Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Williams-Mystic Offshore Field Seminar

 out on the bowsprit at sunset

Lots to tell, but little motivation to write right now... I am having so much fun learning and doing new things here in Mystic that it's hard to take the time to stop and share via this blog. For now, let me recount the ten days my class spent at sea, from August 30-Sept.9th. Traveling away from Mystic for field seminars is an integral part of the semester-long program that is W-M; we begin with an offshore voyage, then a West coast trip, then a Gulf coast trip. The offshore seminar is the longest (and, in a way, the most exciting) of the three.

We boarded the Sailing School Vessel Corwith Cramer in Boston on August 30th, sailed out of the harbor the next day, and sailed South of Cape Cod for almost a week before turning around and heading North to our final destination of Rockland, Maine.

Life onboard the Cramer was busy, and not always comfortable. I did get seasick, as did most of my classmates. There were some cold and wet hours spent on watch in the wee hours of the night, quite a bit of deck scrubbing, dish cleaning and floor sweeping,  frustrating moments when I didn't understand an order given, and did I mention the seasickness? All that aside, though, we really did have a wonderful time. Eventually we learned the names of the sails and which lines to haul on for each; we learned how to plot our locations on nautical charts, how to steer a course (harder than it looks), how to tie various knots, etc. and by the end of the trip, the Cramer truly felt like home.

We were divided into three groups for watches, so that a set of students and crew was always attending to steering, hauling and striking sails, looking out for other boats/hazards, performing hourly checks of the whole boat, recording weather observations on the hour, and recording scientific measurements every hour as well. The watch schedule rotated in such a way that no group was on the watch at the same time of day for two days in a row. So, every day was different in terms of when you got time to yourself to sleep and eat. Sleeping and eating were almost the only things we did when we weren't on watch!

A typical day for us at sea might look like this:
0300-0700: Dawn Watch covered by C watch (my group) - someone from B watch, who had been working the midnight shift from 11pm-3am, wakes me up at 2:40am and tells me that it's cool and foggy up on deck - "don't forget your hat." After getting dressed and rolling out of my bunk, I walk through the galley to see what midnight snack is this night/morning. Pumpkin pie - yum! I scarf down a slice as I walk on deck. C watch meets near the helm at 2:50; after the members of B watch give us a recap of the past few hours, they are relieved and go below to get some sleep. I take over the helm while one of my watchmates goes to the bow to serve as lookout; another one of us goes into the science lab to count and identify sea creatures that B watch collected during their watch. Within an hour, we'll work together to raise a few sails and take down others. Around 5:30am, the sun comes up and we take a five minute "sunrise break," admiring the light rise over the sea as we sip hot cocoa. Just over an hour until A watch takes over and we get to go eat breakfast.
0700: C watch is relieved by A watch - we go down for the second sitting of breakfast (every meal is served twice; once for the ongoing watch and others, and then for the offgoing watch plus the "lazy" watch that's neither ongoing nor offgoing). After breakfast, since we were on Dawn Watch this morning, we are also responsible for "morning cleanup" - so we get out the brooms and mops and sponges and hoses and spend maybe 30 minutes on our hands and knees getting everything into "ship shape." By 9am I'm back asleep in my bunk. Between now and lunch, A watch will do lots of science stuff up on deck, deploying various instruments to collect sea water, creatures and sediment so we can get a better sense of the environment we're sailing in.
1230: lunchtime for C watch and B watch
1300: B watch relieves A watch; A watch has lunch; I go up on deck to read
1430-1540: Class - we have class on the quarterdeck every day at 2:30pm
1600: Afternoon snack up on deck; after filling up on goldfish and grapes, I do some more reading before going back to my bunk for a nap.
1820: dinnertime for C watch and A watch. We (C watch) are on duty this evening from 7-11pm.
1900-2300: Evening watch
No sleeping while on watch! Good thing this picture was taken during class...
2300-0620: sleep, glorious sleep for me before being woken up for duty again - C watch has morning watch from 7am-1pm tomorrow.

Memorable moments on this trip:

- touching the sea floor  (we retrieved scientific samples of sediment from the sea floor)
- being stationed on bow for lookout during a "classic," "textbook" cold front passage, enduring heavy wind and rain and feeling very intrepid
- finding the North Star every night while on watch
- steering the Cramer through Cape Cod canal at night
- seeing sparkles of light in the water at night from bioluminescent organisms
- and much more!

I have to go read law cases in preparation for tomorrow's marine policy class....

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