Jenny Reichart '20, left, and Uakevelua "Nice" Munekamba '20 work as crew mem...Jenny Reichart '20, left, and Uakevelua "Nice" Munekamba '20 work as crew members aboard College of the Atlantic's M/V Osprey.

Jenny Reichert ’20 has made the landing on the steep, rocky shore of Great Duck Island many times before, but rarely does she have to execute the supply run in such fowl conditions. Engulfed in the fog is the boat dock that Reichert is aiming for. But for now, she waits in the swell observing its pattern to time her landing. On the boat ramp, other students are ready to help haul in the rigid-hull inflatable boat she is driving, which is loaded with several days worth of provisions.

Three… two…one. Reichert seizes a window with calmer swells and carefully maneuvers the dinghy to ride the back of a wave into the boat ramp. Quickly, the gear and provisions are passed up the ramp and onto dry land, and Reichert steers the dinghy back to M/V Osprey, the main boat she is working off of.

Jenny Reichart '20 drives the dinghy back to M/V Osprey after a supply drop at COA Alice En...Jenny Reichart '20 drives the dinghy back to M/V Osprey after a supply drop at COA Alice Eno Field Research Station on Great Duck Island. Captain Toby Stephenson stands by to help them back onto the boat.

Jenny Reichert ’20 and Uakevelua “Nice” Munekamba ’20 are students working as crew on Osprey, COA’s 46-foot research boat, over the summer. Much of the work revolves around supply runs and transport to and from COA’s two research islands, Great Duck Island and Mount Desert Rock. Both islands house field stations where COA students and faculty have the opportunity to do field research on wildlife and study marine biology, natural history, and more.

Reichert and Munekamba’s work on Osprey has exposed them to invaluable maritime experiences such as boat driving, reading wave patterns, using charts, line tying, mechanical repairs, problem solving, and working with a team. Osprey has taken them to the middle of Frenchman Bay for acoustical harbor porpoise research and even into Canadian waters to biopsy whales. And both have built their boat knowledge from the ground up.

“I started last fall with no experience around boats whatsoever,” said Reichert. “I had paddled a kayak in a flat lake, and that was really my only experience working with a boat.”

Similarly, Munekamba’s only exposure to boats prior to Osprey was a ferry ride in high school. But in both of their third years at COA, they started work-study positions as crew for Osprey. Now, after nearly a year working on the boat, Reichert and Munekamba are on the water 20 hours a week and know the ins and outs of boats thanks to Osprey captain Toby Stephenson.

“They are the ones making landings on remote islands in often unpleasant situations, and they build a huge amount of confidence and self esteem through that.”

“Toby is an awesome lad, mentor, teacher, parent, boss, and friend – name it and he will be it,” Munekamba said. “Major credit also goes to Jenny, for being our expert eyes on land water and air.”

Born in Namibia, Uakevelua “Nice” Munekamba ’20 is Davis United World College Scholar. He is proud to be one of the first international students to be part of the Osprey crew. He hopes that the skills he’s attained will help him secure a Namibian captain’s license and propel him into a career with the Namibian Dolphin Project, a non-profit research organization studying Namibia’s whales and dolphins.

“I had to learn engines, knots, how to row, and navigation,” said Munekamba. “The job was tough when it needed to be and very relaxing and beautiful when we came across marine life – the white-sided dolphins really stole the show.”

Reichert also touted the skill sets she’d developed as part of the boat crew.

In addition to bringing supplies to research islands, Jenny Reichart '20 also helps Osprey w...In addition to bringing supplies to research islands, Jenny Reichart '20 also helps Osprey with research trips around Frenchman Bay, the Gulf of Maine, and into Canadian waters.

“You’re building very applicable skills, such as confidence, working with a team, and problem solving,” said Reichert. “Every day, something little breaks or goes wrong and you have to stop and fix it.”

The crew positions aboard Osprey are ones of great responsibility, Stephenson said. Students spend a lot of time training for emergency situations (that never happen), learning to drive the boat and the inflatables, and “learning how to act and step up when things are needed because they know it is real-life,” he said.

“They are the ones making landings on remote islands in often unpleasant situations, and they build a huge amount of confidence and self esteem through that. They need to set their egos aside and focus on what the situation is at hand, and not be worried about what people think or say to them,” he said. “Situational awareness is an important component of their job and it takes time to develop, but I am always impressed with our students and how smart and flexible they are.”

Working aboard Osprey, Munekamba and Reichert have gotten a taste for marine mammal research through College of the Atlantic Allied Whale. Submerged in 100 feet of water around Frenchman Bay are acoustical recording devices that detect the high-frequency echolocation of harbor porpoise. Every few months, the recorders need maintenance which is when Munekamba and Reichert are key-players. They help to operate Osprey’s two-ton boom crane and safely deploy the acoustic recorders after their batteries and memory cards have been swapped.

“Situational awareness is an important component of their job and it takes time to develop, but I am always impressed with our students and how smart and flexible they are.” 

Reichert has also helped College of the Atlantic Allied Whale on permit-regulated voyages to biopsy whales in Canada. The biopsy samples collected are being analyzed for isotopic signatures to help determine what different whale species are feeding on and how close to shore they are feeding, and how rapidly rising ocean temperatures are affecting their way of life.

“It’s not like the whale watches where you’re still pretty far away,” said Reichert. “We had whales so close! One time, we had two whales ahead of us and we were trying to biopsy them. We knew there was a third whale around somewhere. This third whale, named Scream, comes up all of the sudden right under the bow of the boat with two pectoral fins on either side. It was amazing.” 

For Reichert, the occasional biopsy trips are the best part of being a crew member, but most of the time the job entails bringing fresh food and potable water to Great Duck Island and Mount Desert Rock. To successfully do this, both Reichert and Munekamba must drive the inflatable raft from the Osprey to the boat ramp. Timing is everything, according to Reichert.

“Doing the landings on swelly days is really hard,” said Reichert. “You’re looking for calmer periods in between the swells. You kind of have to just watch it… and then wait for the first time and let the mellow period pass; wait until you see another big system so that you can start to understand how much time you have in between the big swells and the little swells.” 

“When you’re going into a ramp, you want to try and ride the back of a wave,” said Reichert. “If you end up right in front of a wave, you’re gonna hit the ramp and it’s gonna come crashing over you.”

COA's 46-foot research vessel Osprey anchors near COA Edward McCormick Blair Marine Research ...COA's 46-foot research vessel Osprey anchors near COA Edward McCormick Blair Marine Research Station on Mount Desert Rock, 25 miles offshore.

Landings can be dangerous, especially at Mount Desert Rock, said Munekamba. But it’s the same kind of action that he loves about the job. 

For their senior years, Reichert and Munekamba plan to be working with other students as crew aboard Osprey once again. 

The days can be long and the weather isn’t always cooperative, said Reichert. But despite the challenges, the job is rewarding and provides students with unparalleled experiences as crew. Osprey is so much more than just a boat: it’s a tool for marine science, a portal to the Atlantic — a one-of-a-kind classroom —, an opportunity for students to embrace passions, and, a paragon of the experiential academic opportunities offered at COA.