Finding the Right Words

March 2, 2012

Hi all!

I’m Monica and I’m the blogger for this semester! I hope you all enjoy following me as I report back on S12’s Williams-Mystic adventures. It’s been more than two weeks since our adventures on the SSV Corwith Cramer, and I still have trouble articulating what a life-changing experience it has been. Before we left for our offshore seminar, we were given a course packet of readings to familiarize ourselves with life at sea. I was particularly struck by the excerpt from Herman Melville’s Redburn, which is based upon his first voyage:

“But what seemed perhaps the most
strange to me of all, was a certain wonderful rising and falling of the
sea; I do not mean the waves themselves, but a sort of wide heaving and
swelling and sinking all over the ocean…. It made me almost dizzy to look at it; and yet I could not keep my eyes
off it, it seemed so passing strange and wonderful.”

I’ve always been drawn to the romantic allure of the sea; it’s partly why I chose Williams-Mystic.

But while Melville imagines the waves as a gently rocking cradle, the first days on Cramer we more often felt like a vinagrette, vigorously shaken. The shipmates who were waxing poetic about the Odyssey were now paying tribute to Neptune over the rail. All of us got divided into eight-people watches; led by a watch officer and a scientist, each group was given the task of turning twenty-four landlubbers into salty sailors. As two of the healthiest people on A-watch, Katy One (Katy Ficarra) and I took the log, set the sails, and ran hourly boat checks. While everyone enjoyed being the lookout for incoming ships, my favorite job was taking the helm and steering through dawn watch (0300-0700). I remember steering by the North Star and watching the sky lighten above me, and feeling incredibly at peace.

It’s still hard for me to believe that the trip was only ten days, that it only took ten days to call a hermaphrodite brigantine ship home. It’s impossible to not become friends once you’re shipmates and you’ve slept, eaten, hauled lines and thrown up over the rail together. Along the way, you find out what matters. With ship’s time, the days all bleed into one another and you learn to relish simpler pleasures: tracing the constellations you never can see back home, tying your first bowline and climbing aloft and seeing the endless ocean before you.

Before we left Cramer, we were warned that we could get landsick upon our return. My first night back on dry land, I woke up with the room rising and falling. The sea was cradling me awake, only now I understood why the sea reminded Melville of rocking his brother in the cradle. When you love someone, your hands will linger before letting go.

Fair winds,

The Spring 2012 class in Key West, FL with professors Lisa Gilbert, Katy Hall and staffers Megan Flenniken and Danielle Diuguid!

Author: williamsmystic

A one semester interdisciplinary ocean and coastal studies program integrating marine science, maritime history, environmental policy, and literature of the sea.

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