Dear Prospective Student,
We have but two days left in the Williams-Mystic Spring 2016 semester. I hope that you have enjoyed reading about all our adventures at sea, on the road and in the kitchen.
Seeing the previous entries and vibrant photos, one could get the notion that Williams-Mystic is all about traveling and eating. I feel it incumbent upon me to emphasize that while those two activities do play a beautiful and vital role in the semester, there is something else Williams-Mystic students do a fair bit of…
We study! Earlier on the blog, I mentioned writing the research proposals and designing final projects… Well, last week was the culmination of our research efforts: in total, I submitted around 64 pages. (Please don’t let that number intimidate you; we’ve been working on those papers for several weeks, so last week was mostly putting on the finishing touches!). Throughout the semester, professors encourage (and often require) students to submit proposals, drafts and check-ins along the way to ensure that these research projects are a thoughtful and fruitful endeavor.
In addition to writing the research papers, we take exams (of the “show-what-you-know” variety, not the “gotcha!” kind). I emerged this morning from the last exam with the nerdiest of ailments: a sore and cramped hand. From all the typing and gripping my pencil too tight, my right hand was strained from the effort. I think I will soon recover fully, though it might require another visit to Drawbridge ice cream before the week is out.
The Williams-Mystic semester is interdisciplinary, fun, full…and rigorous. The professors expect a lot of students. The readings, assignments, in-class exercises and final papers add up to a significant amount of engaging and meaningful work. When I was looking into study away programs, I was anxious about leaving the small classes sizes, stimulating discussions and challenging workload of my liberal arts college for the larger classes and sometimes impersonal academic experience of some international institutions. Williams-Mystic offers a unique field component, attentive faculty and rigorous academics.
Here it is fresh—the unsolicited advice you will ignore until you are busy typing and reading and feeling stressed (but never overwhelmed) in the last weeks of the semester. The following may be my first attempt at the internet classic “listicle,” provided in no particular order:
- Meet early and often with your professors about drafts. They are eager and equipped to provide thoughtful feedback at any stage.
- Start your policy interviews early…start contacting a variety of potential stakeholders several weeks before the deadline.
- Same goes for science research…collect more data than you think you will need.
- Thank your professors and classmates for their support and patience along the way.
- Take time bake cookies. Johnston house made sure to have homemade dough on hand for a quick snack in the evening…
- Finish your independent book for Literature of the Sea well before the paper deadline so that you have plenty of time to dive into analysis.
- Leave time to enjoy the Seaport. It’s a real treat in the Spring semester to watch the blossoming of trees and the bustling of visitors.
- Coordinate your history research with the available hours at the Collections and Research Center. The research support staff are incredibly knowledgeable and can help you identify the resources you need. They generously make available special hours for W-M students, but plan ahead so you can accumulate all those trusty primary sources.
- Don’t forget to do laundry. Some people (not me, of course) forget until they have but one pair of clean underwear. Again, this never happened to me…
- Enjoy the company of your peers and the staff and faculty.
- Organize notes and handouts throughout the semester so that reviewing for exams is not a game of hide and seek.
- Visit Drawbridge Ice Cream (no, they are not paying me to plug them in the blog, but I figure if I do it enough, they might just start)
An exhausted and preemptively nostalgic Spring ‘16 student
One of the integral components of the Williams-Mystic semester is cooperative living. Students live, laugh and COOK with peers. The admissions team arranges students into houses based on a comprehensive survey, which addresses dietary preferences, sleep patterns and personalities. I live in an all vegetarian house and relish to the opportunity to expand my cooking repertoire.
Each house comes with a fully equipped kitchen with all necessary appliances, dishes, silverware and maybe even some spices. If you can’t find the baking pan with the right dimensions, ask another house!
Every week, each house receives a grocery stipend. Then we all make the pilgrimage to the local store for the weekly shop. Each house has a different strategy: some opting for the divide & conquer while others move methodically through the aisles. Some houses go armed with lists, while others take a more organic approach.
