“Just Killing Time Between Meals”: Month 1 at Williams-Mystic

0d6262a2cb6b4b54989ef2c3e1c0a727A note from the editor: This semester, we’re welcoming Natalie (Williams ’18) as our student blogger! Natalie originally comes from King of Prussia, PA, and is now a junior at Williams College majoring in sociology with a concentration in environmental studies. She wanted to be a marine biologist when she was 7 years old, so studying at Mystic is a dream come true. Below, her first entry.

It’s hard to believe we’ve been at Williams-Mystic for a month now. It somehow feels both like it’s flown by and like we’ve been here for much longer.

New England greeted our return from the Caribbean the only way it knows how—with a blizzard. After falling into bed at 3 am, exhausted from our time on the Cramer and a long day of travel, we woke up to a blanket of snow. As the chronically early riser in my house, I was the only one awake when Chris (Florida Atlantic University ‘19), enjoying his first snowfall, attacked our house and neighboring Carr with snowballs. We spent most of the day in recovery mode: we laid around, watched TV, took naps, and talked about how we probably should start our homework.

Later that night, once everyone was awake and (somewhat) well-rested, we gathered up cookie sheets, plastic bags, and trash can lids, and headed to the top of the hill by our houses to sled. Thankfully, some neighbors took pity on us and offered us real sleds. The night’s biggest discovery: foulie pants work as sleds. Our fun came to an abrupt end when a snow plow turned onto the street and came straight for us. We escaped and went back home to—you guessed it—lie around and drink hot chocolate.


Fast forward a few days, and it’s back to work. We had our first classes after the trip and found that it was much easier to understand The Tempest and especially William Falconer’s The Shipwreck after having actually sailed a ship. On Monday afternoon, it was a surprise when everyone showed up to the job selection meeting. Apparently we are all strapped for cash. We selected jobs ranging from shipyard assistant to ecology research and everything in between. I’ll be the “Williams-Mystic Operation Assistant,” which is a fancy term f or working in Labaree and writing occasional blog posts. Our next meeting introduced us to the skills available at the Seaport, and everyone frantically tried to narrow down their options. We agreed that the meeting made it harder to choose, not easier. In the end, everyone received either their first or second choice. I’m working on my sea chantey repertoire with Rachel (University of Vermont ‘20) and Emma (Stony Brook University ‘17). So far, we have mastered a few songs and two chords on the banjo. Baby steps.

fullsizerenderYou may be wondering about our living situation. In contrast with the boat, we live in houses with our own rooms, rather than small bunks off of the main salon. It was a relief to come home and sleep without being disturbed by someone’s dinner. So far, all is going well in Johnston House. Ellie (Yale ‘18) and I, two of the three vegetarians in our class, have persuaded Jason (McDaniel College ‘18) and Mackenzie to eat almost entirely meat-free dinners. Although our culinary skills wouldn’t impress the finest chefs, we’ve made some excellent dishes. Our favorite so far was a vegetable enchilada casserole, which is just as delicious as it sounds. Salsa, tortillas, beans, roasted vegetables—you get the picture. In fact, most of our dinners involve roasted vegetables. We’re getting pretty good at it. While we’d like to say our meals are the best, we happen to know we’re contending with a lot of excellent cooks. All of the houses have taken to sending pictures of their meals to a group chat.

Early on, one of our professors joked that Williams-Mystic is “just killing time between meals.” That’s only something of an exaggeration. On Valentine’s Day, we pooled our skills to meet at Carr House for a potluck dinner. Johnston pulled out all the stops and made pink pasta. My secret? Add a little food coloring to the cooked pasta. Disclaimer: it doesn’t work all that well. But the effort earned us praise. Carr made a delicious Caprese salad and boring non-pink pasta, while Mallory House brought fried rice and Albion House supplied dessert in the form of raspberry-filled cookies.

In addition to eating, we’re also doing our best to remember that this is in fact school. With science and policy research proposals due next week, we’ve all been frantically searching for topics while trying to stay on top of readings and write papers for history and literature. Maybe I should have started Moby Dick over winter break… Anyway, before we know it we’ll be off to the Pacific Northwest!

