Homeward Bound on the Corwith Cramer

Picture shows a student belowdecks on a ship sitting at a desk covered in a nautical chart, pencil and protractor in hand. It's nighttime, and the lighting is dim and red to preserve night vision
Terrell from SUNY Maritime plotting our position on the chart.

October 1, 2019

Sailing past the Block Island wind farm at dawn

Dear Friends and Family,

We sailed offshore yesterday and all night, having spent two nights at anchor off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. From the deck, we could see the village of Menemsha, home to the Vineyard’s last fishing fleet and one of the main shooting locations for Jaws. This end of the island — the western end — is full of remarkable things, some of which we could just about make out as we sailed past: the Gay Head cliffs, for one, and next to them the first land in North America that was ever set aside for Native Americans. Some of what has made the Vineyard so remarkable is no longer there to be seen.  In the nineteenth century, the island’s rural western half was the site of an unusual genetic bottleneck. So many Vineyarders were born deaf that the island developed its own sign language, which almost all islanders could use, and deafness carried no stigma or social consequence. Islanders who had grown up on the deaf Vineyard used to tell long stories about older relatives without bothering to remark that Uncle Caleb or Cousin Ralph couldn’t hear. It didn’t seem like a marker or a shaping factor in their lives.

We’ve turned north for home, heading toward the near end of Long Island Sound in Mystic, Connecticut.  Many are beginning to look back on the field seminar and take stock.  One of us is overheard saying that the one thing he “keeps coming back to is the humming of the boat – the humming and other sounds. Especially when I’m in my bunk, and it’s dark, and the hum is the only thing that’s sensible — droning sensations coming from outside the boat.”

Asked what most stands out about the trip, one student responds: “There are the dumb things, like dolphins, which are a giddy joy.” An hour later, another student says: “For me, the unparalleled moment has been standing at the bow under the stars, across the entire sky, with the bioluminescent dolphins. That was the best thing ever.”

So about those dolphins: Even before we set sail, most of us could picture dolphins by day, arcing tightly out of the water, keeping pace with the ship, like a pack of Golden Retrievers trotting alongside their owner. It was great to see these in person, but most of us had already seen them in our mind’s eye. What most of us had not realized is that at night those same dolphins glow in the dark. As they swim, they fire the ocean’s bioluminescent plankton, which traces their bodies in fluid, flickering outline. In the dark, dolphins look like old-fashioned light-bulb coils jetting alongside the ship at five or six knots: zapping, squiggling, dimming whenever the Tesla-porpoises dive or drift across the bow, and then flaring back into green-electric profile, with jets of neon shooting from their tails, as the plankton in their wake churn into ember. Not dolphins, then, but the animated ghosts of dolphins, driven forward by rockets of light.

Just before midnight some fifty miles from shore, we lowered a net to near the bottom of the ocean and towed it for half an hour. We brought up a collection of bioluminescent organisms. In a bucket in the lab, they continued to glow when stirred.  Then we stepped out on deck and looked up. The stars and the Milky Way glowed in equal majesty.

Picture shows a student gesturing while giving a presentation aboard a ship
Tristan from the University of Vermont presenting a poster on some of the physical and chemical properties of the water at our three offshore science Super Stations.

Tomorrow, we will complete this field seminar and disembark from our ship, SSV Corwith Cramer, in New London.  As we return to our houses in Mystic, it is hard to believe we are only in the fifth week of our semester at Williams-Mystic.  We have done so much come and together as a community of shipmates and friends.  We look forward to many more adventures together!

— Williams-Mystic F’19

We will share updates straight from the Cramer as they become available. In the meantime, you can track the vessel’s progress here:

https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships/shipid:426493/mmsi:366724450/imo:8617445/vessel:CORWITH_CRAMER

Please note that vessel tracking information is NOT updated continuously and the Cramer isn’t always able to provide updated location information. (Good reception isn’t a guarantee at sea!) If you notice that the Cramer appears to be in the same location for an extended period of time, it simply means the website has not yet been updated.

You can also look back at blog posts from previous Offshore Field Seminars here: https://williamsmystic.wordpress.com/category/field-seminars/offshore-field-seminar/.

Reflecting and Disconnecting, Halfway through F’19’s Offshore Voyage

There is much to look at with fresh eyes: small, silvery fish pulled from a midnight Neuston tow; rocks older than the Atlantic hauled up from the deep ocean floor; dolphins weaving back and forth in front of the bow; a finback whale in the near distance.

