamboat trip to the Glenwood Hotel and Dance Hall provided an entertaining getaway for Ithacans seeking a good time.” 

This is also one of our educational program’s major data-gathering locations. Every season, we take around 2,000 students of all ages onto the water to teach them how to gather data on water conditions for research purposes and dissemination to other environmental agencies for analysis.

For these cruises, Bill and Marina Howarth, DCL’s science and education coordinator, lead programs in which students gain hands-on experience. Using specialized instruments, they determine water clarity, generate depth profiles, sample aquatic plants and sediment, and collect and identify plankton. My favorite part is watching the teeming life in a drop of lake water revealed under the microscope. It’s an incredible feeling to open students’ eyes to another world, to see them fully engaged and excited. We often prepare slides for our sunset cruise passengers, so they can also experience the thrill of discovery. By sharing these adventures, we hope to instill an appreciation for Cayuga Lake and all the Finger Lakes, and demonstrate how important it is to protect them and their ecosystems for posterity. 

We cross the lake near Myers Point.

“Off our port side, we’re now passing Salmon Creek, Cayuga Lake’s third largest tributary. It’s also a trout release site for our Trout in the Classroom Program.”

During winter months, fourth graders from 19 local schools raise trout from eggs and then, in the spring, release the fingerlings into nearby streams. I participated last year, and it was an amazing – and wet – experience.

DCL funds all of its educational, scholarship, volunteer and internship programs through public tours and private charters throughout our May-October season. These include narrated sunset tours, community access cruises, DJ cruises for fun and dancing, and special programs like our Fireworks, Perseid Meteor Shower, Fall Foliage and Halloween Cruises. There are also eco-tours during which all passengers can experience data gathering and plankton identification.

Off our port side now is the Cargill salt mine. As the deepest salt mine in North America, it provides almost 90% of the winter road salt for the entire Northeast.” 

The Captain glides the Teal in widening circles, so everyone can capture the glorious sunset painting the clouds and creating ribbons of light on the water. 

Afterward, motoring south along the east shore, we sometimes spot bald eagles watching us with majestic indifference from the trees above the shale and sandstone cliffs, ospreys diving for fish or great blue herons wading along the bank.

“Back when the university rowing teams competed along the shore instead of the inlet, the little orange-roofed lookout on Esty Point that we’re now passing off our port side marked the starting line for the races.” 

The railroad, just feet above the water, used to provide seating for rowing spectators in coal cars, so that during competitions they could travel alongside their teams and root them on.

Dusk settles. We pass McKinney’s Point, then turn toward the inlet and home. 

“Thank you very much for joining us on tonight’s cruise. I hope we’ve provided an interesting, fun and memorable experience, as well as a newfound appreciation of our lake.” 

As we slow toward the dock, I consider all I’ve learned about boating, interacting with passengers, Cayuga Lake and Ithaca’s history. I hope to be able to continue with DCL and the Teal for many more seasons. Come join me sometime!

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