And the Voyage begins!

Namastey! I’m Charu, the student blogger for Fall’11 Class of Williams-Mystic. I’m originally from Mumbai, India, and am a sophomore at Mount Holyoke College.

This semester, we have a diverse group of 17 students representing 13 colleges, 11 states and 2 foreign countries, and we have grown to be a very strong community already.

Soon being introduced to Mystic Seaport, Williams-Mystic campus and classes and settling in our respective houses, we sailed on SSV Corwith Cramer in the Atlantic Ocean for 10 days, conducting top-notch oceanographic research, learning sailing from the some of the best in the field and bonding over sea-sickness. On our return to WM campus, we explored the gorgeous town of Mystic and some of the most memorable trips were those to the Taste of Mystic food festival, Mystic Aquarium, Mystic Pizza and Drawbridge Ice-Cream. Soon, the classes gained momentum and we got busy with our readings and developing our research proposals.


Though, the thrill still continues. After all, this is Williams Mystic! We have had field trips to various museum exhibits at the Seaport for History class and the Weekapaug Rocky Intertidal Zone, Sabino boat trip, Barn Island Marsh, Napatree Beach and Mystic River estuary for Marine Ecology and Oceanography labs. Every house brings a ‘policy snack’ every Friday for Policy class, and last Friday, Carr House, which is my house, baked a spice cake of deliciousness and frosted it themed on a private vs public ownership issue.

This week, we began our student jobs and skills. I am assigned the Demonstration squad & Shanteys skill, and I am privileged to have the opportunity to work as a Marine Geoscience Research Assistant with Dr. Lisa Gilbert, our Oceanography professor. My friends, too, are enjoying making harpoons, woodcarving and taking sailing lessons for skills as well as their respective jobs. We are, now, looking forward to this Sunday because Glenn, our History professor, is taking us on a surfing trip! He is extremely passionate about surfing and has authored a book pertaining to the same, which will be out in the market very soon.

Last weekend was the fun-filled alumni weekend that is held every Fall semester, and we are thankful to the staff and the alumni for making it a success. We had an extremely successful auction and the money raised goes towards scholarships for future students. The highlight of the weekend, at least for me, was the Banana dance that the S’11 class left us dancing to.

An alum told me, “This will be the best time of your life if you let it be” and with every sunrise, I grow to believe in it more and more. I feel extremely grateful to be a part of the WM family this semester. These past few weeks have been fantastic and there is certainly much more to unfold!


Charu Sharma

A ship on the horizon

Position:  44.0 N x 068.9 W, near Vinylhaven, Maine

Heading:  N

Speed: 2 Knots

Weather: cloudy, light winds


Thursday, September 08, 2011


Good morning!  We’re heading towards Rockland Harbor, enjoying views of Vinylhaven to starboard, and dodging lobster pots.  C watch has the deck. Most of the other students are grabbing a few more winks after an invigorating night of sailing in 4 foot swells and 15-20 kt winds.   It’s quiet down below, except for the occasional opening and closing of the engine room door.

Yesterday we awoke to more whales, this time a group of 6 pilot whales only a few feet off our port quarter.  Later in the morning, students had one final chance to climb aloft underway.  Then, all hands gathered for a poster session. Students presented the results of our data collection over our 600+ mile cruise track, including our brief time in warmer Gulf Stream waters.

We’ll soon begin cleaning the ship in preparation for a swizzle to celebrate our last night aboard.  Then, it’s back to Connecticut for the Williams-Mystic F11 class, where we’ll enjoy the last few weeks of summer before heading to California for our second field seminar.  We are grateful to Capt. Beth, the mates, the assistant scientists, the stewards, and the engineer for helping to make this a great experience.

Until next time,

Lisa Gilbert


Svati (Dartmouth) and Greg (Brown) presenting their poster on seafloor sediment composition.

Labor Day on the Corwith Cramer!

Position:  43.1 N x 070.5 W, near Platts Bank, Gulf of Maine

Heading:  NW

Speed: 5 Knots

Weather: SSE winds, 15 knots


Williams-Mystic F11 enjoys Labor Day!

It’s Monday afternoon and we’re making great speed with the wind on our starboard quarter.  Everyone has their sea legs now and the Williams-Mystic F11 students not on watch are enjoying some time to draw, read, sing, and socialize.

For the past two days we have been sailing north.  Today we passed through Stellwagen National Marine Sanctuary and continued into the Gulf of Maine with finback whales at our side.

Every afternoon we have formal classes on deck.  Thus far, class topics have included maritime language, geologic formation of the Gulf of Maine, right of way at sea, and marlinspike seamanship.  Today we discussed territorial seas, marine sanctuaries, and had a line chase, where students showed their knowledge of the dozens of lines we use to adjust the sails from the deck.