 

September 26, 2019

Dear Friends and Family,

It’s Thursday evening, and our journey offshore is nearing its halfway point. Over the last day, we’ve passed Georges Bank, the historic cod fishing grounds east of Nantucket, and are currently sailing across the northern end of Gilbert Canyon, just east of Oceanographer Canyon, neighboring features of the North Atlantic floor that only seem to have been named for Williams-Mystic oceanographer Lisa Gilbert. (Anyone following along from home can find us by tracing a line east from Asbury Park, NJ.)

We’ve had our queasy moments. Some rough seas a few nights back sent most of us to the rail. But the sea has settled, and our bellies with it, and there is much to look at with fresh eyes: small, silvery fish pulled from a midnight Neuston tow; rocks older than the Atlantic hauled up from the deep ocean floor; dolphins weaving back and forth in front of the bow; a finback whale in the near distance. The teaching crew, meanwhile, points high to a sail and asks us to tell the luff from the leech. Then they pass around a sextant, a centuries-old navigation device that one might at first mistake for an old-timey movie camera, and coach us in celestial trigonometry.

A listener overhears students talking. One talks about how free he feels not carrying his cell phone.

“I don’t know,” he says. “I feel more connected because I’m not connected, like I’m living in the moment for the first time in years, like I can just pay attention to what I’m doing.”

Another imagines describing life on the Cramer to someone who has never been to sea. It wouldn’t be enough just to list the day’s activities, she says. They wouldn’t communicate what life offshore is like.

“What — am I going to say that I woke up in a tiny bunk and couldn’t find my socks, and then I picked tiny shrimp out of salps for six hours? That’s not it. The ship is a machine that just keeps running, and what’s interesting is how you get absorbed into it.”

Until next time,

Williams-Mystic F’19

We will share updates straight from the Cramer as they become available. In the meantime, you can track the vessel’s progress here:

https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships/shipid:426493/mmsi:366724450/imo:8617445/vessel:CORWITH_CRAMER

Please note that vessel tracking information is NOT updated continuously and the Cramer isn’t always able to provide updated location information. (Good reception isn’t a guarantee at sea!) If you notice that the Cramer appears to be in the same location for an extended period of time, it simply means the website has not yet been updated.

You can also look back at blog posts from previous Offshore Field Seminars here: https://williamsmystic.wordpress.com/category/field-seminars/offshore-field-seminar/.

Underway on the Corwith Cramer

The first days at sea are a matter of learning everything at once. But we are also re-learning things we thought we already knew.

September 24, 2019

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Dear friends and family,

It’s Tuesday evening, and we’ve been underway for almost twenty-four hours aboard the Sailing School Vessel Corwith Cramer. We’re deep in the Gulf of Maine, well out of sight of land, east of Skate Bank and Newfound Ground. By afternoon, we had already reached the edge of US territorial waters and were gybing (turning around) to keep from sailing into Canada, whose waters we’re allowed to enter only if we turn off all of our research equipment.

We’re a big group: eighteen Williams-Mystic students; three faculty; and, offshore for the first time, Williams-Mystic director Tom Van Winkle, who is sailing as “Chief Morale Officer”; plus a professional teaching crew made up of a captain, three mates, four ship scientists, two stewards, and an engineer.  We left Mystic Sunday morning and took a bus to Rockland, Maine, where we boarded Corwith Cramer and immediately began orientation.

The first days at sea are a matter of learning everything at once. Most of us are learning new things: how to set and strike sails; how to tie bowlines and slippery reef knots; how to deploy nets and buckets over the side of the ship; how to read charts and compasses and how to tell the strength of the wind just by looking at the surface of the water; why the lobster fishery off the coast of Maine is healthier than the one in Long Island Sound; why Herman Melville thought the ocean was the right place to commune with the universe.

But we are also re-learning things we thought we already knew. We are learning to walk again (how to move low and alert in sympathy with a rolling ship). We are learning again to sit at a table (how not to capsize the salon’s loose and swinging tabletops, which are engineered to stay level even when the ship is not). We are learning to speak a new and alien English, how to say the special names that common objects carry at sea. One student looks over at another and whispers ” ‘Sole?’ That means ‘floor,’ right?”

Tomorrow we are due to conduct our first scientific superstation. The weather service just informed us that the wind overnight will be blowing from the north, which is good news for a ship that will soon be pointed south.