Science Presentations

7 February 2017, 0930 h

18o17’N x 064o37’W


Good morning from the SSV Corwith Cramer. We are heading toward Norman Island, BVI, with Junior Watch Officer Clay (SUNY Maritime ’17) and A Watch on deck. Moments ago, we struck the topsail, after a morning downwind sail. Through the night, the watches worked with one of their own as Junior Watch Officer to set us up for an easy approach to Norman Island and they did an excellent job.


Yesterday we held our science poster session on deck. Williams-Mystic S17 students presented data from our three Super Stations: Puerto Rico Trench, Puerto Rico Slope, and Barracouta Bank. They also shared what we learned from the surface samples we collected throughout the cruise track. We had a lively exchange, and only briefly had to duck into the main salon when rain looked like it might soak us (but didn’t). These projects are a preview of the semester-long projects they’ll design and complete in Mystic.

Our offshore voyage is very quickly coming to an end. After we clean the ship this afternoon, we’ll have a Swizzle. Students and staff have been busy signing up to entertain the ship’s company with their talents. We plan to sail through the night and come ashore in St. Croix. We are only at the beginning of our semester, with many more adventures to come, but tomorrow we will be sad to say goodbye to our shipmates aboard Cramer before we make our way back to campus in Mystic, CT.

With gratitude,



Another Day, Another Birthday (and Dolphins!)

5 February 2017

Good morning from the SSV Corwith Cramer!

Our schedule has been packed here aboard the Cramer. In addition to being kept busy by shipboard routines, students are hard at work preparing reports on the data we have collected thus far.

There have been some nice surprises, though. This morning, a pod of dolphins surfed our bow wake at sunrise. And this afternoon, we took a nice break to celebrate a shipmate’s birthday. Happy Birthday Rachel (University of Vermont ’20)!


Until next time,


Ashore in the US Virgin Islands

4 February 2017, 1700 h
18o22’N x 064o44’W


Good morning from the SSV Corwith Cramer! This morning, Williams-Mystic S17 went ashore in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. As the sun rose, we took the small boat ashore to gather on an empty beach for class and snorkeling. Professor Mike Nishizaki and I discussed the geography, geology, conservation, and reef ecology of St John. Next, TA Hannah Whalen reviewed snorkeling safety. Students put their notebooks down, then paired up to explore the reef a few steps away. As we swam, pelicans dove for small fish. We paused for our own snack on the beach and then had some time to walk, run, or just sit and draw.

Soon after returning to the Cramer, we set sail and departed St. John. Students were busy helping and also reviewing the ship’s lines for today’s Pin Chase. The Pin Chase is a friendly competition between watches, but each watch takes pride in displaying their knowledge of the lines. It was very close. but ultimately C watch was triumphant. The entire class showed an impressive grasp of the lines and proved themselves worthy of more responsibility aboard.

C watch celebrates their victory in the pin rail chase!

Now we’re enjoying a beautiful afternoon sailing. Until next time,


A Sweet Day on the Corwith Cramer

2 February 2017, 1700 h
18o31’N x 065o29’W
28 nautical miles east of San Juan

Good afternoon from the SSV Corwith Cramer. We are excited to be celebrating Sarah’s birthday today! Sarah (UConn ’20) and the rest of B watch had breakfast at 0620 this morning. What a treat: Assistant Steward Ger made scrumptious cinnamon rolls!

B watch celebrates a successful deployment of light attenuation spheroids

After breakfast, the watch came on deck to begin their science Super Station. The water is relatively shallow here (360 meters or 1180 feet deep), so we were able to use our sediment grab to scoop some carbonate mud off the bottom. We even found a few small shells and a live brittle star in our sample. We also collected water samples from several depths in the ocean, recording properties such as temperature, salinity, and oxygen content along the way. We finished the station by sampling organisms from the surface, collecting everything from microscopic plants to animals and floating seaweed.

