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Zen & the Art of Sanity Maintenance at Mystic

May 19, 2015
The number of days left at Williams-Mystic is in the single digits. Papers have been written, sleep has been lost, moms have been called, and many coffees have been consumed. I feel like I say this every post, but I cannot believe how quickly time has flown by. In Weeks 13-17, it is easy to get so wrapped up in your work that you forget to appreciate how gorgeous Mystic is in spring, and everything this place has to offer.
My advice to future Williams-Mystic Sea Cows:
-Take a day to enjoy the Seaport as a visitor. We spend so much time in the Seaport for classes and skills that sometimes, you can forget to really enjoy the place. Bring a frisbee or a book to the green, eat at the Galley, take a water tour on the Liberty, and watch Mark play the accordion while he sings chanties.
-There’s so much good food around here! My biggest mistake may also be the amount of money I spent on food this semester…Kitchen Little brunches, Zhang’s on a snow day, and Five Guys lunches with friends were a lot of happy moments.
-Hang out with each other! Once you get all wrapped up in your work, it’s easy to isolate yourself in your room, or with your housemates. Invite other houses over for dinner, have picnics and barbecues, and go to the beach together. One of my favorite Williams-Mystic memories will be a Friday afternoon cookout, full of games, laughter, and great food (I really like food, okay?). Also, get to know everyone. People are people, so sometimes you may not agree or have everything in common. However, I have had meaningful, positive interactions with every single person in my program, and I think I’m all the better for it. There are so many people who will surprise you, and your next best friend just might be from Mystic.
-Talk to your professors & staff. Even though I attend a liberal arts college which I chose in part because of the close relationships I could form with the faculty, the amount of time you will spend with your professors and staff here is unparalleled. You will spend time with them in six-hour van rides, at cajun dance halls, at the beach, and onboard the Corwith Cramer. They are entertaining, supportive, and you can call them by their first names because they’re just so cool. Once you’re back from field seminars, it can be easy to only think of them as “Professors” and “Administrators” again, but maintain the field seminar spirit. Drop by just to say hi, tell them something interesting, vent to them about a problem, look for advice, or invite them to a house dinner. They want nothing more than to help you get the most out of Williams-Mystic.
-Don’t forget everyone back home or at school! It’s also pretty easy to be so wrapped up in the Mystic experience that you forget about the world that exists beyond here. However, it’s also important to maintain existing relationships. Your might need a non-Mystic friend to listen to what you’re going through, or you just need to hear a joke from your roommate at school to get you through a paper. That’s okay! Also, please call your family every once in a while. After the Cramer, they’ll have already gone nearly 10 days without hearing from you.
-Don’t be afraid to put the books down. Doing well in school might be a huge priority for you, but some of the best moments I’ve had at Mystic happened after I closed a book or decided to finish an assignment later on so I could go on an unexpected adventure. Some Sundays are so beautiful that it would be a shame if you didn’t spend it sailing, kayaking, or taking a bike ride. Some of my favorite nights here have been mid-week birthday parties.
-Explore! If you have a car or car access, also get to know the surrounding area. Waterford is great for shopping and offers a different variety of restaurants. Providence is a great city with a ton to offer. Boston and New York are close enough for an overnight or weekend visit. Visit Naragansett or Newport Beach in Rhode Island. Have dinner with your housemate at their home. There is more to Williams-Mystic than…well, Mystic.
-Take it easy. Your life can change while you’re at Mystic, some ways beyond your control, some not. There may be applications, jobs, and internships to think about while you’re here, and you may spend a lot of time preoccupied with stresses beyond your control. Get a pedicure at the nail salon next to the Wokery. Go to the Crystal Mall and sit in the massage chairs at Brookstone. Get froyo with your friends. Sing karaoke or go contra dancing. Or have a Game of Thrones watching party. It’s okay to not be “ON” all the time, and we’re all going through the same things. Sometimes you just need a day off. Do what you have to do to recharge and get re-energized.
-Understand you can’t do it ALL! There is simply not enough time in the world to take advantage of all the opportunities that come your way. I wish I could hike, learn to surf, and eat pastries at the same time, but you’re just one person. Do what you can in the time you have, and add the rest to your bucket list!
Other advice: have a chore chart. Pack, randomly separate half the stuff you’ve packed, and that’s about what you’ll actually use while here. Do fun house events! I won radio tickets to see the Harlem Globetrotters this semester, and while at 20, we were pretty much the oldest non-parents there, we had a great time. Get up early to shower first. Write goofy notes on your housemates’ doors. Let go of your anxieties and apprehensions about what your semester away is supposed to look like or what should happen. You are going to have the time of your life if you allow yourself.