Tonight, students begin work on their marine science projects.  Each student is in charge of presenting a subset of the data we have collected during the last week.  In addition to sampling the surface waters every hour, we completed three oceanographic Super Stations: on the continental shelf, the edge of the continental slope, and a submarine canyon. At our most distant station, we were nearly 100 miles offshore and collected water samples from 2000 meters below the surface (1.25 miles).

Dinner smells good!  We’ve been very well fed by our stewards and enjoy healthy, energizing meals through the days and nights.

Until next time from the SSV Corwith Cramer,

Lisa Gilbert, Chief Scientist

Zara (Williams) and Matt (Drexel) completing an oxygen titration in the lab, wearing the requisite funny hats.
B Watch students Gretchen (Smith), Zara (Williams), Charu (Mount Holyoke), Chris (Williams), Becky (Cal Maritime), and Matt (Drexel) learn to splice during class.

The Voyage begins

Position:  Courthouse Pier, Boston Harbor

Heading:  N/A

Speed: 0 Knots

Weather: calm, clear, 68F


August 31, 2011.  0600 on the quarterdeck.  The stars are fading from view and students are just waking up after their first night aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer. It’s a calm morning at the dock in Boston Harbor, with light wind out of the southwest and gulls flying overhead.  Yesterday, we  (the Williams-Mystic Fall 2011 class, plus a teaching assistant and oceanography professor), boarded a bus from Mystic, CT to Boston, where we met the ship and joined her crew.

We had a busy first day of safety orientation from Captain Beth and the engineer, mates, stewards, and assistant scientists.  Students are starting to learn their way around and getting accustomed to being on the ship.  They are learning lines, learning the daily routines and procedures, and practicing use of the oceanographic equipment.

As students arrive up on deck from their full night’s sleep, they look rested and excited for the next ten days.  We look forward leaving the dock after lunch and heading south toward the Cape Cod Canal.

-Lisa Gilbert

Chief Scientist aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer and Williams College Assistant Professor of Geosciences & Marine Science

Vera from Williams and Quinn from Middleburry enjoying morning snack on deck while docked in Boston Harbor.

Williams-Mystic goes surfing!

Hey there, readers! It’s certainly been a while since I’ve let you all in on the happenings of Williams-Mystic, but that’s because we’ve all been so busy! While that should come as no surprise, I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that there are only EIGHT DAYS LEFT in the semester. How on Earth did that happen? It seems like only a week ago I was shoveling out from a late January snowstorm, and now I’m working on a flower and vegetable garden for the summer. Where has the time gone?

Last Saturday, a group of my classmates and I had the chance to go surfing in Narragansett, RI with our history professor. After waking up early and going on a much needed coffee run, my housemate Harley and I made our way down to meet with the rest of our surfin’ safari. Forty-five minutes later, we were at the Narragansett Surf & Skate Shop picking out boards and wetsuits. A crash course in surfing safety and technique, then we hit the waves! I was so happy to have a wetsuit – that water was freezing!  Surfing is also a lot more difficult than it looks, which I was expecting. It was still very satisfying to catch a wave at the end of our session and be able to “surf” on my knees. I’m certainly hoping for more opportunities to work on surfing this summer; there’s a real connection between the water and the board, and I want to develop an even deeper respect for it.

On Tuesday evening we had a Community Dinner, which gave everyone the opportunity to come together and have a night off from cooking. While it was nice to have a break from the worry of dinner, cooking has become something I’ve truly found I enjoy. There’s a line in the movie Julie & Julia, in which one of the characters says that no matter how horrible her day has been, she knows that she can put certain ingredients together and they’ll always do the exact same thing. After working most of my Sunday away on an essay for Literature of the Sea, I decided that the only way to recuperate was through cucumber salad and chicken marinated in limejuice, sweet basil, and garlic. So delicious!

I’m trying to find small gifts in each day, so that when the sun has settled below the horizon and the only light is coming from the glow of my laptop as I furiously type my way to a deadline, I can have something happy to think about when I need a break. I’m looking forward to a beautiful Saturday afternoon spent outside with some friends playing Frisbee and laying the groundwork for my garden for the summer. I anticipate one more blog entry to sum up the final moments of the semester and to reflect upon everything that’s happened.

Stay tuned, and Fair Winds!

Make a Memory

by Steph Trot

While academics are a prominent and excellent facet of Williams-Mystic, another important component is the community fostered by the program, Seaport, and town. I came to Williams-Mystic from Bryn Mawr College, which is deeply rooted in fostering a sense of community through tradition. We have four annual traditions that bring the entirety of the undergraduate population together to celebrate and honor one another. Each may be looked at as a right of passage, after which the younger students become a full member of the collegiate community.

Williams-Mystic is much the same, in that we have our own class traditions that bring us all together. One of the traditions is Sunday meeting, where our house sits down to discuss the upcoming week, plan out meals, and organize a trip to the grocery store. Another involves watching the Batman movies up here in Kemble House with pizza bites and homemade cookies.  From the very silly banana dance to meals with faculty and staff, it’s these little things that truly bond us together and define us as a class.

