Skip to content

0 to 60 – The Saga of Life Aboard a Ship

February 7, 2016

Friday, 5 February 2016
Time: 1501
Position: 18° 06.32’ N by 064° 29.96’ W
Image Caption:
Course Ordered: 015
Speed: 2.2 knots
Weather / Wind: winds from the SW(!) at 4 to 6 knots;

Greetings from the Cramer, about 17 nm from Virgin Passage. This is Mauro
once again with your daily update.

C-watch had an uneventful watch yesterday from 1900 to 2300. Winds were
light and variable, and eventually died down around the time A-watch took
the deck. Despite all our best efforts (singing and whistling wind songs,
trying to do wind dances), we couldn’t muster any winds. A-watch used the
relatively low speed to do a midnight Neuston net tow, capturing, among
other things, larval eels (Leptocephali) and spiny lobsters (Phyllosoma)
which were presented to the crew at our 1430 class by Stu and Virginia.


Back to C-watch: after an overnight snooze, they mustered at 0620, ate their
breakfast, then went up on deck for their 0700 to 1300 watch. After an
incredibly quiet night (in which mates Tristan and Farley pointed out was
probably THE quietest night so far of our voyage), C-watch—almost
immediately—had to:

-Deal with a squall, with everyone in their foulies
-Strike the jib topsail, then immediately move into setting the topsail
-Assist with 3 mildly successful Shipek grabs in 50 m of water (“I think we
hit a rock the first time”), which meant we had to motor out about 1 mile to
get to deeper waters BUT
-When the motor turned on, the stacks blew, sending soot everywhere and
facilitating the need to scrub decks not 1, not 5, not even 10 times: they
had to scrub the deck 3 (three) times.
-After motoring, they attempted and finally had a successful Shipek grab in
700 m of water
-Athanasia assisted with approximately 2 hours’ worth of dishes and galley
-Monitor small craft vessels fishing in the area
-Prepare a Neuston tow
-But finally, and I was asked to insert this verbatim by two members of
C-watch that shall remain nameless (until I mention them by name here:
Athanasia and Nicola): “the best part was having baked brie for snack!”

Quite a different experience from their evening watch! They handled it all
with ease, however, and finished up just in time for a well-deserved lunch
(quinoa salad, Greek-style butterbeans, and fresh baked bread). Great job,


C-Watch, always prepared for anything!

Our 1430 class, as I mentioned previously, began with Virginia and Stu
presenting their Phyllosoma and Leptocepahli specimens, followed by a
presentation on dinoflagellates and diatoms by members of B-watch (Marlo,
Erica, and Thomas).


Wrapping up class for today was breakout sessions for the watches, with
Chief Scientist Lisa Gilbert, Professor Mike Nishizaki, and T.A. Hannah
Whalen assisting students as they prepare for their science presentations in
just under 2 days. Each group will be presenting findings based on the data
we’ve been collecting over the past few days (the following images presented
in marvelous, full-color GIMBAL-VISION™. Note the tilt of the table in the
first image—“GIMBAL-VISION™: now that’s life below deck!”).


Finally, a special surprise visitor: it appears we had a stowaway in one of
our student’s bags. For those versed in the lore and traditions of
Williams-Mystic, please welcome back Grover!


Grover has been a valued member of the Williams-Mystic family since the
1990s. He is the official mascot of Mallory House, and travels with students
on (almost) every field seminar. Never one to expect free passage or seem
like he is not pulling his own weight aboard the ship, Grover jumped right
for the galley, assisting with dish washing and prepping today’s dinner.

Until next time.

On Nautical Science, Sail Handling, & the Music of a Ship

February 6, 2016

Thursday, 4 February 2016
Time: 1614
Position: 17° 53.7’ N by 064° 47.5’ W
Image Caption:
Course Ordered: 095
Speed: 2 knots
Weather / Wind: winds coming from the north; clear day, Cumulus clouds
Description of location:  Heading towards the Virgin Passage

Greetings from the Cramer, currently located within eyesight of the island
of St. Croix (we’ve yet to make landfall—we’re just sailing on by!). This is
Mauro once again with your daily update.