— Williams-Mystic F’19

We will share updates straight from the Cramer as they become available. In the meantime, you can track the vessel’s progress here:

https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships/shipid:426493/mmsi:366724450/imo:8617445/vessel:CORWITH_CRAMER

Please note that vessel tracking information is NOT updated continuously and the Cramer isn’t always able to provide updated location information. (Good reception isn’t a guarantee at sea!) If you notice that the Cramer appears to be in the same location for an extended period of time, it simply means the website has not yet been updated.

You can also look back at blog posts from previous Offshore Field Seminars here: https://williamsmystic.wordpress.com/category/field-seminars/offshore-field-seminar/.

 

Williams-Mystic F’19 Embarks on Offshore Voyage

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After spending two weeks exploring Mystic and nine days exploring Alaska on our inaugural Alaska-Washington Field Seminar, the Class of Fall 2019 has embarked on their next adventure: our ten-day Offshore Field Seminar!

Held aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer in collaboration with the Sea Education Association, Williams-Mystic’s Fall 2019 Offshore Field Seminar began Sunday in Rockland, Maine. Students and faculty will spend time getting oriented under the guidance of professional crew before heading out to sea. There, they will learn how to sail a tall ship, conduct shipboard science, and explore the Gulf of Maine, spending days at a time out of sight of land. The voyage will conclude close to home; at the end of F’19’s ten-day journey on Wednesday, October 2, the Cramer will arrive in New London, Connecticut, just ten miles away from Mystic.

The Class of Fall 2019 comprises eighteen students. Together, they represent thirteen different home colleges and universities from across the US. Their majors are just as varied, spanning not just marine biology and history but also film, political science, economics, and psychology.

For the offshore voyage, students are joined by Executive Director Tom Van Winkle along with three of their five faculty members: Assistant Professor Tim Pusack, who teaches Marine Ecology; Associate Professor of Geosciences Lisa Gilbert, who teaches Oceanographic Processes; and Professor of English Christian Thorne, who teaches Literature of the Sea.

Throughout the journey, F’19 will learn what it means to live at sea, sharing experiences with seafarers throughout history and literature. They’ll also learn what it’s like to gather scientific data from the side of a ship, and get experience analyzing this often-messy information in real time.

Most of all, every participant on the voyage will become an integral part of the ship’s crew. The nature of tall-ship sailing is that every person on board must take their share of responsibility for helping the ship get to its destination — whether that means cleaning the galley (i.e., kitchen) or standing watch at the bow at two in the morning. Under the guidance of professional crew and working together as part of six-person “watch groups,” F’19 will learn to do just that.

We will share updates straight from the Cramer as they become available. In the meantime, you can track the vessel’s progress here:

https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships/shipid:426493/mmsi:366724450/imo:8617445/vessel:CORWITH_CRAMER

Please note that vessel tracking information is NOT updated continuously and the Cramer isn’t always able to provide updated location information. (Good reception isn’t a guarantee at sea!) If you notice that the Cramer appears to be in the same location for an extended period of time, it simply means the website has not yet been updated.

You can also look back at blog posts from previous Offshore Field Seminars here: https://williamsmystic.wordpress.com/category/field-seminars/offshore-field-seminar/.

 

Setting Sail, Take Two: Kathryn Jackson’s (S’17) Offshore Voyage Journey

This post was written by S’18 alumna Audra DeLaney. Audra enjoys visiting the ocean, going on adventures, and telling the unique stories of the people and places around her. 

When Kathryn Jackson (S’17) began her Williams-Mystic semester, the opportunity to sail in the Caribbean aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer was one of the experiences she most looked forward to. Her class’s sailing voyage had just begun when an unfortunate event altered Kathryn’s experience.

KJ
Kathryn after breaking her elbow.

“Day two was fine. That night at 11:30 our watch was striking the JT [jib tops’l] and I fell and broke my elbow,” Kathryn said. The ship’s crew stepped in to care for Kathryn, determining that Kathryn would need to depart the ship to recover. Two days later, the Cramer had returned to port so Kathryn could board a flight home, where she would spend the rest of class’s offshore voyage.

As Kathryn made the journey from the ship to shore aboard a small boat, she still couldn’t believe that her offshore voyage was over.

As it turns out, there was one last, almost magical experience in store.

‘The third mate, the medical officer, [ Williams-Mystic oceanography professor Lisa Gilbert (S’96)] and I were sitting on the rescue boat looking at a rainbow right over San Juan harbor and then two dolphins [surfaced] under the rainbows,” Kathryn recalled. It was precisely the kind of moment that Kathryn had been dreaming of since her semester began. This was also the moment she realized, without a doubt, that her elbow was broken and her voyage had to end. 