Please peruse the gallery of food photos below to get a sense of what’s cooking at Williams-Mystic in a typical week.
For the parents and guardians at home who may be worried that their charges are not getting enough nutritious food, I hope that these photos dispel any anxiety.
For prospective students, you may well find the food you end up eating during your Williams-Mystic semester is better than what’s being served in your cafeteria!
The votes are in: the Williams-Mystic cooperative living and dining arrangement is a recipe for success!
Apologies to my loyal following of readers, all seven of you, for the great delay in posting this. The second half of the semester certainly picks up! Since our return, my peers and I been have been busy hunched over the tables in the Collections Research Center analyzing primary sources for our history papers, tending science projects, calling experts for their insights as we write marine policy research papers and finishing the epic Moby Dick. But enough apologies and excuses…to the adventure!
We landed in New Orleans and made haste toward the French Quarter for a walking tour to learn about the history and literary legacy that saturates every door and corner. We were set free for lunch, which for most included beignets. After strolling through the pulsing city center, we boarded the Natchez, New Orleans’ last true steamboat, for a ride on the Mississippi. The Big Muddy was as big and muddy as advertised. Floating on the mighty river and being able to look down on the roofs of homes below the river level revealed the true need for levees.
We visited the Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond exhibit at the Louisiana State Museum, which integrates personal narratives from the storm alongside stirring images and information to help convey the profoundly devastating impacts of this disaster and its legacy in New Orleans and the nation. Understanding damage wrought by Katrina is essential moving forward to adequately prepare for future disasters to ensure a swift and just response.
From there, we rolled toward the Acme Oyster House. It was a rather loud affair and many of among us tried their hand slurping down oysters. We vegetarians relished in the salad, side options and large ice-cream sundaes.
The next day found us at Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (lovingly known as LUMCON) in Cochodrie. After a short orientation, we donned our sacrificial clothing and launched kayaks and canoes into the marsh. As we floated near the docks, Marlo and Lizzie sensed something was amiss with their brand new kayak. After a chorus of admonishment to just keep going, it became clear that they indeed were headed for the silty bottom. Expertly, they maneuvered the sinking vessel toward the dock and scrambled to safety. Removing the waterlogged kayak revealed a large crack in the side. Our brave survivors stood on the dock pumping their fists shouting “Not today, Gulf, not today!” (Not sure if that last sentence is really how it went down…but please imagine something dramatic if you will).
After Marlo and Lizzie were assigned an intact kayak, we all set out for the salt marsh for a morning of science and squelching through the mud. This was truly a rubber boots on the ground operation. Mike led a brief snail counting activity. the core of our visit to the marsh was to take a sediment sample. Using a massive tube apparatus assembled from home depot parts, ahem I mean a very serious piece of equipment, we drilled into the sediment. Students showed muscle lowering and lifting the tube through thirty feet of sediment.
Back at LUMCOM, we cut open the core to read the layers. In engaging with the core, we discussed the geological role of the Mississippi. The Mississippi River has been delivering sediment to the Southern Gulf for thousands of years, spreading it in “lobes.” The location of delivery shifts slowly over time and the River delivers its sediment elsewhere. Devastating flood events like the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 also inspired the hardening of the river, which means that it can no longer deliver its fertile sediment to the regions that once relied on that input. Louisiana is truly the epicenter for climate change, losing land a frightening rate due the compounding factors of land subsidence and sea level rise.
Following a delicious gumbo lunch, we traveled down the road to speak with an oyster business owner. As she spoke about the ins and outs of running a business, we saw several boats dock and unload tremendous piles of oysters.
