First Month!

Hi Everyone! Steph here, the student blogger for the S’11 class of Williams-Mystic! If you haven’t had a chance to read my bio, here’s a brief bit about me: I’m a third-year student at Bryn Mawr College studying English and Creative Writing and hail from the fabulous state of New Jersey.

While this may be my first blog entry, the Spring semester has been underway for about a month here at Williams-Mystic. My classmates and I returned to home base two weeks ago and have been thrown once again into the “real” world of deadlines, technology, and chaos. I’ve definitely found myself wishing on more than once occasion that I were standing the 3a.m. bow watch!

Speaking of which, here are a few highlights from our cruise: climbing the foremast and yards, smelling the sweet and smoky winds of Havana, losing track of the number of shooting stars seen in one watch, successfully completing Winkler Titrations (a meticulous process in which we tested for the presence of dissolved oxygen in sea water), being fed every 120 minutes, sharing class time with a pod of dolphins (twice!), listening to spontaneous acoustic jam sessions held by my crewmates, eating fresh Mahi Mahi caught by my literature professor…the list goes on.  If you’re looking for a more detailed account, check out the blog from our trip at here.

Returning to darkness and snow after 10 days of sunshine and warmth was difficult, but knowing that the Cramer is giving others the opportunity to discover new places and learn about themselves is enough to keep me warm until the first crocus pokes it’s head through the snow.

While in Mystic, my classmates and I have been busy between attending class, working on research proposals, and taking in everything the community has to offer. I’ve fallen into a comfortable routine of daily trips to the gym, completing work in one of two local coffee shops, and walking through the Seaport when the sun’s beginning to set on the river. I particularly like living in a house (I share a double with another student in Kemble House) and being able to cook for myself. After a long day learning about anything from mercantilism to Ernest Hemingway, it’s a pure treat to come home and share a meal and good conversation with my housemates.

Our schedule is about to be shaken, though, as we’re leaving for another field seminar in the Pacific Northwest early this Saturday morning. I’ve never been West of the Mississippi River and am particularly excited to simply see the Pacific Ocean. I’ve been told that it’s very different from the Atlantic, and that’s something I’m looking forward to experiencing myself. Other things I’m hoping to do include walking through Powell’s Books in Portland, looking at the city of Seattle from the top of the Space Needle, and sleeping on the lightship Columbia in Astoria.

Right now it’s quiet in our house; we just finished having dinner with our house advisor (veggie lasagna and an apple crumble for desert…yum!) and are bunkering down for a bit of Oceanography reading. It’s a little bit nerve-wracking to think that in just five days I’ll be on a completely different coast…but for now it’s time to focus on reading about coastal sediments and beach erosion in preparation for tomorrow’s lab at Napatree Point.

Fair winds!

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

By Christina Moon, F10

This past Sunday, the F10 class and many faculty and staff members gathered together to celebrate at the third annual Albion House Thanksgiving Fest. Never mind that history research paper drafts were due the next day, it was time to get into the holiday spirit! We set up the event potluck style, with each house in charge of a few different dishes, so everyone was up early that morning to cook and decorate – luckily only one fire alarm was set off. Before dinner, games of touch football and soccer were ongoing in the backyard to work up big appetites because there was plenty to eat. And I am really telling you: SO MUCH FOOD. The menu for our feast included two twenty-pound turkeys, three pans of stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy, deviled eggs, brown-sugar carrots, green beans, squash, and pumpkin soup with apple cider to wash it all down. Still have room for dessert? Take your pick from pumpkin and apple pies, pumpkin cheesecake, baked apples, banana and pumpkin bread, and vanilla ice cream. Somehow thirty-five people were seated along a looooong table that stretched through Albion House and it was such a fun night of good conservation and food with the best company. Without everyone’s help it wouldn’t have been possible to throw such a great event, but at the end of the evening we couldn’t have wished for anything more except maybe some more room in our stomachs. The grand finale? A Disney themed piñata that rained down candy! Comfortably stuffed and slowly slipping into food comas, it was Thanksgiving come early to share with our Williams-Mystic family.

The Quest for the Great White Whale

by Christina Moon, F10

It’s Whaling Week here at Williams-Mystic and we are diving headfirst into our interdisciplinary studies of this great topic. In literature class, we’ve finally reached Melville’s classic Moby Dick on our reading list and are making our way through his complex and masterful novel. We spend three weeks in total with Ishmael, Queequeg, Captain Ahab, and the rest of the crew aboard the Pequod and now in week two, we’re just about to break through to the action packed chapters that we’ve all been building up to. Even better, we have two events coming up that will really bring the story to life.

First, on Thursday we head out on our New Bedford field seminar where we will be able to see one of the communities that Melville illustrates in Moby Dick. One of the most important whaling ports in the world during the 19th century, it is a can’t-be-missed spot while we’re learning about the history and background of this book. We’re excited to see the church and pulpit encountered by Ishmael and Queequeg at the beginning of their journey and also sing some whaling ballads with Don Sineti, the chantey man at Mystic Seaport.

Then next Tuesday night, F10 presents “Moby in Labaree’s Belly”. Usually held in the Charles W. Morgan whale ship located on the grounds of the seaport, we’re relocating this year because of the restoration work that’s currently going on. All students will perform a dramatic reading of a selection from Moby Dick complete with costumes, a set, and perhaps some creative interpretations of Melville’s original work. We’ve even heard of some Star Wars-themed scenes done by past classes so who knows what this year will bring.

Lots to look forward to! Happy Whaling Week everyone!

