“Am I prepared for this?” This was the question that kept me restless the night before we left to California for our 10-day offshore sailing voyage in the Pacific Ocean.
After nearly eleven hours of traveling, we arrived to Long Beach where we were welcomed aboard the Tole Mour–a 156 foot, three-masted square topsail schooner. To truly immerse ourselves in this sailing experience, we gave up all of our electronics. At first, this major disconnection to the outside world was hard to get used to but after the first 24 hours, I began to get accustomed to not being constantly connected. There were definitely instances where I wanted to use my phone, but I also appreciated the value of living in the moment and taking in the experience.
Combatting both homesickness and seasickness was quite difficult, especially with no land in sight, but aboard the Tole Mour, I had the opportunity to get a glimpse of what the life of a sailor could be like. Hauling in lines to strike sails while singing sea chanteys, steering the ship at the helm, and being on bow watch were a few of the many jobs I had aboard. I found bow watch to be my favorite duty as it gave me the opportunity to admire the vast ocean’s beauty. Occasionally, we would even see dolphins jumping beside our boat!
One night after my evening watch, I reflected upon my watch experience in my journal:
As miles of salty blue water surround us, I peer out to the straight line of the horizon. Currently, it is the only thing that is not rocking, and therefore, is the only aid to my seasickness.
The glimmering navy blue swells of the Pacific that I admired during the day are nearly unrecognizable as my night watch began. The water that was so calm only two hours prior has now become quite choppy. The darkness brought about by the evening makes the ocean look black and foreboding. Visibility is quiet limited as my watch members and I depend on the mere glimmer of red lights on the boat.
My evenings at the bow also gave me a lot of time to reflect and appreciate those who have navigated and traveled the same seas hundreds of years prior. Although technology has rapidly modernized the way we sail and navigate, the techniques used to combat the unpredictability of the ocean have not. While at the helm, the captain explained that if navigational technology fails in a modern vessel, a sea captain must have an alternate strategy to continue on. To my surprise, one navigational technique that is still used by sailors is the same as what ocean explorers of times past used: Celestial Navigation.
Life at sea definitely took a lot of adapting to. Showering was extremely limited due to the necessity of preserving water and balance was so difficult to obtain as your body constantly battles the rocking of the boat. Numerous bruises all over my body validated that even up until the last day, I still did not get my sea legs.
Luckily, our hard work aboard the Tole Mour was compensated with many astonishing experiences. Not only did we get the opportunity to explore the world’s largest Sea Cave at Santa Barbara Island, we also had the chance to go snorkeling twice! The first time we went snorkeling, we had the chance to swim with curious sea lions. One sea lion swam only two feet below me! During my second snorkeling adventure, I had the chance to admire the diverse marine species off the shore of Catalina Island!
To wrap up our trip, we had the chance to swing off of the Tole Mour on a rope swing and had an eventful evening “Swizzle” which included a fun talent show and dance party! The memories that were made aboard the Tole Mour are surely unforgettable. I am so excited to return to California on October 4th to explore San Francisco and make even more memories!
Fair Winds and Smooth Sailing,
Let me start off by introducing myself: my name is Michelle Goyke and I am the blogger for the Williams-Mystic Class of Fall ’14. Only five weeks into the semester, I can confidently say that I have already witnessed how life-changing the Williams-Mystic Program can be.
Currently, I am a Communication Arts major at The College of New Rochelle located in my hometown, New Rochelle, NY. Only a 5 minute commute away from home, the College of New Rochelle has provided me with both great convenience and opportunities. One such opportunity was the chance to attend Williams-Mystic.
After living in the same city for 20 years, the idea of packing up and moving to a new city and state was both nerve-wracking and exciting. Although I am a junior in college, I felt like a freshman leaving the comforts of home for the first time. Upon my arrival to Mystic, I was in complete awe as I admired all of the exciting sites the village has to offer. As I began to move in my belongings and got to met my housemates, I was thrilled that we connected instantly. From kayaking trips to pancake breakfasts, everlasting memories are being made on a daily basis. There were so many positive vibes being exchanged that my transition came with great ease and within one week, Mystic, CT became my home.
