Snacks, Stars, and Secchi Disks

Greetings from Mystic, CT! My name is Caitlyn Stewart and I am a senior in the Maritime Studies program at UConn, Avery Point, with a concentration in English. I began my college career as a Professional Writing major at Champlain College in Burlington, VT, but I discovered that I wanted to be closer to the ocean and to learn more about the watery environment. In high school I had taken an Early College Experience course in Maritime Studies because I wanted to view history and literature from a non-land perspective. Books like The Perfect Storm, Captains Courageous, and Moby-Dick excited me. Maritime Studies includes a broad range of subjects – economics, policy, science, archaeology, and the liberal arts. The Williams-Mystic Program understands that to learn about the ocean, all areas of study need to overlap. This combination of knowledge in the maritime world is why I moved away from singling myself out as a writing major. For the future, I envision myself working at a Maritime Museum and incorporating writing whenever I can! Perhaps a book or two will be published on the side.

For now, please enjoy the F’15 blog:

Charlie Watch – Muster! It has been over a week since F’15 returned from our offshore voyage to Lake Erie, yet we still talk as if we are on the brig Niagara. Upon our grand entrance via row boats to the anchored ship, we were divided into three ‘watches’ (a system of splitting the crew so that they are assigned certain work hours). Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie separated us from our housemates and mingled us with about 3 professional crew to conduct our training. You can imagine the hard time my classmate, Charley, had everytime the watch officer bellowed, “Charlie Watch! Eat!” He was not in Charlie. But eating, yes, was a very critical aspect for fueling our long hours of hauling on lines, bringing in the anchor, and standing lookout from 0000-0400.

Hauling Lines

Williams-Mystic, I have discovered, ensures that students never go hungry. Upon move-in day, we were all supplied with a grocery bag of breakfast and lunch goodies for the week. Chocolate waits in every office of the Labaree House office. M&M’s act as Light Attenuation Spheroids for science lab on the ship. While W-M did not control Rosy, the cook, onboard the Niagara, she met the standards of the program’s fueling legacy. A sample menu for the day:

0700: Blueberry pancakes, sausage, hashbrowns, oatmeal, cereal, fruit

1200: Grilled Reuben sandwiches, pretzels, chips, salad, fruit

1800: Butternut squash lasagna (huge hit!), rolls, salad, carrotcake

Midnight snacks: Peanutbutter chocolate cookies, banana muffins, candy bags, and granola bars. And of course, coffee and tea were available 24/7.

Lunch on Deck

We ate our food below on the berth deck when underway just as sailors would have done in1813, which is also where our canvas hammocks strung from the ceiling. After a hard day of sweating the lines, joking with the third-mate, and jumping into the lake for a swim, the hammocks felt most comforting. Falling a sleep was never an issue. Waking up was not so bad either – especially if you had the night watch! I would spring from my hammock – nearly knocking my neighbhor out as well – grab one of Rosy’s delicious snacks, and hope to be lookout at the bow of the ship. Why? The stars were clear and plentiful, and within hours, the sun would emerge from the east. All of F’15 stood this watch at some point, and would agree that seeing the Milky Way, Orion’s Belt, and Venus were worth waking up from a short four-hour nap. One of the nights on lookout with my classmate, we saw a bizarre orange disc off in the distance. It came and went, but definitely was not a ship or ordinary light to report to the officer in charge. UFO? Reporting back to the mate, I disappointingly discovered the orange disc was the moon. On land, in Connecticut, the moon never looked that odd. I wonder how many sailors claim to have seen UFOs in their time. Mermaids, monsters – sure – but were alien objects in the sky reported in logs?

Sunrise Watch

The same morning I stood watch, a rainbow fanned across the hazy blue sky. Dark clouds rode behind at horizon level like a stampede of stallions over the Beaufort white waves. Minutes later, everyone on deck slid into their foul weather gear and let the first real rainstorm ensue. I felt like a kid splashing through puddles standing there at the helm in my yellow jacket. On a ship, weather does not deter our actions. Lines dampen and sail weight increases, but everyone embraced the rain and waves as if on a roller coaster. I learned from F’15 that a positive attitude and willingness to put yourself out on a ledge (or bowsprit) will go a long way. If it weren’t for Rich King, the literature professor, and his energy about Richard Henry Dana at 2am, or his knowledge about a Lake Erie chart under the galley’s red glow in the middle of night-watch, I do not think the experience would have been the same. While our science lab had its ups and downs, with a lost Secchi disk and some missing hourly data, the passion, excitement, and energy remained high in all of us.

Ship, shipmate, self. The offshore voyage provided the foundation for the rest of our Williams-Mystic semester. Nowhere else than on a 198-foot vessel can a person become more aware of the true neccessities of life and the raw beauty of nature.

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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