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Voyages

SSV Robert C. Seamans Blog

The Robert C. Seamans boards students of class S-239 (SPICE) in Papeete, Tahiti on Monday, January 31, 2012. They plan to sail north, with potential port stops at Tikehan, French Polynesia; Rangiroa, French Polynesia; Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia; Kirimati, Kiribati and Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. The ship will then finish in Honolulu, Hawaii, where students will disembark on Sunday, March 18, 2012.

Position information is updated on a workday basis only. Audio updates from the ship are reported periodically throughout the voyage.

Mobile users, click here to open in the Google Earth App.

Mar

24

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Saturday, March 24, 2012
Location:  The East-West Center at the University of Hawaii, Manoa
Photo Caption:  The students and faculty of S-239 at the Pu’ukohola Heiau, Hawaii.
 
The transition to shore-based life for most sailors is an uneasy one, and so it has been for the sailors of S-239.  With all the pleasures of city life in Honolulu spread out before us, from our comfortable base at the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii’s Manoa campus, we still feel a kind of gravitational pull exerted by the Seamans, there in her berth at Pier 36.  As Ripple Fang’s blog entry described, our entry in the industrial and commercial port of Honolulu was strange enough in its own way, leading us past towering tanker and container ships, and eventually into a narrow slot by a nest of commercial fishing boats.  Once we disembarked the sharp transitions kept on coming.  On the ship, every aspect of life takes place in the space of 135 feet:  living, working, cooking, socializing.  On shore, each of those categories of activity branches into a hundred possible directions, all pursued at what looks to us to be a breakneck pace.
 
As we accustomed ourselves to all these changes, we began our exploration of the island of Oahu and its human and natural history.  We visited the ancient fish pond at He’eia, a semi-circular wall built of volcanic stone and coral which cordons off an 88 acre section of shallow reef flats.  Dating to as early as the 13th century, the structure functioned as one portion of a complex and highly developed system of aquaculture serving these islands.  We spent the following day at the Bernice P. Bishop Museum, a remarkable research institution founded in the 19th century and devoted to Hawaiian and Polynesian history and culture.  The story of the museum itself is deeply woven into the history of these islands.  Bernice Pouahi was a scion of Hawaii’s nobility who broke with her family’s wishes in 1850 by marrying a young banker from Glens Falls, New York, Charles Reed Bishop.  The trust left by the couple’s fortune has supported the museum since its opening in 1899.  This unlikely marriage and its lavish legacy appears to have provided the basis for Kaui Hart Hemmings’s 2007 novel The Descendants and its 2011 film adaptation.  Understanding the legacy left by the ancient Polynesian and the more recent European ancestors in these islands is never easy, and the collision of these cultures resulted in a recurring series of tragedies.  But in modern Hawaii we are all the descendants of this history, living in the world it produced.  During our time aboard the Seamans, we lived a life that felt distant from this modern world, and the disjunction we feel on landing can help us begin to understand this complex connection to the past.

Gordon Bigelow
Maritime Studies Faculty

Mar

20

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Sunday, March 18
Position: Docked at Pier 36, Honolulu, 2119N X 15753W
Weather: Partly cloudy, with light showers
Photo Caption: Last group photo on Mama Seamans

Welcomed by dear Lorie, Carl and many other friends of SEA, we finally docked at the port of Honolulu this morning. What was in front of us as we entered were large cargo ships, highways and skyscrapers. These things were so odd as the first sight after spending long time on the ocean and at small Pacific islands. We were excited, looking forward to a different experience in Oahu, and maybe a good transition to modern American life on land. But we felt sad at the same time because the life aboard Mama Seamans finally came to an end. Last dawn watch, last meal, last time to strike and furl the sails, last count off Everything became special. It is always a sentimental moment to say good-bye, especially to people that we live with closely and depend on. We’ve been through a lot together on Mama Seamans, sharing our lives. Hopefully what happened in the past two months will become part of sea stories that our captain, mates and scientists are going to tell future students amid the swells, with boobies and dolphins all around.

Jueqian (Ripple) Fang

University of Washington

Mar

17

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Saturday March 17, 2012
Position:  21°02° N x 157°11°W
Heading: Hove to on the way to Oahu
Weather: Sunny skies, wind out of the ESE at Force 6.
Photo Caption: Gathering to watch the sunrise

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from aboard the Robert C. Seamans! Our last full day aboard the ship has gone by like any other, with a sprinkle of mystery added in. As we were eating breakfast and preparing for watch, Captain Sean came below to inform us that a beautiful sunrise was in store. A few minutes later, Jimmy ran down to tell us that there had been a whale sighting. Needless to say, we quickly finished our cereal and green eggs and hurried to the quarter deck. A truly peaceful moment followed as the group sipped morning coffee and stared in amazement at the beautiful view that surrounded us on all sides.

