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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.

S15’s Offshore Adventure Begins!

February 11, 2015

Saturday 7 February 2015

~18 nm northeast of San Juan

Hello from aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer! We have now been underway and sailing for over two nights. We are currently just north of Puerto Rico and “hove to,” holding stationary with the use of our sails, in about 700 meters of water to deploy a Shipek grab. This instrument is a specifically designed spring-loaded scoop to get a sample of the ocean bottom.

My name is Richard King, and I teach the “Literature of the Sea” course with Williams-Mystic. We arrived in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Wednesday and quickly dropped off our bags at the hotel and went back out to explore Old San Juan. As we walked, we spanned over five hundred years of history, from Ponce de Leon’s contact in the harbor in the early sixteenth century with the native Taino peoples, to the contemporary contact in the harbor of thousands of cruise ship passengers a day. We walked around the old cobblestone streets, touring a few of the oldest churches and forts in the Western Hemisphere, and had some free time for dinner before returning to our hotel early to get a good night’s sleep and a final long, hot shower.

We woke up early on Thursday and spent the entire day on the ship doing safety drills and learning about our new home, the Corwith Cramer, before we cast off the dock lines and sailed past El Morro at the mouth of the harbor, the same fort we had clambered around the day before. By Friday, most of us had got our sea legs, and by Saturday, in an extraordinarily short amount of time, we feel like we’ve been aboard for weeks. We are “learning the ropes,” literally, and learning about navigation, weather, and how to take care of the ship and ourselves at sea. We’re learning how to steer, how to set and furl sails, and how to stand lookout safely. As we write in our journals, we’ve been talking about how Hemingway sailed in similar waters and converted his decades of experience at sea into fiction, notably his novella The Old Man and the Sea, which we’ll be studying when we return. Now we’ll be able to read his novel with a sense of the marine biology and seamanship background that Hemingway had, which he subtly injected into his story.

On Friday night we had a gorgeous night, with 4 planets visible just after sunset: Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter. These were followed by a bright moon, the moons of Jupiter visible with binoculars, and a light wind enabling us to set our topsail. A few students steered during their “trick” at the wheel with a star or two as a guide.

As I type, B watch, made up of Nicole Nason (UNC Wilmington), Cornelius Chandler (Williams), Miranda Cooper (Williams), Luis Urrea (Williams), Jane Jeong (Williams), and Tom Rosenblatt (Bowdoin), are working with Erik Zettler, our chief scientist, and the other assistant ship scientists to retrieve the Shipek grab with a sample of the muddy bottom. They are examining the consistency and geological origin, discussing its color, and the reason for its grain size. They’ll then deploy a variety of other types of equipment over the side in order to get a snap shot of this body of water’s physical, chemical, and biological characteristics, data which the students will help organize and interpret here at sea, but also bring home to incorporate into the Marine Ecology and Oceanographic Processes courses back in Mystic.

All’s well, we’re all safe, and learning tons. We’ll write again in a few days, as we continue to sample these local waters and make our way toward the island of Vieques.

C Watch
This on deck on Friday morning, with students from C Watch–Darcy Cogswell (Trinity), Sasha Langesfeld (Williams), and Kevin Hernandez (Williams)-preparing to deploy the CTD carousel, which collects water samples from various depths. They collected sea water from over 1,500 meters deep!


This is from Saturday morning’s Shipek grab. B Watch gets their hands dirty, feeling the texture of the ocean bottom here, as Jane and Luis work with Professor Zettler to record the color for a standardized data description.
Off camera, Cornelius has taken a sample which we’ll bring back to Mystic for further analysis. The rest of the students, C and A Watch, are down below napping, since they were up from 1100-0300 and 0300-0700 respectively, sailing the ship to our station under the guidance of the captain and their individual watch captains.

Fair Winds, F’14!

December 19, 2014

Hi all,

It’s that time of year again: finals are over, houses are clean, goodbyes were said, and staff and faculty wish the very best to every member of Fall 2014!