We spent the evening twirling and twisting and getting dizzy at the Jolly Inn. We came away a little breathless from hours of dancing to the sounds of the Couche Couche band. I’ll let the blurred photos speak for themselves:
In spite of the night of dancing, we all managed to rise early the next morning to set out for our visit to Grand Isle. On the long drive, we looked over the submerged roads leading to Port Fourchon, an oil hub responsible for receiving a considerable percentage of the nation’s oil. Conversations about oil in Southern Louisiana carry a cruel irony. Many lives and local economies are intimately tied to oil drilling and the associated industries, yet the burning of fossil fuels is contributing to the rising seas that are gnawing at the Gulf Coast, submerging a football field of Louisiana’s land every hour. How to reconcile the importance of oil in the economy and the environmental impacts remains a difficult question that this field seminar encourages us to ruminate upon. As students of the ocean and future educators, scientists, artists, lawyers and citizens, we must know and understand where our energy comes from and the impacts that our consumption has on coastal communities.
After seeing the industrial, austere Port Fouchon, we traveled through low-lying marsh toward Grand Isle. Chris Hernandez, a town official and friend of the program, met us to give us an intimate orientation on this barrier island which is truly on the front lines of storms, rising sea level and oil spills. Since being ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Grand Isle has rebuilt and rebounded. Mr. Hernandez presented a passionate plea that Grand Isle continue to receive federal and state funding to stave off the waves. It was a sobering moment to see the tangible and dramatic impacts of coastal erosion as we stood above a recently constructed beach access point that led into the sea,. Mr. Hernandez welcomed us into his home, more specifically his “Man Cave,” to meet his delightful family for a lunch celebration. Many of us walked away sincerely impressed by the resiliency of the community and touched by the generosity of our host. On the macro-scale, many us are conflicted by the future of developed barrier islands. Katy, our marine policy professor, encouraged us to think critically about the social and policy considerations in this case, and we have continued to ponder these important issues back in Mystic.
We could not leave Grand Isle without a visit to the beach to hear about the history and marine biology of the region, and, of course, the canonical literary work of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. To be in a place and read a work written a century before about that location is a unique opportunity. Of course, the faculty could not lecture without letting us explore the shore.
In the evening, it was a crawfish extravaganza:
We began our final morning with one of ZAM’s world famous Swamp Tours. Bayou’ve got to see this to believe it. We soon said later, alligator (yes, we saw several alligators!) to Zam’s and were on our way.
Unfortunately, we did not have a chance to hear from the environmental justice speaker planned for the afternoon because of inclement weather. Williams-Mystic Spring 16 has been eager to continue the conversation and engage with issues of environmental justice in Southern Louisiana. Field seminars offer an opportunity to engage with different perspectives and new environments, and it is inspiring to see my peers so invested in enhancing the experience suggestions about how to further integrate issues of issues of race, class and gender into the curriculum.
Our short visit to Louisiana was brimming with Mississippi River mud, crawfish, discussion about climate change and exposure to new ideas. I am writing this during “Climate Week” at the Mystic campus, so, of course, the Gulf Coast field seminar is weighing heavily on our minds.
We may be done with the field seminars, but please check in soon for updates about life here in Mystic.
Pacific Northwest Field Seminar Part 2
The Oregon leg of the Pacific Northwest adventure was brimming with new adventures, mini lectures, bonding time in the vans and even more awe.
One of the first stops on what could possibly be described as the world’s best road trip was Bonneville Dam, completed by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1937 under the direction of Franklin Roosevelt. The Bonneville Dam is an exemplary site for learning about the complexities of environmental and energy issues. Bonneville provides hydroelectric to hundreds of thousands of homes and has been working to improve their salmon runs and corridors so as to better assist fish migration. Notably, dams can profoundly impact ecosystems and have the potential to affect salmon migration. In our discussion of Bonneville following our tour guide’s enthusiastic speech regarding the dam, the Williams-Mystic instructors guided us to think critically about all facets of the issue.