A Day at Mystic–Now in Maritime Hours!

April 20, 2015

What’s an ordinary day at Mystic like?

0800 – First alarm to get up and get a head start on the day goes off
0842 – Time to really get up!
0853 – Grab housemate and walk on over to class.
0858 – Be greeted by two pirates (Because it’s Pirate Day at the Seaport, duh!)
0859 – Head down below the Charles W. Morgan for a tutorial with Rich King over Moby Dick
1000 – Class is over. :( But the weather is so nice, it’s so tempting not to just go home.
1003 – Stop inside Labaree House to eat a staff member’s candy.
1004 – Check mail. There isn’t any for you today!
1006 – Back home! Bat your eyelashes at your housemate so they’ll cook you some eggs.
1015 – Devour eggs. Hug your housemate. Chat.
1054 – Where did the hour go? It’s time for History class!
1100 – Meet at the skeleton of the ship Australia, where a classmate will be giving a presentation.
1103 – The presentation pauses as a visiting parent and her two baby pirates walk by. They are simultaneously scary and adorable.
1115 – Class is held in the Olin Stephens room, and Glenn is looking mighty fancy today.
1215 – Class is over. Time for lunch!
1221 – Ask your housemate if whatever leftovers you want to eat “still smell good.”
1234 – Watch a half hour of your favorite sitcom.
1304 – Power Nap
1321 – Off to skills you go!
1330 – 1530 – Sail around the Mystic River on a beautiful, 68-degree day. Nobody capsizes today, which marks three sessions since the last boating incident!
1543 – Grab ice cream with your Skills mates. It is delicious.
1558 – Whew, home again. You’ll be ready to start your homework at exactly 1600.
1602 – Dangit, you missed it! 1615 it is.
1635 – Homework time! And TV time, and chatting time, and nap time.
1900 – Dinner with housemates!
1900 – 2100 – Impromptu living room dance party with your housemates.
2103 – Shower. Ponder life’s big questions.
2130 – Go to the house across the street to borrow something. You stay long after the desired object is obtained.
2255 – Okay, you really must head home.
2316 – The phone rings. Katy Robinson Hall is here to save the day – or at least, your project.
2342 – That’s it. No more doing work. It is TV TIME.
0017 – Fall asleep with Netflix on. Your housemate comes by to turn off your light and close your door. Aww. They wish they could say the same about seeing what you look like when you’re asleep.

Coming soon to a court near you…

March 27, 2015
After many, many hours of prep, making the MSC our second home, and fielding practice questions from every direction, Moot Court is finally over.

 We argued a major beach access case from the State of Maine, which reached the State Supreme Court, Bell v. Town of Wells. We divided into two teams with the Town & State Government on one side, and the property owners on the other side.

 I was surprised by how complex the case was; a huge component of this was trying to decide what the worth of the public’s right to enjoy the inter-tidal lands by the water, versus the right of a private property owner to keep others off their property. It was difficult to have to argue one side because both perspectives had their own merits. I ended up in “court” representing the land owners.

