Three Cheers for Maritime Skills!

by Christina Moon, F10

Family and Friends weekend is right around the corner so we are frantically getting ready to wow our guests with the brand new things we have learned in our maritime skills classes so far this semester. Here’s a little sneak peek at the demonstrations we have planned:


Squad: Skills of the Sea and Shore – There is no shortage of activities to show off here: we’ve tackled climbing aloft, rope making, knot tying, rowing a whaling dory, and sewing ditty bags so far, but we’re going to run a drill called the Breeches Buoy this weekend. Historically this was a way to rescue people from vessels that had run up onto the rocks or were wrecked. It resembles a zip line that is rigged up through a series of steps to the mast and then the people on top hops into a buoy that looks like it has a pair of shorts attached to it and they are hauled down to shore. The goal is to complete it as quickly as possible and we’re hoping to beat the time record set by previous W-M classes.


Shipsmithing – So far, I have seen many, many hooks produced by my classmates who spend their afternoons in the blacksmith shop. On tap for later in the semester are letter openers, marlinspikes, and maybe even a harpoon or two!

Chanteys: Music of the Sea – Two of my roommates are doing chanteys as their skill so it’s not uncommon for singing to be echoing through the house. They’ve been learning both songs that were used by sailors as they worked on ships and other traditional folk songs. Instrument lessons are included as well and I believe their performance this weekend will include playing the violin, banjo, and whale bones.

Ship Carving – To learn the basics, my classmates in this skill have been practicing with lettering projects, but once that is mastered, they can go anywhere with what they decide to make next. Each student gets their own set of tools and they are responsible for sharpening and keeping them in good working shape. I’m really interested to see what kind of crazy figureheads or name boards come out of this.

Basic Watercraft Skills – I’ve been really jealous watching these guys sailing around the Mystic River in these past few weeks. They always look like they’re having such a fun time in such a beautiful setting. Of course, to be honest, I also laughed when one friend capsized – luckily no real harm done, he just got a little wet. Here’s hoping for good weather this weekend so they and everyone else can show off the great things we’ve accomplished so far this semester!


Being Chased by a Hurricane!

by Christina Moon, F10

Here we are, already in week six, and the semester is chugging along – there’s so much to share! I hope that with these weekly updates, I’ll be able to really give you a glimpse into all of the great things we do here. So let’s start at the beginning…

Opening days were a whirlwind of unpacking into our new rooms, meeting classmates, orientations galore, tours of the seaport…and it was all even crazier because of the anticipation before our first field seminar! Just as soon as we settled down in Mystic, off we went to Woods Hole, MA to meet our new home for the next eleven days – the SSV Corwith Cramer.

It’s nearly impossible to describe all of the amazing experiences our offshore sail brought to us. Our cruise track brought us from our starting point, through the Cape Cod Canal, into Boston Harbor for a night (running away from Hurricane Earl!), up to the Gulf of Maine, and to our final destination, Rockland, ME. Here are a few highlights from throughout the trip: classes held on the quarterdeck where we discussed everything from lobsters to the ins and outs of the ship’s engine room, incredible whale watching, climbing aloft to the tops of the masts, conducting science deployments all over the Atlantic Ocean, delicious food made in the galley, swim calls by the captain and jumping off the bowsprit into the “pool” (the cold waters of Maine in September), the best star-gazing, sunrises, sunsets, and just so much more.

The most memorable thing, however, that we took away from our time at sea was the experience of living like a sailor. We slept in bunks that we shared with all of the gear we had packed in our duffle bags and became accustomed to taking navy showers every three days. Our entire class was divided into three separate watch groups and there was no telling when you were assigned to be on deck or when “all hands” would be called and you were required to report for duty no matter what. We learned the lines and where everything was on Cramer so we could hoist, strike, and furl sails when the wind changed suddenly and we needed to shift directions. Everyone came aboard with different levels of expertise and knowledge of sailing, but we all walked away with unforgettable memories. Good thing our next field seminar is right around the corner…I can’t wait for California on Saturday!

Pacific Northwest Adventures

by Shanna Sorrells, S10

February 27, 2010

I love reading about places we are going to…it gives us something to connect with as we see all the sights. And this time around, I have seen some of the sights mentioned in the reader, (a packet compiled by Rich-our literature professor), already, such as Puget Sound, Mount Ranier, Mount St. Helens, and Seattle, so I was able to clearly picture so clearly the sights, sounds, smells the authors share. Reading their accounts of the Pacific Northwest’s beauty made me deeply regret not keeping a journal whilst traveling.