After pausing at the salmon hatchery and the breathtaking Multnomah Falls, we arrived at the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria. Here we learned about the tempestuous Columbia Bar where the mighty Columbia River (some 1,200 miles long) collides dramatically with the Pacific…the sight has been nicknamed “the graveyard of the Pacific” for to its deep history of pulling ships under. Today the Coast Guard hires only the most qualified bar and river pilots to guide vessels across the treacherous bar and through the thin channel. These unsung experts make possible safe navigation and the transport of goods inland on the River. At night, we slept aboard a the decommissioned Columbia lightship, which had been used for decades to mark the bar.
On the way to our next destination the next morning, we paused at Cannon Beach. Here I will let a photo illustrate the wind because my words would fail to capture the force:
In between the fascinating site visits and accompanying lectures, there was a considerable amount of transit time. “Van time,” like “ship time” takes on a different quality. Hours in the van are prime for learning more about each other and the places we are visiting or passing through. While a few of my peers could be found napping, I refused to close my eyes lest I miss a moment of the glorious scenery rolling by: deep green forests of firs and ferns and dramatic cliffs with white waves crashing and foaming at the base: the Pacific Northwest is like a whole other world. Truly, everything just seems more epic on the West Coast!
We met up with Susan Schnurr (F’06), a PhD student at Oregon State University, who explained the tsunami planning initiatives in Pacific coastal communities. After her presentation, we had a chance to try the tsunami evacuation route by following the signs to high ground. Unfortunately, some in our group were not fast enough to beat the terrifying rush of water that was (hypothetically) nipping at our heels… After this high-octane exercise, we sought refuge in the aquarium where I shared some deep soulful eye contact with the sea otter. Fun fact: one sea otter at the aquarium eats $17,000 worth of seafood annually– otterly expensive!
Then it was back on the road. After driving along the breathtaking cliffs, we paused at the Sea Lion cave, which is in fact the largest sea cave in North America…you enter through a gift shop and walk down the path hugging a cliff to an old elevator that takes you down 200 feet to the cave. As the door opens you are greeted by the loud barking of the hundred or so stellar sea lions that are stretched across the rocks. There is a metal fence between the humans and the sea lions, but the pinnipeds pay no mind to us. This site presents a fascinating opportunity to discuss the tension between private ownership of an ostensibly public access point on the coast. Again, these on-site discussions push us to think critically about complexity on interdisciplinary matters.
After the sea lion cave, we visited the expansive Umpqua dunes (some 4,000 acres), which looked like a rolling desert that extends some 3 miles from the ocean. There was an abrupt transition from the evergreens to the sand… quite a sight for someone used to the sloping banks of the East Coast. At the top of a dune, we paused for a fabulous lecture from Professor Marlo Stein (Smith ’17) about dune formation. A light rain came down, but soon it cleared and a rainbow emerged to frame our impromptu class.
We then made our way to the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology in Coos Bay for our last couple days on the West Coast. With OIMB as our base, we visited South Slough, the first National Estuarine Research Reserve, to learn about the difficult task of wetland restoration. In the afternoon, we also free time to hike and explore the area…
With Mike leading the charge the next morning, we explored the rocky inter-tidal zone in Cape Arago National Park and found a multifarious world of life clinging to the rocks: starfish, chiton, anemones and all manner of other species I can’t spell. And for the first time in the 20 years of W-M visiting the site, it HAILED! For maybe 12 minutes were all stood like sentinels facing away from the rather large pellets blowing towards us.
Our time in the Pacific Northwest had been at times wet, at times windy, but every moment had been thoroughly engaging.
After a week or so back in Mystic, I think we are all finally dry. While some of us may still be unpacking from the last trip, we must turn our attention toward that next adventure and packing list. In a few short days, we will be departing for our third and final field seminar in Louisiana…
Pacific Northwest Field Seminar Report PART ONE
During field seminars, we are constantly in motion. Every minute is scheduled so we can embrace fully all that each place has to offer, thus this post seeks only to provide a slice, a glimpse of the adventure. A detailed account would surely stretch on beyond comfortably reading length…
Shortly after landing in Washington State, we mobilized “to the vans!” (a phrase that became our battle cry) and made our way into the city. We wasted no time, immediately ascending the Space Needle. From 605 feet up, we had a birdeye’s view of Seattle, our home for the next two days. After a few minutes of awe, we were down the needle for a presentation from our guest lecturer about the geologic identity of the region and some of the threats (volcanoes, earthquakes, the usual) facing a city built on the geologically active Pacific Rim. Only once we had been assured of the low risk of one of the catastrophic events striking during our visit, we set out to explore the city. Professor Mike Nishisaki led many of us on a pilgrimage to visit the blooming cherry blossoms on the University of Washington campus. After gawking for a while, we finally dispersed in search of dinner.