 It was fun to see everything we’d been learning in Marine Policy up to this point come together, and act out a real life application of all the issues we’ve been discussing. I felt nervous representing the landowners, because I could completely understand where the townspeople were coming from, but that’s what makes these issues so exciting; they can easily go one way or the other, when faced with the facts and emotions at stake. By the end of court prep, I found my sympathies with the landowners! It amazed me how easily you might change your mind when you just give the other side a chance.

 I loved watching my peers argue their cases, butting heads with each other, and at times, the judge (looking at you, Katy Hall!). But at the end of the day, we were relieved to throw off our suits and not worry if our roommate eavesdropped on the arguments we were practicing.

 So, who won? The landowners reigned victorious once again…but there’s a chance to reclaim a victory for the town/state, F’15!

S15 Moot Court

A Pacific Northwest Photostory

March 23, 2015

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, so here are a ton to represent just how long it’d take me to write about our trip to the Pacific Northwest:

The Space Needle is not very needle-y, it turns out.


​Oh, hi Seattle.


​On the Waterfront (feat. my chipped Mystic Green nail polish!)


​Me steering a tugboat.





​Other people steering a tugboat. (One of these is not like the other)


​Making new friends in Pike Place Market.


Near Pike Place and somewhere among the other countless pieces of gum is Williams Mystic S’15’s mark! A crew member from the Cramer already found us! Keep an eye out if you’re ever in the area.


​Yep, that’s just a volcano casually chilling (heh) in the background as we begin our road trip.


​We ran into one of our stewards, Katherine, from the Cramer at Powell’s Books in Portland, OR! And like the good steward she is, she brought cookies. They were delicious. I ate a lot of them…


Crown Point for our first Oregon morning: ​A view worth a 6:30 AM breakfast.


​Multnomah Falls, Oregon.


​Glenn & Jim run into old Mystic Seaport friends by chance. It really is a small world!


​Hello, Pacific Ocean! It looks less like California now and more like the Northwest!




​A “desert” in the PNW. Is there anything they don’t have?!


​”Sciencing” it up in some tide pools.


​Jim Carlton establishes a portable snail exhibit.


And one last view from the road.

I had so much fun exploring, singing Taylor Swift and Usher with professors, and learning the ins and outs of a world I’d never experienced. It seemed like we had a thousand trips in one. It was also crazy how many Williams-Mystic alums and friends we encountered although we were literally on the opposite coast. Plus, come on, van life is just about the best thing ever.

S’15 kicks off…again!

March 5, 2015

Hi everyone! Now that we’re back onshore, Rich and Catie are settling back into their routines and I’m settling into mine. My name is Rani and I’ll be your blogger for this semester! I’m a Political Science and English double major at Williams College, concentrating in Leadership Studies. It’s hard to believe we’re six weeks into the Williams-Mystic program, but we’re right on the heels of our next trip!

It seemed like I’d just gotten here before we jetsetted off to Puerto Rico. During our first day in Puerto Rico, we got to explore the beautiful, historical, and (most importantly) warm Old San Juan. The next day, we were ready to set sail (or learn how to). As we boarded the SSV Corwith Cramer, and I looked up the 85-foot masts and looked at the ship that would carry a crew of 32 people, I worried that I bit off more than I could chew. I can’t even really remember spending any time on a boat, let alone an enormous wooden vessel!

With the help of experienced and amazing crew members, Williams-Mystic S’15 came out on top. We learned how to tie some nautical knots, name and set sails, keep watch, and steer a ship, among many other things. Protip for future Williams-Mystic students: the best place to sing your heart out is during the bow watch of dawn watch. We were fed tremendously well on the ship, and after I got my sea legs, being rocked to sleep on a boat became very comforting. When we weren’t on watch, we spent a lot of time chatting with friends, journaling about our adventures, exploring the ship, and connecting with the ocean. Our phenomenal ten days at sea ended with one last night at anchor, where the whole crew celebrated our voyage with a showcase of the musical, theatrical, and whimsical talents onboard.


 Our crew on the SSV Corwith Cramer!