At Closing Lunch yesterday, Maggie Ruopp expressed the following to her classmates:

“Time is a funny thing. Moments feel so long when you’re in them, but then in an instant, things end. Looking back, you think to yourself, where did the time go? It slipped away while you weren’t looking, while you were busy living. That’s the thing about time, it’s always going somewhere. So every now and again, stop. Look around. Realize that the moment you’re in is happening right now– appreciate it, because it’ll be gone before you know it.

 I am loud, and I talk too much, and I’m borderline inappropriate always, and I wear crazy patterns and I’m always laughing at something. But what I’ve appreciated most about this group is that while you love that side of me, you also allow me to be different. You allow me to be quiet and calm, you allow me to mother you, you allow me to be alone, you allow me to be with you. All my complexity– my sadness, happiness, darkness, light, twisted, beautiful flaws– is seen. You don’t make me feel like I have to be a certain way in order to be accepted. And that’s what real connection, real love, real friendship, real community is all about. How beautiful to be seen fully, to be loved, to be understood, because we protect what we value and we value what we understand; I feel like I’ve learned to understand all of you, therefore I value you and I will protect the relationships that we’ve built and keep you all safe in my heart.”
To every member of the Williams-Mystic community–staff, faculty, and past, present, and future students–remember Maggie’s words:
“So every now and again, stop. Look around. Realize that the moment you’re in is happening right now– appreciate it, because it’ll be gone before you know it.”
Fair Winds and Smooth Sailing.

All Aboard the Tole Mour!

October 2, 2014

“Am I prepared for this?” This was the question that kept me restless the night before we left to California for our 10-day offshore sailing voyage in the Pacific Ocean.

C Watch

C Watch

After nearly eleven hours of traveling, we arrived to Long Beach where we were welcomed aboard the Tole Mour–a 156 foot, three-masted square topsail schooner. To truly immerse ourselves in this sailing experience, we gave up all of our electronics. At first, this major disconnection to the outside world was hard to get used to but after the first 24 hours, I began to get accustomed to not being constantly connected. There were definitely instances where I wanted to use my phone, but I also appreciated the value of living in the moment and taking in the experience.

Combatting both homesickness and seasickness was quite difficult, especially with no land in sight, but aboard the Tole Mour, I had the opportunity to get a glimpse of what the life of a sailor could be like. Hauling in lines to strike sails while singing sea chanteys, steering the ship at the helm, and being on bow watch were a few of the many jobs I had aboard. I found bow watch to be my favorite duty as it gave me the opportunity to admire the vast ocean’s beauty. Occasionally, we would even see dolphins jumping beside our boat!

One night after my evening watch, I reflected upon my watch experience in my journal:

As miles of salty blue water surround us, I peer out to the straight line of the horizon. Currently, it is the only thing that is not rocking, and therefore, is the only aid to my seasickness.

The glimmering navy blue swells of the Pacific that I admired during the day are nearly unrecognizable as my night watch began. The water that was so calm only two hours prior has now become quite choppy. The darkness brought about by the evening makes the ocean look black and foreboding. Visibility is quiet limited as my watch members and I depend on the mere glimmer of red lights on the boat.


At the helm of the Tole Mour

My evenings at the bow also gave me a lot of time to reflect and appreciate those who have navigated and traveled the same seas hundreds of years prior. Although technology has rapidly modernized the way we sail and navigate, the techniques used to combat the unpredictability of the ocean have not. While at the helm, the captain explained that if navigational technology fails in a modern vessel, a sea captain must have an alternate strategy to continue on. To my surprise, one navigational technique that is still used by sailors is the same as what ocean explorers of times past used: Celestial Navigation.

Life at sea definitely took a lot of adapting to. Showering was extremely limited due to the necessity of preserving water and balance was so difficult to obtain as your body constantly battles the rocking of the boat. Numerous bruises all over my body validated that even up until the last day, I still did not get my sea legs.