We had been warned that our umbrellas would mark us as tourists…and soon learned why. While the first hours in Seattle had greeted us with sun, we shortly became acquainted with the rain for which the area is famous. It’s not the vertical plump drops of the East Coast, but rather a wetness in the air. Thus we kept raingear or “foulies” close at hand during our visit!
All days on field seminars start early…there is so much to do! The first day, however, we were granted the privilege of sleeping in until 7:30. While some hearty souls rose earlier and went on dawn runs through the city or combed the streets in search of quality coffee (very difficult to find from what I hear), others of us treasured the sleep. After breakfast at our home of the College Inn we once again charged “to the vans” and reconvened at the Port of Seattle to hear a presentation about environmental initiatives and restoration projects nears the port, which has been subject to decades of development and industrial pollutants.
From there, we joined the Crowley team for a ride aboard a tugboat! The whole Crowley staff were incredibly friendly and fielded our many questions. Since we had already enjoyed an aerial view of Seattle, it was a treat to add another perspective of the skyline from the water. From the bow we could also watch the industrial cranes move containers in the artful cargo ship choreography. One of the many things that makes the Williams-Mystic program so special is that it discusses the practical application of maritime issues. We all come with an academic background, but to see and understand the shipping structures that supply us with the goods and commodities we use everyday is an important practical complement to our education.
Having built up an appetite, we eagerly descended on Pike Place Market to graze the delicious options. For those unfamiliar with Pike Place Market, it is a vibrant center brimming with flowers, seafood, fresh produce, baked goods, and crafts, and, bustling with tourists and locals alike. After lunch (and taking full advantage of the free samples), we left the market and a made a stop at the infamous gum wall, which has re-accumulated an impressive amount of gum after being scrubbed clean just this past fall.
Then Seattle became our classroom for our walking tour, which involved many lectures about the historical, geological and political dimensions of the city. The mini on-site lecture is foundational to the field seminar: place-based learning at its finest! Many us of carried around journals poised to jot down notes.
One of the highlights for students and faculty alike is the alumni mini-reunion dinner, which was held at the Center for Wooden Boats. We enjoyed learning about the varied post-Williams-Mystic trajectories. Among the Seattle alums in attendance: there was a Surgeon with the United States Army, a NOAA specialist, and two PhD students at the University of Washington. I know many of us in Spring ‘16 look forward to becoming part of the Williams-Mystic network and one day holding conversations with current students…
The next morning held a fascinating visit to Fisherman’s Terminal to learn about the rich history of this dock that hosts some 600 vessels, of varying sizes and designs. We then enjoyed some quality bonding time in the vans as we made our way to Oregon. Our evening excursion was to Powell’s Books in Portland. So, I will be frank here, I had heard the hype about this being the crème de la crème of bookstores, but will admit that I was a little skeptical…After picking up a store map(!!) at the front desk, it became clear that the rumors were true. Some students made a beeline for a section while others meandered through the rooms and stacks. No matter what the strategy, soon everyone had a few books in their arms. For a while, the ocean and nature writing sections were a bit crowded with Williams-Mystic students. Whether we tracked down a book that had been eluding us for a while or stumbled across a hidden gem, most found some fantastic selections. Sarah (Middlebury ’17) is excited to have found some promising texts for her thesis on fishermen’s wives. Some of us were forced to return some of our selections to the shelves because buying the books also meant fitting them into our duffle bags…
*Please check back in a few days for Part Two: more about the Oregon leg of our Pacific Northwest Adventure, or “Moregon” for short.
