Frank Frisk sails the Great Lakes, surfing the Internet as he goes.
A porter and cook for the Interlake Steamship Co., Frisk uses wireless phone hookups and a laptop to stay plugged in and to update his Web site, www.greatlakesphotos.com, loaded with 500 photographs of what it's like to live on the waters around the Great Lakes State in all sorts of weather and at all times of the year.
It's far from the slickest site you'll find on the Web. But Frisk isn't about slick. Or making money from the site, either. He does it because he gets so excited by what he sees on the lakes that he just can't help sharing it.
"It's unbelievable," says Frisk, 53. "The view that I get on board is so awesome from what you'd see on the shore. You have to be there to see it and the site lets me share my perspective."
Frisk started the site two years ago as a way to while away the time between duty tours on the big lake freighters. "There's not much to do out there and when I found out I was usually within range of a cellular (phone) tower, I hooked my laptop in to my cell phone and went online. It's amazing how far that signal travels over the water."
His biggest complaint? Slow cellular dial-up speeds aboard the ship. "What takes two to three minutes to download on a regular modem at home takes 12 to 14 minutes on the water. But what else is there to do out there? I have plenty on time."
Frisk has always been a photo bug. Self-taught, he worked briefly as a professional photographer in and around his native Mt. Clemens before moving to Marysville in 1989. That's where he fell in love with the big ships that ply the St. Clair River. In 1995, he got a job as an assistant cook for the steamship company.
"I love it," says the divorced father of a grown son. "I imagine it would be hard if I was still married. I was out on the lakes just over 300 days straight this past season. It's a great life out there and with the Net, I can stay connected."
The most recent addition to his site details in 42 photographs a trip last season on a 675-foot-long grain hauler, the SS Elton Hoyt, from Two Harbors, Minn., to Buffalo, N.Y. There are few words. But the images, viewed sequentially, document the voyage just fine.
"People have no idea how much work goes on on those ships," he said. "There's constant maintenance, rough seas, dangerous machinery and equipment. It's a constant challenge being out there and you never want to get hurt because you're a long way from help."
The most popular area on his site is the collection of foul-weather pictures, many taken in fierce storms. There are shots of icebound ships, dense fog and huge waves.
"There's times when the waves are 2 1/2 stories high," he says. "It's like riding a roller-coaster out there."
Frisk's work is gathering a strong following among the state's maritime community. An exhibition of his photos is on display at the Thomas Edison Inn in Port Huron, at the foot of the Blue Water Bridge, and at numerous businesses throughout the area. The Canadian Coast Guard selected an image Frisk took of its Vessel Griffon upbound on the St. Clair River near Sarnia, Ontario, which was used on the cover of the service's 1999-2000 Christmas card.
He also uses the site to share recipes prepared by freighter cooks. "We do eat well out there."
"I thoroughly enjoy this site," he says. "It started really simple but it just keeps getting bigger and bigger. Every week I get 30 or 40 e-mails from people who tell me visiting my site is like taking a trip with me. And that's just what I want it to be. I can't wait to get out again this year."
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Mike Wendland is a Poynter Fellow and a veteran print, broadcast, and online reporter. Wendland will teach in each of these areas, and contribute stories and tips to Poynter's website and moderate message board discussions. He spent from 1970-1980 as an investigative reporter for The Detroit News. From 1980-1998 he was an on-air reporter for Post-Newsweek TV's WDIV-TV in Detroit, where he won 20 Emmy Awards as head of the station's I-Team. He specializes in new media and computer assisted reporting and has written several books. His weekly technology reports are distributed to 215 NBC-TV stations each week and he hosts a weekly call-in show on computers and the Internet for CBS-owned WXYT Radio in Detroit.