Ashore in the US Virgin Islands

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


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.

C watch celebrates their victory in the pin rail chase!

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


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!

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!

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,


Spring 2017 Heads Offshore

1600 hours
7 nautical miles north of San Juan
18o27’N x 66o04’W

Good afternoon from the SSV Corwith Cramer!

I’m Lisa Gilbert, chief scientist and Williams-Mystic professor, here with: my colleagues, Professor Mike Nishizaki and Teaching Assistant Hannah Whalen; the Williams-Mystic Class of Spring 2017; and Cramer‘s professional crew.rachel_fabiolaimg_0173

It’s hard to believe that our students started their semester just a week ago. They arrived in Mystic, Connecticut from colleges and universities across the country: the University of Puget Sound, Williams College, and the University of Rhode Island, just to name a few. And now here we are, seven nautical miles off the coast of Puerto Rico and a world away from our home campus.

We arrived at San Juan yesterday and students were split into three watches, each guided by a mate and an assistant scientist. The watches have to work together closely throughout our ten-day field seminar, so they immediately began getting to know each other as they learned ship routines and safety.
This morning, Captain Sarah led safety drills and Assistant Scientists Abby, Farley, and, Marissa trained students in proper protocols for water and sediment sampling from the ship. After lunch, we got underway with Maggie (St. Lawrence University ’18) and Muriel (University of Pennsylvania ’19) from C watch at the helm and on lookout, respectively. All other students helped set sail. Within an hour, we had set the main staysail, the fore staysail, the jib, and the jib topsail.

Although everyone helped get underway, this afternoon we began rotating in six-hour shifts. One watch takes their turn sailing the ship and collecting data; the other two watches stand down to relax (or more likely, sleep).

Right now, C watch is “on.” Members of A and B watches settled in, some reading or writing in their journals and some enjoying a nap in their bunks. Many of them gathered on the quarterdeck to talk and listen to Jason (McDaniel College ’18) play the ukulele. In the main salon, where we gather to eat our meals, Nickie (Bowdoin College ’18) poured a fruit smoothie for afternoon snack.

Just then, we heard the call: “Whales on the port side!” Even the students napping quickly joined the crowd on deck to watch as four pilot whales crossed astern of us, sometimes as close as 10 meters. We watched in awe as these small black whales surfaced to breathe, over and over, until they disappeared from view.

What a great start to our trip!

Until next time, Lisa


Track Our Progress!

Please note: The information on the location of the vessel is not always updated regularly. If you notice the vessel staying in the same location for extended periods of time, do not worry. It simply means the website has not updated recently.

West Coast, Second Best Coast

Most of my knowledge of California comes from the hit 2000s show, “The O.C.”. While I might have been a little foolish to assume that our trip would just include a love triangle between a nerdy comic book kid, the prettiest girl in school, and a water polo player (season 2), I was unprepared for just how awesome the trip to California would be, even sans Seth Cohen.

Day 1

Not that I was entirely unprepared. Before departing we read Jack London’s Tales of the Fish Patrol, and John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. We studied upwelling and the Coriolis Effect. We talked about public access to the waterfront and the policies regarding fisheries. And then, we got to see the places we had read about and discussed at length.

First up: Piling into four minivans and beginning the drive from San Francisco to Monterey. Along the way, we pulled over for some leg-stretching and an introduction to our week. We stood on cliff taller and steeper than anything I know in Connecticut, leaning into the wind, as heavy fog misted our hair and soaked our faces. We also ate cookies and crasins–a tame introduction to the week of heavy snacking (and learning) ahead of us.

It was in Monterey that I began to realize what I was getting myself into. Every year, Williams-Mystic treats students to sundaes and chocolate at the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory. And every year, a few brave (read: gross) souls compete to see who can eat the Earthquake the fastest. What is the Earthquake, you ask? Only bananas, eight scoops of ice cream, and every sauce and topping known to man. You won’t be surprised to learn that I was among the competitors. Despite my team’s loss (by two seconds, people!), it was a valuable lesson. I discovered that all of us are willing to be disgusting when it is called for.

Day 2

Rest assured, some academic lessons were learned on our second day in Monterey. We saw the paths that novelist John Steinbeck and marine biologists Ed Ricketts walked. We spent a few hours in Monterey Bay Aquarium. Best of all, I achieved a life goal; I saw a sea otter–nay, a dozen!–in the wild. They were all hanging outside the aquarium, floating on their backs, gamboling you might say. As otters do. It was amazing.