It is difficult to process that this is one of the last days that we will get to watch the sunrise from the quarter deck, one of the last days that we will get to go aloft, and one of the last days we will get to spend together as a cohesive unit. This blog entry could go a variety of ways. I could talk about the abundance of whales we saw and the wonder that followed, or I could talk about the class discussion we had about our trip and the experiences that we have had. Instead, I would like to talk about the moments I will miss. I will miss the sunrise yoga, when everyone takes a deep breath and says hello to the sun. I will miss the moments of silence after a meal, when everyone is too full to move and too content to say a word. I will miss the moments when you unexpectedly run into someone and have an amazing conversation. I will (surprisingly) miss the many moments I have spent cleaning the griddle, and the satisfactory shine that follows. I will miss the moments when you climb aloft and feel completely on top of the world. I will miss the moments on watch when inspiring conversations or bursts of karaoke fill the air. And I will miss the moments when it is just you and the ocean. What I will miss the most is difficult to describe. I will miss this boat, these people, this time, and this place. What we have formed here is a beautiful crazy mess of wonderful that will never be forgotten.

Sarah Feiges
Colorado College
P.S. Thinking of you, Grandpa Smith. Sending all of my love and hopes for a quick recovery!

Mar

16

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Thursday, March 15, 2012
Position: At Anchor, Kealakekua Bay, 19o28"N X 155o56W
Weather: Slightly Cloudy
Photo Caption: Geared up for Snorkeling
Today was a pretty laid back day here on the Seamans, including project work and snorkeling in the cove near the Captain Cook monument. Normally on a day like today the Seamans is fairly quiet; however, today is different. There is lots of hustle and bustle about as we get ready for dinner, and prepare for the long-awaited Swizzle. Tonight the Gods and Goddesses of the Seamans will come together for their final rendezvous before we reunite with the land, forever. There have been rumors of a new haka, various sing-a-longs, and perhaps a new rendition of _The Vagina Monologues_. Some students have even been heard screeching in the hull of the ship and on the foredeck, but no one is really sure what is in store for this evening. All I can say is beware.

Yours truly,
Meredith Lisa Bosco
Cornell University 2012
P.S. Hi Mom Dad and Brother John. Taylor Onisky if you are reading this I
love you, if not forget I ever said it.

Mar

16

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Friday, March 16, 2012
Position: At anchor, Kealakekua Bay, 19o28"N X 155o56"W, about to depart
this evening for Oahu
Weather: Sunny
Photo Caption: A happy group takes a midday break from cleaning


Waking up was difficult this morning after an epic swizzle. Our program for the day was to clean the ship like we had never before. Starting with our own bunks, we proceeded to scrub the common areas to their nooks and crannies on a Field Day of historic proportions. Hot and famished, we then took a refreshing break in the ocean before enjoying lunch. In the afternoon, we cleaned some more as the three watches divided between above and below stations. Armed with fire hoses and deck brushes, or sponges and buckets, students and crew alike cleaned the Seamans inside and out. Beyond the discomfort of closely bonding with the dirt all over the ship came a deep feeling of satisfaction to see a job well done and our home so clean. Polynesian navigators firmly believe in connecting with their va’a, their canoe, to the extent that they cannot imagine sailing on a va’a they haven’t been involved in building. We have connected with our own va’a very tangibly today, as we got her cleaner than she had been in a long time. She is now ready to welcome the next class of SEA students in a few days.

The imminence of our arrival in Honolulu brings me an unmistakable feeling of nostalgia. Signs of the end of our trip are everywhere, whether they appear in the form of atlas entry deadlines or bunk pre-packing. The swizzle itself last night was tinged with the characteristic bittersweet taste of a happy moment you know will soon come to an end.

As we set sail for Oahu on our last few days on the Seamans, I reflect on the experience of living on a ship for seven weeks. I am proud to have sailed with such a wonderful group of shipmates and glad to have met such extraordinary people. I will deeply miss them when I return home and will surely long to be at sea again once back on land. Thankfully, this adventure doesn’t have to be over if we don’t want it to. We are all captains of our own destiny and can decide of the course we will steer. To those who wish to return to the beautiful South Pacific Ocean or to sailing on tall ships, may this trip be the first of many.

Gabrielle Page
Northeastern University
P.S. Joyeux anniversaire Mutti! Hope you had a great day, love and miss you.

Mar

15

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Position: At Anchor, Kealakekua Bay, 19°28"N X 155°56W
Weather: Sunny skies
Photo Caption: The B Watch Babes

The incredible thing about life on a ship is the amount of time you find yourself “soul-searching,” even when you’re underway with 37 other individuals in close proximity. There are often those special times when you find yourself tucked away in a corner, or on bow watch, or sitting on a deck box, surrounded by nothing but the ocean breeze, breaking swells, and the sun, moon or stars over your head.

