On Nautical Science, Sail Handling, & the Music of a Ship

Thursday, 4 February 2016
Time: 1614
Position: 17° 53.7’ N by 064° 47.5’ W
Image Caption:
Course Ordered: 095
Speed: 2 knots
Weather / Wind: winds coming from the north; clear day, Cumulus clouds
Description of location:  Heading towards the Virgin Passage

Greetings from the Cramer, currently located within eyesight of the island
of St. Croix (we’ve yet to make landfall—we’re just sailing on by!). This is
Mauro once again with your daily update.

Last evening’s watch, like all watches, proved to be an exciting one. With
wind direction changing and wind speed picking, A-watch had the opportunity
to strike the main sail at 2000 yesterday evening. For the first time on our
voyage our group had to strike the main, under the cover of night with 10
people. A-watch succeeded in their task, and then quickly proceeded to
strike the jib. This required some brave individuals to go out on the
bowsprit and reef the jib. Special shout-out here to Cloey (College of New
Rochelle ‘17) who, without hesitation, was the first to make her way to the
bowsprit, clipped in with her safety harness, and climbed out to the very
end and began reefing the jib! Great job to everyone involved—it was an
excellent team effort.

This morning’s science session examined the effects of depth and pressure on
objects using a CTD on a wire and the much anticipated Styro cast. Again, in
a highly scientific manner, students sent decorated Styrofoam cups down to a
depth of 1913 meters below the ocean’s surface. What we knew and wanted to
demonstrate was that the pressure beneath the surface could turn a regular
sized Styrofoam cup (or any object) into a vastly compressed version of
itself. The evidence:


Following lunch, and again under a decent wind, A and B watches mustered
together to reef in the mainsail (more properly, this time—as you may
recall, B-watch did so yesterday evening in the complete darkness). With the
sails set, students enjoyed a bit of downtime on deck, reading more Harvey
Oxenhorn and practicing knot-tying. The 1430 class session came around and
we were greeted by Thomas and Lizzie (Millersville ’17) giving a brief
presentation of the stomatopods and fish (larval flounder and a needlefish)
found during B-watch’s midnight Neuston tow. Athanasia, Nicola, and Amanda
then presented their work on the pigment chlorophyll-a (the light absorbing
pigment found in phytoplankton) and how testing for levels of this pigment
help indicate the productivity of a body of water (higher levels of
chlorophyll-a indicate more phytoplankton, a source of nutrients and food
for higher-level marine organisms). Ecology professor Mike discussed the
abundance of bioluminescence in the waters around us, and its causes and
uses by various organisms—for example, as an escape mechanism in cephalopods
and a way of capturing prey amongst anglerfish.



We finished up our science section with a little nautical science: sextants
and knot work. Students were instructed in how to properly sight a sextant
by mates Scott and Tristan, though the rocking of the Cramer made lining up
our scope and the Sun a bit difficult! They then made their way to the next
station (the port side of the ship), where mate Eric gave lengths of
practice line and showed students how to tie, among others, the reef,
slippery reef, stopper, and bowline knots.



On a more social and personal note: students and crew have begun to settle
in to their rotations and schedules. They happily sit and converse but
recognize when one needs to break away for a nap or has to report for watch.
They’re moving together as more than a team or a ship’s crew: they function
almost like a band or an orchestra (and not just the onboard band now
composed of Lab Coordinator Kelsey on fiddle, Captain Jay on guitar, and
Chief Scientist Lisa on banjo), with Cramer’s gently rolling masts as the
conductor’s baton we all take our direction and cues from. To quote and
build off Captain Jay’s comment yesterday just before the pin chase:

“You feel that? You feel that wind? You see these sails? Mama Cramer is
happy that her crew knows their lines. That her crew is taking care of her.
She’s happy.”

Even in darkness, high winds, or choppy seas, we all know the roles we have
in keeping our ship and shipmates happy. We know how many people are needed
on each line to haul, or how fast we should ease, when to jump in and help
our fellow crew members sweat out lines, or when to hop in the galley and
take to dish duty. Just like the best of orchestras, we can read not only
Director Cramer’s cues and directions, but each other’s: our fellow
musicians, our shipmates. By simply listening to the sounds around us, we
can tell when we’re using a sextant incorrectly, when our stewards could use
an extra hand, or when our helms-person should ease into or out of the wind
a bit.

Each day on board seems increasingly complex (there’s always a new tool or
sail handling method to learn), with new challenges to face (reefing sails
on the bowsprit in high winds), and may seem undoable (learning over 100
lines in just 4 days!), but we do it. We do it because just as our
surroundings, our setting, our areas of study, our ship, and our ocean
become more and more complex as we study them, we find the beauty in that
complexity, and we love every second of it.

Until next time.

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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