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

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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. 

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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.

Being your true self: Devon Parfait’s (F’18) Williams-Mystic Story

“Williams-Mystic has taught me how to be a better academic and about the value of real connections. It is so exciting to see so many intelligent and young minds care about so many different issues.”

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. 

Devon Parfait (F’18) first encountered Williams-Mystic at a geosciences conference in fall 2017. Little did he realize the type of educational experience that would await him less than a year later.

At the conference, Devon met two geoscientists connected to the program: Ronadh Cox, a professor of geology and mineralogy at Williams College, and Lisa Gilbert (S’96), Williams-Mystic’s oceanography professor.

Devon was at the conference in his capacity as the future chief of the Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimatcha-Choctaw Indians in Southern Louisiana. Ronadh Cox connected Williams-Mystic with Tribal Chief Shirell Parfait-Dardar in 2014. Now, every time the program travels to Louisiana, Williams-Mystic students meet with Chief Shirell and other community leaders to discuss the effects of climate change on her community.

For Devon, taking on the role of chief is a major responsibility. He believes that his experience at Williams-Mystic will help equip him to assume the role.

Williams-Mystic also changed Devon’s perception of the world and of himself. Sailing on the SSV Corwith Cramer was a catalyst for this change in his life.

“I was able to be my true self,” Devon said. “I had a feeling of pure joy and happiness that I never could have gotten anywhere else.”

Devon said being disconnected from the world outside while on the ship made him feel as though he was truly living in the moment.

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Devon also enjoyed traveling to the West and Gulf Coasts.

“All of the field seminars were absolutely incredible, and I felt so safe and comfortable traveling with Williams-Mystic,” Devon said. “Being in the vans was fun and I was impressed by the ways the staff and faculty did their jobs.”

In the Pacific Northwest, Devon did not feel the need to worry about food and traveling; he felt like he could enjoy the experience with his classmates. Devon has a vivid memory of being on Agate Beach, Oregon with Lisa Gilbert and talking to her about school and how she decided to pursue her Ph.D.

The Gulf Coast Field Seminar, meanwhile, was a trip home for Devon.

“It was really cool to be in Louisiana with Williams-Mystic and it was really nice for my classmates and professors to have me as their personal connection,” Devon said. “They were then connected to me and Louisiana. It was a great way for them to see who I really was and where I came from.”

For his classmates and faculty, Devon said, the field seminar was an opportunity to see Louisiana through his eyes. For Devon, meanwhile, the field seminar was an opportunity to see his home through the lens of Williams-Mystic.

“It was incredible to be [from] where I was from and see all the negative impacts on the environment and how that affects the community,” Devon said. “It was valuable and there were things that I learned about my community and state I would not have known otherwise.”

Travel is a large component of the Williams-Mystic experience, but so is research. Williams-Mystic makes it possible for students to utilize their curiosity to complete research projects that matter to them.

In Devon’s maritime history class, he researched the changing role of doctors from the 1700s through the modern era and looked at how these changes affected medical practices at sea.

In his literature class, Devon chose to focus his Moby-Dick research paper on cannibalism, savagery, and sharks.

“The whole book is meant to change the readers’ perceptions and has so many different hidden meanings throughout,” Devon said. “I wrote about how these perceptions change the way in which we view who were the real savages during this time.”

Devon credits Williams-Mystic with creating the supportive environment that helped him write and organize his paper.

“For the Moby-Dick paper, I definitely tried to organize it too much at the beginning,” Devon said. “Random quotes and summaries of the chapters filled the boards in Carlton [the James T. Carlton Marine Science Center].”

Many of the summaries and quotes did not make it into his final paper. However, he learned more from this in-depth research than he would have had he not tackled the novel in this way.

The same can be said for Devon’s Oceanographic Processes project. The opportunity to take this class was one of the main reasons he wanted to attend Williams-Mystic. Devon chose to research coastal erosion at the Barn Island salt marshes and in the Mystic River Estuary. In fact, his research was one of the first Williams-Mystic student projects to compare the two locations. He studied mussels and Spartina, a common marsh grass, while also looking at biodiversity and erosion.

Finally, in marine policy, Devon delved into ways that the California State Lands Commission might incorporate the perspectives and needs of traditionally marginalized communities into the way the commission manages public lands in the San Francisco Bay area.

“The goal was to help create policy recommendations that would allow lessees to better define the environmental justice communities they work with using a combination of tools that are available,” Devon said.

Aside from the research projects, participating in nineteenth-century maritime skills classes is another component of Williams-Mystic’s educational model. Devon chose to take shipsmithing — a nineteenth-century style blacksmithing class.

“Shipsmithing gives you the opportunity to have something tangible to bring home from each lesson,” Devon said. “You can go in and relax and work and have a good time.”

All told, Devon credits Williams-Mystic for challenging him in ways he never could have imagined — and changing his life for the better.

“I would never exchange this experience for anything else in the world,” Devon said. “It has taught me how to be a better academic and about the value of real connections. It is so exciting to see so many intelligent and young minds care about so many different issues.”