May it please the court: my name is Rachel Earnhardt and I am here to represent the Williams-Mystic program. I urge the court to declare Williams-Mystic is the best maritime studies program in these great United States of America. If I may begin with the immortal words of the Constitution…
Oh gee whiz, apologies for the formality! This past week we have all grown accustomed to speaking in court-appropriate language for our Moot Court proceedings. I won’t reveal the details of our case for the sake of prospective students, but I can say that we spent the week engaging with issues of public beach access and private property rights.
Marine Policy expert Katy Hall had divided the Spring ’16 class into two opposing teams, and encouraged us to meet early and often with our groups to craft our arguments. For many, the conception process for the argument included: writing, sharing, changing, practicing, changing, editing and then adjusting one more time. This week held many long nights preparing for the courtroom proceedings, at times with legal guidance provided by Counselors Katy Hall and Brian Wagner. Truly the whole week was an exercise in collaboration, adaptability and endurance.
On Friday morning we gathered in the lounge to look at muffins we were too nervous to eat. Dressed for success, we milled about quietly. Some of us slipped out to practice our talking points in front of the bathroom mirror one last time, but finally we all filed into the courtroom (well, it was the science classroom…let’s just pretend). Draped in a black robe, Judge Derek Langhauser (W-M Fall ‘82) entered a few moments later. And thus it began.
With sweaty palms, we each took a turn at the podium to present the case we had so meticulously prepared. This was not a chance to simply recite a speech, rather we had to be versatile and respond to numerous interruptions and questions from the judge. Soon it became clear that the anxiety, which had weighed so heavily in the room early on, was not necessary. The hours of practice and late nights had equipped all of us for the courtroom. (Secretly, I hoped someone would be bold enough to break out into a rap from the Hamilton soundtrack to help make her or his case.)
Even though the class had been split into two factions, I could feel nothing but proud of all my shipmates for presenting their arguments so persuasively and maneuvering so well to answer questions. I won’t spotlight any performance in particular because even though we each spoke individually, it was a team effort. The moot court exercise is not meant to encourage us to become lawyers, but rather aims to equip us each with the skills and confidence to argue any case effectively. As Judge Langhauser emphasized, the case we argued is a microcosm for discussing and weighing different values and rights, and informs conversations about a variety of contemporary legal issues.
Had someone stopped by the Carlton lounge any night last week, it may have seemed that we all lived and breathed Moot Court…but life went on here in Mystic. We are getting into the rhythm of classes and skills and jobs. Beyond the routine, we have also appreciated several field trips. In the last two weeks, lab excursions have taken us to explore nearby marshes, beaches and tide pools.
On a coastal bus tour, we enjoyed learning about the historical, geological and biological identities of local landmarks from Glenn, Lisa and Mike. While flying to field seminars in the Caribbean, West Coast and Gulf Coast may steal the thunder, I am inspired by all the places we can visit with a short van ride. Mystic Seaport, the town of Mystic and the surrounding area are proving to an incredibly unique and engaging classroom.
This upcoming week we will be turning in research proposals for marine policy and oceanography or marine ecology. All four of the Williams-Mystic courses invite students to conduct original research throughout the semester as part of the culminating project. The emphasis on original research is a hallmark of the program and students are encouraged to make use all the resources available here in the Seaport and Mystic area.
It is always a treat to see the moment of epiphany as someone finds the idea for a research project. Whether working with mussels or GIS software or microplastics, my peers are gearing up to conduct some fascinating science research. In the coming weeks, I am looking forward to hearing about a wide variety of project ideas for all the different courses.
Right now, we are preparing for the Pacific Northwest field seminar at the end of the week. Please do check back soon for updates from the West Coast!