Thus far, Williams-Mystic has offered quite a unique academic experience. This semester, I am gaining an interdisciplinary perspective by studying various topics, such as the regulation and management of coastal waters in Marine Policy, erosion and sedimentation in Oceanographic Processes, and Mystic’s role in the American fishing industry in Maritime History. In Maritime Literature, I get to deeply immerse myself in readings that I can relate to my modern-day experiences as I travel to the same areas that the authors base their stories. I have found the way we connect literature and scientific findings to hands-on learning and real-life experiences to be such a fascinating and engaging way to learn. This allows me to deeply relate and connect the experiences I have with the information I am receiving. My favorite part about our hands-on learning is how often we have a traveling classroom: one class may take place on the Charles W. Morgan and the next may be a plane ride away. How many people can say that they have had class on a dock at the Mystic Seaport, at Barn Island Marsh in their foulies, or aboard a tall ship in the Pacific Ocean? Not many.
Fair Winds and Smooth Sailing,
Good morning from the SSV Tole Mour! Getting used to everything moving isn’t easy – even standing still takes effort – but we are all getting our sea legs and enjoying sailing the beautiful Channel Islands. We’ve seen sea lions, flying fish, dolphins, pelicans, cormorants, and some fantastic floating seaweeds.
Students have now stood watch through their first full night at sea. As part of watch, they are setting and striking sails under the direction of the captain and mates, steering, completing boat checks, standing lookout, plotting our position on the chart, and making scientific measurements. Today we will complete our first oceanographic Super Station, and with any luck we will bring back a sediment sample from the seafloor and measure the properties of the water column to better understand the geological, physical, and chemical controls on life in these waters.
Lisa Gilbert, Associate Professor of Geosciences & Marine Science
It’s been a busy time in Mystic! We welcomed the wonderful members of our Fall 2014 class on August 25th and time has since gone by (too) quickly! Prof. Lisa Gilbert wrote to us as F14 members completed their cross-country flight to California and began their preparations for this year’s offshore field seminar:
September 8, 2014
33.4 N x 118.5 W
Anchored off Catalina Island
Good evening from the Channel Islands! After a very early departure from Mystic, CT this morning, the Williams-Mystic Fall 2014 traveled across the country to California, arriving in time for lunch aboard the Sailing School Vessel Tole Mour. We got underway at about 3:15pm, past buoy #2, which was riding a little low from the weight of several sea lions. Pelicans and cormorants flew by, and once we got beyond the channel, we saw a line of dolphins playing in the waves. What a start to our Field Seminar!
From the moment the students stepped on deck, they officially became crew members on the ship and were busy most of the day with safety orientations and learning to set and strike sails.
Students have been organized into three different watches: A, B, and C Watch. Each watch is led by a mate, two deckhands, and an engineer. Students are sleeping now, but starting tomorrow, they will be standing watch on a schedule taking turns through the day and night.
We’re looking forward to good sailing in the Southern Califonia Bight.
Lisa Gilbert, Associate Professor of Geosciences & Marine Science
It’s about 2 pm on Friday afternoon, and I’m stealthily eavesdropping on the strolling family in front of me as I head to Bartleby’s, my backpack heavy of finals material. Maybe it’s because I just finished my last Williams-Mystic class and I’m already feeling sentimental, or maybe it’s because of the sheer beauty of the scene along the river, the sun and blue sky reflected in the capillary waves, the white church in the distance standing in stark contrast to the green of the trees in full bloom…but I’m surprisingly struck by this innocent passing comment that wasn’t even made for my ears. I feel a twinge of sadness evoked by the realization that I am incredibly fortunate to have experienced the past 17 weeks. My perspective has been irrevocably changed, my wanderlust awakened, and my and sense of place altered forever.
In this instant I realize that perhaps the most difficulty I face in transitioning back to reality is in both trying to properly express what I have learned without sounding like a cliché, and also in recognizing that not everybody will understand. Is it really possible to depict a night watch on the bowsprit, the sound of waves penetrating the silent darkness, or the discovery of hidden pair of eyes staring directly into yours as you explore the tide pools of the Pacific, or the emotion of the people trying to endure the elements in a disappearing bayou? How can I explain how both humbling and empowering it is to be such a small part of the greater world? The answer is clear: I simply can’t. I can’t give this experience to anyone else. My words carry little weight in comparison to the depth of emotion and understanding I have gained over the past semester.
In spite of my evolution, my self-exploration, and the various lessons I have learned—academically and otherwise—a large part of this education has been the realization of my insignificance. However, as we finished Marine Policy for the last time today, Professor Katy Hall reminded me of something that would be all to easy to lose: the power of one. As we leave Mystic, we are newly empowered with knowledge about our changing world that few others possess. Individually we are small. As a group, we are 17. But we are 17 of the thousands who have chosen to make the ocean the focus of our universal understanding through the Mystic program. Perhaps more importantly, we are among the billions of people who inhabit this earth. Our choices matter.
