A Spanish Major by the Sea

“When we all ran to see the dolphins, or when we came face-to-face with the coral reefs during a snorkeling excursion, our majors became blurry, no longer the focus of our academic identity.”

By Hayden Gillooly

Hayden Gillooly is one of our student bloggers for Spring 2019. She is a sophomore at Williams College, studying Spanish with a concentration in Maritime Studies. She is from North, Adams, MA. 

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Members of B Watch on the bowsprit. From left to right: Samuel (University of Rhode Island ’19), Chris (Clark University ’19), Phoebe (Smith College ’20), and Hayden (Williams College ’21).

I am a Spanish major at Williams College and have always loved the sea. I decided to come to Mystic because I was craving an immersive, hands-on, full-wonder type of learning. I wanted to run on the beach and explore tidal pools. I wanted to travel with my classmates and learn while doing. I wanted to play.

One month ago today, I moved into my room in cozy Carr House at Williams-Mystic and was greeted by a journal with a note from Executive Director Tom Van Winkle. Included was this quote by Rachel Carson: “If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.” Wonder.  

As we sailed off the coast of Puerto Rico for our ten-day Offshore Field Seminar aboard the Corwith Cramer, I fell in love with the sea immediately. I fell in love with the way the ocean seemed to change colors from deep blue to aquamarine. With the way everyone on the ship paused for sunsets and sunrises, and the way my soul felt while staring into the vastness. With the way the sun danced on the water droplets on my skin and on the waves. My thoughts flowed so naturally as I journaled, perched on the bowsprit:

1/29/19: I am watching the tail end of sunset. This stillness is incomparable. I’ve never noticed before now how the night grows hungrier and consumes the colors so gradually. There are impeding dark clouds approaching on either side, enveloping the pink and blue hues. Soon, the night will be here, and the stars and moon. Amazing how the colors & stars can coexist in perfect harmony, even if for a moment. It feels as if I am in a dream—staring at the masts, the stars, the sky. There are so many stars, untouched by the light pollution. A natural night.

1/30/19: On lookout tonight at the bow, I could see the bioluminescent plankton below me, feel the salty spray of waves breaking against the bow. I even saw a shooting star. I marveled at the way the dark waves looked: as if someone was shaking a sheet—fabric ripples. A sheet of stars and a sea of glowing foam. A while later, we went through a squall, and the wind was blowing my yellow rain-jacketed body.

1/31/19, 11:11am: I am sitting on the bowsprit and staring at the ocean below me. Ten feet below me lies water that is a shade of blue unlike anything I have ever seen. It looks icy, but it is warm. My heart feels full—it feels so ‘right ‘to be here. Crazy to think how many millions of creatures are under me right now. Heck, there were over 100 alien-like creatures in one Petri dish from a sample we took last night. With antennae and long legs.

1/31/19 1:03 pm: WE WERE JUST WITH A POD OF DOLPHINS!! Watching them flop and swim and dive and play alongside the ship—a real show. And all of our faces, so joyful, so childlike. Hands down one of the best moments. This is our classroom. We were the happiest. I think I shall hold this moment in my pocket, and take it out whenever I need a smile.

2/5/19 On our last day on the bowsprit, we were watching sunset, and three dolphins appeared out of the golden sidewalk right under us. Like something out of a movie. Later while on night watch, we went onto the bowsprit again and were read a passage of Moby Dick by one of our professors. And I saw a shooting star.  

When we all ran to see the dolphins, or when we came face-to-face with the coral reefs during a snorkeling excursion, our majors became blurry, no longer the focus of our academic identity. We are learning skills that can be applied to any classroom, field of work or study, and situation. We are learning to love our wonderful world, to get re-excited about learning, and how to build a community.

 

Now, back in Mystic, we are continuing to build community. We’re learning how to improve communications skills, as our houses of four to six students each manage weekly allowances, chores, and cooking. We’re learning how to be more inquisitive and curious learners, as our classes begin in earnest. We’re learning to ask questions, lots of them: to be curious about how the world works.

Williams-Mystic and the Mystic Seaport Museum are filled with people who are remarkably passionate about their fields. It’s inspiring. From them, I am learning the value of loving what I do, and of sharing that passion with those around me. Our professors make themselves very accessible, and it is so special to build relationships with them outside of the classroom. Last night, the whole community—students, faculty, staff—came together at Tom’s house for a chili cook-off. We laughed, played board games, and just talked. One of our classmates played lovely piano music in the background.

I have re-read Tom’s letter to me numerous times in the past month, and I have concluded that my ‘good fairy’ is Williams-Mystic, for she has given me a sense of wonder that I feel will reside within me for years to come. I can think of no other program in which the phrase “interdisciplinary learning” more truly comes to fruition. It is more than just a phrase here; it is a way of life.

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Dolphins and Sunsets: S’19’s Offshore Field Seminar Continues

Position:  18 N x 065 W, approaching Pillsbury Sound, USVI

Thursday (day five of our Offshore Field Seminar) began with students conducting a Science Super Station! This included deploying a carousel in order to collect samples from throughout the water column, with the deepest from nearly a mile below the surface.

As Spring ’19 students Angus (Middlebury), Dayana (Williams), and Charlotte (Wellesley) described in a presentation during class Thursday afternoon, this information can be critical in understanding oceanographic processes such as the way temperature and salinity change as the ocean becomes deeper and deeper. This, in turn, helps us trace the origin of such water.

A Neuston net, deployed at the surface of the ocean in order to collect plankton, also revealed an astounding array of creatures that live just at the crest of the waves.

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Emily (Bryn Mawr College) at the helm

The afternoon brought some of the best sailing conditions we’ve seen thus far on the trip. To our surprise, the Williams-Mystic students, faculty, and the SSV Corwith Cramer crew were not the only ones enjoying the refreshing tropical weather. Just as everyone was coming on deck for afternoon class, a pod of spotted dolphins was sighted off of the ship’s bow, keeping pace. For twenty minutes that felt truly timeless, we observed the dolphins weaving between each other and along the front and sides of the ship, pointing out juveniles and calves among the adults and eagerly waiting for the next breach through the surface.

The nautical science class also did its part in bringing Williams-Mystic S’19 together. Students learned how to make their own eye splice under the instruction of second mate Tristan, with assistance from other crew. This splice is found several places on board, including in the rigging, and our own eye splices will undoubtedly be put to other uses back in student homes in Mystic. Working together, students are diligently trying to memorize the SSV Corwith Cramer‘s lines and their relationship with the sails, so that
every maneuver ordered can eventually be carried out seamlessly.

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From left to right: Em (Vassar), Henry (Williams), Jhosalie
 (College of New Rochelle), and Stephen (SUNY Maritime) splicing 
line

Living at sea, time has a way of melding together of its own volition. Hour by hour, each day merges into the next. This leads to most experiences being defined as pinnacle moments, and this day had no shortage of them. The afternoon’s watch turned over to night under the backdrop of an incredible Caribbean sunset, with the island of St. Thomas off our stern, St. Croix at our bow, and St. John alongside. Looking into the chasm of stars above, one cannot help but anticipate what tomorrow has in store.

— Samuel (University of Rhode Island)


Track the Cramer‘s progress by clicking the link below!

https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships/shipid:426493/mmsi:366724450/imo:8617445/vessel:CORWITH_CRAMER 

Important Note: Vessel tracking information isn’t updated continuously and the Cramer isn’t always able to provide updated location information. (Good reception isn’t a guarantee at sea!) If you notice that the Cramer appears to be in the same location for an extended period of time, it simply means the website has not yet been updated.

Life at Sea: Days One and Two of S’19’s Offshore Field Seminar

From how to steer or furl sail, to how to wake people up for class or sanitize dishes, we have been learning specific methods to allow 37 people to safely and happily travel, live, and learn together on a ship only 40 meters long.

Above: S’19 students Chris (Clark University) and Em (Vassar College) help recover sediment from the bottom of San Juan Harbor.

29 January 2019

19 N x 066 W, 30 nautical miles north of San Juan, Puerto Rico

two students, one playing guitar, sing aboard a ship
S’19 Oliver (University of Cincinnati) and Jonna (Middlebury College) serenade the ship’s company.

Greetings from SSV Corwith Cramer!

On Sunday, January 27, the Williams-Mystic Class of Spring 2019 joined SSV Corwith Cramer in San Juan just in time for lunch.  For the last 48 hours or so, we have been busy learning ship operations, getting used to walking on a rolling ship, and enjoying being out at sea.

For many, of us, it is our first time out at sea.  And as Melville wrote in Redburn, “People who have never gone to sea for the first time as sailors cannot imagine how puzzling and confounding it is.”  Unlike Melville’s protagonist, however, we have watch officers who are kind and patient teachers, and who allow us to ask lots of questions.  From how to steer or furl sail, to how to wake people up for class or sanitize dishes, we have been learning specific methods to allow 37 people to safely and happily travel, live, and learn together on a ship only 40 meters long with three heads and two showers.

During orientation, we got to know the parts of the ship and our responsibilities on board.  Everyone participated in safety drills and we also conducted our first science deployments in San Juan Harbor.

Then we headed out to sea, into deep water north of San Juan.  Two days in, spirits are high.  We are getting used to the routine and the warm tropical weather.  The food has been amazing thanks to our fantastic stewards and we have even enjoyed some entertainment thanks to some talented students.

Stay tuned for more updates from our Offshore Field Seminar!


Track the Cramer‘s progress by clicking the link below!

https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships/shipid:426493/mmsi:366724450/imo:8617445/vessel:CORWITH_CRAMER 

Important Note: Vessel tracking information isn’t updated continuously and the Cramer isn’t always able to provide updated location information. (Good reception isn’t a guarantee at sea!) If you notice that the Cramer appears to be in the same location for an extended period of time, it simply means the website has not yet been updated.

On our Last Day Offshore, Science, Sunsets, Songs, and Lots of Knots

The last day aboard the Cramer is a microcosm of everything we’ve experienced aboard: science, hands-on learning, our duty to the ship, and team bonding via songs and puns.

Muscongus Bay, Saint George River, Maine

September 12, 2018

0445 h

After making our way north to Maine, we anchored at Muscongus Bay Monday evening. Anchoring brought a welcome reprieve from the watch schedule offshore; we’ve been keeping short “anchor watches” during our time here, which have allowed us to catch up on some much-awaited sleep.

Tuesday morning brought rain, but also some excellent poster presentations, as the students crowded into the main salon of the Cramer to share the results from their scientific research projects. Another highlight of the day: marlinspike seamanship class, in which students worked on knots — and “knautical” puzzles. (When you’ve been together on a ship for 10 days, your humor tends to take a turn for the punny.)

As part of the ship’s crew, our duty to Cramer has structured our days here. Tuesday, as our last full day on the ship, was no exception; our afternoon was designated a “field day,” a time to clean and care for every inch of this ship that’s been our home this week and a half. The rain stopped as we finished field day, and we were rewarded with a beautiful, final night aboard, full of poetry, conversation, and songs.

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Isabella (Colby College, at left) and Morgan (Williams College) present the results of their study on light attenuation in the surface ocean.

Now, it’s early morning Wednesday. Everyone is still asleep but soon the ship will be abuzz as we prepare to get underway and head toward Rockland. Tonight, we will make our way back to Mystic as shipmates, ready for the next adventures of our fall semester.


Thank you to Captain Chris and the entire ship’s crew for a wonderful 10 days aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer! You can follow the last leg of our journey here — https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships/shipid:426493/mmsi:366724450/imo:8617445/vessel:CORWITH_CRAMER — note, as always, that our position may not be current, as it’s updated periodically and not continuously.

Nine Days into their Offshore Voyage, F’18 has Learned the Lines

On the small world of a sailing ship, there’s lots to learn – from your science class, the world around you, and the vessel itself.

September 10, 2018

1045 h.

43.5′ N x 069.9′ W

Heading north

We enjoyed warm temperatures, calm seas, and light winds for the first half of our offshore journey, but as we head north the air is getting a bit chillier and the wind is picking up.

With 15-knot winds expected, the students learned to reef the mainsail (to take in parts of this large sail to make the ship less vulnerable to strong gusts) during our afternoon nautical class. After class, jackets and hats began emerging on deck. It’s starting to feel like fall.

As new members of the crew, our students are expected to learn all the lines (ropes, in a layperson’s terms) on the Cramer. Luckily, their watches have involved plenty of practice handling lines. Our course has demanded frequent gybing, in which students shift certain sails from one side of the boat to the other to zigzag toward our destination, in the same direction as the strengthening wind.

During quieter moments, the students have also been reviewing pinrail diagrams: intricate maps of the ship with points, placed throughout, resembling nodes on an electrical circuit and signifying “pins,” where a given line is fastened to the ship’s rails.

students in a conga line aboard a ship
Morgan, Madison, Isabella, Valmont and Devon celebrate with a conga line around the deck after a successful line chase.

On Friday, they tested their knowledge in a “pinrail chase,” which involved a healthy dose of competition and even more celebration. With increasing knowledge comes more responsibility; students have started to take on leadership roles during watch, keeping track of hourly duties and even calling ship maneuvers.

Because we are always on lookout as part of our duty to the ship, we have been lucky to spot megafauna! Some of our best sightings were when we were approaching and sailing through Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

Some students have spotted mola mola, or ocean sunfish, which they described as akin to square elephants with wings. Humpback whales are a coveted sighting; many students will go so far as to request being woken up to catch a glimpse. And dolphins, playing in our bow watch, appear at night as grey shadows with glowing streaks trailing in their wake, thanks to the bioluminescence in the water. If you listen closely, you can hear them squeak.

As we head towards Maine, students are hard at work completing their shipboard science projects and preparing to present their findings to the whole ship’s company tomorrow.

two students present a hand-draw poster aboard a ship
B Watch students Madison (Beloit College) and Valmont (SUNY Maritime) describe light in the ocean for their daily science report.

TRACK OUR PROGRESS!

You can follow the Cramer’s journey at this link: https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships/shipid:426493/mmsi:366724450/imo:8617445/vessel:CORWITH_CRAMER

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, it simply means the website has not updated recently.

A Day in the Life Offshore

Offshore, life follows a recurring rhythm of standing watch, attending class, eating, and sleeping — and spotting dolphins along the way.

September 6, 2018

2030 h.

41° 31′ N x 070° 39′ W

A week into our offshore voyage, F’18 has adjusted to shipboard life, with its rhythm of watches, classes, meals, and sleeping.

Take today, for example, when A Watch stood watch in the morning. Today’s morning watch included a “science super station” dedicated to collecting water and data all the way from the surface to the seafloor of southern Georges Bank. In the middle of the station, we spotted dozens of Atlantic Striped Dolphins jumping in the distance. We paused our measurements of light attenuation (how quickly light dims and dissipates as water deepens) to delight in the antics of these charismatic megafauna.

After lunch, A Watch took a nap, attended classes, and saw more dolphins — this time, Short-Beaked Common Dolphins. Then, they had dinner and headed off to their bunks to sleep before waking early for dawn watch, to repeat the cycle over again.

Every afternoon, the whole ship’s company gathers for a meeting and class. We begin with announcements and then hear a weather report and a science report, both of which are led by students from the dawn watch. The class itself is often interdisciplinary, integrating maritime history with oceanography. Today’s class focused on citizen scientists at sea, from Benjamin Franklin’s 18th-century account of the Gulf Stream to Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea-Wind. 

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Historian Alicia Maggard leads class on deck.

We followed class with a snack — blueberry shortcake — before diving into a hands-on, nautical class. Students set all three of our square sails — the course, the topsail, and the raffee — so we could sail downwind toward our final super station.


TRACK OUR PROGRESS!

You can follow the Cramer’s journey at this link: https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships/shipid:426493/mmsi:366724450/imo:8617445/vessel:CORWITH_CRAMER

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, it simply means the website has not updated recently.

Connections and Community: Alissa Ryan’s (F’17) Williams-Mystic Experience

“I knew nothing about boats or sailing or the maritime community before coming to Williams-Mystic. I really didn’t think I’d be of any use to the ship’s crew on the Offshore Field Seminar, but I found myself knowing the lines, helping pull up the anchor, and steering the ship comfortably.”

This post was written by S’18 alumna Audra DeLaney. Audra enjoys visiting the ocean, going on adventures, and telling the unique stories of the people and places around her. 

Alissa aboard the US Brig Niagara, looking up with a life preserver hanging off the ship behind her.
Alissa Ryan (F’17) during the Offshore Field Seminar aboard the US Brig Niagara.

Imagine this: a little girl who hated the outdoors so much that her parents had to bribe her to go outside grows up and chooses to study environmental science, become a camp counselor, and love the outdoors. For New York University student and F’17 alumna Alissa Ryan, this is the journey that led her to Williams-Mystic.

Alissa was in the process of clearing out her old email when she came across a message from Executive Director Tom Van Winkle advertising Williams-Mystic. The program spoke to her because of its size.

“My school is really big (25,000 undergrads!) and right in New York City, so I wanted to have a small, personal experience for a semester where I could develop a community — and I absolutely got that, along with some hands-on learning relevant to my major that I never could have gotten through my own university’s programs,” Alissa said.

Williams-Mystic taught Alissa the importance of making personal connections and collaborating with others.

“At a big city school, there is very little community and people keep to themselves in big, 300-person lectures. It’s easy to fall into that and keep that mindset even in smaller settings where you have the opportunity to be more involved,” Alissa said. “Williams-Mystic reminded me to talk to my classmates and get to know my professors and be all around more present, which has helped me a lot back at my home college.”

Alissa especially enjoyed a field seminar full of personal connections: the Gulf Coast Field Seminar.

“It felt so meaningful and I learned a lot from talking to individuals there. I’ve been learning about climate change for years in the courses for my major, but seeing its effects in real life, right in front of my eyes, and talking to people about how it’s changed their lives is something I could never get from a classroom and really helped me understand why I’m studying these things in the first place,” Alissa said.

Community living was Alissa’s favorite part of her Williams-Mystic experience.

“I really loved Mallory House. We cooked together, watched movies and TV together, and had SO many mug cookies together,” Alissa said. “The other houses were just across the street, too, so I could cross the street to go see my friends over in the other houses.”

Alissa was surprised at how much she was able to learn as different challenges presented themselves.

“I knew nothing about boats or sailing or the maritime community before coming to Williams-Mystic, and I left knowing so much more,” Alissa said. “I really didn’t think I’d be of any use to the ship’s crew on the Offshore Field Seminar, but I found myself knowing the lines, helping pull up the anchor, and steering the ship comfortably.”

Part of being a Williams-Mystic student is working with others to solve problems or defend positions. Alissa’s participation in Moot Court with her classmates embodied this principle.

“We were all stressed and sleep deprived, a little convinced that we wouldn’t be able to make it come together,” Alissa said. “We kept working and figured it all out and it came together for both teams. It perfectly demonstrated to me how well we had all learned to work together to get things done.”

Alissa hopes to work in the field of environmental science someday and believes that environmental education may be a good fit for her.

“I love nature and the environment and I just want to make some sort of positive change, leaving it better in some way,” Alissa said.

Alissa’s Williams-Mystic experience can be summed up in one word: Gratitude.

“I have met lifelong friends through Williams-Mystic who I could never meet anywhere else. My classmates, professors, and everyone else I’ve met at W-M amaze me with their passion for what they do and their drive to make change,” Alissa said. “The people I’ve met through Williams-Mystic continue to inspire me and motivate me to do my best at what I love.”