Voyaging on the Sea Bear in Duluth Harbor and beyond
Standing on the bow of a 45-foot pilot boat with his arm stretched out over the railing, 9-year-old Evin Poquette gazed with wonder and elation across the bay toward the horizon, where a dark blue Lake Superior touched a lighter-blue sky.
Taking in the scene, Evin summed it up nicely:
"I've never felt so alive."
Evin was invited to spend the morning aboard the Sea Bear, a faded-yellow vessel that spends its time patrolling the harbor.
Evin is somewhat of a local celebrity. After news broke of his lifetime membership application getting accepted to the Lake Superior Maritime Museum a few months ago, the Bayfield youth has been the subject of a flurry of news stories he's archived, and received gifts from local retired captains hoping to give him treasures.
"Captain Rydberg emailed my husband, and said 'he read the article and thought it was really cool,'" said Sara Poquette, Evin's mom, "'It was so special that he had a strong interest in the industry and had a treasure box he had been saving for someone special that he wanted to give to him.'"
The contents of that treasure trove were signs and a life ring off the American Victory, a recently-scrapped ship that Evin grew up with. Also included was a collection of books that Rydberg said Evin would need to read.
"We spent hours over there," Sara said. "It was a really good time."
Evin's love of the sea and the boats that sail above its waves started when he was 3-years-old.
"The first time I saw the ship was the CSL Niagara coming through, it just blew my mind," Evin said.
Now five years later, he can name any ship traversing Lake Superior, begs his parents to visit Duluth every day and cherishes every opportunity he has watching barges make their way through Sault Ste. Marie, Marquette and beyond.
Now he can add unofficial captain of the Sea Bear to his maritime resume.
"Steering the ship was the best part, but being out on the lake and seeing all the things, that was amazing," Evin said.
The Sea Bear is an old boat. Built in 1959 in Rhode Island, it has spent its tenure in both fresh and saltwater. With spider webs hanging off the roped tires on the side and paint chipping off the exterior, it's captain, Edward Montgomery has no reservations thinking it has 50 years left on the water.
"It's the workhorse of the harbor," said Montgomery.
But before the ropes were untethered from the dock, Evin took a gander inside the ship, inspecting the hull's interior, which is used for storage and as an engine room. After the tour, the Sea Bear propelled itself around the harbor before making its way for the Aerial Lift Bridge.
"Oh my goodness, we're going under the bridge," Evin said, with his neck craned toward the metal blue platform above him.
After emerging from underneath the bridge, the pilot boat made its way toward open waters, blessing the Poquette family with a view of the Duluth skyline, a sight reserved only for those out on the water.
Despite not having eclipsed even a decade, the young boat buff is already planning on a college that could further foster his interests and desire to be a ship captain. For awhile, Evin's sights had been set on the Great Lakes Maritime Academy at Northwestern Michigan, a school in Traverse City. But recently, he's been eyeing the Kings Point United States Merchant Marine Academy.
"I've always wanted to be a captain, ever since the Niagara," Evin said.
Evin doesn't have a favorite ship, he said he loves them all. But rattling off a top-three list in his head, he said the Presque Isle, the Algoma Innovator and the Evans Spirit.
"I like the Evans Spirit because it has my name in it, even though it has an 'A' instead of an 'I.'"