So, as I write for the last time, I implore my classmates, my peers, and my friends – go out and make a difference. You have the power.
“Hey! What are you doing here? How is Mystic?”
I’m contently curled up in a corner table in Tunnel City at Williams College. We had a joint Oceanography-Marine Policy class on Tuesday in honor of Earth Day, and I’m taking advantage of our three-day weekend to see the friends I left behind for the semester. In the past few days, I’ve noticed a theme in the general reaction to my arrival: strange looks become those of recognition before I am extensively interrogated about my experience at Mystic. I can’t help but feel a smile playing at the corner of my lips whenever I try to respond in an appropriate amount of time – I could talk for hours about life in the coastal community, our amazing trips, our roles in mitigating climate change, the topics of my research papers, and my friends in the program, but I’ve learned to condense a suitable amount of information into a roughly five-minute spiel.
Still, I find myself struggling with the insufficiency of my words: how can I describe the essence of the Williams-Mystic Program, when every minute detail seems to have such significance? Almost every conversation ends with the enthusiastic suggestion: “Please visit me! You have to see it for yourself” or, for the lucky few still eligible, “You should seriously consider the Program!”
It only took a few days of separation from Mystic to make me realize the greatest impact Williams-Mystic has had on my life. It has taught me to feel present, to truly appreciate every component of myself, to indulge in my passions and share them, and to surround myself with people who allow me to do so. Quotidian stresses have lost their importance; my definition of self-worth no longer relies on my grades, on my athleticism, on my image. In exploring the sheer vastness of the sea, I have somehow found my way into a community of people who encourage me to also delve into the depths of myself by focusing my attention on the values that I hold important.
As I gain greater perspective of the world around us and focus on my sense of place here in Mystic, I am much more accepting of myself, a peace that frequently eludes me when I choose to ignore the bigger picture. Ironically, it takes a three-hour drive and a hundred and fifty miles of separation to create such self-reflection. Still, it’s reassuring to think that in three weeks I will be able to carry my presence with me as I depart from the very place that allowed me to find it.
It is 2:30 pm, and I am sitting outside of Mallory House, forced to don a pair of sunglasses that I haven’t used since we were onboard the Corwith Cramer as I read Steinbeck’s The Log of the Sea of Cortez. The sun’s rays warm my legs, back, and face as I am periodically distracted by the shouts of children in the Seaport across the street. Molly and Rebecca sit next to me, hoping to add some color to skin that has been covered for far too long.
We are taking a well-deserved break from our positions as ambassadors of Mystic, which we adopted this weekend for “Family and Friends Day.” It was an incredible day of demonstrating the essence of the Program to those who had so long sought to understand our lives this semester. We sailed, we sang, we blacksmithed, we climbed aloft; we walked around the Seaport, ate ice cream sundaes outside of Drawbridge Ice Cream Shop, and spent the afternoon drinking iced tea at Bartleby’s Coffee Shop. My grandmother interrogated Glenn Gordinier about his views on Native American history and the French-Pequot War (which took place right over the bridge), while my grandpa swapped stories with Rich King at lunch over second and third helpings of homemade desserts. As I saw my friends with their families, significant others, and miscellaneous visitors, I felt as if these moments held greater significance. Personally, as soon as I pulled off I-95 on Friday afternoon—grandparents in tow—to see the sun sparkling in the estuary, it was as if I were seeing Mystic through new eyes once again.
As we have finally settled into a routine over the past few weeks, I’ve come to realize that my experience in this program can be defined as a series of what I call “Mystic Moments.” While the field seminars serve to expand our sense of place by offering insight into new cultures and experiences, there is something to be said of the learning that occurs right here…the value of the intimate knowledge of this amazing area that only time and curiosity can provide. They come in many forms, often barely recognized or taken for granted, and yet when I reflect, I can only think of how unique these moments have become. I have spent hours driving around the town with Jess (our scientific instruments in tow), shouting “Plankton!” in response to the inquiring locals who see our nets and laughing under my breath as they walk away unenthused. I have attended Literature class in the gazebo on the Seaport Green, poorly attempting to imitate a Rachel Carson-style of writing while really daydreaming in the morning sun. I have had to stop my boat in the middle of the Mystic River as I received a call from the senator who co-authored the bill that is the focus of my Policy paper.
For the average Mystic student, these unreal experiences are simply part of life, but they are a part of life that I am just realizing, with five weeks left, that I will only possess for so long. I am grateful to have had this weekend to reflect, to understand, and to share. Occasionally, it takes a grandfather to exclaim, “Look at that ship!” to make you realize just how lucky you truly are.