I can’t speak for others, but what was most meaningful for me was challenging myself to do things I never thought I’d be able to do. I got the chance to conquer my fears of heights, the open water, and microscopic creatures that look like characters from the movie Alien. I It feels like zero time has passed between our last departure. But when I stop to think about it, in the time since, I’ve grown closer to a great group of people I may never have gotten to interact with otherwise, learned how to conduct science experiments, dive into marine policy, look at artifacts that are centuries old, and read some fascinating stories about the sea.

Still, after a relentless winter, it will be exciting to enjoy the milder West Coast weather when we go to our Pacific Northwest trip. Seattle, here we come!

Bio Bay and Back Again

February 13, 2015

Wednesday 11 February 2015
50 nm north of Puerto Rico, sailing in 7,500 meters, above some of the deepest water in the entire North Atlantic

A-watch has the deck now as the rest of the ship finishes up their science projects or catches a nap before this morning’s science “conference,” during which students will present and interpret the data we collected during our three primary stations during our voyage: one in deep water, one in slope water, and one in more shallow, coastal water. Rani Onyango (Williams) is at the wheel as I write, steering the ship. The other members of her watch, Aramis Sanchez (Williams), Kevin Ferreira (SUNY Maritime), Stella Klema (Smith), and Emily Volkmann (Smith) are up forward with the first mate and their assistant scientist striking, setting, and adjusting sails in order to alter course from sailing downwind, to a more westerly course that is closer to the wind.  As of this morning we have used the engine for only about five hours, and most of that time was coming in our out of port. As we spend more time onboard, standing lookout, steering the ship, and working the sails, the awe of moving this 258-ton steel ship with only the power of the wind is starting to sink in.

This is Richard King, and I teach the “Literature of the Sea” course with Williams-Mystic. Tuesday morning we were at anchor in Sun Bay, Vieques. We had done a lot of reading before we arrived to learn about the controversial history of the US Naval presence in Vieques. Much of the island was an exercise ground for bombing practice until a civilian was killed in the late 1990s. We had discussed how the island had been occupied by plantations worked by slaves to grow sugar. Like so many of the other islands in this area, it had been deforested for this labor-intensive crop. We had also read about “Bio Bay” in Vieques, a small inlet that boasts some of the highest concentration of glowing bioluminescence in the world. So when charismatic Mark Martin, a field scientist and educator for the Vieques Conservation and Historical Trust joined us for dinner and spoke to the group about his over twenty years on the island, his experience and perspective had particular resonance.

After Mark’s introduction, we went back ashore in the ship’s small boats. Through the dark we rode in a small school bus along an unlit narrow road. Branches clicked into the windows. We came to the launch at Bio Bay. Here we got on an electric boat and powered into the center. We were extraordinarily fortunate to have Mark as one of our guides on the boat. The bioluminescence glowed blue-green in every direction. A strong breeze blew whitecaps and every wavelet glowed. The wake of the boat was brilliant blue-green and every ripple from the hull glowed, too. Bioluminescent darts flickered constantly, revealing the shape of fish skittering away from the ship-some tiny, some large, some lumbering, some like sparks of lightning under the surface. The crew thumped on the boat to reveal still more bioluminescence from ripples and fish skittering out from underneath. Meanwhile a clear sky above was packed with stars from horizon to horizon. There was a lot to take in! And this was compounded with the overt complications of an increasing eco-tourism presence in the bay and the discussion of an unprecedented die-off about a year ago, where the bay went simply dark for a few months. The primary organism that emits the bioluminescence, a dinoflagellate the size of pen tip, which normally thrives here within the mangrove shores in fantastic concentrations, had simply disappeared. Fortunately for us and the local business owners, Bio Bay did come back toward the middle of last year. Through public funding and citizen science projects, Martin has been trying to find out the reason for the die-off. He took us around to his monitoring sights, and he recruited our students to help with sampling.