We are about to land in Seattle! (Just passed over Lake Washington.)

Feb 28, 2010

1235: We just finished an hour and a half ride on the Crowley, a tugboat. It was quite interesting seeing the differences in make between that boat and the Cramer. The engine room was HUGE, and so hot (749 degrees F). I was even offered earplugs. I declined, for obvious reasons, and turned off my cochlear implant/hearing aid. It was so loud, I was vibrating from sheer volume.

And from the boat, we saw container ships, loading tons of different colored containers on top of each other. The ships are so large, they can stack up entire trucks on top of each other. One danger though, is crates falling off. We had to keep our eye out for containers during bow watch while in FL, due to a recent spill…otherwise, it would have been Titanic all over again!

The magnitude of HOW MUCH “stuff”…STUFF gets imported and exported on each ship and how far everything travels boggles my mind. We are a world of instantaneous, non-ending appetites. This world has no room for instant gratification. At all hours, of every day, materials, goods, foods, are moving from one place to the next. It shakes me how we are always going going going.

From this side of the continent, most items are exported to Asia; from the East coast, to Europe, and Rich thinks Africa may receive our cargo from the South.

Feb 28, 2010

1945: Today was quite a long day. We crammed a lot of information in. And I suspect every day will be like this. Now I’m glad all my projects/proposals were due last week, before the trip. I want to be able to drink it all in and learn as much as possible without any worries/stress clouding my mind. I shall list out all the things we did today, along with notes about each:

-Pike’s Marketplace: The fish throwers had several of us stand directly under the thrown fishes…I got scales on my sweatshirt, pretty funny.

Throwing fish over our heads. Photo credit goes to David!

-Walking Tour of Seattle with Glenn: The man sure knows how to tell stories. He told us about Ivan and Skid Row. I’ll try writing about these later, much too tired now, and I ought to get ahold of someone’s notes first anyhow.

Glen sharing fascinating info about the statue of Ivan on his right

-Klondike Gold Rush National Park Exhibit: Very cool and a good lay-out of information. I found it concise, and straight to the point. People were spurred into action with the “final frontier” and hoped to strike it rich. Most people failed. Or died. I had a fascination with the gold rush period as a kid, so this certainly fed my former interest. I did remember a lot, which was lovely.

-Fishermen’s Terminal: There were so many boats here…trawlers, gill netters. Most head off to Alaska in search of salmon in mid-March. We also saw the Fishermen’s Memorial. It was sobering. A hushed silence fell upon our group as we read the names of all who had died trying to fish in Alaska’s treacherous waters. Flowers and written sentiments were placed around it. It just made me think about how we romanticize sea life, how people view it as the great escape from responsibilities. Yet, people die for it. We don’t think much about that. Between 2001 and 2009, about 70 men lost their lives. Even boys younger than me. It’s incredibly sad. I left, feeling disheartened. How do their parents feel? Their lovers? Losing a loved one at sea…swallowed up by a cold, unfeeling beast, never to be seen or heard from again. No remains. It is truly the “deadliest catch.”

This one in particular made me sad. Perhaps because it is so recent?

-Burke Museum: This was at the University of Seattle. It was a fantastic, small museum, summarizing much information you might find at the Museum of Natural History in D.C., (in which you could spend a month and still not have read or seen everything). We had pizza and a lecture from a W-M alum of S97. He has accomplished SO much and is now the Executive Director of the Yakima Basin Fish and Wildlife Recovery Board. I thought he was a much better speaker than the first. He raised many interesting thoughts about saving the salmon, including how they have evolved to human impact. If we try to restore the rivers to what they used to be, will that actually harm them? They have changed their way of life around our dams. Would it really help if we were to remove them? Could they evolve back to the way they used to be? Or is the old migration pattern still embedded in their instinct? We really don’t know.

We met some other alums as well. It is wonderful to meet others who have graduated from this program. It’s fascinating seeing how W-M has impacted their lives; in some, W-M has made a small impact, but still in notable ways, while in others, the impact is life-altering. No matter, W-M makes a mark on everyone. I have absolutely no doubt that it will make one on me as well. I’m already feeling it, actually. I am feeling fresh inspiration and I want to do so much with my life now!

