The Journey Continues to Begin

Oceanographic Processes students on a trip to Napatree Beach, RI: Kennedy (Wellesley); Gabi (Bowdoin); Eleanore (Kenyon); Charlie (Univ. Rhode Island); Alana (Smith); Jorge (Williams); Bennett (Oberlin); Becca (Temple)

Greetings, everyone!  Our dear admissions director Morgan is off the hook; from now on you’ll be hearing from me, blog-wise.  My name is Bennett and I am a senior at Oberlin College, where the official papers tell me I major in History.  Williams-Mystic is an exciting thing for me, not only because of the romantic longing for the sea that I share with so much of the human race, but also because after nearly four collegiate years without touching a drop of scientific analysis, I suddenly find myself surrounded by students majoring in all the -ologies you could wish for and plenty of chances to renew my appreciation for the workings of the natural world.  (Still, as a humanities kid, I hope all these budding scientists don’t think for a moment that I will pass up any opportunity to convert data into musings on the mysteries of the soul…)

We hadn’t been in lovely Mystic, CT for much more than a week before we were whisked off to San Diego for our offshore seminar.  If you’ve been following the blog, then you know that Morgan was posting from the ship and already covered a lot of that ground, but even so it seems like a good place to start.

To refresh:  We were ten days voyaging on the SSV Robert C. Seamans, starting and ending in San Diego Harbor.  Along with the nineteen F13 students were Morgan, our literature professor Rich King, and the ship’s professional crew, comprised of three mates, four scientists, two cooks, two engineers, and one captain.  An excellent bunch, to say the least.  We sailed West away from land and all we’d known, and proceeded North.  We became quite familiar with San Clemente Island, which we passed several times to the sound of the US Navy distantly testing ammunition.  We had a look also at Santa Barbara Island and Santa Catalina Island, where we anchored for a night near the end of the trip and even had a nice swim.  We also collected samples throughout the trip and eventually put together reports based on our data.

Most importantly, we kept busy.  There is no feeling quite like being woken up in the middle of the night, rising from your bunk and feeling your way through the tilting cabin and corridors to the galley, where you claim a snack and a few sips of coffee before ascending to the deck where someone you can’t quite make out stands quietly at the helm, and the stars crowding overhead with a few hours left until dawn, when breakfast, and the end of numerous boat checks, will start to seem like real possibilities.  We were often tired but it was entirely worthwhile for the peaceful time alone standing lookout at the bow, or the incredible meals and snacks prepared by the galley, or the assistance and knowledge of the professional crew, or the sense of community you’re bound to find when you have no choice but to work together, or the singular feeling of being on an actual sailing vessel surrounded by nothing but the beautiful Pacific Ocean.

Near the end of the voyage, we felt like we’d been sailing on that ship for a very very long time, but of course as soon as we stepped off and onto hard ground it seemed like it had hardly happened.  Arriving in Mystic felt like a return to normalcy, but in fact we had spent more time on the SSV Robert C. Seamans than we had in Mystic and knew each other much better than when we’d left.  I’m sure a lot of us still felt like we were rocking back and forth as we walked around our houses that night!

We had several days off before resuming classes on a little over a week ago.  By now we are getting used to the basic schedule, although there’s always variation:  Mondays and Wednesdays we have Literature of the Sea (with Rich King) and Maritime History (with Glenn Gordinier).  Tuesdays and Thursdays, half of us take Oceanographic Processes (Lisa Gilbert) and the other half have Marine Ecology (Jim Carlton, also the program director).  Both of those classes are followed some hours later by a lab.  And Friday is the territory of the fearless Katy Robinson-Hall, our Marine Policy professor.

Of course there’s always plenty happening aside from classes.  Last week we all signed up for maritime skills, and work-study jobs for some, which commenced this week.  The skills include blacksmithing, canvas work, watercraft (small boat sailing), squad (doing cool stuff on historical vessels at the seaport), and sea chanteys.  These all meet on Mondays and Wednesdays.

This has been our first full week of classes so far.  On Tuesday afternoon the oceanography students visited Rhode Island’s Napatree Beach, while the marine ecology folks explored the waters right here in Mystic and got some quality time with the plankton.

