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!

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.