Last Sunday, several of these habitual class activities melded together into a truly wonderful day. While at first confused as to why my alarm was ringing at 7a.m., I quickly remembered that I had told a friend I’d go sailing with them out in Snapdragon.  My housemate was an impromptu guest, and together the three of us made our way onto the water and witnessed a glorious sunrise. From there, I met up with the rest of my house and we headed into town to have breakfast at the home of Rachel and Katie, who serve as our House Advisor/Science TA and Williams-Mystic Director of Admissions. Katie just got a new cat (Rosie!), who greeted us by skirting around the living room and then hiding under the couch. An alumni from the class of S’10 was there, who told us about memories from her semester and enriched the conversation.

Once the pancakes, bacon, and eggs had disappeared and Rosie had come out of her hiding place, I headed over to a nearby café to read Moby Dick for Literature with two other classmates. We ran into a member of the Seaport staff who had attended our Pacific Northwest Field Seminar and had a fun time catching. I really like how the Williams-Mystic community extends into the greater perimeters of Mystic – you never know who you’re going to run into while on the treadmill at YMCA up the road or who you’ll see while wandering through the bookstore by Mystic Pizza. But at the end of the day, it’s ultimately the most satisfying to walk through the front door of my house here and see the three happy and familiar faces of my housemates.

When I think back on the last 2 ½ months, I find it remarkable that I’ve become so close with 24 individuals whom I had never met. Yesterday I was working in Labaree House with another classmate, who asked me if I had achieved whatever goals I’d set for myself at the beginning of the program. I came to Williams-Mystic with an open-mind, ready to handle whatever was thrown my way and grow from the experience. I didn’t have any specific “goals,” like climb the rigging of the Conrad or learn how to sail on my own. I did, however, strive to take advantage of everything offered by Williams-Mystic, which I can happily say I’ve been doing. I would recommend the same to any future classmates: take out the Snapdragon, invite your advisor to lunch, watch the sunrise from the YTB dock, make a memory.

Fair winds!


by Steph Trott

Another week in Mystic has gone by, and S’11 is as busy as ever! I’m happy to report that everyone performed well at Moot Court last Thursday and learned a tremendous amount about the legal practice of Marine Policy. After a weekend to recoup and work on a short essay for Maritime Literature, it’s back to the weekly routines of class, work, and maritime skills.

One of the academic reasons I was initially interested in Williams-Mystic was learning in a hands-on, experiential manner. In addition to having guest speakers visit, we often hold class in a location pertinent to an area we’re studying. This particularly applies to the Maritime History class, for which we start every class at a new location somewhere in the Seaport to listen to a presentation from a classmate. This mini-lecture, called Material Culture, usually involves a specific object that’s related to our readings and acts as a segway into the main lecture. For my Material Culture several weeks ago, I presented the Temple Toggle Iron, used in the prime days of the American whaling industry. While I utilized first-hand written accounts in my presentation research, I learned even more about the harpoon from Bill Scheer, who works in the James Driggs Shipsmith Shop. Over hot cocoa at my kitchen table, Bill thoroughly explained hidden details about the harpoon, its creator, and its construction. Everyone here is so eager to share their knowledge, which I find truly enriches this already unique semester.

In addition to our usual Material Culture presentation yesterday morning, we went on a walking tour of nearby Stonington Borough. While I’ve been visiting Stonington with my family for countless summers and would like to think that I’m familiar with the area, I learned a great deal about the village that I had never before known. It was fascinating to learn more about the Portuguese community that once thrived there, as well as to see first hand Greek Revival architecture dating back to the early 1800s.

Another form of hands-on learning happens two afternoons each week, when my classmates and I head onto the Seaport groups to partake in classes about traditional maritime skills. These skills, which include Demonstration Squad, Music of the Sea, Boat Handling, and Shipsmithing, offer the chance to study with a member of the Seaport staff who excels in a particular maritime trade. My skill is Demonstration Squad, in which four of my classmates and I learn about maritime skills such as sail making/handling, traditional life saving, and knot-tying.

Yesterday we climbed aloft on the Joseph Conrad, a square-rigged ship maintained by the Seaport as an exhibit and used by local schools and summer camps. The view from the yards on the Conrad is breathtaking: you can see the entirety of the Seaport grounds in just one sweep! Once back on the ground, we headed out on the river to practice rowing in the 30-ft. whaleboat. I’ve had experience rowing in the past, but never in something that required five people to operate! It was great to be on the water, and I’m hoping that the weather holds up tomorrow so that we can head back out.

While aloft on the Conrad, I spotted the new Williams-Mystic sailboat, Snapdragon, as she sailed back up the river on her maiden voyage. The absolutely gorgeous Nordica 16 was built in 1976 in Exeter, Canada and was donated to the program by the family of a W-M alumna. She’s the perfect vessel for students to learn and practice sailing, and I can’t wait to take her for a spin.

Fair Winds!