Setting Sail from San Diego!

Tuesday September 18, 2012


San Diego Harbor, San Diego, CA

32°43’N, 117°10’W


Good afternoon! This is Katie Clark, the Director of Admissions for Williams-Mystic, the Maritime Studies Program of Williams College and Mystic Seaport. I am here aboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans with the Fall 2012 class, Chief Scientist Dr. Lisa Gilbert a Williams-Mystic professor, and 12 members of the ship’s professional crew. I will be writing throughout our trip on the happenings about the ship so be sure to look back from time to time for updates!

We arrived in San Diego on Monday to a warm and sunny California day. After a brief look-about at the San Diego Maritime Museum our students and their heaps of luggage were taken by small boat to board the ship. This means that our students hopped in a dingy from shore, rode through the traffic of the Harbor, and climbed up the ship’s ladder and placed their feet on the deck of the ship they will crew for the next ten days. Students are split into three watches: A Watch, B Watch, and C Watch which are six person watches led by a Mate and an Assistant Scientist. Fall 2012 students will learn to steer the ship at the helm, read a compass, handle lines, furl and unfurl sails, help in the galley (the ship’s kitchen), and check on the extensive workings of the engine room, among a plethora of other adventures!

This morning students arose at 0600 for breakfast and jumped right into the schedule of the ship. We have been working in stations to cover safety procedures throughout the ship including safety drills, proper line handling, and a science lab and equipment tutorial. James from the New School, Betsy from Wheaton, and Michael from Williams practiced the commands and operations for the wire which we’ll use to deploy oceanographic equipment later in the voyage. Students will be recording scientific observations in the science lab throughout our trip.

We will be enjoying a delicious lunch today made by Lauren and Sayzie, the talented stewards, before we haul up the anchor and leave San Diego Harbor this afternoon! At that point the students will have officially become crew members of the SSV Robert C. Seamans! An exciting step in our offshore field seminar!

Fair Winds,


Finding the Right Words

March 2, 2012

Hi all!

I’m Monica and I’m the blogger for this semester! I hope you all enjoy following me as I report back on S12’s Williams-Mystic adventures. It’s been more than two weeks since our adventures on the SSV Corwith Cramer, and I still have trouble articulating what a life-changing experience it has been. Before we left for our offshore seminar, we were given a course packet of readings to familiarize ourselves with life at sea. I was particularly struck by the excerpt from Herman Melville’s Redburn, which is based upon his first voyage:

“But what seemed perhaps the most
strange to me of all, was a certain wonderful rising and falling of the
sea; I do not mean the waves themselves, but a sort of wide heaving and
swelling and sinking all over the ocean…. It made me almost dizzy to look at it; and yet I could not keep my eyes
off it, it seemed so passing strange and wonderful.”

I’ve always been drawn to the romantic allure of the sea; it’s partly why I chose Williams-Mystic.

But while Melville imagines the waves as a gently rocking cradle, the first days on Cramer we more often felt like a vinagrette, vigorously shaken. The shipmates who were waxing poetic about the Odyssey were now paying tribute to Neptune over the rail. All of us got divided into eight-people watches; led by a watch officer and a scientist, each group was given the task of turning twenty-four landlubbers into salty sailors. As two of the healthiest people on A-watch, Katy One (Katy Ficarra) and I took the log, set the sails, and ran hourly boat checks. While everyone enjoyed being the lookout for incoming ships, my favorite job was taking the helm and steering through dawn watch (0300-0700). I remember steering by the North Star and watching the sky lighten above me, and feeling incredibly at peace.

It’s still hard for me to believe that the trip was only ten days, that it only took ten days to call a hermaphrodite brigantine ship home. It’s impossible to not become friends once you’re shipmates and you’ve slept, eaten, hauled lines and thrown up over the rail together. Along the way, you find out what matters. With ship’s time, the days all bleed into one another and you learn to relish simpler pleasures: tracing the constellations you never can see back home, tying your first bowline and climbing aloft and seeing the endless ocean before you.

Before we left Cramer, we were warned that we could get landsick upon our return. My first night back on dry land, I woke up with the room rising and falling. The sea was cradling me awake, only now I understood why the sea reminded Melville of rocking his brother in the cradle. When you love someone, your hands will linger before letting go.