Now, at this point I assumed I was done. My goal was accomplished, the rest of the trip – the rest of the semester – did not matter. Or so I thought. As it turned out, it only got better, because when we went to Point Lobos State Reserve later that day, we saw…. More. Sea. Otters.

But even beyond the otters, Point Lobos was incredible. It was stunningly beautiful, even in the downpour. The paths were covered in the iridescent shells of abalone. After exploring the cliffs, we went tide pooling and saw some incredible creatures that we just don’t find on the East Coast. I, for instance, found a sea lemon. I did not even know that was a thing to find.

Day 3

On our third day, I reached another milestone: Falling asleep in the vans. A classic field seminar faux pas, I know. I woke up to the van creeping along cliffs that shot up out of bright blue water, flecked with foam and dotted with surfers. (No sea otters, alas.) We gathered atop the cliffs for lectures on the history of surfing and the geology of the area. Dearth of sea otters aside, the moment felt special: one of those times it became clear just how interconnected our classes are, and how connected they are to the environment around us. We ended the day in a circle, reflecting on our experiences thus far. I’m tempted to call it too kumbaya-y. But in truth, I’ll admit, it was special as well.

Day 4

I love tugboats. I do not know why, though I suspect it has something to do with Thomas the Tank Engine. Other random obsessions and their suspected causes, respectively, include: the Golden Gate Bridge (The Princess Diaries) and Alcatraz (Al Capone Does My Shirts). Suffice to say, motoring past Alcatraz and doing donuts under the Golden Gate Bridge aboard a tugboat was one of the highlights of my life.

That said, I never really understood the West Coast. I suppose I’m loyal to New England. But oh my goodness, is San Francisco cool. I spent that evening exploring the city with my classmates: walking up Lombard Street, lurking about Fisherman’s Wharf, eating crab, eating yet more Ghirardelli, riding downhill in a cable car. Needless to say, it was great.

Days 5-7

The rest of the trip passed in a blur. A walking tour of San Francisco and frisbee on the beach at Bodega Bay one day. Singing “This Land is Your Land” in the redwood forests the next. Oysters, mole crabs, pillow basalts and more. (In case you’re wondering, the oysters were delicious. No mole crabs were consumed, but I can testify that they looked absolutely monstrous.)

The Aftermath

In case you haven’t gathered by now: California was amazing. So amazing that it took me forever to process and even longer to blog about. I don’t think I’ve mentioned half of what we did.

But I’d feel remiss if I didn’t mention returning home to Mystic. Traveling might be a highlight of the semester, but by the end of our journey I was so excited to catch up on “Project Runway” with my housemates and debrief about our experiences. As someone who has had a fairly rocky college experience and can easily – easily – count the number of friends I have on my home campus on one hand, it is so exciting and comforting to have a group of people I feel comfortable and happy with. It gets better, kids.

And as always, we travel ever onwards. In the wise words of Woody Guthrie, “From California to the Gulf Stream waters.”

In other words, folks, we’re going to Louisiana.

Erie-ly Different: Life changing experiences on the US brig Niagara

It began as all good things do: before sunrise.

Seventeen bleary eyed students met up with our three science faculty members in a Seaport parking lot, dragging our new LL Bean duffle bags behind us. We rode a coach bus in virtual silence to Logan airport. There was some excited chatter from those who had never been to Boston before, an occasional snore from one of the students sprawled out in the back row of seats, and the air was thick with anticipation (or stale bus farts, I’m not sure which). We bustled through airport security, I was eager to caffeinate before getting on the plane, and then after a short bit of quality airport time – brought on by the rain – we boarded. By the time we had arrived in Buffalo, New York and boarded another coach bus, (the last step in our travels to Erie, Pennsylvania), the majority of us were awake and eagerly looking out of our windows. Then, in the distance, we saw two masts poking above rooftops. We had arrived at the U.S. Brig Niagara.

While the top-notch faculty, location at Mystic Seaport, and opportunities to do groundbreaking independent research are all excellent reasons to attend Williams-Mystic, perhaps the coolest part of the program is the field seminars. The first of our seminars this semester took us on the glorious recreation of the U.S. Brig Niagara that fought in the battle of Lake Erie, which – for those of you who are not up on your War of 1812 history – was a rather decisive victory for America and granted the nation control of the Great Lakes. Also, for those not in the know about what defines a brig: a brig is a two masted, square-rigged vessel. Now that we’ve got that out of the way we can really dig into the meat of this trip.