Tuesday Morning, Stonington Point

by Amy Shmania, F09

The tide is coming in.  I jump off my bike in the dirt parking lot, pull a plastic bag out of my backpack, and scramble down the slippery rip rap to the water.  It is already deeper than I had hoped—if I were wearing the requisite Williams-Mystic boots, the water would come pouring over the tops, filling them with the November ocean.  But, clad in my gym shorts and sandals, a little more water makes little difference.  I grab a clump of Fucus from a rock, and stick it in my bag.  Wading through the water, I squint to see the purple shimmer of Chondrus.  It’s a treasure hunt.  Somewhere, beneath the silver and red light reflected from the sky and my sweatshirt, a patch of Chondrus is hiding.  Somewhere near my feet, a little bit of Chondrus is clutching a rock against the pull of the tide.  Up in the parking lot above me the people in their winter coats walking their dog pause to look out across the water.  They probably wonder if I am planning on going swimming.  And why.

The tide is coming in.  Seaweeds wake up and stretch.  Patches of Fucus and Ascophyllum rise up like forests, brushing against my legs as they dance in the gentle breeze of the waves.  A pod of red algae floats back and forth above the seaweed grove.  The snails on the rip rap prepare for the spray tickling their shells to gain power, crash against them, and settle into a gentle lull around their bodies.  Sifting through the algae with my fingers I see an iridescent glimmer, and pull up some Chondrus.  The Ulva I need is holding onto a rock, intertwined with some Fucus.  My bag filled with seaweed, I wade back toward the rocks below my bike and scramble up.

The tide is coming in.  The wind blows forcefully out to the open water, making little waves on the surface, but the tide pulls faithfully towards the rocks.  The sky and the water are covered in low, flat clouds which glisten silver, gray, blue, yellow, in the morning light.   A gull sits on a rock piling, facing away from the wind.  Out in the bay, buoys—red and white, yellow and green, blue and orange—fight against their tethers.  Maybe in the traps below lobsters are contemplating the meals that tempted them to tiptoe in.  Maybe they are thinking that it really wasn’t worth it.  From the parking lot, safely removed from the waves, the water is calm; the water seems empty, drawn by the invisible tide and pushed by the wind.  But in the water, everything is coming to life.

The Many Purposes of Snack.

Forget your third grade I brought my milk money snack and your grandma’s special cookies; at Williams-Mystic, we snack at a collegiate level, Division I. We haven’t gone professional because life is too good around here to up and leave due to pure snacking talent. The Williams-Mystic motto isn’t “killing time between snacks” because we sit around all day waiting to get hungry; no, here at Williams-Mystic we both work up an appetite and recognize the value of snack: its numerous applications, its diverse qualities, and its frequent relevance.

by Amy Shmania, F09

Forget your third grade I brought my milk money snack and your grandma’s special cookies; at Williams-Mystic, we snack at a collegiate level, Division I.  We haven’t gone professional because life is too good around here to up and leave due to pure snacking talent.  The Williams-Mystic motto isn’t “killing time between snacks” because we sit around all day waiting to get hungry; no, here at Williams-Mystic we both work up an appetite and recognize the value of snack: its numerous applications, its diverse qualities, and its frequent relevance.

Take, for example, Marine Policy class.  The most important message on the first page of my notes appears to be “SNACK” (capitalized, bold face, enclosed in a decisive box).  That is not to say that there is a dearth of important information on that page: my notes include our professor’s phone number, several diagrams, and the words “We value what we understand, we protect what we value.”  But right there, beneath “Intro to Marine Policy,” “SNACK” is what draws the eye.  Policy snack has purpose besides deliciousness.  During whaling week, that snack had better look like a whale or a harpoon or at least a nice little krill.  Don’t bring in some all-purpose cookies and expect to be lauded for your baking talent—oh no, if there is no fish or wave or sand, you might as well leave your snack at home.  The purpose of Policy snack: to break up class, making us believe that our three hour class is really only an hour and a half…twice in a row.  The purpose of Policy snack: to convince us that we are actually taking a 3-D art class.  The purpose of Policy snack: to relate the week’s topic to something we can all understand…food…

Policy Snack

The policy syllabus is not the only one to contain the word “snack.”  The California field seminar’s thirty page schedule has many a “snack” printed between the destinations.  On board the Corwith Cramer, midwatch meant chocolate cookies for a sugar high at two o’clock in the morning, and never a mid-morning passed without a slice of warm banana bread or fresh fruit.  Marine Ecology or Oceanography lab?  There will be chocolate in sight as you return from the salt marsh.  Late night Moot Court prep session?  We will break for snack served on animal-shaped plates.  Food is good, of course, but timing is everything.  Snack can’t live up to its full potential if delivered too soon, too late, or not at all.  Luckily, the faculty and staff of Williams-Mystic have impeccable timing.