Last evening’s watch, like all watches, proved to be an exciting one. With
wind direction changing and wind speed picking, A-watch had the opportunity
to strike the main sail at 2000 yesterday evening. For the first time on our
voyage our group had to strike the main, under the cover of night with 10
people. A-watch succeeded in their task, and then quickly proceeded to
strike the jib. This required some brave individuals to go out on the
bowsprit and reef the jib. Special shout-out here to Cloey (College of New
Rochelle ‘17) who, without hesitation, was the first to make her way to the
bowsprit, clipped in with her safety harness, and climbed out to the very
end and began reefing the jib! Great job to everyone involved—it was an
excellent team effort.

This morning’s science session examined the effects of depth and pressure on
objects using a CTD on a wire and the much anticipated Styro cast. Again, in
a highly scientific manner, students sent decorated Styrofoam cups down to a
depth of 1913 meters below the ocean’s surface. What we knew and wanted to
demonstrate was that the pressure beneath the surface could turn a regular
sized Styrofoam cup (or any object) into a vastly compressed version of
itself. The evidence:


Following lunch, and again under a decent wind, A and B watches mustered
together to reef in the mainsail (more properly, this time—as you may
recall, B-watch did so yesterday evening in the complete darkness). With the
sails set, students enjoyed a bit of downtime on deck, reading more Harvey
Oxenhorn and practicing knot-tying. The 1430 class session came around and
we were greeted by Thomas and Lizzie (Millersville ’17) giving a brief
presentation of the stomatopods and fish (larval flounder and a needlefish)
found during B-watch’s midnight Neuston tow. Athanasia, Nicola, and Amanda
then presented their work on the pigment chlorophyll-a (the light absorbing
pigment found in phytoplankton) and how testing for levels of this pigment
help indicate the productivity of a body of water (higher levels of
chlorophyll-a indicate more phytoplankton, a source of nutrients and food
for higher-level marine organisms). Ecology professor Mike discussed the
abundance of bioluminescence in the waters around us, and its causes and
uses by various organisms—for example, as an escape mechanism in cephalopods
and a way of capturing prey amongst anglerfish.



We finished up our science section with a little nautical science: sextants
and knot work. Students were instructed in how to properly sight a sextant
by mates Scott and Tristan, though the rocking of the Cramer made lining up
our scope and the Sun a bit difficult! They then made their way to the next
station (the port side of the ship), where mate Eric gave lengths of
practice line and showed students how to tie, among others, the reef,
slippery reef, stopper, and bowline knots.



On a more social and personal note: students and crew have begun to settle
in to their rotations and schedules. They happily sit and converse but
recognize when one needs to break away for a nap or has to report for watch.
They’re moving together as more than a team or a ship’s crew: they function
almost like a band or an orchestra (and not just the onboard band now
composed of Lab Coordinator Kelsey on fiddle, Captain Jay on guitar, and
Chief Scientist Lisa on banjo), with Cramer’s gently rolling masts as the
conductor’s baton we all take our direction and cues from. To quote and
build off Captain Jay’s comment yesterday just before the pin chase:

“You feel that? You feel that wind? You see these sails? Mama Cramer is
happy that her crew knows their lines. That her crew is taking care of her.
She’s happy.”

Even in darkness, high winds, or choppy seas, we all know the roles we have
in keeping our ship and shipmates happy. We know how many people are needed
on each line to haul, or how fast we should ease, when to jump in and help
our fellow crew members sweat out lines, or when to hop in the galley and
take to dish duty. Just like the best of orchestras, we can read not only
Director Cramer’s cues and directions, but each other’s: our fellow
musicians, our shipmates. By simply listening to the sounds around us, we
can tell when we’re using a sextant incorrectly, when our stewards could use
an extra hand, or when our helms-person should ease into or out of the wind
a bit.