We spent the first day on shore, eating. Actually, every day we were offshore we ate a lot too. I am happy to say that this program seems to value food almost as much as I do. Good stuff. We arrived in Erie, stuffed our faces, and then got oriented with the boat that would be our home for the next six days.

We slept on board that night. As students we were considered trainees and slept in the birth deck which is towards the middle of the vessel. We slept in hammocks rather than bunks. Now I had heard from my friend, an alum of the program, that these hammocks were the greatest thing ever. And while I did enjoy being rocked to sleep in what I can really only describe conveniently as a large canvas sack, it was not the best sleep of my life. Sorry, Alyssa (F’14).

As trainees, we were both students in the Williams-Mystic Program and members of the crew. I include our allegiance to our academic program, because it meant that we did not fully follow the same routine as the rest of the crew. Unlike the professional crew, we had class every day and did science during our watches while also getting trained in the more traditional watch-related duties. These tasks included standing on lookout, manning the helm, sail handling, and performing brig checks. We were divided into port and starboard watches and then within those watches we were also separated into divisions, so I was a proud member of 4th division, port watch. In a lot of talks we give at Mystic Seaport and in maritime literature, it is often mentioned that if two friends signed on board a vessel together and were put in separate watches they might never really see each other. I happen to be doing this program with my best friend, Grace (Brown ’18) and while we shared a few meals together, her position in 3rd division, starboard watch meant that I felt like I had not really seen her the entire trip. However, while I am sure the experience would have been great with Grace in my watch, this trip certainly leant itself to some pretty intense bonding between all members of the program, specifically with those in our divisions.

We did so many truly awesome things on the Niagara that I cannot recount them all here and do my other work, so instead I am just going to pick out a few moments that I think capture the essence of the voyage and that I know I will never forget.


Our class happened to be the Niagara’s last voyage for the season, which meant that to save on time, the crew started to down-rig her before and during our sail. When we arrived in Erie they had already unbent the mainsail, and then while we were sailing we actually got to help unbend the foresail. What this meant was that while we were slowly slipping across Lake Erie, I got to be up aloft helping them lower one of the largest sails on the vessel. I found this to be particularly cool because I had just spent the week before down-rigging on the Charles W. Morgan at the Seaport. However, instead of being tied to a wharf in an estuary, I was now sailing on the Great Lakes. Yay for practical application!

The Storm

As is the case with any good sea going narrative, we did encounter a storm. It was not quite a Moby-Dick level typhoon – Saint Elmo’s fire did not make an appearance – but it was quite exciting. Around dinnertime the sky began to darken and the ship started to jump from wave to wave. Many of us were sitting in the bow singing sea music, like nerds, and the intense movement of the vessel started to take its toll. Somewhere in the night three students performed what is fondly being referred to as the “throw up trifecta.” Yet I remember the storm as the most exciting part of the trip.

My division had the 0200 to 0500 watch, but we were woken up at 0045 and told to be on deck by 0100 for sail handling. Then my division, 4, and the division already on duty, 3, sailed the vessel to anchor. I don’t really know what we even did. It was pitch black and windy. I had lost one of my contacts on the sole of the ship when I was putting on my foul weather gear, so everything was pretty blurry too. Waves crashed over the bow, hitting us in the face with cold lake water. As trainees we (maybe it was just me) did not really know what to do, but we went where the crew told us to and threw our weight on lines that were too wet to want to move. We passed a strip of blinding white lights that made the shore seem impossibly close. In the morning, we were shown the route we had taken, and indeed the land had been right there.

When we anchored the winds calmed slightly, but they were still whistling in the rigging. Division 3 went below to their bunks, their watch now over. My division stayed on deck and began to furl the sails – protecting them from the storm. I did things at 0200 that I probably would struggle to do during normal hours of the day. I got to climb out on to the bowsprit and furl the fore topmast staysail. I got to go aloft on the main and the fore and furl topsails, and I got to straddle cranelines while attempting to furl the main topmast staysail while it blew in my face. It was awesome. Then the whole division sat in the bow and spent the last two hours of our watch telling jokes and eating banana chocolate chip muffins. When I climbed into my hammock a few minutes after 0500, I felt cold and a little dead, but I also had the distinct feeling that I had just lived a scene from a famous work of literature and could now hangout with Ishmael, Captain Aubrey and Willie Keith.

