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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.

Northern California–update from the field

October 7, 2015

It feels more like a brilliant 3 weeks in California than 4 days! We have seen and done so much within the past few days that I feel like this has all been a dream. From Monterey to San Fransisco, thus far, the West coast has treated us well with sunny days and breathtaking views.

ocean view

I shall hit the highlights:
-A whale was spotted during our policy lecture at Point Lobos- no big deal.
-A dozen or so humpbacks flipped their flukes for us while on our Monterery Bay whale watch trip.
-Free time to explore Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium!
-We discovered a portion of a whale tail washed ashore on Pescadero beach- and then read a poem from Harvey Oxenhorn’s Tuning the Rig that describes a whale carcass he saw in the 80’s.
-Made a pit-stop at a farmers market for sun ripened strawberries, chocolate, green beans, and a humongous grape fruit. Yum!
-Watched a sunset at Half-Moon Bay
sunset @ half moon bay
-Rode on a Crowley Tug on the San Fransisco Bay. We met up with two Mystic-Williams alums!
crowley tug
-Viewed the Golden Gate Bridge from a hill and took in the Bay from another perspective.
-Students get free time in the city to explore and find food! I found my way to the Crookedest Street – enjoying the gardens that curve along the street.
What next? We are headed to Bodega Bay and the Red Wood Forest!

New Science Onboard the RV Connecticut and Old Maritime Trades

October 5, 2015

RV Conn Group

October is off to a great start! Guess what F’15 did the first day of October? From Avery Point, we motored out to the mouth of the Thames River and down past Electric Boat in a 76 foot steel research vessel to collect sediment and water samples. Why is this exciting? Well, on the brig Niagara we collected similar data, but used ‘high tech’ buckets, line, and m&m’s. On the RV Connecticut, temperature, salinty, and depth were updated automically via computer screens. I was excited to use the carousel water sampler instead of a bucket! This machine is mechanically lowered into the water. Twelve metal tubes, nearly two feet long each, are ‘fired off,’ or closed shut, at twelve different depths to collect water by the click of a button. All we had to do was release the water from a spigot into labeled plastic bottles when the machine came back on deck. Our class was split into Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie watch like on the Niagara – so every aspect of the data collection was covered by rotating watches. Success! What a great way to compare scientific methods. Having sampled water the hard way, it was refreshing to step into the modern world of marine science. Earlier this week, I stepped back in time by indulging in my maritime skill class.



Electives in high school or college entail ceramics, a physical education class, or some creative outlet that breaks the academic schedule. At Williams-Mystic, we get to choose our fifth class from a variety of maritime trades taught in the seaport. Canvas work in the old Mallory Sail Loft, sea chanteys on the Charles W. Morgan, blacksmithing in an authentic shop, and sailing on the river are what my friends spend four hours a week doing.

Maya Sailloft

I chose blacksmithing because where else can I stand in an 1885 New Bedford, Mass blacksmith shop and create four beautiful hooks within four classes? My first class with a seasoned blacksmith affirmed that I made the right decision. Three of us stood around the smoldering fire and watched our teacher turn a rod of steel from flaming cherry to a glowing yellow. He demonstrated how to bend the metal to our liking using a hammer and anvil. “Use your elbow to lift the hammer, not your wrist,” is one of his many reminders. When I couldn’t grasp the motion of hammering a flat flame finial onto the end of my hook, he brought out clay for me to practice hammering. By the last hour, I could mold the metal to a flame-tip shape. Without a doubt, my classmates who were sailing at the same moment, were having similar ‘a-ha’ moments. I have left every class with sooty palms and black finger-tips. My housemates see the hooks when I return at 5pm and put in requests for what they would like. I think I know where my source of Christmas gifts will come from!


So much occurs in one week here in Williams-Mystic that it is nearly impossible to put it all into words. I could have talked about our science trip to Weekapaug Point or how we held sea stars and sea urchins from the intertidal zone. Nonetheless, I think the picture is clear. We are a busy group, but loving every minute of the diverse places we go! Did I meniton where we are bound for next? CALIFORNIA!

Two Islands, One Week

September 25, 2015

Happy National Aquaculture Week! How appropriate, then, that the F’15 class visited Fisher’s Island on Tuesday. After ecology and oceanography classes, all eighteen of us students loaded into four vans to head to the ferry in New London. Oysters were on the agenda for today. Two days later, we piled into the vans once more to head over to Barn Island in Pawcatuck, CT.

Tuesday morning we boarded the ferry around 1100 hours, and arrived on the island shortly after twelve to meet Steve Malinowski, the ‘oyster guy’ of Fisher’s Island. Glenn Gordinier, the Maritime History professor, led the pack of vans around the island for the day. Four u-turns were made, but we got to where we needed to be eventually! Maybe our policy professor, Katy Hall, will take the lead next time. After all, she supplies the chocolate.

