Making the Leap aboard the Corwith Cramer

 

By Bridget Hall (Williams-Mystic Spring 2017; University of Rhode Island 2018)

February 4, 2017

Francis Bay, US Virgin Islands

Coming on deck felt like walking into a dream. I’ve spent my whole life up until this semester having barely left New England—I don’t count Disney World as traveling—so I’ve been unabashedly geeking out at every new sight on the trip so far. This scene, however, was by far the most magical thing I’ve ever seen. We’re just off the islands of St. John and St. Thomas, and looking out off the ship to see the islands rising out of the sea, shrouded in mist and glowing in the softest sunlight almost immediately evoked in me a feeling of majesty, wonder, mystery, and excitement. We’re still so far away that no boats, houses, or really any signs of human habitation are visible on the islands; they’re just a lovely, far-away green. Seeing these islands for the first time from a sailing vessel is especially wonderful. I feel just like the early explorers, sailing toward lands mysterious and new. Of course, just as I was starting to soak in the view, we gybed away to do a superstation in deeper water, and I was sent below on galley duty to wash the dishes from breakfast.

After a morning of science and dishes, we had class. I’m never the most attentive student during these afternoon lectures, but today I barely registered the science minute and weather report as we passed the outer headlands of the Virgin Islands. The passing landscape is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The islands rise sharply out of the sea with mostly rocky shorelines and go straight up to pointed peaks that are covered in vegetation. They’re speckled across the sea, some with houses and some empty except for the plants and the birds. As lecture ended I fell behind, hoping to avoid returning to galley duty.

Luckily or intentionally, Sarah put me on the helm for the final leg into Francis Bay, St. John. It was the most exhilarating moment I’ve had on watch so far. The sun was slowly setting, so the whole scene—the ship, the sea, the islands, my classmates up on the bowsprit and the rigging—was tinged in gold. Arriving in Francis Bay, my first thought was that the scene was too stereotypically beautiful to be true. It’s the most perfect tropical bay, with steep green hills on both sides, green-blue water, and white beaches. The view was only spoiled by a few massive yachts in the bay. (One, the Odessa, gained infamy that night when it lit the whole bay with its blue running lights).

Once we anchored, we got the call that we’d finally be allowed to swim! After a mad rush to get ready, most people headed to the bowsprit to jump off. I’m terrified of heights, and have failed at every attempt I’ve ever made to jump off rope swings, branches, and diving boards. This time, however, I forced myself to follow the crowd. I was and still am extremely happy that I made the literal and metaphorical leap off the ship. I can only describe the feeling of launching myself off the bowsprit of a tall ship in a stunning bay in the Caribbean, as the sun set on one horizon and the moon rose on another, as pure euphoria. Today has easily been one of the best days of my life.

Reflections on Southern Louisiana

Southern Louisiana is eroding. New Orleans will one day be underwater. Yet for residents, the bayou is not just a geographical location; it is fundamentally tied to communities and ways of life that cannot be transported.

By Muriel Leung 

LUMCON, Cocodrie

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Sunset on the salt marshes surrounding LUMCON. Photo by Muriel Leung.

Stilt houses grew taller and taller, more stilt than house, as we sped down Highway 56 through the delicate web of the Mississippi River Delta toward the water. In Cocodrie, flooding is part of the way of life.

A tower-topped complex rose from the bayou like a fortress: LUMCON, the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, our home base for two nights. There, we were treated to a crawfish boil: crawfish, sausage, baked potatoes, corn, and mushrooms, which we ate to the point of nausea. We danced the two-step and waltz to Craig’s fiddle—small tastes of Louisiana.

After sunset, we went to the river to fish. Like mythical creatures, the alligators lurked in our imaginations but out of sight. Walking back, a Porsche sleeping in the driveway reminded us that we were visitors who could, at the end of the day, drive away from the bayou’s problems.       

Grand Isle

Mayor David Camardelle and Town Supervisor Chris Hernandez
Grand Isle Beach
The shores of Grand Isle, where flooding and storms have already eroded sand bags and other protective measures installed last fall. Photo by Muriel Leung.