Throughout the rest of their voyage, Kathryn’s classmates made sure to include her in their experiences. They kept a journal for her, for instance.

“The class carried a cardboard cut out of my head around on the ship and even tried to take it snorkeling,” Kathryn said. “There is a photo of our whole class on the beach in St. Croix where it looks like I was there.”

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S’17 on the beach in St. Croix. If you look closely, you can see the cardboard cutout of Kathryn.

Kathryn was invited to join a future semester’s Offshore Voyage to make up for the journey she had missed.

In the meantime, though, there was the rest of the semester to complete. Kathryn enjoyed the academics of the program. She especially relished exploring topics from different perspectives.

“I loved the policy class. I liked picking my own [research] project and thought the interviews were eye-opening because you were talking to people from both sides and made you think about your stance,” Kathryn said.

For Kathryn, it’s small moments with her classmates such as late-night study sessions that stand out. She felt close to her professors, too, and appreciated being able to talk with them about anything and everything. 

Kathryn completed her Williams-Mystic semester. She graduated from Millersville University with a degree in Marine Biology in 2018.

But her Williams-Mystic experience wasn’t quite finished yet. Two years after her own semester began, at the beginning of the Spring 2019 semester, Kathryn was able to return to William-Mystic for the Spring 2019 students’ Offshore Voyage — also in the Caribbean aboard the Corwith Cramer. 

Initially, Kathryn felt nervous about her return, and about sailing with a class that was not her own. From the moment she stepped aboard, though, she was welcomed into the group. From there, much of the programming felt familiar.

S'19
Kathryn, third from right, with some of her S’19 shipmates

For Kathryn, the first three days of the voyage felt like a “refresher.”

“I remembered a lot more than I thought I would,” she reflected. “But then day four came and it felt different.”

With new challenges came new accomplishments.

“When our watch struck the Jib and I went out on the bowsprit to furl it, I felt so accomplished. … I am so thankful and blessed to have been able to sail again,” Kathryn said. “I am forever grateful to Williams-Mystic for giving me the opportunity for a second time.” 

A Spanish Major by the Sea

“When we all ran to see the dolphins, or when we came face-to-face with the coral reefs during a snorkeling excursion, our majors became blurry, no longer the focus of our academic identity.”

By Hayden Gillooly

Hayden Gillooly is one of our student bloggers for Spring 2019. She is a sophomore at Williams College, studying Spanish with a concentration in Maritime Studies. She is from North, Adams, MA. 

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Members of B Watch on the bowsprit. From left to right: Samuel (University of Rhode Island ’19), Chris (Clark University ’19), Phoebe (Smith College ’20), and Hayden (Williams College ’21).

I am a Spanish major at Williams College and have always loved the sea. I decided to come to Mystic because I was craving an immersive, hands-on, full-wonder type of learning. I wanted to run on the beach and explore tidal pools. I wanted to travel with my classmates and learn while doing. I wanted to play.

One month ago today, I moved into my room in cozy Carr House at Williams-Mystic and was greeted by a journal with a note from Executive Director Tom Van Winkle. Included was this quote by Rachel Carson: “If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.” Wonder.  

As we sailed off the coast of Puerto Rico for our ten-day Offshore Field Seminar aboard the Corwith Cramer, I fell in love with the sea immediately. I fell in love with the way the ocean seemed to change colors from deep blue to aquamarine. With the way everyone on the ship paused for sunsets and sunrises, and the way my soul felt while staring into the vastness. With the way the sun danced on the water droplets on my skin and on the waves. My thoughts flowed so naturally as I journaled, perched on the bowsprit:

1/29/19: I am watching the tail end of sunset. This stillness is incomparable. I’ve never noticed before now how the night grows hungrier and consumes the colors so gradually. There are impeding dark clouds approaching on either side, enveloping the pink and blue hues. Soon, the night will be here, and the stars and moon. Amazing how the colors & stars can coexist in perfect harmony, even if for a moment. It feels as if I am in a dream—staring at the masts, the stars, the sky. There are so many stars, untouched by the light pollution. A natural night.

1/30/19: On lookout tonight at the bow, I could see the bioluminescent plankton below me, feel the salty spray of waves breaking against the bow. I even saw a shooting star. I marveled at the way the dark waves looked: as if someone was shaking a sheet—fabric ripples. A sheet of stars and a sea of glowing foam. A while later, we went through a squall, and the wind was blowing my yellow rain-jacketed body.