February 14th, 2016
We began Tuesday, February 9th aboard the Corwith Cramer, in port in St. Croix, where the sun was like butter melting on our skin… and ended the day in a gelid parking lot in Mystic, CT. Despite the abrupt weather transition, it was good to be back at home base.
At the risk of being too brisk in my account, I will attempt to capture the whirlwind of our last days at sea. On February 6th, we sailed into Francis Drake Bay and anchored for the night near St. John. We disembarked from the Corwith Cramer for the first time and found our land legs on the shore of the Virgin Islands National Park, where we enjoyed a sandy lecture from Lisa and Mike about the geologic and biological identity of the surrounding islands. Soon, we were all back in the water, this time equipped with flippers and snorkel masks. As a first time snorkeler, I was truly in awe of the multifarious world that lay just below the water’s surface. With excited waving of arms, we gestured each other towards a variety of creatures including: a stingray, an octopus, a sea turtle, barracuda and countless schools of fish. Reluctantly we left the beach and shook the sand from our shoes to join the ship again. Without delay, we sailed off anchor (without the use of the “D-sail” aka the motor) out of the bay and found ourselves once again rocking and rolling on the sea. Over the next few watches, we enjoyed the now familiar routine of the ship: setting sails, cleaning the deck, plotting positions, eating yummy meals, completing boat checks…
Over the course of the voyage, members of Spring ’16 had been learning a great many things about maneuvering, and the crew felt we were ready to call the shots for a “buoy chase.” Each watch was to have a turn steer the ship during the drill. The objective was simple: recover the “fenders” (inflated tubes that protect the ship as she comes into port), which had been thrown over. Nearby, a chain of green islands rose from the sea. It was a calm, clear day and the only other vessel on the horizon was a small fishing boat. The setting seemed perfect for a friendly competition. C-Watch bravely took command, but nothing could have prepared them for what happened next. After some effective maneuvering that brought the boat just meters from the buoys, a few waves pushed them momentarily out of view. Many of us stood at the rail scanning the rolling waves. Hark! We finally spotted the white buoys bobbing some distance away…only to realize that the fishing boat had noticed them too. From behind a pair of binoculars, first mate Scott announced that indeed the boat was collecting our buoys. Yikes! With a dramatic flash of motor, the boat turned and began to speed away leaving boiling tail of white water in their wake. When it became apparent that the boat was not going to return the buoys, Scott and Kelsey set off in the lifeboat in hot pursuit. The rest of the crew waited anxiously for nearly an hour as we lost sight of our small boat on the horizon. Finally, the rescue team could be seen heading back towards the Mothership. Squinting, one could see the white peeking over and it was clear that their mission had been successful—the buoys had been recovered safely! Triumphantly, our heroes boarded the ship, fenders in hand. Scott and Kelsey had traveled almost two nautical miles to meet the fishing boat, which had picked up the fenders apparently unaware that they were being used in a training drill. Deciding that this accidental piracy on the high seas was enough adventure for the day, the captain announced this the end of the buoy drill…
After catching our breath, we began Field Day. Armed with sponges, squeegees and toothbrushes (only those belonging to A-Watch), we chased away the dirt and grime from every nook and cranny of the ship. This merry cleaning occasion is a way of giving back to the ship, who had taken such good care of us for ten days.
We eventually anchored near St. John. Following dinner, the whole crew mustered on deck for the “Swizzle”—a toast, celebration and talent show. Professional crew, faculty and students took the stage to share their talents. Kenny (SUNY Maritime ’18) thrilled us with a pirate impression. Stu (Roanoke ’18) tickled our ears with an original rap. Rachel (Wesleyan ’17) served as MC for the event, and word on the street is that she totally crushed it with some clever puns. This event was a splendid moment to pause and reflect and, of course, to thank the professional crew for all their hard work and patience. Before long, it was all hands on deck to pull the ship in motion for the last leg of the journey.
The next morning, we docked at St. Croix and said our goodbyes.