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf spilled 4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The oil poisoned marine life and suffocated Grand Isle’s shore with tar. In 2005, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the island less than a month apart.

Families come to the Mayor Camardelle asking, “Where will we go now?” and he tells them, “You’ve got yourself and you’ve got your family,” but cannot answer. The mayor cried as he talked to us and our Chris Hernandez threw an arm around his shoulder.

On the shore’s sands, they drew designs for rock jetties to protect the islands. Environmental activists from distant places—perhaps people like us—protest these jetties, which would upset local bird populations. The mayor asked us, “Is it worth it to save a small population of birds if a whole community is lost?”

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Chief Shirell Parfait-Dardar of the Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians
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Chief Shirell Parfait Dardar describes how floods and storms are imperiling her community’s lands–and how an arduous tribal recognition process has complicated their efforts to prepare for a changing climate. Photo by Meredith Carroll.

She spoke of their twenty years fighting for federal tribal recognition, and another expected twenty years more: gathering detailed documentation of their tribal history and tradition, like cataloguing the grains of sand on a beach. Before the internet took off and sometimes even now, they have to travel as far as Texas to gather information. There is no guarantee of success.

“We keep fighting because we have no choice.”

Chief Shirell was young for a chief, thirty-something, with long black hair down to her waist and paralegal training. Her ancestors had chosen her, she said, to bridge the divide between generations. She’d already identified her heir when he was twelve. He was studying engineering. “We want them to go off and get educated. But ultimately he has to come back home.”

She took us to her people’s graveyard. Graves, uprooted by hurricanes and storms, stood completely above ground like they were waiting for us to recover them. The graveyard was packed too tightly for dignity. The chief leaned against her father’s grave and touched his picture.

They planned to create more cemetery space to honor their dead, but if the ocean submerged the site, then they would mark it with a floating memorial. That way, families would be able to ride out in boats to visit. “We’re not giving up. But we have a backup plan in case things don’t work out.”

As we left, we drove through a gated community called Southern Comfort that sat on land once belonging to the tribe. Bulkheads, which the tribe’s people lacked, protected the shiny, untouched mansions and pleasure boats that could easily be packed up and jetted away from this eroding, fragile, and vibrant place that will almost certainly one day be underwater.     

Thoughts from Mystic

Southern Louisiana is eroding. New Orleans will one day be underwater.  Bulkheads and levees will not stop the rising sea level or the hurricanes that come more and more insistently. Everyone: the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians, the Cocodrie Cajuns, the summer-vacationers—everyone except perhaps Port Fourchon pitting oil money against nature—will one day have to leave.

Yet imagine Chief Shirell or Mayor Camardelle telling their people the fight is lost, and that they must pack up and move. For them, the bayou is not just a geographical location; it is fundamentally tied to communities and ways of life that cannot be transported.

We must do something for the diverse people of Southern Louisiana so closely tied to the land. We cannot lie that the bayou will be there forever or that one more rock jetty will be the answer. But we must protect what remains for as long as we can in as sustainable a way we can, while educating the region’s next generation and allowing them to make their own decisions about their futures.


Muriel Leung, a physics major attending University of Pennsylvania, attended Williams-Mystic in Spring 2017. In addition to conducting climate research, Muriel enjoys creative writing; she edits and contributes to IMPACT, a student magazine at Penn that focuses on social justice-inspired topics. 

“Just Killing Time Between Meals”: Month 1 at Williams-Mystic

0d6262a2cb6b4b54989ef2c3e1c0a727A note from the editor: This semester, we’re welcoming Natalie (Williams ’18) as our student blogger! Natalie originally comes from King of Prussia, PA, and is now a junior at Williams College majoring in sociology with a concentration in environmental studies. She wanted to be a marine biologist when she was 7 years old, so studying at Mystic is a dream come true. Below, her first entry.

It’s hard to believe we’ve been at Williams-Mystic for a month now. It somehow feels both like it’s flown by and like we’ve been here for much longer.