Each day on board seems increasingly complex (there’s always a new tool or
sail handling method to learn), with new challenges to face (reefing sails
on the bowsprit in high winds), and may seem undoable (learning over 100
lines in just 4 days!), but we do it. We do it because just as our
surroundings, our setting, our areas of study, our ship, and our ocean
become more and more complex as we study them, we find the beauty in that
complexity, and we love every second of it.

Until next time.

Rainbows, Science and the Pin Chase

February 5, 2016

Wednesday, 3 February 2016
Time: 1706
Position: 18° 33.47’ N by 065° 43.82’ W
Image Caption:
Course Ordered: 120°
Speed:  0.4 knots
Weather / Wind: Bright and sunny (once again!), few clouds, winds at 7 knots
from the E
Description of location:  10 nautical miles off the NE coast of Puerto Rico
heading towards Virgin Passage

Yet another gorgeous morning on Corwith Cramer, with Puerto Rico’s mountains
to our west and the seemingly infinite Atlantic stretching out to the east.

A brief rain greeted B watch this morning, but students—under the direction
of the watch captain—struck the JT and began a slow gybe to create optimal
conditions for science deployments. Drenched, yet smiling, laughing, and in
high spirits, all on deck had the opportunity to see a double rainbow off
the port side. We eventually hove to – essentially “parked” – for our third
and final science super station.  B Watch mustered on the science deck and
students were taking turns deploying various pieces of equipment off the
port side.  First, a secchi disk was sent out, measuring the depth of light
penetration in the water column (giving us an indication of how much
photosynthesis is occurring).  Any guesses how deep the students were able
to maintain sight of the white disk?

Hint: It was way more than when we sampled in San Juan harbor (a mere 3 m)…

Answer: 38 m!

Next, students further experimented with light attenuation using our highly
scientific and extremely delicate Light Attenuation Spheroids (LASs),
otherwise known as Skittles and M&Ms.  This consisted of deploying the
various colored candies overboard and timing how long they could see them
before disappearing.  Of course, any extra LASs, with the permission and
encouragement of the Chief Scientist, were quickly consumed–always a
popular scientific method!

To finish out their superstation, B Watch deployed a carousel, used to
measure various aspects of water quality (temperature, nutrients,
chlorophyll, etc.) at 10 different depths selected by students, and a
Shipbek grab. Our grab descended to 708 meters below the surface, hauling up
a sediment sample that students had no qualms about digging in to with their
bare hands. [Thomas (SFSU ’16) discovered a variety of spines in the sample,
while Sarah examined sediment composition, all while Rachel (Wesleyan ’17)
took notes {we can’t formulate proper results if our data sheets are
muddied}]. C Watch deployed a Neuston net tow to capture and later examine
surface plankton in lab.  All in all, a very exciting morning for science.

Our 1430 lectures began with Virginia and Sophie discussing the Acoustic
Doppler Radar Profile (ADCP), a method of measuring the distance of objects
and waves. Professor Lisa Gilbert followed this up with a policy lecture on
creeping jurisdiction, or boundaries at sea, and the establishment of the
3/12/24/200 nautical mile limits since the 16th century.


Following class, a stillness swept over the deck at approximately 1515.
Captain Jay stood up, asked us all to stand with him and stretch out, then
began to explain the rules of the pin chase. Students glanced at one another
and towards the deck, their eyes tracing sail to line to pin. The time had
come to showcase four days’ worth of scrambling around deck learning lines.
Split into their watches, students were handed a card with a line name on it
by the science crew and speedily walked to that line, had it confirmed with
the Cramer crew, then made it back to the quarterdeck, tagging in their next
two teammates. Always mindful of our safety training, there was absolutely
no running allowed in the pin chase. The penalty for running: one had to
crab walk across the deck while out searching for pins and returning to the
quarterdeck for their turn.


Even with a record 3 penalties, C-watch emerged victorious and enjoyed a
conga-line victory dance. Congratulations Amanda (Pacific ’18), Kenny (SUNY
Maritime ’18), Nicola (CUNY Hunter ’16), Chelsea (URI ’17), and
Athanasia(Illinois U-C ’17)—winners of the 2016 Cramer Pin Rail Chase! But,
truly, congratulations all around to all of the students for learning the
names, locations, and functions of over 100 ship’s lines in just under 4
days—what an amazing accomplishment!