I am writing this summary from shore and finding it difficult to separate one adventure and even one day from the next. At sea, the sunrises and twilights, the watches and wake-ups, the meals and routines all blur together against the same blue backdrop, and the whole experience can feel so wonderfully timeless. Though at the same time, being on a ship means that your hours, even your minutes are meticulously scheduled. For me, things truly become timeless when my ostensibly water-resistant watch accompanied me below the water’s surface to gaze in awe at a sea turtle during snorkeling. From then on, the blank watch screen forced me to rely on “ship time” in the most literal sense, and I lived at the mercy of my shipmates to wake me and relieve me from the helm. I enjoyed this timeless feeling the most at night, especially when stationed on lookout. Looking up at the dome of sky—a blue-black canvas poked through with starlight that stretched to meet the watery horizon on all sides—was a wonderfully humbling experience. Back on land, time marches on.
Following the voyage, we welcomed a brief pause, which included sleeping (without the fear of being woken for watch), nursing sunburns and calling friends and family to try to explain the previous ten days. Then we dove right back into the Williams-Mystic curriculum on Friday, February 12th with a special lecture in Marine Policy from Jim Carlton, director emeritus of the Williams-Mystic Program and world-renowned biologist. He discussed the policy issues related to bio-invasions and the changing face of legislation regarding ballast water, which serves as a major vector for hitchhiking species. The tiny zebra mussel, he emphasized, is to blame (or thank) for setting in motion much of the modern policy responses to invasive species. (If you are unfamiliar with the saga (cue Jaws music): it is 1982 in Great Lakes, and a Michigan resident turns on there tap to find no water is flowing…the zebra mussel had so thoroughly coated the walls, they clogged the pipes!)
During a break in class, Sophie (URI ’17) Amanda (Pacific U ‘18) Lizzie (Millersville ‘17) and Amelia (Williams ‘17) presented what the first “policy snack” of the semester. For those not in the loop, “policy snack” is a delightful tradition in which each house is invited (required) to prepare a thematic snack for Marine Policy class. If Katy Hall’s irrepressible energy and passion for marine policy were not enough to entice you to rise every Friday, the snack tradition adds the extra incentive.
In the afternoon, we selected maritime skills and had the option to sign up for a part time job working with Williams-Mystic faculty or Mystic Seaport staff. The maritime skills, a unique cornerstone of the WM curriculum, include sea chanteys, squad, shipsmithing, basic watercraft skills and canvas work. You can read more about the options here: https://mystic.williams.edu/academics/skills/.
In addition, there are a variety of jobs available for students seeking research experience or hands-on work with boats. Erica (Williams ’18) is positively thrilled to start working as a marine ecology research assistant with Professor Mike Nishizaki. Athanasia (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ’17) is looking forward to honing her boat maintenance and repairs skills working on the yachts on exhibit.
For now, WM Spring ’16 are settling back into life in Mystic. As noted, the transition from the Caribbean to cold and snowy New England has been a little rough. Hot chocolate helps; Sarah (Middlebury ’17) has been sampling the downtown coffee shops and bakeries to track down the best beverage. This week holds the first full class schedule and we are all eager to dive into the policy, literature, history and science, the interdisciplinary curriculum that lured us here.
You may have noticed a slightly hipper tone and an abundance of grammatical errors in this entry…indeed, the author has changed. My name is Rachel and I arm-wrestled Mauro for the job of blogger, so you will be suffering through my writing from here on out. I am a junior pursuing a double major in history and environmental studies at Wesleyan University, which is just down the road. I hail from Raleigh, NC, but obviously have discovered a certain affinity for Connecticut winters. Over the past month, I have had the privilege of getting to know my thoughtful, talented and passionate peers while hoisting sails into the wind, chatting over the dinner table, and learning in classes on ship and shore. I am thoroughly looking forward to spending three more months with this fantastic group of souls as we immerse ourselves in all the program has to offer. In writing this blog, I hope to share a small glimpse of the truly unique experience that is Williams-Mystic.