New England greeted our return from the Caribbean the only way it knows how—with a blizzard. After falling into bed at 3 am, exhausted from our time on the Cramer and a long day of travel, we woke up to a blanket of snow. As the chronically early riser in my house, I was the only one awake when Chris (Florida Atlantic University ‘19), enjoying his first snowfall, attacked our house and neighboring Carr with snowballs. We spent most of the day in recovery mode: we laid around, watched TV, took naps, and talked about how we probably should start our homework.

Later that night, once everyone was awake and (somewhat) well-rested, we gathered up cookie sheets, plastic bags, and trash can lids, and headed to the top of the hill by our houses to sled. Thankfully, some neighbors took pity on us and offered us real sleds. The night’s biggest discovery: foulie pants work as sleds. Our fun came to an abrupt end when a snow plow turned onto the street and came straight for us. We escaped and went back home to—you guessed it—lie around and drink hot chocolate.

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Fast forward a few days, and it’s back to work. We had our first classes after the trip and found that it was much easier to understand The Tempest and especially William Falconer’s The Shipwreck after having actually sailed a ship. On Monday afternoon, it was a surprise when everyone showed up to the job selection meeting. Apparently we are all strapped for cash. We selected jobs ranging from shipyard assistant to ecology research and everything in between. I’ll be the “Williams-Mystic Operation Assistant,” which is a fancy term f or working in Labaree and writing occasional blog posts. Our next meeting introduced us to the skills available at the Seaport, and everyone frantically tried to narrow down their options. We agreed that the meeting made it harder to choose, not easier. In the end, everyone received either their first or second choice. I’m working on my sea chantey repertoire with Rachel (University of Vermont ‘20) and Emma (Stony Brook University ‘17). So far, we have mastered a few songs and two chords on the banjo. Baby steps.

fullsizerenderYou may be wondering about our living situation. In contrast with the boat, we live in houses with our own rooms, rather than small bunks off of the main salon. It was a relief to come home and sleep without being disturbed by someone’s dinner. So far, all is going well in Johnston House. Ellie (Yale ‘18) and I, two of the three vegetarians in our class, have persuaded Jason (McDaniel College ‘18) and Mackenzie to eat almost entirely meat-free dinners. Although our culinary skills wouldn’t impress the finest chefs, we’ve made some excellent dishes. Our favorite so far was a vegetable enchilada casserole, which is just as delicious as it sounds. Salsa, tortillas, beans, roasted vegetables—you get the picture. In fact, most of our dinners involve roasted vegetables. We’re getting pretty good at it. While we’d like to say our meals are the best, we happen to know we’re contending with a lot of excellent cooks. All of the houses have taken to sending pictures of their meals to a group chat.

Early on, one of our professors joked that Williams-Mystic is “just killing time between meals.” That’s only something of an exaggeration. On Valentine’s Day, we pooled our skills to meet at Carr House for a potluck dinner. Johnston pulled out all the stops and made pink pasta. My secret? Add a little food coloring to the cooked pasta. Disclaimer: it doesn’t work all that well. But the effort earned us praise. Carr made a delicious Caprese salad and boring non-pink pasta, while Mallory House brought fried rice and Albion House supplied dessert in the form of raspberry-filled cookies.

In addition to eating, we’re also doing our best to remember that this is in fact school. With science and policy research proposals due next week, we’ve all been frantically searching for topics while trying to stay on top of readings and write papers for history and literature. Maybe I should have started Moby Dick over winter break… Anyway, before we know it we’ll be off to the Pacific Northwest!

Science Presentations

7 February 2017, 0930 h

18o17’N x 064o37’W

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Good morning from the SSV Corwith Cramer. We are heading toward Norman Island, BVI, with Junior Watch Officer Clay (SUNY Maritime ’17) and A Watch on deck. Moments ago, we struck the topsail, after a morning downwind sail. Through the night, the watches worked with one of their own as Junior Watch Officer to set us up for an easy approach to Norman Island and they did an excellent job.