Our super station completed, our pin rail champs announced, and our stomachs
contentedly filled with Light Attenuation Spheroids, we are currently making
our way to the Virgin Passage with our course ordered roughly 120°.  Upon
crossing the Virgin Passage we will officially be in the Caribbean. Land
once again fades behind us as we continue our journey. It’s hard to believe
that 5 days have already come and gone, and our voyage is almost halfway

Until next time.

Light Winds Over Blue Water

February 4, 2016

Tuesday, 2 February 2016
Time: 1815
Position: 19° 04.32’ N by 66° 16.575’ W
Weather / Wind: Bright and sunny, no clouds, winds at 2 miles from the NE

Greetings again from aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer, slowly gaining ground
(moving along at 0.9 knots) as we head generally towards the U.S. Virgin

Currently Williams-Mystic S16 is enjoying a swim call in the beautiful blue
waters above the Puerto Rico Trench, a much welcomed break after today’s
class: up and overs (going aloft), sail handling, and review for our pin
chase tomorrow. Second Mate Eric informed us that many sailors were not
considered sailors until they completed their first up-and-over—though they
did so in harbor. I wonder, then, what sort of sailors that makes our class,
who completed their first aloft session approximately 45 nautical miles away
from the nearest harbor?

Professor Mike Nishizaki led today’s lecture on latitude patterns,
productivity, and biodiversity in the ocean, comparing the tropics to our
home turf’s (Connecticut) cooler temperate waters. Rachel (Wesleyan ‘17),
Jessica (Maine Maritime ’16), and Marlo (Smith ’17) gave a brief
presentation on the Mantis Shrimp, one of many specimens caught in this
morning’s Neuston tow net. Fun facts: did you know that a mantis shrimp’s
jab can easily puncture bulletproof glass, or break a human bone? They have
the fastest recorded reaction time of any animal at 8 milliseconds, so be
careful the next time you collect one in your tow net!

Excitement builds over the pin chase, with students gleefully and quite
expertly being able to traverse the deck and differentiate between the
mains’l halyard, forestays’l jigger, JT downhaul, and others. Everyone keep
a lookout for Amanda (Pacific University ‘18) and Chelsea (URI ‘18)—they’ve
been spotted on deck in the early hours of the morning and late into the
evening pointing out lines and quizzing their classmates!

As a group, Williams-Mystic S’16 has put in much work keeping the ship going
forward: striking sails at 0200, scrubbing soles after dawn watch, reading
and preparing for classes, and so forth. And once again, they are rewarded
with the most gorgeous of sunsets as we wrap up Day 4 of our offshore

Until next time,

Williams-Mystic S16 is Underway!

February 3, 2016

Monday, 1 February 2016
Position: 19 o 18 ‘N x 066 o 11 ‘ W
Heading:  050
Speed:  5 knots
Weather / Wind:   Wind Force 4 SE x E

Greetings from the waters outside of San Juan, Puerto Rico! My name is
Mauro, the Admissions Director with Williams-Mystic, and current
resident-for the next 10 days–of the foc’sle upper bunk, port side (in an
area affectionately known as the Anti-Gravity Chamber). I’m here with 17
great students and Teaching Assistant Hannah Whalen and Professors Lisa
Gilbert and Mike Nishizaki on Williams-Mystic’s Spring 16 (S16) Offshore

S16’s start to this voyage-though delayed by roughly 3 hours at the offset
at the airport due to, of all things, the pilot being sick-has been
phenomenal. Our students have proven to be flexible and capable travelers
(many, from my observations, possessing the invaluable skill of making a
pillow out of luggage and being able to sleep on an airport floor) but, more
importantly, a flexible and capable crew aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer. We
could not have dreamed of better weather to greet us in PR-nor a better crew
and captain!