As you’ve probably noticed, this post has been a long one; there was a lot to cover.  Next week should be a breeze.  Meanwhile, we’ll be starting preparation for Hawai’i . . .


Fair Winds,

Bennett W.

F’13 Student Blogger

F13 Goes Offshore: Day 9

Day 9- Catalina Harbor, Santa Catalina Island, CA

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

ImageWe began science presentations this morning at 0900. In pairs, students presented their unique findings related to the biological, physical,chemical, or geological features of the ocean along our cruise track. In the above picture, Bennett from Oberlin College and Alana of Smith College present their findings from sediment samples collected from the seafloor. They examined sediment grain size variability as it relates to measured currents from our three Super Stations. Their presentation was particularly interactive with samples from each testing site available for audience members to observe.

Following student presentations, we paused for snack and then enjoyed a quick splash in the waters of Catalina Island Harbor! The crew allowed the students to swim in a designated area and afforded the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of jumping off the bowsprit of the SSV Robert C. Seamans!

Members of the F’13 class splashing around off the port beam!

It is about noon here in Catalina as we weigh anchor and get underway to San Diego Harbor. This afternoon will be further discussion of Richard Henry Dana Jr.’s 1840 narrative, Two Years Before the Mast, especially in relation to some of the historical elements of the ship we’re sailing on ourselves. Students will then learn some marlinspike seamanship—splicing and whipping rope—so that each will understand how to use a traditional sail palm and a needle.

We hope to sail through the night, enjoy the stars and ship for one last set of night watches, and then come to anchor off San Diego.

F13 Goes Offshore: Day 8

Day 8 – 33° 17.7’N X 118° 32.1’W

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Raina from Carleton College and Autumn from Dartmouth College work on preparing the samples for data collection and analysis. These two are analyzing concentrations of phosphate, an important limiting nutrient for the growth of phytoplankton.

As we sailed toward an anchorage beside Santa Catalina Island, students buckled down and completing their science projects. Each watch has been divided into pairs that will analyze certain biological, physical, chemical, or geological trends and properties of the waters in which we have sailed over the course of our voyage, based on the data they collected themselves with the ship’s extraordinary equipment. The pairs will then present their findings to the ship’s crew and the WM staff/faculty aboard the ship on Wednesday morning.

Afternoon class was a reading from Moby-Dick and a discussion on what Melville and natural historians understood about plankton and productivity at sea. During the day, we pulled up pieces of kelp, watched sea lions “porpoising”–leaping out of the water, and dolphins swimming off in the distance. We practiced for emergencies with two drills: a man-overboard scenario and as if there were a fire in the engine room.

We came to anchor in Catalina Harbor, between two dramatic cliffs, where our two stewards thoroughly outdid themselves with a mock Thanksgiving dinner, replete with stuffing, cranberry sauce, and four types of pie! To prepare the feast, a few students, the engineers, and the first scientists all helped in the galley, too. After dinner, back to work preparing for the science presentations and rotating through “anchor watch,” to make sure the ship is safe while the rest of the ship’s company sleeps.

Look out for pictures from science presentations in tomorrow’s post!

F13 Goes Offshore: Day 7

Day 7 – 33° 20.7’N X 118° 32.1’W

Monday, September 9, 2013

Members of C Watch are briefed by their mate on exactly how to maintain three points of contact as they make their way up the rigging.

This morning members of the Fall ’13 class suited up and clipped in to climb aloft in the ship’s rigging! With careful instruction and safety precautions observed, students ascended as high as the topsail yard.

Raina from Carleton College, Autumn from Dartmouth College, and Eleanore from Kenyon Colleges demonstrate what happens when chlorophyll is subject to light
from the ship’s fluorometer.

After a dolphin sighting and some line handling practice, students attended class led by Captain Doug Nemeth about containerization and his own experience as a master and watch officer aboard these ships. Though we see very few ships here in the Outer Santa Barbara Passage, to the north is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world–transiting in and out of LA-Long Beach. For student reports, members of A Watch gave us a little taste of how their lab work is going through a fabulous explanation by Julia from Williams College and a live-action demonstration carried out by the entire watch.