Claire at Fishers

Safely parked near Island Pond, our first stop was to learn about the nursery where the oysters spend the first year of their lives. 40 million oysters are grown a year from the seed that the farm cultivates! Countless tiny shells can be seen in the Floating Upwelling System that aids the flow of nutrients to the oysters. The amount of oysters that are grown, packed, and shipped to consumers was one of the most astounding facts that I learned that day. Our host, Steve, allowed us into the hatchery and the shed where all the packaging takes place. At the end of the tour, he demonstrated how to shuck an oyster while we stood on the dock down a hill from his home. Just about everyone tried one of the fresh oysters that Steve snatched from the orange basket of organisms. Salty, cold, and crisp – the oysters slid right down our throats. Katie, of Williams College, had an oyster for the first time. Upon bringing the shell to her lips she asked Steve, “Do I slurp it?” We all walked away delighted in having seen the inside scoop of Fisher’s Island one and only oyster facility.

Barn Island Group

The salt of the oyster barely left our tongues before we found ourselves standing knee deep in a salt marsh at Barn Island. Led by our marine science professors and T.A, the afternoon was spent observing the landscape of one of Connecticut’s most diverse wetland. Sediment samples were taken at several spots along the coast – requiring the man-power of several ‘big’ feeling students. The core sediment tool we used is a long metal tube with a straight handle on top. Pressing down on the drill took at least 4 different people and several minutes. The ground did not want to give in! Alas, the sediment sample was extracted and we could inspect the soil. I learned that the land is rising about 2 millimeters every year – so we could deduce how old the sample was. The 14 centimeter sample meant that the bottom layer was roughly 70 years old. A sandy patch was evident towards the bottom, while the rest was dirt and roots. Where did that sand come from? Well, the Hurricane of ’38 blew by around the time that layer formed! How cool is that? We are detectives!

Barn Island

Carrying a bucket of science equipment in one hand, I carefully hopped over the path of rocks and mud that zipped through the green cow-licks of grass. While I had my eyes glued to my boots and the ground most of the journey, making sure I didn’t slip, I couldn’t help but appreciate how lucky I am to be a part of a program that allows me to spend my day in an Elysian field. Hard to believe that next week we will be on the west coast!

Snacks, Stars, and Secchi Disks

September 23, 2015

Greetings from Mystic, CT! My name is Caitlyn Stewart and I am a senior in the Maritime Studies program at UConn, Avery Point, with a concentration in English. I began my college career as a Professional Writing major at Champlain College in Burlington, VT, but I discovered that I wanted to be closer to the ocean and to learn more about the watery environment. In high school I had taken an Early College Experience course in Maritime Studies because I wanted to view history and literature from a non-land perspective. Books like The Perfect Storm, Captains Courageous, and Moby-Dick excited me. Maritime Studies includes a broad range of subjects – economics, policy, science, archaeology, and the liberal arts. The Williams-Mystic Program understands that to learn about the ocean, all areas of study need to overlap. This combination of knowledge in the maritime world is why I moved away from singling myself out as a writing major. For the future, I envision myself working at a Maritime Museum and incorporating writing whenever I can! Perhaps a book or two will be published on the side.

For now, please enjoy the F’15 blog:

Charlie Watch – Muster! It has been over a week since F’15 returned from our offshore voyage to Lake Erie, yet we still talk as if we are on the brig Niagara. Upon our grand entrance via row boats to the anchored ship, we were divided into three ‘watches’ (a system of splitting the crew so that they are assigned certain work hours). Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie separated us from our housemates and mingled us with about 3 professional crew to conduct our training. You can imagine the hard time my classmate, Charley, had everytime the watch officer bellowed, “Charlie Watch! Eat!” He was not in Charlie. But eating, yes, was a very critical aspect for fueling our long hours of hauling on lines, bringing in the anchor, and standing lookout from 0000-0400.

Hauling Lines

Williams-Mystic, I have discovered, ensures that students never go hungry. Upon move-in day, we were all supplied with a grocery bag of breakfast and lunch goodies for the week. Chocolate waits in every office of the Labaree House office. M&M’s act as Light Attenuation Spheroids for science lab on the ship. While W-M did not control Rosy, the cook, onboard the Niagara, she met the standards of the program’s fueling legacy. A sample menu for the day:

0700: Blueberry pancakes, sausage, hashbrowns, oatmeal, cereal, fruit

1200: Grilled Reuben sandwiches, pretzels, chips, salad, fruit

1800: Butternut squash lasagna (huge hit!), rolls, salad, carrotcake

Midnight snacks: Peanutbutter chocolate cookies, banana muffins, candy bags, and granola bars. And of course, coffee and tea were available 24/7.

Lunch on Deck

We ate our food below on the berth deck when underway just as sailors would have done in1813, which is also where our canvas hammocks strung from the ceiling. After a hard day of sweating the lines, joking with the third-mate, and jumping into the lake for a swim, the hammocks felt most comforting. Falling a sleep was never an issue. Waking up was not so bad either – especially if you had the night watch! I would spring from my hammock – nearly knocking my neighbhor out as well – grab one of Rosy’s delicious snacks, and hope to be lookout at the bow of the ship. Why? The stars were clear and plentiful, and within hours, the sun would emerge from the east. All of F’15 stood this watch at some point, and would agree that seeing the Milky Way, Orion’s Belt, and Venus were worth waking up from a short four-hour nap. One of the nights on lookout with my classmate, we saw a bizarre orange disc off in the distance. It came and went, but definitely was not a ship or ordinary light to report to the officer in charge. UFO? Reporting back to the mate, I disappointingly discovered the orange disc was the moon. On land, in Connecticut, the moon never looked that odd. I wonder how many sailors claim to have seen UFOs in their time. Mermaids, monsters – sure – but were alien objects in the sky reported in logs?