After a quick taxi drive from the airport to our port, we were greeted by
the captain and his crew. Orientation Part 1 ended early on our first day,
with Quiet Ship at 2100-an opportunity for a full night’s rest that everyone

Day 2 began early, with B-watch waking up at 0600 (and other watches at
0640), and with a breakfast of fruit, blueberry muffins, and spicy brown
sugar bacon (the stewards are the BEST). Our schedule for the day:

0800: All hands on deck muster for Orientation.

0805 to 0830: Pin rail orientation (our diagrams come in very handy these
first few days)

0830 to 1015: Overview of station bill and other operating procedures (watch
standing, walkthroughs)

1015 to 1030: Snack

1030 to 1230: Overview of safety and emergency response procedures, followed
by drills and practice (we make red Gumby suits look great)

1230 to 1315: Lunch

1315 to 1430: Science deployment in harbor: all the students assisted the
science team with the deployment of a Secchi disk, Shipbek Grab,
Microplastics sampling, and collection of water samples for Chlorophyll and
Phosphate concentration sampling.


1500: After a flurry of activity to prepare to set sail, we waited until an
issue with our anchor was solved (a sailor’s life, we were told, is to hurry
up and wait). There was a long period of silence, as if students and staff
stood at the starting line of a race, waiting for the starting gun to go
off. Once Captain Amster gave the order to set sails–fired the starting
gun, if you will-everyone sprang into action. A good, strong wind has been
keeping us steady underway.


On last evening’s watch, Chelsea (URI ’18) stood at the helm of the Cramer,
while her classmate Erica (Williams ’18) worked with Second Mate Eric on the
bowsprit. Kenny (SUNY Maritime ’18) and Nicola (CUNY Hunter ’16) walked
carefully in, on, and around the ship conducting their hourly walkthrough.


I had the opportunity to stand the 2300 to 0300 frame with B-watch. I
believe we were all impressed with each other’s abilities to navigate, find,
and adjust as needed lines in such a dark setting. Jessica (Maine Maritime
’16) stood bow watch for quite a while, her dark shadow constantly scanning
the world around us for obstructions and other marine traffic, becoming a
reassuring part of the horizon each time we glanced towards the foredeck.
Erica (Williams ’18) and Marlo (Smith ’18) worked in the lab, analyzing the
contents of our Neuston net tow-a procedure that required Thomas (SFSU ’16),
Rachel (Wesleyan ’17), and Lizzie (Millersville ’18) to help maneuver the
Cramer using a double gibe. All of our activity constantly stirred up
bioluminescent creatures, making the white-capped waves around us to glow
turquoise green.

Day 3 promises to be as equally exciting with our first onboard, under-sail
lectures beginning at 1430. Until then, let us hope that the days continue
to be warm, the stars bright, and the winds fair!

Taste of New England: F’15 Gets Lost in the Stalks

October 26, 2015

Corny puns and ah-maize-ing cider donuts completed our Friday afternoon at the Preston Farm’s corn maze. Just about all of F15, plus my housemate’s sister, joined in on the fall ‘sport.’ Each of the three vans came supplied with a bag of fresh cider donuts and a gallon of apple cider. We consumed most of this on the scenic drive through Old Mystic and Preston.

This year’s corn maze was themed “Sleepy Hollow.” Miles of passageways curved into shapes representing the theme. We could not see the pattern, but by two hours, we had traced the corn maze inside and out. Stamps were the incentive that kept us going. Sixteen stations hid amongst the corn stalks. An unknown prize would be awarded to the lucky fella who completed all sixteen. A mother and daughter were running frantically about the corn maze, asking everywhere if they had seen number twelve. They had one stamp to go! I cannot imagine how long they were in the maze. After nearly two hours, I found eleven. Surprisingly, I did not see many of my classmates in the maze. I ran into a few here and there, in which we exchanged details on where to find certain numbers. Our exchange sounded something like this:

“Find number three?”

“Yeah. Back there,” friend points behind him, off into the corn wilderness.