1/31/19, 11:11am: I am sitting on the bowsprit and staring at the ocean below me. Ten feet below me lies water that is a shade of blue unlike anything I have ever seen. It looks icy, but it is warm. My heart feels full—it feels so ‘right ‘to be here. Crazy to think how many millions of creatures are under me right now. Heck, there were over 100 alien-like creatures in one Petri dish from a sample we took last night. With antennae and long legs.

1/31/19 1:03 pm: WE WERE JUST WITH A POD OF DOLPHINS!! Watching them flop and swim and dive and play alongside the ship—a real show. And all of our faces, so joyful, so childlike. Hands down one of the best moments. This is our classroom. We were the happiest. I think I shall hold this moment in my pocket, and take it out whenever I need a smile.

2/5/19 On our last day on the bowsprit, we were watching sunset, and three dolphins appeared out of the golden sidewalk right under us. Like something out of a movie. Later while on night watch, we went onto the bowsprit again and were read a passage of Moby Dick by one of our professors. And I saw a shooting star.  

When we all ran to see the dolphins, or when we came face-to-face with the coral reefs during a snorkeling excursion, our majors became blurry, no longer the focus of our academic identity. We are learning skills that can be applied to any classroom, field of work or study, and situation. We are learning to love our wonderful world, to get re-excited about learning, and how to build a community.

 

Now, back in Mystic, we are continuing to build community. We’re learning how to improve communications skills, as our houses of four to six students each manage weekly allowances, chores, and cooking. We’re learning how to be more inquisitive and curious learners, as our classes begin in earnest. We’re learning to ask questions, lots of them: to be curious about how the world works.

Williams-Mystic and the Mystic Seaport Museum are filled with people who are remarkably passionate about their fields. It’s inspiring. From them, I am learning the value of loving what I do, and of sharing that passion with those around me. Our professors make themselves very accessible, and it is so special to build relationships with them outside of the classroom. Last night, the whole community—students, faculty, staff—came together at Tom’s house for a chili cook-off. We laughed, played board games, and just talked. One of our classmates played lovely piano music in the background.

I have re-read Tom’s letter to me numerous times in the past month, and I have concluded that my ‘good fairy’ is Williams-Mystic, for she has given me a sense of wonder that I feel will reside within me for years to come. I can think of no other program in which the phrase “interdisciplinary learning” more truly comes to fruition. It is more than just a phrase here; it is a way of life.

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Chasing Lines and Going Ashore: A Weekend on S’19’s Offshore Field Seminar

A swim call, a day ashore, and a line chase: All in a weekend offshore.

February 3, 2019

North of St. Croix

After sailing through the day on Friday, the SSV Corwith Cramer anchored in Francis Bay off the island of St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, late that afternoon.

During Friday’s nautical science class, students got their chance to demonstrate how well they knew the ship’s lines via a relay race called the line chase. The three watches competed against one another, with each member taking their turn to find an assigned line. B Watch — Chris (Clark University), Samuel (University of Rhode Island), Hayden (Williams College), Phoebe (Smith College), Em (Vassar College),  Henry (Williams College), and alumni guest Kathryn (S’17, Millersville University) — came in first place! A and C Watch finished not far behind.

To everyone’s delight, the entire crew then got to enjoy a “Sierra Charlie” (swim call) in the beautiful, azure waters of Francis Bay.

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S’19 students enjoying a
dip in the tropical waters off St. John.

On Saturday, Williams-Mystic students, faculty, and staff went ashore to go for a hike, followed by snorkeling near Waterlemon Cay and a visit to the Annaberg Sugar plantation. There, they observed the ruins of the sugar mill and boiling house, and had class on the connections between Caribbean slavery and industrialization. Upon returning to the ship, all hands pitched in to get the Corwith Cramer and her crew ready for sea once more.

The students have also been busy analyzing data from the three science superstations they conducted, as well as from our three seafloor sediment grabs. The poster session is coming up quickly, and all are busy determining what their data tell us about the waters through which we have been sailing. We can’t wait to learn what they’ve found out!


Track the Cramer‘s progress by clicking the link below!

https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships/shipid:426493/mmsi:366724450/imo:8617445/vessel:CORWITH_CRAMER 

Important Note: Vessel tracking information isn’t updated continuously and the Cramer isn’t always able to provide updated location information. (Good reception isn’t a guarantee at sea!) If you notice that the Cramer appears to be in the same location for an extended period of time, it simply means the website has not yet been updated.