Swim Call

There are no showers on the Niagara. There are sinks, wipes, deodorant, and – if you’re lucky – a firehose that brings lake water on board. I am a pretty big fan of personal hygiene. I am not squeamish, but I shower daily and change my clothes with a fair amount of regularity. This however, was not an option while offshore, and I have to say, I am a little disgusted with how easily I adjusted to wearing the same pair of socks for four days (I wrote socks but I meant underwear). Maybe not showering would have been fine if we were not sweating, battling flies, and rubbing sediment on our hands and faces because science is exciting. This is all to say that when the opportunity to go swimming arose, my classmates and I were pretty dang excited.


Midway through the week, the captain ordered a swim call and permitted us to jump off the vessel and swim while the ship continued to sail along slowly. He warned us – half jokingly – that if the wind picked up we might need to hustle back to the ship.

This was by far the most aesthetically magnificent part of the trip. Having just read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner before we left, I kept thinking about lines from the poem when looking out at the scene in front of me. However, I recalled the lines in a sort of romantic and beautiful kind of way and less in an “I shot an albatross and now I am doomed” way. On every side of the vessel, there was water stretching out as far as the eye could see, and mind you this was before I lost my contacts. The sun was beginning to set and the sky blushed a pale pink that appeared to be melting into the lake below, making the horizon almost indistinguishable. We scrambled awkwardly across the sprityard and jumped into the sunset trusting that the water, some twelve feet below, would catch us.

We floated on our backs, staring up at a square-rigged vessel that, as suggested in Coleridge’s poem, seemed painted against the sky and water. Then as the ship sailed and the sun set, we climbed up the head rig, out of the water, and jumped in again.


In addition to these experiences that I had sailing, I think it is important to note that there was also an academic side to this experience. During our watches we sampled nitrate and phosphate levels in the lake and recorded the temperature and chlorophyll levels. We also spent five minutes a watch recording the number of birds we saw. We learned that birds hate science, because they weirdly all disappeared every time the birdwatching five minutes began. With a partner, we presented posters at the end of the week that analyzed the scientific data we collected on the voyage. My partner, Shanti (Williams ’19), and I presented on the different types of sediments found in the three basins of Lake Erie, and we titled our poster “Erie-ly Different” because we are hilarious. Please note that this is also the hilarious title of this post.


I had heard that the offshore seminar would bring us closer together. I had heard that it would change my life. I was warned that I would give up on cleanliness, that my sleep schedule would be all sorts of weird, and that there would be spiders in the rig. All of these things proved to be true, and despite my smell and the exhaustion, I think it is safe to say that this was one of the more incredible and intense experiences of my life. Also I think I kind of miss finding spiders in my hair.


Making Friends (and also Cake)

Weird things happened with my email account this past week and so there is a delay in my posts. While I am currently living it up in Week 3 of the program I am going to flashback to the events of last week.

As I mentioned in my last post, I live in Albion House along with three other girls. There is Meghan (Smith ’18), Meaghan (UCONN ’19), and Meagan (Williams ’19). Totally kidding. Meagan is actually named Kristen, but she really is a sophomore at Williams College. They are great. Maybe I will feel differently about them in a week or two but so far I am happy to be in such a friendly and fairly clean house. To be fully honest, we do need to vacuum again. Four girls. Long hair. You get the picture.

Celeste and her horse, Cupcake (2016); Meaghan Rondeau; Crayon on paper



For those of you reading this who are not alums, students, faculty, or staff, and therefore might not know how the housing works for the program, I will explain. The students are divided into four or five houses that are owned by the Seaport. All the houses are together so we can walk to and from one another’s house with ease. We shop for groceries with our houses and in Albion we eat together most nights. Albion has also taken to coloring in pictures of Disney princesses after dinner. We assume that the students who were here last semester left these coloring pages behind. Our goal is to diversify Disney. The drawings are questionable, but the process has definitely bonded us.



Barbara leaving her Bat Mitzah (2016); Hannah Thomas; Crayon on paper

Every semester the students take four academic classes which are Maritime Literature, Marine Policy and Law, Maritime History, and then a science course. I am in Oceanography with about half of the students in the program while the other half is in Marine Ecology. In addition to the academic classes we also study a skill at the Seaport, mine is blacksmithing in the Ship Smith Shop. Additionally students are given the opportunity to work while in the program so I am working as the rigging loft assistant in the shipyard, while continuing to work my normal job in the interpretation department. Several students work on grounds, but others work as research assistants for professor or work in the offices. Some even write blog posts about the program.