Luckily, our hard work aboard the Tole Mour was compensated with many astonishing experiences. Not only did we get the opportunity to explore the world’s largest Sea Cave at Santa Barbara Island, we also had the chance to go snorkeling twice! The first time we went snorkeling, we had the chance to swim with curious sea lions. One sea lion swam only two feet below me! During my second snorkeling adventure, I had the chance to admire the diverse marine species off the shore of Catalina Island!


All geared up for snorkeling off Catalina Island!

To wrap up our trip, we had the chance to swing off of the Tole Mour on a rope swing and had an eventful evening “Swizzle” which included a fun talent show and dance party! The memories that were made aboard the Tole Mour are surely unforgettable. I am so excited to return to California on October 4th to explore San Francisco and make even more memories!

Fair Winds and Smooth Sailing,


The Home Away From Home

October 1, 2014

Dearest Readers,

Let me start off by introducing myself: my name is Michelle Goyke and I am the blogger for the Williams-Mystic Class of Fall ’14. Only five weeks into the semester, I can confidently say that I have already witnessed how life-changing the Williams-Mystic Program can be.

Currently, I am a Communication Arts major at The College of New Rochelle located in my hometown, New Rochelle, NY. Only a 5 minute commute away from home, the College of New Rochelle has provided me with both great convenience and opportunities. One such opportunity was the chance to attend Williams-Mystic.

First Night

My first night in Mystic

After living in the same city for 20 years, the idea of packing up and moving to a new city and state was both nerve-wracking and exciting. Although I am a junior in college, I felt like a freshman leaving the comforts of home for the first time. Upon my arrival to Mystic, I was in complete awe as I admired all of the exciting sites the village has to offer. As I began to move in my belongings and got to met my housemates, I was thrilled that we connected instantly. From kayaking trips to pancake breakfasts, everlasting memories are being made on a daily basis. There were so many positive vibes being exchanged that my transition came with great ease and within one week, Mystic, CT became my home.


My housemate, Anika, fellow classmate Andrew, and I kayaking in the estuary

Thus far, Williams-Mystic has offered quite a unique academic experience. This semester, I am gaining an interdisciplinary perspective by studying various topics, such as the regulation and management of coastal waters in Marine Policy, erosion and sedimentation in Oceanographic Processes, and Mystic’s role in the American fishing industry in Maritime History. In Maritime Literature, I get to deeply immerse myself in readings that I can relate to my modern-day experiences as I travel to the same areas that the authors base their stories. I have found the way we connect literature and scientific findings to hands-on learning and real-life experiences to be such a fascinating and engaging way to learn. This allows me to deeply relate and connect the experiences I have with the information I am receiving. My favorite part about our hands-on learning is how often we have a traveling classroom: one class may take place on the Charles W. Morgan and the next may be a plane ride away. How many people can say that they have had class on a dock at the Mystic Seaport, at Barn Island Marsh in their foulies, or aboard a tall ship in the Pacific Ocean? Not many.

Fair Winds and Smooth Sailing,


Our First Night at Sea

September 10, 2014

Good morning from the SSV Tole Mour!  Getting used to everything moving isn’t easy – even standing still takes effort – but we are all getting our sea legs and enjoying sailing the beautiful Channel Islands.    We’ve seen sea lions, flying fish, dolphins, pelicans, cormorants, and some fantastic floating seaweeds.

Students have now stood watch through their first full night at sea.  As part of watch, they are setting and striking sails under the direction of the captain and mates, steering, completing boat checks, standing lookout, plotting our position on the chart, and making scientific measurements.  Today we will complete our first oceanographic Super Station, and with any luck we will bring back a sediment sample from the seafloor and measure the properties of the water column to better understand the geological, physical, and chemical controls on life in these waters.

Fair Winds,

Lisa Gilbert, Associate Professor of Geosciences & Marine Science


Andrew and Hannah sampling the surface waters


C watch striking headsails on the bowsprit as the sun rose over the ocean.


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