F13 Goes Offshore: Day 6

Day 6 – 33° 28.1’N X 118° 59.3’W
Sunday, September 8, 2013

B Watch completed a “Conga Line” around the deck to tie a bow on their winning performance.

This morning around 0300, members of A and B Watch witnessed dolphins swimming in the bioluminescence of comb jellies under the starry sky. Students on watch during the earliest parts of the morning often get to experience unique occurrences that may only happen once the entire voyage. All students cycle through those early watch times and get a chance to carry out scientific collections, steer at the helm using the stars, stand at the bow with the crisp salty sea air gusting through their hair, and complete the all-important “boat check,” which is an hourly walk through the ship and record of all major systems to keep track of the safety of the ship’s company.

Today members of B Watch led the student reports with information about the weather (which has been gorgeous!) and the latest updates from the science lab. Pictured here Garrett, Becca, and Neeko led a discussion on how salinity levels have varied over the course of our voyage. Arguably, the most competitive event of the day took place after class while we were hove-to: The Pin Chase. Students lined up on the quarterdeck by watch and raced against one another to locate a designated line used to handle the many sails onboard the RC Seamans. Whether it be the main staysail halyard or the starboard jib sheet, students power-walked to that line’s pin, awaited confirmation from a member of the ship’s crew, and charged back to their watch to give the green light for the next member in line to continue the relay. The winners of today’s adrenaline-inducing Pin Chase were the distinguished members of B Watch: Garrett from the California Maritime Academy, Becca from Temple University, Piper from Williams College, Neeko from Williams, Bennett from Oberlin College, and Alana from Smith College!

Meanwhile, in the midst of all the stunning sights and fun learning about the ship’s handling, we have been having academic classes every afternoon, led by Williams-Mystic literature professor Richard King, SEA’s oceanography professor Jeff Schell, and Captain Doug Nemeth. Among others, topics have included ‘Melville and Maritime Language,’ ‘The Biogeography of the Southern
California Bight,’ and ‘Beginning Celestial Navigation.’

F13 Goes Offshore: Day 5

Day 5 – 33° 25.1’N X 118° 51.0’W

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Charlie from the University of Rhode Island tries his hand at taking an angle of the sun!

Today at Super Station #2 in the San Nicholas Basin, students took several scientific observations including water temperature and salinity, general ocean productivity, and plankton biodiversity with the Neuston Net. Students also sent their Styrofoam cups 1520m beneath the sea surface; the results were super tiny versions of the original Styrofoam cups that collapsed under the water’s pressure!

In class today, students Alex from the California Maritime Academy, Anna from Smith College, and Kyle from Smith College reported the data collected at Super Station #2 and the weather forecast that we should expect for the next 24 hours. After student reports, Admissions Director Morgan Wilson (S’10) led a discussion about the activities of the US Navy in and around our cruise track off the coast of San Diego, CA. In recent days we have seen destroyers out at sea, the reflection of their practice fire at night, and have spoken on the radio to a US Navy fuel supply ship. Following this presentation on the US Navy, Jane McCamant (S’04), third mate, led a thought provoking talk on the history of time at sea and on land. After learning about the history of time at sea, students learned how to use a sextant just like centuries of former sailors.

F13 Goes Offshore: Day 4

Day 4 – 32° 31.6’N X 118° 41.6°W

Friday, September 6, 2013

Talk about living a sailor’s life! Alex from the California Maritime Academy, Julia from Williams College, and Jorge from Williams College furl the JT under the
guidance of the ship’s First Mate.

As we continue our offshore voyage, students are truly coming to understand what life aboard is really like—whether that be gimbaled tables, waking up in the middle of the night for mid or dawn watch, or realizing the importance of delicious food! F’13 has proved to be a class full of students ready to learn and get the full experience.

During nautical science class today, students learned how to set the Jib Topsail which required a few very brave students to head out on the bowsprit and unfurl the sail. With harnesses securely clipped in and chests on the bowsprit, rotations of students furled and unfurled the JT!

Tonight we will sail to the Super Station location in San Nicholas Basin, where we will deploy a secchi disk, phytoplankton net, hydrocast, and perform a Neuston tow. Students have also decorated Styrofoam cups that will be sent down to shrink under the pressure of the ocean’s depths. Stay tuned for updates from the superstation!