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!

Louisiana, it’s all about the people

by Steph Trott

Hello hello! S’11 has once again returned to Mystic after yet another amazing experience away. As I wrote in my last entry, last week we visited the beautiful state of Louisiana for our final Field Seminar of the semester. It was such a treat to leave the early-Spring chill of New England for the sunshine, humidity, and warmth of the South.

We spent our first full day in New Orleans, which I had never before been to. After a walking tour around the famed French Quarter, we were given a few hours in which we explored the neighborhood, munched on beignets and chicory coffee (which you absolutely have to try if you’re ever in NOLA), and found some one-of-a-kind antique shops. After a cruise down the Mississippi on the steamboat Natchez, we drove through Thibodaux and stopped at Zam’s Swamp Tours for a guided expedition into the Bayou. We held some baby alligators, a yellow boa constrictor, and played with two adorable goats (who weren’t food for the gators, as some classmates led me to believe!).

We were very graciously hosted by the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON), which served as home base for the majority of our trip. I can’t say enough nice things about the facilities, the food, and the people who accommodated us. While the last two seminars have focused on finding a sense of place through the environment, this trip placed a heavy emphasis on the unique communities and people who inhabit the region. We met a man who caught his first gator when he was younger than we are, had an amazing and truly Southern lunch at the home of an influential Grand Isle resident, and were shown what we believe may be a 2,000 year old core sample by a Williams-Mystic alum. Seeing this tightly-knit community that so openly embraced a group of twenty-something college students made me think of my own community at home, and reminded me that it’s the people we choose to surround ourselves with the truly make our experiences unique.

Now, however, we’re back in Mystic and are putting our noses to the grindstone. This week our class is preparing for the tried and true W-M tradition known as Moot Court. In the simplest of terms, we’re going to be arguing a court case pertinent to Marine Policy in front of two judges. It involves a lot of reading and preparation, and ultimately counts toward our final class grade.  It’s certainly a lot of work, but I’m confident that my classmates and I will rise to the occasion and come through with great success.

In other news, this Saturday is Family and Friends Day! My parents will be making the drive up I-95 this Friday, and I’m really excited to show them everything I’ve been up to here. There’s going to be a lot going on, including talks by our faculty and staff, demonstrations in skill areas like shipsmithing and chantey singing, and a river tour on board the W-M vessel J&D.

Fair winds!

Travel on the Horizon

Good morning! It’s a mellow Monday and most of my house is still sleeping. Today’s a big day: after class, we have a short break for lunch and last minute tying up of loose ends before we a board a bus to the airport for our flight down to Louisiana! Right now there’s a high of 78° F in New Orleans, where we’ll be staying the night and exploring tomorrow during the day. Some more road tripping is involved in this field seminar, which means new mix CD’s, new scenery, and new conversations. Both of my parents have spend significant time in the South, so I’ve received specific instructions regarding what to expect, and, more importantly, what to eat. There’s a pile of beignets and a BIG cup of chicory coffee with my name on it waiting down at the Café du Monde, along with a crawfish dinner and a shrimp po’boy as big as my head. I can’t wait!

This weekend my friend Maggie (W-M F’09) came to visit from Bryn Mawr. After a delicious breakfast of Portuguese Fisherman omelets at Kitchen Little, she surprised our Policy professor and stayed for the day’s lecture.  After catching up with the faculty and staff, we headed out for some Lemon Chocolate Kiss ice cream at Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream and a wonderful 6-mile bike ride along the Mystic River. On Saturday morning we woke up early to accompany two classmates and our Oceanography professor out to Fisher’s Island Sound for research at Whaleback Rock. It was cold, windy, salty, and wonderful. I’ve sailed on the Sound with my family since I was a little kid, and being back on the water was refreshing and invigorating. A typical Saturday night of cookie baking, tea drinking, and movie watching was held at Kemble in the company of some classmates; the rest of the weekend involved delicious pancakes, a walk around the Seaport, chai lattés at the Green Marble Coffee Shop, and a bittersweet departure for the train station.

Things around here have been continuing on as normal…well, as normal as can be for Williams-Mystic! Classes are moving right along, our science research projects are getting off the ground and out on the water, and, after a quick dusting of snow last Thursday morning, the weather is beginning to take a turn for the better. Our house has the sweetest bunch of tiny purple flowers growing at its base, and it makes me smile each time I walk by and find another additional bunch. I can’t wait to see how many there are in a few days when we get back!