Policy Class!

by Christina Moon, F10

 

Here’s an inside look at what we’re tackling in our marine policy class…

 

Since we’ve completed all three of our field seminars for this semester, it’s time to buckle down here in Mystic and start looking towards our final weeks here. I can’t believe it! The time has flown by so quickly.

 

If we backtrack a bit to last week, policy was on everybody’s minds because it was time for Moot Court! F10 was the 14th class to tackle the case at hand: a dispute over private property ownership and public access rights on Moody Beach in Maine. Our class was divided into two sides, landowners and town representatives, and we got down to work, learning the ins and outs of our respective side’s arguments and preparing for any questions we might receive from our presiding judges, Mr. John Kelly and Mr. Derek Langhauser, both attorneys from Maine. After just a handful of late night sessions discussing our points and practicing our delivery, the big day had arrived. With everyone dressed to impress in his or her professional lawyer-like attire we headed into moot court and I can confidently say that there wasn’t anybody who wasn’t nervous. It was an unfamiliar experience and we weren’t quite sure to expect going in since none of us had ever participated in a moot court before. In the end we all survived, of course, and maybe even had a bit of fun in the meantime. The night ended with dinner for all of the students and faculty and a feeling of accomplishment for making it through moot court.

 

Marine policy is still on our minds this week because our first drafts of our final research papers are due next week! Everyone is busy hitting the books and tracking down contacts to interview. What kind of topics are F10 students looking into?

–       Chesapeake Bay’s Blue Crab Fishery

–       The Proposed Lobster Ban on Long Island Sound

–       Shipwreck Claims in the U.S.

–       Balancing the California Sea Otter with the Shellfish Industries

–       Offshore Wind Farms around Block Island

–       and so many more, there are endless possibilities!

 

Who dat? It’s Williams-Mystic F10 in Louisiana!

by Christina Moon, F10

 

Day 1: We have our first classes sitting on a levee right on the bank of the Mississippi then head across the street to an old plantation with gorgeous old live oaks and Spanish moss everywhere. Next stop – Zam’s Swamp Tours in Thibodaux, LA. It’s hard to describe the scope of things you will find at Zam’s. We take a pontoon boat ride down through the bayou, spotting gators lying in the swamps on either side of us. Back at headquarters, there are pythons, goats, rabbits, geese, snapping turtles, and more gators to look at! They let us hold some of the smaller guys, but beware of their oldest and by far largest “pet”. One of their experienced trainers hops in to give us a demonstration, but I’m fine staying behind the fence and being awed from a distance. After such a full day, some yummy chicken and sausage gumbo and a good night’s rest at our home for the week, LUMCON (the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium), is just what the doctor ordered!

 

Day 2: Grits and biscuits for breakfast – we are eating authentically down here. And we need the energy for a canoe expedition to the marsh to check out the ecology and geology of this area. Everyone and everything gets a little muddy in the process, but we manage to take a sample of the core of the land here. The probe sinks down about 15 meters, which is equivalent to around 3,000 years of history! A field trip to a local shrimp distributor is the highlight of the afternoon and we watch the catches being offloaded from the boats and travel down a long conveyer belt to be weighed and packaged. After dinner, tonight is for dancing! The Jolly Inn, located in Houma, LA, has a live band playing Cajun music that is lively enough to get all of us up on our feet for a little waltz, two-step, or line dance.

 

Day 3: Our first stop on the way from LUMCON to Grand Isle is a quick look at Port Fourchon. Usually a bustling seaport with significant petroleum industry traffic from offshore Gulf oil platforms and drilling rigs, today it is quiet and there is little activity in the area. This is our first hint of the changes that both 2005’s Hurricane Katrina and this summer’s BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill have had here. Our host in Grand Isle is Mr. Chris Hernandez, a senior town official with strong ties to the community. He shares personal stories with us and even invites us to visit him home – he is a truly incredible and generous man. We also meet the mayor of Grand Isle, Mr. David Camardelle, who tells us about what kind of actions are taken each time a devastating storm hits Louisiana. We learn that these occur quite often and that rebuilding is the theme of the town. We head down to the beach, shovel in hand, and start digging in search of oil. It doesn’t take long to find it – only about one foot down you can see the stains on the sand. You can smell it, too, and also pick up tar balls that have washed ashore and have a tacky, sludgy texture. Oil rigs are visible in the distance and right in front of us is the harsh reality that the oil spill troubles continue. We end our day on a festive note, however, with a delicious blue crab dinner! They are piled high on the table and accompanied with lots of sausage, corn on the cob, potatoes, hot sauce, and napkins!

 

Day 4: On our last day we head to New Orleans! A walkabout reveals the rich history of the city and plenty of character. We have some free time to explore the French Quarter, Bourbon Street with its jazz halls and nightlife attractions. There are flags hanging from nearly every storefront, many displaying the symbol of New Orleans, the fleur-de-lis, and boasting of the Saints’ recent Super Bowl victory. I suggest the legendary Café du Monde for a quick snack – their menu offers coffee au lait, hot chocolate, and beignets – that’s it! Beignets are square pieces of dough, friend and COVERED with powdered sugar, and they make Café du Monde famous. Then it’s time for a trip down the Mississippi River aboard the Natchez, a steamship. Watching the great wheel churn through the water, it’s amazing to think about how many people used to travel this way. We, on the other hand, are headed back to Mystic tonight by way of airplane, but our trip to Louisiana has given us a glimpse of what seems like an entirely different world, even though we have only traveled south within our country. There is a unique sweetness to the lifestyle down in Louisiana, a strength and passion among its residents. They are resilient and forever hopeful, even amidst the hardships that have hit them recently. This trip serves as a reminder for us that the difficult times still continue, but Louisiana will survive as they always have to stand as a beautiful and inspiring place.

 

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!