This afternoon all hands gathered for classes on the Law of the Sea and a hands-on nautical science lesson about sail handling. Academics were interrupted by a man overboard drill. All hands quickly responded to retrieve the buoy. After discussing the drill, we celebrated with an afternoon snack: birthday brownies with rainbow sprinkles!

Happy Birthday, Sarah!

Next, students took turns in watches gybing the ship, which means turning away from the wind before adjusting the sails to continue in a new direction.  First Chief Mate Sara Martin (Williams-Mystic S04) explained the process to A watch as they observed; other crew members assisted B and C watches as they gybed. All told, each watch got a change to handle the lines and observe the big picture.

Tonight we continue heading east and south toward shallow waters off St. John, in the US Virgin Islands.

Until next time,


Spring 2017 Heads Offshore

1600 hours
7 nautical miles north of San Juan
18o27’N x 66o04’W

Good afternoon from the SSV Corwith Cramer!

I’m Lisa Gilbert, chief scientist and Williams-Mystic professor, here with: my colleagues, Professor Mike Nishizaki and Teaching Assistant Hannah Whalen; the Williams-Mystic Class of Spring 2017; and Cramer‘s professional crew.rachel_fabiolaimg_0173

It’s hard to believe that our students started their semester just a week ago. They arrived in Mystic, Connecticut from colleges and universities across the country: the University of Puget Sound, Williams College, and the University of Rhode Island, just to name a few. And now here we are, seven nautical miles off the coast of Puerto Rico and a world away from our home campus.

We arrived at San Juan yesterday and students were split into three watches, each guided by a mate and an assistant scientist. The watches have to work together closely throughout our ten-day field seminar, so they immediately began getting to know each other as they learned ship routines and safety.
This morning, Captain Sarah led safety drills and Assistant Scientists Abby, Farley, and, Marissa trained students in proper protocols for water and sediment sampling from the ship. After lunch, we got underway with Maggie (St. Lawrence University ’18) and Muriel (University of Pennsylvania ’19) from C watch at the helm and on lookout, respectively. All other students helped set sail. Within an hour, we had set the main staysail, the fore staysail, the jib, and the jib topsail.

Although everyone helped get underway, this afternoon we began rotating in six-hour shifts. One watch takes their turn sailing the ship and collecting data; the other two watches stand down to relax (or more likely, sleep).

Right now, C watch is “on.” Members of A and B watches settled in, some reading or writing in their journals and some enjoying a nap in their bunks. Many of them gathered on the quarterdeck to talk and listen to Jason (McDaniel College ’18) play the ukulele. In the main salon, where we gather to eat our meals, Nickie (Bowdoin College ’18) poured a fruit smoothie for afternoon snack.

Just then, we heard the call: “Whales on the port side!” Even the students napping quickly joined the crowd on deck to watch as four pilot whales crossed astern of us, sometimes as close as 10 meters. We watched in awe as these small black whales surfaced to breathe, over and over, until they disappeared from view.

What a great start to our trip!

Until next time, Lisa


Track Our Progress!


Please note: The information on the location of the vessel is not always updated regularly. If you notice the vessel staying in the same location for extended periods of time, do not worry. It simply means the website has not updated recently.

West Coast, Second Best Coast

Most of my knowledge of California comes from the hit 2000s show, “The O.C.”. While I might have been a little foolish to assume that our trip would just include a love triangle between a nerdy comic book kid, the prettiest girl in school, and a water polo player (season 2), I was unprepared for just how awesome the trip to California would be, even sans Seth Cohen.

Day 1

Not that I was entirely unprepared. Before departing we read Jack London’s Tales of the Fish Patrol, and John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. We studied upwelling and the Coriolis Effect. We talked about public access to the waterfront and the policies regarding fisheries. And then, we got to see the places we had read about and discussed at length.

First up: Piling into four minivans and beginning the drive from San Francisco to Monterey. Along the way, we pulled over for some leg-stretching and an introduction to our week. We stood on cliff taller and steeper than anything I know in Connecticut, leaning into the wind, as heavy fog misted our hair and soaked our faces. We also ate cookies and crasins–a tame introduction to the week of heavy snacking (and learning) ahead of us.