It’s been remarkable to see the changes that warm weather brings to Mystic: more people are arriving for the Seaport, the seafood shacks are preparing to open for the season, and the drawbridge will be opening to allow through an endless stream of boaters. I’m going to be sticking around this summer, meaning that all of these things are going to be multiplied and magnified exponentially! Along with another S’11 classmate, I’ll be completing research with W-M’s own Dr. Richard King regarding the maritime influences of Virginia Woolf and nautical references within her books. I’m quite thrilled at this opportunity, as Woolf is one of my favorite authors. Being in Mystic for another 2 ½ months is also an opportunity too good to pass up.

Fair Winds!

Tsunami Watch in the Pacific North West

By Steph Trott S11

Hey there, strangers! S’11 is back from an amazing (and highly memorable!) field seminar in the Pacific Northwest, where we spent a week road-tripping up and down the breathtaking Washington and Oregon coastline. Some highlights include seeing over 150 sea lions at the Sea Lion Caves in Florence, seeing the botanical gardens at Shore Acres, looking at Seattle from the top of the Space Needle, and cruising the Seattle harbor on a Crowley Tug!

Aside from the amazing scenery and events, one of my favorite parts about this field seminar was getting to know my classmates, faculty, and staff on an entirely new level. Spending 10 days aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer was unique in that I was living with and learning about a group of people I had known for approximately one week. In the case of the Pacific Northwest field seminar, we had spent over a month together and were more comfortable as a group. I really enjoyed riding with a new group of people each day; not only did we listen to some pretty excellent mix CD’s, we had time to ask questions to each other and learn more about each others’ backgrounds and goals for the remainder of the semester.

I also loved the spontaneity involved in this experience: I’m someone who likes to plan out every detail of every day, and I had to put my trust into the hands of our fabulous faculty and staff. Some of the best and most unexpected moments include blowing off some steam on a playground in Cannon Beach, swimming in the Pacific Ocean next to Haystack Rock, touring the Tillamook Cheese Factory, and doing the Banana Dance at one of our rest stops.

As you’ve undoubtedly read or heard about, S’11 also experienced the effects of a tsunami while out on the West Coast. We were staying at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology (OIMB) in Charleston, which is about 4 hours outside of Portland. We had settled into the dorms on Thursday evening, only to be awoken by 2 alarms at 1:15am and 3:30am. We mustered in the mess hall at the OIMB where we received instructions for evacuation. Following two hours of not-so-restful sleep, we packed up and left the OIMB in favor of higher ground at 5:30am.

It was wrenching to watch the earthquake’s destruction happening in Japan; we were experiencing something that happened as a direct result of the earthquake, yet there was little we could do to help. Being together as a group not only provided safety, but also forged a bond among our class that few others could understand. Our class has stood dawn watches aboard Cramer, and now has the distinction of saying we’ve stood a Tsumani Watch!

Right now I’m sitting in the library at the Marine Science Center, which we lovingly call the MSC. Oceanography, the science class I’m taking this semester, has just finished and my classmates enrolled in Marine Ecology are beginning to stroll in for their class. One of the great things about the MSC is that there’s always something going on – students do their work here, hang out on the amazingly comfortable couches, work in the lab, or check out bikes from the garage. It’s also about a stone’s throw from my house, making the MSC a prime retreat for my housemates and me.

Other places students can be found around the Williams-Mystic campus include the Keener Room in Labaree House and Sturges Cottage. The Keener Room gets a ton of natural light and contains several daily newspapers along with boating and maritime-related magazines, making it a prime place to go if you’re looking to quietly unwind. Sturges Cottage contains exercise gear, a bunch of board games, a gaming system, and a large-screen television. We’ve had a few movie nights in there, along with some pretty epic foosball games!

Today we had a guest lecturer speak in Marine Policy about wetlands and their vitality for coastline communities. I’m looking forward to the weekend, which along with some downtime will involve some paper writing for Literature of the Sea along with research for my Oceanography project. I’m also hoping to head into town on Sunday for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, but we’ll see how much work gets done by then J

Fair Winds!