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Yesterday we held our science poster session on deck. Williams-Mystic S17 students presented data from our three Super Stations: Puerto Rico Trench, Puerto Rico Slope, and Barracouta Bank. They also shared what we learned from the surface samples we collected throughout the cruise track. We had a lively exchange, and only briefly had to duck into the main salon when rain looked like it might soak us (but didn’t). These projects are a preview of the semester-long projects they’ll design and complete in Mystic.

Our offshore voyage is very quickly coming to an end. After we clean the ship this afternoon, we’ll have a Swizzle. Students and staff have been busy signing up to entertain the ship’s company with their talents. We plan to sail through the night and come ashore in St. Croix. We are only at the beginning of our semester, with many more adventures to come, but tomorrow we will be sad to say goodbye to our shipmates aboard Cramer before we make our way back to campus in Mystic, CT.

With gratitude,

Lisa

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Another Day, Another Birthday (and Dolphins!)

5 February 2017

Good morning from the SSV Corwith Cramer!

Our schedule has been packed here aboard the Cramer. In addition to being kept busy by shipboard routines, students are hard at work preparing reports on the data we have collected thus far.

There have been some nice surprises, though. This morning, a pod of dolphins surfed our bow wake at sunrise. And this afternoon, we took a nice break to celebrate a shipmate’s birthday. Happy Birthday Rachel (University of Vermont ’20)!

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Until next time,

Lisa

Ashore in the US Virgin Islands

4 February 2017, 1700 h
18o22’N x 064o44’W

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Good morning from the SSV Corwith Cramer! This morning, Williams-Mystic S17 went ashore in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. As the sun rose, we took the small boat ashore to gather on an empty beach for class and snorkeling. Professor Mike Nishizaki and I discussed the geography, geology, conservation, and reef ecology of St John. Next, TA Hannah Whalen reviewed snorkeling safety. Students put their notebooks down, then paired up to explore the reef a few steps away. As we swam, pelicans dove for small fish. We paused for our own snack on the beach and then had some time to walk, run, or just sit and draw.

Soon after returning to the Cramer, we set sail and departed St. John. Students were busy helping and also reviewing the ship’s lines for today’s Pin Chase. The Pin Chase is a friendly competition between watches, but each watch takes pride in displaying their knowledge of the lines. It was very close. but ultimately C watch was triumphant. The entire class showed an impressive grasp of the lines and proved themselves worthy of more responsibility aboard.

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C watch celebrates their victory in the pin rail chase!

Now we’re enjoying a beautiful afternoon sailing. Until next time,

Lisa

A Sweet Day on the Corwith Cramer

2 February 2017, 1700 h
18o31’N x 065o29’W
28 nautical miles east of San Juan

Good afternoon from the SSV Corwith Cramer. We are excited to be celebrating Sarah’s birthday today! Sarah (UConn ’20) and the rest of B watch had breakfast at 0620 this morning. What a treat: Assistant Steward Ger made scrumptious cinnamon rolls!

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B watch celebrates a successful deployment of light attenuation spheroids

After breakfast, the watch came on deck to begin their science Super Station. The water is relatively shallow here (360 meters or 1180 feet deep), so we were able to use our sediment grab to scoop some carbonate mud off the bottom. We even found a few small shells and a live brittle star in our sample. We also collected water samples from several depths in the ocean, recording properties such as temperature, salinity, and oxygen content along the way. We finished the station by sampling organisms from the surface, collecting everything from microscopic plants to animals and floating seaweed.

This afternoon all hands gathered for classes on the Law of the Sea and a hands-on nautical science lesson about sail handling. Academics were interrupted by a man overboard drill. All hands quickly responded to retrieve the buoy. After discussing the drill, we celebrated with an afternoon snack: birthday brownies with rainbow sprinkles!

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Happy Birthday, Sarah!

Next, students took turns in watches gybing the ship, which means turning away from the wind before adjusting the sails to continue in a new direction.  First Chief Mate Sara Martin (Williams-Mystic S04) explained the process to A watch as they observed; other crew members assisted B and C watches as they gybed. All told, each watch got a change to handle the lines and observe the big picture.

Tonight we continue heading east and south toward shallow waters off St. John, in the US Virgin Islands.

Until next time,

Lisa