Fair winds,

The Spring 2012 class in Key West, FL with professors Lisa Gilbert, Katy Hall and staffers Megan Flenniken and Danielle Diuguid!

I would sail 500 miles…

Position:  24 14’N x 084 46’W

Heading:  083T

Speed:  8 kt

Weather:  NE Force 4

Good day from SSV Corwith Cramer and the Williams-Mystic S12 class.  What a great day it is to be sailing!  We are south of Key West and riding the Florida current, which has advanced our progressed by as much as 2 knots at times. Thus far we have sailed more than 500 miles.

This morning, all hands gathered for student presentations of marine science results, describing and interpreting the data and samples we all helped to collect over the past week or so. B watch researched the physical and geological conditions of different sites along our cruise track: Ariel and Caiti focused on temperature and salinity data while Connor and Nicole analyzed ocean sediments. Those are only a couple of examples of the science that has been conducted aboard the Cramer, which will be compiled in a Cruise Report that students will refer to throughout the semester in their Williams-Mystic science classes.

Now that we’ve wrapped up our science reports for the offshore voyage, students are relishing their last couple of days at sea.   Students standing watch continue to keep the ship sailing smoothly; they have already begun to take more responsibility for the ship and for sailing maneuvers such as gybing, and for important tasks such as a much needed deck wash (which really was fun!).   In their off-watch time, students have been soaking up opportunities to learn how to use a sextant, tie a variety of knots, sing sea songs, and write down some of their experiences and observations.

We are so used to waking up at odd times for watch, it will be strange to sleep through the night again when we return to Mystic.  As Lara said a few days ago, “I never knew there were so many hours in the day!”


Karen and Monica in front of their poster on the surface currents we measured in the Straits of Florida and Gulf of Mexico.

Coral reefs and local shipwrecks on the Dry Tortugas

Position:  24 26’N x 082 50’W

Heading:  118T

Speed:  4 kt

Weather:  NE Force 3

The Williams-Mystic S12 class went ashore today, spending the morning at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas.  Zoe, Bianca, and Catherine were among the first students in the water.  They dropped their day packs and jumped in the water.  We all climbed on the fort, snorkeled, and then had class at the beach:  topics included coral reefs, the Dry Tortugas National Marine Sanctuary, and local shipwrecks, taught by Professors Lisa Gilbert and Katy Hall.  Katy met us today via ferry, and has joined the ship’s company, bringing our total on board to 38 people.

After lunch we sailed off the hook, headed southeast toward Key West.  It’s evening watch now and we’re currently sailing under the four lowers, with a nice sailing breeze.  Alex L. is at the helm.  Lara, Bianca, and Connor are in the lab, finishing their reports for tomorrow’s oceanography poster session.  It’s hard to believe that we have less than three days left on the ship.

Grace and Emanuel exploring Fort Jefferson with the Corwith Cramer in sight behind them!

Music on the Quarterdeck

SSV Corwith Cramer

February 5, 2012

Position:  25 28’N x 084 19’W

Heading:  196T

Speed:  3 kt

Weather:  SE Force 3

We have now been sailing for five days (and 303 nautical miles) out at sea out of sight of land. Everyone aboard now has their sea legs, and we have been enjoying the delicacies provided by our wonderful stewards, who work day and night in the galley cooking for a crew of 37 people! Yesterday, we enjoyed some fabulous cupcakes in honor of two birthdays: Sunny, a member of the S12 class, and Anne, our 3rd Assistant scientist on board.

Celebrating birthdays barely scratches the surface of the fun we’ve been having this past week. If you browse our previous entries, you will learn of all the excitement that happens while the students are standing watch on deck and in the lab. We also wanted to give you a taste of life at sea when the students are off watch. Yesterday, Danielle joined Kate and Grace on the quarterdeck to practice knots, including the bowline and reef knots with Dylan, Chief Mate.  At the same time, Omer, Karen, Taylor, and Sunny-were enjoying a few minutes of free time singing together, since we have unplugged from many modern conveniences including radios. Some of the highlights were the Proclaimers’ “500 Miles” and The Beatles, “Obla-di Obla-da.” Many students joined in for a verse or two while they passed the starboard side quizzing each other for today’s pin chase.  This afternoon, students will all demonstrate their knowledge of what at first appeared “a great thicket of ropes.”  Now, we know those as the 74 lines that we have been regularly using to set, strike, furl, and trim the sails and brace the yards.