It was in Monterey that I began to realize what I was getting myself into. Every year, Williams-Mystic treats students to sundaes and chocolate at the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory. And every year, a few brave (read: gross) souls compete to see who can eat the Earthquake the fastest. What is the Earthquake, you ask? Only bananas, eight scoops of ice cream, and every sauce and topping known to man. You won’t be surprised to learn that I was among the competitors. Despite my team’s loss (by two seconds, people!), it was a valuable lesson. I discovered that all of us are willing to be disgusting when it is called for.

Day 2

Rest assured, some academic lessons were learned on our second day in Monterey. We saw the paths that novelist John Steinbeck and marine biologists Ed Ricketts walked. We spent a few hours in Monterey Bay Aquarium. Best of all, I achieved a life goal; I saw a sea otter–nay, a dozen!–in the wild. They were all hanging outside the aquarium, floating on their backs, gamboling you might say. As otters do. It was amazing.

Now, at this point I assumed I was done. My goal was accomplished, the rest of the trip – the rest of the semester – did not matter. Or so I thought. As it turned out, it only got better, because when we went to Point Lobos State Reserve later that day, we saw…. More. Sea. Otters.

But even beyond the otters, Point Lobos was incredible. It was stunningly beautiful, even in the downpour. The paths were covered in the iridescent shells of abalone. After exploring the cliffs, we went tide pooling and saw some incredible creatures that we just don’t find on the East Coast. I, for instance, found a sea lemon. I did not even know that was a thing to find.

Day 3

On our third day, I reached another milestone: Falling asleep in the vans. A classic field seminar faux pas, I know. I woke up to the van creeping along cliffs that shot up out of bright blue water, flecked with foam and dotted with surfers. (No sea otters, alas.) We gathered atop the cliffs for lectures on the history of surfing and the geology of the area. Dearth of sea otters aside, the moment felt special: one of those times it became clear just how interconnected our classes are, and how connected they are to the environment around us. We ended the day in a circle, reflecting on our experiences thus far. I’m tempted to call it too kumbaya-y. But in truth, I’ll admit, it was special as well.

Day 4

I love tugboats. I do not know why, though I suspect it has something to do with Thomas the Tank Engine. Other random obsessions and their suspected causes, respectively, include: the Golden Gate Bridge (The Princess Diaries) and Alcatraz (Al Capone Does My Shirts). Suffice to say, motoring past Alcatraz and doing donuts under the Golden Gate Bridge aboard a tugboat was one of the highlights of my life.

That said, I never really understood the West Coast. I suppose I’m loyal to New England. But oh my goodness, is San Francisco cool. I spent that evening exploring the city with my classmates: walking up Lombard Street, lurking about Fisherman’s Wharf, eating crab, eating yet more Ghirardelli, riding downhill in a cable car. Needless to say, it was great.

Days 5-7

The rest of the trip passed in a blur. A walking tour of San Francisco and frisbee on the beach at Bodega Bay one day. Singing “This Land is Your Land” in the redwood forests the next. Oysters, mole crabs, pillow basalts and more. (In case you’re wondering, the oysters were delicious. No mole crabs were consumed, but I can testify that they looked absolutely monstrous.)

The Aftermath

In case you haven’t gathered by now: California was amazing. So amazing that it took me forever to process and even longer to blog about. I don’t think I’ve mentioned half of what we did.

But I’d feel remiss if I didn’t mention returning home to Mystic. Traveling might be a highlight of the semester, but by the end of our journey I was so excited to catch up on “Project Runway” with my housemates and debrief about our experiences. As someone who has had a fairly rocky college experience and can easily – easily – count the number of friends I have on my home campus on one hand, it is so exciting and comforting to have a group of people I feel comfortable and happy with. It gets better, kids.

And as always, we travel ever onwards. In the wise words of Woody Guthrie, “From California to the Gulf Stream waters.”

In other words, folks, we’re going to Louisiana.