So far all of the classes are pretty cool. I find Oceanography to be incredibly daunting as I am not much of a science student. My preferred science is political. Perhaps my reservations are rooted in the fact that my mother was my AP chemistry teacher in high school, and there were some road bumps.  That being said, all of the professors here are ridiculously nice and involved and so it is hard to dislike any subject. Not only do they teach our classes but they come with us on our field seminars and always seem to be happy to talk. Plus, at Williams-Mystic we get to do our own research projects, sail on a tall ship, and explore the local (and not local) history. I am trying not to geek out, but it is hard for me.

While I am not willing to say that I have a favorite class, I am comfortable admitting that my favorite tradition in the classroom takes place in Marine Policy and Law where, in an effort to break up the three hour seminar on Friday morning, we break at 10:30 for snack. Each week a house is assigned the task of bringing in a snack that is both delicious and relevant, meaning that we have to try to represent the cases we are discussing in that class, in food form. The assignments run alphabetically which means that my housemates and I were first. Our readings focused on public and private interests in coastal lands and waters. Naturally, we decided to make a sheet cake with a graham cracker house and a beach, clearly showing how private land extends to the high water mark. It was delicious. I am biased, but also, c’mon. Cake is cake.


Cake aside, all of the classes have been pretty interesting. I say “pretty” because I am trying to have a laissez-faire vibe and not come across as a nerd who really likes going to class. On the first day of our literature class we got to listen to a live performance of sea music. In each history class we meet on Seaport grounds first and listen to a student lead presentation on a museum artifact. And of course we are exploring the local coastline in our science labs. Even in the classes where snack is not mandatory (and awesome), we are doing truly exciting things.

Speaking of exciting, F’16 completed a Williams-Mystic first this past weekend. A group of four students accompanied the ecology professor and the former director of the program to Long Island. The purpose of their journey was to study the recent mussel die-off. I was working so I missed this adventure, but two of my housemates, Meaghan and Meghan, went and had a wonderful time. They got lost, but they also got to ride on the ferry boats (Meaghan really likes ferries (and fairies)) and Mike, the ecology professor, bought breakfast and lunch. All good things. Jokes aside, my housemates said that it was a very interesting experience and ultimately a lot of fun.

Several of us definitely also watched Pirates of the Caribbean this weekend because we care about maritime history and inaccurate portrayals of pirates. Piratical misrepresentations aside, this week’s movie quote/piece of inspiration comes from that film because it is great, and because I think it applies to college students… sort of:

“One word, love: curiosity. You long for freedom. You long to do what you want to do because you want it. To act on selfish impulse. You want to see what it’s like. One day you won’t be able to resist.” – Jack Sparrow

All in all we are off to a great start, or at least that’s what Hannah of Week 2 thought. DUN DUN DUN!!!!

Fall’16 begins!

Hi all! Mauro, Assistant Director of Admissions, here with a quick introduction: the Fall 2016 semester began on August 22nd, with our newest crew of 17 students coming from 12 different colleges and universities. Students very quickly “learned the ropes” (or “lines,” rather) of the WM way of life since day 2 of their semester started with boarding the Mystic Whaler for a short 2.5 day Block Island Sound excursion, which our newest blogger Hannah Thomas writes about below. Everyone welcome Hannah and let’s ready ourselves for another exciting semester full of adventures told from her point of view–take it away, Hannah!

Week 1

There is a certain level of anxiety and excitement that comes with the start of every semester. Freshman year the prospect of college was thrilling, and I remember that while the thought of moving nine hours away and meeting new people made me a little sweaty, the excitement of starting what many refer to as the best years of their lives won out.

After a year of transferring colleges, crippling anxiety and the fear inducing realization that the best years of my life might be further down the road, entering my sophomore year intimidated me. Much like my freshman year, it left a lot to be desired. Classes were interesting yet not as challenging as people promised they would be, my social life on campus was non-existent, and my only respite was the weekends when I got to work at Mystic Seaport which I cornily refer to as my “Happy Place.”

Having worked at the Seaport for three years I associate the tall ships and smell of codfish with physical activity and good people. I am my happiest and best self at the Seaport. Not only is the museum home to the last surviving wooden whaleship (huzzah!), but it also is home to perhaps the most concentrated group of hardworking, intelligent, and kind people I’ve ever encountered. Suffice to say, I love it, and I want to spend all of my time there. I am a huge nerd.