When S12 is not in class or on watch (or singing, eating, or learning knots and lines on deck), they catch up on reading and sleep, write in their journals, and meet with the other members of their watch to prepare for their next shift.  There is no question that S12 has managed to stay both busy and entertained throughout our voyage, and has learned a tremendous amount about going to sea and about working together.

Kate tying a bolin knot on deck!

S12 – Keeping the ship in tip-top shape!

SSV Corwith Cramer February 3, 2012

Position: 24 49’N x 084 45’W

Heading: 175 T

Speed: 4 knots

Weather:  Cloudy, Force 4

Blog report

3 February 2012


Greetings from the deck of the Corwith Cramer! It is Friday, February 3rd here and the Spring 2012 class (S12) has officially been sailing in the Florida Straits for over 48 hours! S12 has logged about 200 miles at sea thus far. It is a breezy and fairly cloudy day with a temperature of 26 degrees Celsius. We are currently sailing 4-5 knots with the staysails set.

The students are quickly acclimating to life at sea and are routinely waking up for watch at 1900 in the evening or 0300 in the morning. Those on deck watch are responsible for keeping the ship sailing smoothly, which involves hauling on lines to set sails, plotting our course, steering the helm, and making sure the ship is in tip-top shape every hour, on the hour. During mid watch last night (2300 – 0300 hours), Alex L., Carly, Bianca, and Lara gybed twice with their watch officers, which means they brought the stern of the ship into the wind to change direction. They also brought the main sail down, the largest sail on the ship, which they set earlier that morning during their previous watch.

While the students are divided into 3 watches and are therefore up and roaming about the deck at different hours, they all come together for class (on the quarterdeck!) at 1430 each day. The students participated in their first class session together yesterday afternoon, where Professor and Chief Scientist Lisa Gilbert led a history and science class on Ben Franklin’s discovery of the Gulf Stream and our Captain Tom “Sully” Sullivan introduced us to sail theory. Starting this afternoon, students that stand dawn watch (0300-0700 hours) will also be reporting to the S12 class on their scientific discoveries in the wee hours of the morning.

That’s all for now-check back and visit soon to hear about our next adventures!

Zoe, Nicole, Connor, and Alex S. on morning science watch!

The Offshore Adventure Begins for Spring 2012

Position: 24 21.9’N x 083 18.6’W

Heading: 306 degrees T

Speed: 7.6 knts

Weather: NE Force 4

Blog report

2 February 2012

11:05 am

Hello from the Corwith Cramer!  The Williams-Mystic Spring ’12 class is currently southwest of Key West and we have logged 101.6 miles at sea thus far. It is sunny, with few clouds and 27.5 degrees Celsius. We are sailing at a speed of 4.6 knots with the main and squares set, and grateful for 15 knot winds from the southeast.

The past 12 hours have been busy. The students assigned to deck watch have kept us sailing along smoothly and the students in the science lab have been busy collecting data.  At midnight the students of A watch in the science lab- Omer, Taylor, Karen, and Emanuel – deployed the neuston net. The net was pulled through the surface waters for half an hour, sparkling with bioluminescence.

B watch relieved A watch at 0300. The students in lab during this watch were Connor, Nicole, Meg and Ariel. They sorted through the midnight sample collected by A watch. Some exciting organisms found in the sample were Vellela vellela (a jelly-like surface animal), a pteropod (type of pelagic snail), euphausids (a type of shrimp), small larval fish, and sargassum seaweed.

Right now C watch is on duty and Bianca, Lara and Carly are working in the science lab. They have been conducting hourly water sampling stations (“hourlies”) since their watch started at 0700. Carly tossed a bucket over the side to collect water (of course, with a rope attaching it to the ship so we don’t lose it!). Once the bucket was on deck, Bianca dipped a YSI meter into the bucket and determined that the water is 24.2 degrees C and 36.1 psu (warm and salty!). C watch was punctuated by an excellent mid-morning snack from the stewards-warm blueberry muffins served on the quarterdeck.

Those are only a few of the highlights from the science lab from the past 12 hours. Next time we’ll share more about what the students have been learning as they stand deck watches, keeping the ship sailing smoothly through the night and day as the science watches have been making discoveries about the sea.

– WM Crew

Tat, Sunny, and Monica and the light green waters of Key West Harbor!