S15’s Offshore Adventure Begins!

Saturday 7 February 2015

0900
~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!

IMG_5899

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.

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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