As we all know, accidents happen.  Pirates lose their hands doing pirate things, waves come and pour over the top of rain boots, and nametags get dropped into the Mystic River.  The real test of character is how these accidents are dealt with.  In the same way that pirates adapt to life with hooks, squelchy rain boots become new musical instruments, and nametags are conveniently never needed again, when presented with lemons, Williams-Mystic makes snack. With the number of vans we have and the amount of driving we do on field seminars, it is a wonder we don’t have a collision nearly every day when we are off adventuring.  Really, we are quite adept at avoiding the many possible collisions that could occur.  However, when accidents do happen, we know what to do.

After a giant truck side-swiped Jim’s van as it tried to exit Port Fourchon in Louisiana (don’t worry-everyone was fine!), our caravan pulled into a parking lot and students and staff poured out of the vans.  “It might as well be snack time,” a staff member declared, opening the trunk of her van.  As we sat on the grass or stood in the parking lot watching the police officer take licenses, ask questions, and generally detain us, satsumas, biscuits, Craisins, and candy became our occupation.  Craig pulled out his fiddle, struck up a tune, and we danced between the cars. Were we antsy to get back on the road or annoyed at the holdup?  No.  What could be better than a freshly peeled satsuma and a jig on a sunny Louisiana afternoon?

Snack Jig

Here at Williams-Mystic we know that snacking is not merely about physical nourishment.  It is about focus, creativity, people management, problem solving, commitment, and timing.  And, more importantly, it is about climbing out of the van, pausing to look at the view, and taking a moment to enjoy the people surrounding you.  When I look at the clock in the office that, rather than displaying numbers, says “Williams-Mystic, Time for More Snack,” I see it for what it is: a trophy from the highest league, a symbol of our snacking excellence.


By Amy Shmania, F09

Walking across the green, I can smell the shipsmithing shop. Its thick and gritty odor oozes out the doors, up the chimneys, and through the skylights, sending tentacles down the sandy streets, around the shops and houses, past the horse and carriage, and into my nostrils. Inside the shop, coal is burning on the forges—deep down a bright white-yellow, fading up through orangey-red to black.

When you walk into the shop, you might expect it to be dark and grimy, the air thick with smoke, but the dirt floor is neatly swept and the smoke goes up the chimneys quite happily. The sunlight pouring through the windows illuminates piles of scrap metal, unfinished hooks and rings, buckets of hammers, a wall of metal rods. Bill, our instructor, is always pulling out new things from the piles of metal: buckets of possible projects, wrenches, unfinished hooks to be cut off and started again, a box of letters to punch into finished work. The more time I spend in the shop, the less random the buckets, stacks, and oddly assorted piles seem to me. The hammers, files, drill bits, and finishing wax all have their places in the chaos of metal.

Start with a piece of iron, not too thick. Heat it in the fire, taper the end into a point. Heat it again, and curl the tip back before bending the metal into a hook around the horn of the anvil. Heat. Cut the metal to size. Heat. Flatten the top with several hits of the hammer. Cool, drill a hole, adjust. When Bill makes a hook out of iron, it is just that simple. He holds his hammer with ease, swinging it up and down to use the least amount of muscle and the most force. The metal stays bright with heat, and it rounds or flattens or squares just right under the touch of his hammer.

Miranda, Lucy, and I do our best. The staff members in the shop like to tell visitors that working with hot iron is like molding clay. I have my doubts. Sometimes the metal gets too hot in the forge and the tip melts or a thin leaf gets holes burned in it. Some days, no matter how hot the piece you are working on looks, by the time you’ve fished it out of the coals, gotten a good hold on it, and brought it to the anvil, it has lost its colorful heat. Despite these minor frustrations and my doubts on the clay-like qualities of hot iron, the shipsmithing shop is my favorite place in the Seaport. Inside, Bill makes his famous hot chocolate (Swiss Miss plus Ghirardelli, and are ten mini marshmallows enough?), the coals send off a cozy heat, the four of us work in rhythm—metal in the fire, metal out, stop to chat, to watch, to admire—visitors come and go, the sound of pounding iron fills my head, and the metal below my hammer behaves better every day.

California Field Seminar


by Amy Shmania, F09

Day One: Travel

They didn’t warn us about the minivans.  Before the trip we had talked about van cliques and co-pilots.  We had seen the schedule with all of the places that we were going to drive.  But we could not anticipate what the van caravan really meant until, standing outside the San Francisco Airport, we watched four minivans pull up to the curb in unison as Rachel’s walkie-talkie announced: “We’re pulling in.  Load ’em up.”  As we piled into the vans, put in the first mix CDs, and listened to Glenn announce over the radio that we were moving into the right lane, we realized we were part of our own little minivan mafia.  There was no turning back now.