Sunrise Watch

The same morning I stood watch, a rainbow fanned across the hazy blue sky. Dark clouds rode behind at horizon level like a stampede of stallions over the Beaufort white waves. Minutes later, everyone on deck slid into their foul weather gear and let the first real rainstorm ensue. I felt like a kid splashing through puddles standing there at the helm in my yellow jacket. On a ship, weather does not deter our actions. Lines dampen and sail weight increases, but everyone embraced the rain and waves as if on a roller coaster. I learned from F’15 that a positive attitude and willingness to put yourself out on a ledge (or bowsprit) will go a long way. If it weren’t for Rich King, the literature professor, and his energy about Richard Henry Dana at 2am, or his knowledge about a Lake Erie chart under the galley’s red glow in the middle of night-watch, I do not think the experience would have been the same. While our science lab had its ups and downs, with a lost Secchi disk and some missing hourly data, the passion, excitement, and energy remained high in all of us.

Ship, shipmate, self. The offshore voyage provided the foundation for the rest of our Williams-Mystic semester. Nowhere else than on a 198-foot vessel can a person become more aware of the true neccessities of life and the raw beauty of nature.

F15 sails aboard the SSV Niagara!

September 11, 2015

Wednesday 9 September 2015

Hello from aboard the SSV Niagara, a reconstruction of the famous eighteenth century brig from the War of 1812. My name is Richard King, and I teach the “Literature of the Sea and the American Environmental Movement” course for the Williams College-Mystic Seaport Maritime Studies Program. Together with Professor Mike Nishizaki who teaches “Marine Ecology,” and Hannah Whalen, our science TA and lab manager, we have brought the Fall 2015 class of Williams-Mystic students to sail the Great Lakes on this traditional tall ship for ten days.


We are currently sailing downwind under nearly all of the sails—up to the top gallants—eastbound toward our final destination of Buffalo. We arrived aboard Niagara almost a week ago, on Thursday afternoon in Erie, PA. We rowed out in the ship’s cutters to climb a ladder on to the deck at anchor. Niagara is a tall, gorgeous ship with a sky-reaching rig of square sails, a bowsprit that appears as if it’s half the length of the hull, a flush clean deck, and tall bulwarks up to your shoulders.

We spent the first two days in Erie’s inner and outer harbors, at the dock and at anchor, during which we learned how to safely set and strike sails, how to live together in this small space, and how to conduct safety drills. These included practicing how to climb safely aloft in order to loose and furl the sails, as well as how to put on immersion suits, also known as gumby suits.



Niagara was built nearly identically to the ship that won the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813 when Oliver Hazard Perry hopped aboard. We’re extraordinarily lucky to have Senior Captain Walter Rybka on board, the founder of this sail-training program especially for our trip and an expert on the battle, to interpret the ship and the site in the Western Basin of the Lake, over which we sailed yesterday. It has been interesting to consider with the students both life on a war ship for sailors in the early eighteenth-century—as they sleep in hammocks themselves and walk around crouching below because of the height of the overhead—and what it means to consider a monument out on the water, upon which interpretive signs and historic markers are impossible. There is, however, a buoy to the north of West Sister Island, which marks the battle site and the loss of so much life, and a large peace monument that stands over 300 feet high on nearby South Bass Island, in front of which a our students posed as we sailed past and Captain Rybka explained and piloted Niagara through the snake-like passage.


As our students have been quickly getting used to life on Niagara, learning the ropes (quite literally), and getting a genuine taste of life at sea as we sail throughout the night divided into watch groups, we have also been learning about how to collect raw oceanographic data—or, more specifically, limnographic data. Each hour we pull a bucket of water from the surface and record several key physical characteristics, which has particular relevance to current concerns on the lake about water quality and algal blooms.


We have towed plankton nets for only fifteen minutes and filled the net so full of algae that the collection container overflowed with water as thick as pea soup. Lake Erie has three basins, largely defined by their average depth. We have conducted two “super stations” in the Central and Western Basins, during which we slowed the ship down with the sails. In each we took surface samples, towed a plankton net, and grabbed a scoop of grey, clay-like bottom mud, which was full of invasive Quagga mussels and the more famous zebra mussels. We also took samples throughout the water column, at intervals between one and three meters all the way to the bottom. In groups of three, students will present their findings and interpretations of the data in a shipboard poster session at the end of our trip in Buffalo.


I’m pleased to report that all the F’15 students are safe and doing exceptionally well as we learn more than could ever be accomplished in the classroom alone! We plan to be back ashore on Saturday morning in Buffalo!


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