“Where was seven?”

“No idea. Somewhere that way,” points in two directions, resembling the scarecrow when he meets Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.

AJ with calf

Emerging from the corn maze, everyone gathered to go on a small tour of the farm with the farmer’s son. He proudly spoke to us about the history of the farm and how he is a fourth generation son on the land. We all oohed-and-ahhed at the sight of a newborn calf, named Charlie! Her mother gave her thick, wet kisses across the face, ruffling the still-damp black and white coat. The cows and chickens certainly topped off the day! By the time we mustered into the vans to leave, the sun was setting over the corn stalks’ golden tips.

Our colorful view of New England’s fall foliage will soon be a memory as we fly south to Louisiana on Tuesday! Stay tuned for details about alligators, mud, and cajun dancing!

California Reflections…and Mac n’ Cheese

October 21, 2015


It has been just over a week since we returned from the west coast and I have had time to reflect on the places we visited and new ideas we learned. I thought I was close to my classmates after the tight quarters on the Niagara, but I was wrong. California stitched our Williams-Mystic family tighter together. The van rides, the long hikes through the Redwoods and tidal pools, and delicious meals eaten together felt like we were on an educational family vacation – one that none of us wanted to end. Twice during the trip, everyone gathered in a circle to debrief and share one special moment from the trip. A common theme among our stories was the love for one another’s enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge. At Drake’s Beach, for instance, Mike’s ecology lecture involved a discussion about scientific uncertainty and how a biologist simply cannot know how many seals are in the water or where to find them in a given day. Our policy professor, Katy Hall, spoke next, but changed her topic completely to feed off of Mike’s talk about scientific uncertainty in legal cases. Moments like this teach us about our peers’ and teachers’ passion for the environment. I agreed with everyone’s thoughts about the trip. Simple moments like eating Ghirardelli chocolate ice cream on Cannery Row at night, to unique moments of studying the pillow basalts at Tomales Bay for the first time, impressed upon my mind that I will not have another experience like this.

Lecture on the Rocks

Did I mention F15 is an athletic bunch? Every chance we got during downtime, a frisbee would be tossed on the beach or in a parking lot. Additionally, the morning runs on a misty Bodega Bay road to catch the sunrise: priceless. Well…except for the one morning that I joined my fellow F15 runners and could not see a glimmer of light through the thick fog. “1.5 miles,” my friend Katie said. Doable for a non-runner. In the end, I ran 4 miles round-trip to only catch the droplets of fog onto my skin. But I sure was glad I went. The green glow of lights on the bay, the slow stream of a fisherman’s boat going out on the water, and the blare of the fog horn gave me a great sense of Bodega Bay. While others slept, a whole other world went to work.

CA Hike

As I sit in my living room, here in Mystic, I feel as if the town shrunk since leaving for California. The Mystic river is so small and gentle compared to the monstrous white waves of the Pacific. Houses are close together in the village, the trees are shorter (and with bright crimson and yellow leaves!), and the sky lacks pelicans arching over the water like I saw in Monterey Bay. Next on our agenda in this quaint New England town is to leave once more for a short trip down south – Louisiana, get ready! But before we do that, a few local activities are planned! A corn maze adventure will get us in the autumn mood before the leaves shed completely. And perhaps our houses will carve pumpkins for halloween and decorate the outside of our porches. Just the other night, Albion house (my home of three other girls) hosted a Mac n’ Cheese night. Each house made their own recipe for the cheesy comfort food and brought it here for a big hot meal. Which house had the best, you may ask? Let’s just say no one had much left in their dish! We ended the evening by playing Catch Phrase and Cards Against Humanity. Stress of the previous week’s assignments melted away with the laughter and good food! During one round of Catch Phrase, I snuck away to the kitchen and quickly prepared a batch of banana chocolate chip muffins. Thirty minutes later, everyone enjoyed a warm muffin.

Golden Gate Group

Even if we aren’t in sunny California looking out for whales and sea otters, we are here in Mystic enjoying the cozy fall season together.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 36 other followers