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

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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