That was a good thing, because I don’t think any one of us had any intention of turning back.  There were too many things to see and do—a schedule so packed that to follow it seemed an impossible feat.  Yet, in all the commotion of zooming from place to place along the coast, this adventure would have ample time for soaking up the views from rocky cliffs overlooking the ocean, for dance parties, for morning swims, for Ghirardelli ice cream, and for midnight walks across the sand dunes.

Day Two: Point Lobos

Look out from the cliff, down the slope at the kelp beds, at Whaler’s Cove, at gray and black and tan cliffs covered in vegetation, at Monterey.  Pick up a shell left over from a Native American’s dinner and watch a sea lion bark where whalers used to drag their catch.  Sit here and think, but not just what comes into your head.  Think about the rocks you sit on.  Think about the use of land and water.  Think about the people, and the plants, and the animals which have been here before you.  Ponder the sublime.

Day Four: The Crowley Tugboat

I don’t think that many minivans drive into the Oakland container yard.  I don’t actually suppose that many people whose work doesn’t involve container ships would ever consider visiting the commercial port or be invited to do so.  Looking through the van window as we drove in, I saw more machinery than I had ever seen in my life.  There were massive container ships and huge cranes made to load cargo, which loomed tall and white across the sky.  Even though I had driven past the container yards near New York City several times, I had never taken a moment to think about why all of the containers were there.  Now, here we were, watching ships get loaded with cargo from and for other countries, the east coast, our wardrobes, our backpacks, our kitchen sinks.

Never passive observers, our foray into the cargo world did not stop in the shipyard.  Our destination was a tugboat owned by the Crowley Maritime Corporation, which operates the most tugboats and barges of any company in the world.  The boat was red and white, with large black tires on the sides.  The main deck was wide and open both fore and aft.  In the middle arose the three story cabin area.  The first floor housed the kitchen (as big as Carr House’s), a dining area, storage, and a head, among other things.  The next floor, which was smaller, held a few sleeping rooms, a head and a small office.  The top floor was walled-in by windows and contained computers, compasses, controls, and steering wheels for getting the boat where it needed to go.

While watching a classmate steer the boat, I learned that the tugboat is propelled by two “eggbeaters” which, when held at different angles, move the boat in different directions and at different speeds.  I also took a trip to the engine room, which was massive.  Located below decks, it took up more space than the downstairs of our house.  We could see where the “eggbeaters” were housed, and look at the engines, the generators, and the fire safety system, all brightly painted and humming noisily.

Crowley Engine Room

Back on the deck I watched a container ship get loaded from the shore.  A man in the operator box of one of the giant white cranes would reach down with a magnetic claw, pull a container off of a truck, lift it up and carry it to a new resting place among hundreds of other containers on the container ship.  Each container was moved with precision from place to place, the transaction only taking a few minutes.

Containe Ship

For a couple of hours, we had free reign of a commercial tugboat, something very few people get to do.  We got to see in action how it’s possible that my t-shirt is from El Salvador and my computer power supply was made in Taiwan.  And they gave us hats.  Which were made in China.

Day Seven: Point Reyes Lighthouse

There are over three hundred steps to get down to the where the Point Reyes Lighthouse sits overlooking the ocean, but the view is worth the hike.  To the south, lost in the fog, are the Marin Headlands and the Golden Gate Bridge.  To the north are Bodega Bay and giant hills covered with brown, yellow, and green, cows and scrubby plant life.  Directly below are tan cliffs, a few lost hats, seals, seabirds, and rocky stacks.  To the west are the Farallon Islands, ocean, and fog.

Point Reyes

Point Reyes is one of the foggiest and windiest places on the Pacific Coast.  It is isolated by the ocean and rocks and rolling hills.  It would be a lonely place to be a lighthouse keeper.  The wind on the descent to the lighthouse could be dangerous, deadly.  I wonder who would want to live there with no company but the ocean and the rocky cliffs.  Maybe the staggering beauty of the place and the purpose of saving ships from the rocks was enough.

Day Nine: Home

Walking back across the Seaport’s parking lot to Carr House, it feels good to be home, to see the leaves turning orange and red and to feel the crisp fall air.  In my pocket are rocks from a beach in Bodega Bay and in my bag are sand and dirt and salt and notes and diagrams of plate tectonics and clothes still damp with the Pacific Ocean.  It feels good to be back, carrying little bits of adventures among my socks.

To see videos from our California trip visit: