Homeward Bound on the Corwith Cramer

Picture shows a student belowdecks on a ship sitting at a desk covered in a nautical chart, pencil and protractor in hand. It's nighttime, and the lighting is dim and red to preserve night vision
Terrell from SUNY Maritime plotting our position on the chart.

October 1, 2019

Sailing past the Block Island wind farm at dawn

Dear Friends and Family,

We sailed offshore yesterday and all night, having spent two nights at anchor off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. From the deck, we could see the village of Menemsha, home to the Vineyard’s last fishing fleet and one of the main shooting locations for Jaws. This end of the island — the western end — is full of remarkable things, some of which we could just about make out as we sailed past: the Gay Head cliffs, for one, and next to them the first land in North America that was ever set aside for Native Americans. Some of what has made the Vineyard so remarkable is no longer there to be seen.  In the nineteenth century, the island’s rural western half was the site of an unusual genetic bottleneck. So many Vineyarders were born deaf that the island developed its own sign language, which almost all islanders could use, and deafness carried no stigma or social consequence. Islanders who had grown up on the deaf Vineyard used to tell long stories about older relatives without bothering to remark that Uncle Caleb or Cousin Ralph couldn’t hear. It didn’t seem like a marker or a shaping factor in their lives.

We’ve turned north for home, heading toward the near end of Long Island Sound in Mystic, Connecticut.  Many are beginning to look back on the field seminar and take stock.  One of us is overheard saying that the one thing he “keeps coming back to is the humming of the boat – the humming and other sounds. Especially when I’m in my bunk, and it’s dark, and the hum is the only thing that’s sensible — droning sensations coming from outside the boat.”

Asked what most stands out about the trip, one student responds: “There are the dumb things, like dolphins, which are a giddy joy.” An hour later, another student says: “For me, the unparalleled moment has been standing at the bow under the stars, across the entire sky, with the bioluminescent dolphins. That was the best thing ever.”

So about those dolphins: Even before we set sail, most of us could picture dolphins by day, arcing tightly out of the water, keeping pace with the ship, like a pack of Golden Retrievers trotting alongside their owner. It was great to see these in person, but most of us had already seen them in our mind’s eye. What most of us had not realized is that at night those same dolphins glow in the dark. As they swim, they fire the ocean’s bioluminescent plankton, which traces their bodies in fluid, flickering outline. In the dark, dolphins look like old-fashioned light-bulb coils jetting alongside the ship at five or six knots: zapping, squiggling, dimming whenever the Tesla-porpoises dive or drift across the bow, and then flaring back into green-electric profile, with jets of neon shooting from their tails, as the plankton in their wake churn into ember. Not dolphins, then, but the animated ghosts of dolphins, driven forward by rockets of light.

Just before midnight some fifty miles from shore, we lowered a net to near the bottom of the ocean and towed it for half an hour. We brought up a collection of bioluminescent organisms. In a bucket in the lab, they continued to glow when stirred.  Then we stepped out on deck and looked up. The stars and the Milky Way glowed in equal majesty.

Picture shows a student gesturing while giving a presentation aboard a ship
Tristan from the University of Vermont presenting a poster on some of the physical and chemical properties of the water at our three offshore science Super Stations.

Tomorrow, we will complete this field seminar and disembark from our ship, SSV Corwith Cramer, in New London.  As we return to our houses in Mystic, it is hard to believe we are only in the fifth week of our semester at Williams-Mystic.  We have done so much come and together as a community of shipmates and friends.  We look forward to many more adventures together!

— Williams-Mystic F’19

We will share updates straight from the Cramer as they become available. In the meantime, you can track the vessel’s progress here:

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

Please note that vessel tracking information is NOT 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.

You can also look back at blog posts from previous Offshore Field Seminars here: https://williamsmystic.wordpress.com/category/field-seminars/offshore-field-seminar/.

Reflecting and Disconnecting, Halfway through F’19’s Offshore Voyage

There is much to look at with fresh eyes: small, silvery fish pulled from a midnight Neuston tow; rocks older than the Atlantic hauled up from the deep ocean floor; dolphins weaving back and forth in front of the bow; a finback whale in the near distance.

 

September 26, 2019

Dear Friends and Family,

It’s Thursday evening, and our journey offshore is nearing its halfway point. Over the last day, we’ve passed Georges Bank, the historic cod fishing grounds east of Nantucket, and are currently sailing across the northern end of Gilbert Canyon, just east of Oceanographer Canyon, neighboring features of the North Atlantic floor that only seem to have been named for Williams-Mystic oceanographer Lisa Gilbert. (Anyone following along from home can find us by tracing a line east from Asbury Park, NJ.)

We’ve had our queasy moments. Some rough seas a few nights back sent most of us to the rail. But the sea has settled, and our bellies with it, and there is much to look at with fresh eyes: small, silvery fish pulled from a midnight Neuston tow; rocks older than the Atlantic hauled up from the deep ocean floor; dolphins weaving back and forth in front of the bow; a finback whale in the near distance. The teaching crew, meanwhile, points high to a sail and asks us to tell the luff from the leech. Then they pass around a sextant, a centuries-old navigation device that one might at first mistake for an old-timey movie camera, and coach us in celestial trigonometry.

A listener overhears students talking. One talks about how free he feels not carrying his cell phone.

“I don’t know,” he says. “I feel more connected because I’m not connected, like I’m living in the moment for the first time in years, like I can just pay attention to what I’m doing.”

Another imagines describing life on the Cramer to someone who has never been to sea. It wouldn’t be enough just to list the day’s activities, she says. They wouldn’t communicate what life offshore is like.

“What — am I going to say that I woke up in a tiny bunk and couldn’t find my socks, and then I picked tiny shrimp out of salps for six hours? That’s not it. The ship is a machine that just keeps running, and what’s interesting is how you get absorbed into it.”

Until next time,

Williams-Mystic F’19

We will share updates straight from the Cramer as they become available. In the meantime, you can track the vessel’s progress here:

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

Please note that vessel tracking information is NOT 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.

You can also look back at blog posts from previous Offshore Field Seminars here: https://williamsmystic.wordpress.com/category/field-seminars/offshore-field-seminar/.

Underway on the Corwith Cramer

The first days at sea are a matter of learning everything at once. But we are also re-learning things we thought we already knew.

September 24, 2019

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Dear friends and family,

It’s Tuesday evening, and we’ve been underway for almost twenty-four hours aboard the Sailing School Vessel Corwith Cramer. We’re deep in the Gulf of Maine, well out of sight of land, east of Skate Bank and Newfound Ground. By afternoon, we had already reached the edge of US territorial waters and were gybing (turning around) to keep from sailing into Canada, whose waters we’re allowed to enter only if we turn off all of our research equipment.

We’re a big group: eighteen Williams-Mystic students; three faculty; and, offshore for the first time, Williams-Mystic director Tom Van Winkle, who is sailing as “Chief Morale Officer”; plus a professional teaching crew made up of a captain, three mates, four ship scientists, two stewards, and an engineer.  We left Mystic Sunday morning and took a bus to Rockland, Maine, where we boarded Corwith Cramer and immediately began orientation.

The first days at sea are a matter of learning everything at once. Most of us are learning new things: how to set and strike sails; how to tie bowlines and slippery reef knots; how to deploy nets and buckets over the side of the ship; how to read charts and compasses and how to tell the strength of the wind just by looking at the surface of the water; why the lobster fishery off the coast of Maine is healthier than the one in Long Island Sound; why Herman Melville thought the ocean was the right place to commune with the universe.

But we are also re-learning things we thought we already knew. We are learning to walk again (how to move low and alert in sympathy with a rolling ship). We are learning again to sit at a table (how not to capsize the salon’s loose and swinging tabletops, which are engineered to stay level even when the ship is not). We are learning to speak a new and alien English, how to say the special names that common objects carry at sea. One student looks over at another and whispers ” ‘Sole?’ That means ‘floor,’ right?”

Tomorrow we are due to conduct our first scientific superstation. The weather service just informed us that the wind overnight will be blowing from the north, which is good news for a ship that will soon be pointed south.

— Williams-Mystic F’19

We will share updates straight from the Cramer as they become available. In the meantime, you can track the vessel’s progress here:

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

Please note that vessel tracking information is NOT 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.

You can also look back at blog posts from previous Offshore Field Seminars here: https://williamsmystic.wordpress.com/category/field-seminars/offshore-field-seminar/.

 

Williams-Mystic F’19 Embarks on Offshore Voyage

Copy of IMG_0207 Em and KevinCopy of IMG_0199

After spending two weeks exploring Mystic and nine days exploring Alaska on our inaugural Alaska-Washington Field Seminar, the Class of Fall 2019 has embarked on their next adventure: our ten-day Offshore Field Seminar!

Held aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer in collaboration with the Sea Education Association, Williams-Mystic’s Fall 2019 Offshore Field Seminar began Sunday in Rockland, Maine. Students and faculty will spend time getting oriented under the guidance of professional crew before heading out to sea. There, they will learn how to sail a tall ship, conduct shipboard science, and explore the Gulf of Maine, spending days at a time out of sight of land. The voyage will conclude close to home; at the end of F’19’s ten-day journey on Wednesday, October 2, the Cramer will arrive in New London, Connecticut, just ten miles away from Mystic.

The Class of Fall 2019 comprises eighteen students. Together, they represent thirteen different home colleges and universities from across the US. Their majors are just as varied, spanning not just marine biology and history but also film, political science, economics, and psychology.

For the offshore voyage, students are joined by Executive Director Tom Van Winkle along with three of their five faculty members: Assistant Professor Tim Pusack, who teaches Marine Ecology; Associate Professor of Geosciences Lisa Gilbert, who teaches Oceanographic Processes; and Professor of English Christian Thorne, who teaches Literature of the Sea.

Throughout the journey, F’19 will learn what it means to live at sea, sharing experiences with seafarers throughout history and literature. They’ll also learn what it’s like to gather scientific data from the side of a ship, and get experience analyzing this often-messy information in real time.

Most of all, every participant on the voyage will become an integral part of the ship’s crew. The nature of tall-ship sailing is that every person on board must take their share of responsibility for helping the ship get to its destination — whether that means cleaning the galley (i.e., kitchen) or standing watch at the bow at two in the morning. Under the guidance of professional crew and working together as part of six-person “watch groups,” F’19 will learn to do just that.

We will share updates straight from the Cramer as they become available. In the meantime, you can track the vessel’s progress here:

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

Please note that vessel tracking information is NOT 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.

You can also look back at blog posts from previous Offshore Field Seminars here: https://williamsmystic.wordpress.com/category/field-seminars/offshore-field-seminar/.

 

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. 

IMG_2890
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.