Rather than allowing me to worry away the summer thinking about another year at the same old institution, I was encouraged by my coworkers and mother to apply to Williams-Mystic so that I could go to school, have incredible life experiences, and be happy all at the same time. For the first time in years, the start of a semester brought with it a sense of hope and excitement that I thought I had lost somewhere during my freshman year.

Orientation began like many do. We, the students, spent the first day moving into our assigned houses. I was fortunate enough to be placed in Albion which is perhaps the cleanest and definitely the greenest (in color) of the houses. I have a double and I still have more room than I do in my single at my home institution. Granted there is variety between houses, but honestly I think most people are pretty content with the living situation. I digress. After move-in we congregated on Seaport grounds for a brief introduction to the program and faculty and then we were fed – which obviously was great.

Following a fairly typical, albeit, enjoyable first dinner as a group, we returned to our houses to prepare for the next day’s far more unusual orientation activity. Maybe I have been oriented to schools one too many times, but the icebreakers, course selections, and awkward game nights have grown old. Fortunately for me, by day two we had set sail on the Mystic Whaler and were headed for Block Island. A quick disclaimer: the Mystic Whaler is not from Mystic, nor is it a whaleship, but it is still cool and was a lot of fun to sail on. As I mentioned previously, I work at Mystic Seaport. I am fairly familiar with sailboats and quite familiar with the area, but that did not mean that the Whaler was in anyway boring or unsatisfying. It was cool. Really cool. Again, this may sound nerdy, but keep in mind, there were no icebreakers. There was just a boat, a crew, our delightful faculty, and a group of seventeen college students who turned out to be far less nerdy than I had been picturing.

I do not want to assume things, but I feel like it is safe to say that an orientation that involves sailing on a schooner and throwing pancakes at the men who work the Mystic drawbridge is unique to Williams-Mystic. Unique, quirky, and fun. Somewhere along the line, and I am sorry that I do not remember the specifics, the crew of the Whaler made it their goal to serve the bridge controller breakfast every time they went by. I think he used to come over for breakfast when he was not working, or something like that. Regardless of the reasoning, the tradition has held fast, and as we motored down the river – sailing came later, fear not – seventeen bright students put their minds to the age old question of how to best throw a pancake at a drawbridge. Several of us opted for the Frisbee method, and while we tried our hardest, I think only one pancake, thrown by the captain himself, landed in the huge net that the bridge controller held out the window. Perhaps a lesson for this man to eat breakfast before he goes to work, rather than relying on the goodwill of a local schooner and her crew. It should be noted here that I am not athletic and therefore was not even close to getting my pancake in the net, but nobody made fun of me, which left me feeling like this group of people might be all right.

For two days, we sailed around Block Island Sound. We learned how to tack the boat which was very cool and far simpler than anything I have encountered on the square-rig vessels I am more familiar with (brag). While a lot of the focus was on sailing the Whaler, we also got an introduction to some of the material and people we would be working with. I could go into detail and probably say something science-y embarrassingly incorrectly, but instead I will just say that learning about the environmental issues in a body of water or region seem a lot more relevant when you are actually sailing on said body of water instead of when simply sitting in a classroom.

Many of us opted to sleep on deck at night, and some of us were even foolish enough to sleep on deck both nights. I say foolish not because it was really bad-it was just so cold. I usually pride myself on my preparedness but I do not think I could have been fully comfortable up on deck at night unless I had some twenty odd blankets and fleece footie pajamas. However, the romanticism of sleeping under the stars and staring up at masts won out for me – and many others – and so we slept on deck. And while I shivered under three thick wool blankets, it was a pretty memorable experience and definitely beat sleeping in a dorm room with cockroaches (which is what I have grown accustomed to).

After two full days of sailing we returned to our lovely campus, Mystic Seaport, and began to prepare more seriously for the semester ahead. Back at home we had communal living to explore, classes to start, and jobs and skills to select: all things I will happily cover in the days and weeks to come. In the meantime I have Oceanography homework to do and a Marine Policy snack to prepare. However, I would like to end each post with a final piece of wisdom from a movie about the sea.  When someone asks where you are sailing to, respond à la Jim Hawkins in the 1996 hit movie “Muppet Treasure Island,” and simply say “Wherever the wind may take us!” I am not saying this happened on the Mystic Whaler, but dang, wouldn’t it have been cool if it had?