We’re back at sea now, though, still processing that experience as we take in brand new ones. “Ready on the jib halyard?” shouts the chief mate to A Watch-and everyone now knows exactly where this is and where to go. Science presentations will be later this morning followed by classes on weather at sea, Melville’s understanding of plankton, and a tutorial on how to splice and whip rope. Tonight will be our last full night at sea under sail before we head back to San Juan to anchor.

Before our visit to Bio Bay, Mark Martin of the Vieques Conservation Trust speaks to the ship's company about the intersections between field science and public policy on the island. That's Tom Roseblatt from Bowdoin College in the background.

Before our visit to Bio Bay, Mark Martin of the Vieques Conservation Trust speaks to the ship’s company about the intersections between field science and public policy on the island. That’s Tom Roseblatt from Bowdoin College in the background.

Members of A Watch set the jib as the sun rises. Stella Klema (Smith College) tails the line off the pin, while Kevin Ferreira (SUNY Maritime) and Emily Volkmann (Smith College) work together to sweat the halyard.

Members of A Watch set the jib as the sun rises. Stella Klema (Smith College) tails the line off the pin, while Kevin Ferreira (SUNY Maritime and Emily Volkmann (Smith College) work together to sweat the halyard.

The Offshore Adventures Continue

February 11, 2015

Monday 9 February 2015
~10 nm south of Sun Bay, Vieques

Our equipment aboard the Corwith Cramer constantly monitors sea water temperature, salinity, surface currents, and depth, but the majority of our scientific sampling mission is over, now that we have been sailing for four nights and sampled the geology, physics, chemistry, and biology at three major “super” stations. The next stage is that we are divided into groups to analyze and interpret what we’ve found.

We are currently approaching our anchorage at Sun Bay, which is on the southern side of Vieques, a small island to the southeast of Puerto Rico. We are now in our routines. After eating their breakfast (pineapple, grapefruit, biscuits, and gravy!), C Watch took the deck and is getting ready to furl the sails as we approach the anchorage. B Watch, having sailed the ship from 0300-0700, came off the deck, had their breakfast, and most headed to their bunks to catch up on sleep.

This is Catie Alves, and I am the Marine Science Teaching Assistant and Lab Manager with Williams-Mystic.  I was on “dawn watch” with B Watch this morning, and seeing the sunrise over the water with the students after a night of sailing is one of my favorite moments aboard the Corwith Cramer. I’ve been most impressed by how everyone is starting to feel more comfortable on the ship.  Yesterday was the Pin Chase, which was a friendly competition between watches to test everyone’s knowledge of the pins and their paired lines.  One person from each watch was shown the name of a line, such as the fisherman staysail sheet, and they raced to find the location on the ship where the line was “made fast,” or secured to the ship on a pin.  The students worked closely with their mates and assistant scientists to prepare for the Pin Chase, and they all did a great job!  In the end, the members of C Watch won the Pin Chase!

Now that everyone has demonstrated their developing proficiency at handling the ship, we’re spending the next day at anchor in Sun Bay, Vieques. We plan to go ashore this afternoon to snorkel and then this evening to tour the famous Bio Bay and its extraordinary concentration of bioluminescence! I’m looking forward to the adventures that await us in these next few days aboard the Corwith Cramer.  Time to strike some sails!


The victorious C Watch – Nathan Whittle (Williams), Gar Secrist  (SEA Assistant Scientist), Lilia Trissler (Wheaton), Sasha Langesfeld (Williams), Kathryn Wheeler (UMass Amherst), Kevin Hernandez (Williams), and Darcy Cogswell (Trinity), proud of their knowledge of the ship’s lines!


Lilia Trissler (Wheaton) steers the Corwith Cramer toward Sun Bay. Captain Virginia Land McGuire (Williams-Mystic S’90!) gave directions to Lilia and then Darcy Cogswell to sail the ship all the way into the safe part of the bay and dropped the anchor without using the engine.


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