As my mind wanders, I find myself relating this life back to music. As both a biology and a music major, my brain constantly is finding the unique connections between my “two lives.” Right now, my brain has been craving the sweep and swell of a piece of music, the feel of the piano keys beneath my fingers, the sound of a well sung duo, the feel of a note in my throat. But as much as I miss the music of home, it is the ship’s music that I will miss when I return.

The “music” of the ship is like an orchestra in perfect tune. Like instruments each playing their own line of music, individuals on board RCS move in their own unique pattern. Individually, the crew members would just be a single melody, straining to be heard above the roar of the ocean. But together, the ship runs smoothly. Our metronome is the watch schedule, our conductor is the waves, our fellow shipmates are our complementing instruments. Every watch, every person on board, makes up an important part of this orchestra.
There are some very specific sounds that I will certainly miss. Here are just a few:
.. The waves beating against the hull
.. The whoosh of air past both ears at the helm, in the moment when you know you are perfectly aligned on a close reach
.. The clink of harnesses, especially moving around in the dark night
.. The constant hum of the generators (and often the main engine)
.. The slide and crash of a tray gone astray in the galley, followed by “We’re all okay!”
.. Ukulele or guitar chords being strummed during that “magic time” after class and before dinner
.. The call of “ready on the port side? Ready on the starboard side? Ready on the sheet/halyard/downhall?”
.. The half-hourly chime of the ship’s clock
.. The sound of the engineers telling you to “not be generally alarmed at the general alarm” as they test the system
.. The sound of the triangle ringing us to meals
.. Finding comfort in recognizing the timbre of another shipmate’s voice-even when they are behind you in the darkness I honestly think this list could go on and on.

The point of this blog though, and something huge I’ve learned the past 6 weeks-I can’t do it alone. To be the soloist of a piece of music is a wonderful experience, but every once in a while, you need to be part of an orchestra. Thanks to all who have made my shipboard orchestral experience one in a lifetime.

Michelle Rossi
Muhlenberg College

P.S. Lots of love to Mom, Ben, 4NOW, Big Brudda & all of my lovely friends and family! Looking forward to sharing my adventures with you soon!

Mar

14

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Position: Docked at Kawaihae Harbor, 20°22"N X 155°49"W
Weather: Sunny skies and dry heat
Photo Caption: Steering through the gale

“Fear. And then I put a door in it.” Michael Ondaatje
   
Sailing is terrifying. There are beautiful, romantic moments and exhilarating, grin-inducing successes, but there are also moments and hours of fear, stress and worry. Every time we take the deck for watch we meet new challenges which force us to really consider ourselves.  Waves and wind do not wait for indecision, and we have learned how to step up, set aside our fear and take charge.  Fear has become a doorway for us to evolve.
   
Sailing has taught us to enjoy the small victories.  Success is scrubbing the soles (floors) for Dawn Clean-up when all you want to do is run up on deck, stick your head over the side, and donate your breakfast to Neptune.  Success is getting the 600 lb. hydrocast carousel over the side and back up without injuring the crew, the boat, or the instrument.  Success is learning how to be comfortable with hugging people (congratulations Janie) or eating soup (congratulations Hallie). Success is climbing aloft and setting a sail and calling a tack as “mini-mate.”  Success is trying to keep on course when the compass swings radically with every swell and gust. Success is writing a paper for Gordon when you’re only given 24 hours. Success is eating dinner when the tables won’t stay still. Success is performing our Haka in front of a crowd of expectant Nuku Hivans. Some days success is just staying awake.

Over the past few days of gale force winds and 15 foot seas, simple tasks became stressful.  Walking anywhere required extreme caution and the deck was a watery wilderness. But we crazy sailors thrive under pressure. We smile when applesauce flies across the galley on a bad roll, and we chuckle as stinging rain pelts us on deck. For us the romance of the high seas only gets better with new tests of endurance and mental strength. We have pushed past boundaries we thought we’d never even face.  And now that we have arrived at Hawaii we can look back across our cruise track and smile at all the stress and worry and fear that pushed us through the endless miles.

We face fear and don’t back down. We are sailors.
Hannah Glover
Bowdoin College
P.S. Good luck in your race Caitlin. Love to family and friends. I’ll be back at BoBo soon.

Mar

13

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Monday, March 12, 2012
Position: 19o41’N x 156o07’W
Course: 340 psc
Speed: about 1 knot
Weather: Variable low winds, calm seas under the shadow of moku o keawe, famous big island “vog” or haze, intermittent sun
Photo Caption: The hongi

They say the people of old could invoke the clouds to hide the islands from visitors. Well it sure felt like that this morning, like the Kahuna from Molokai a Hina did cast the spell, but luckily the white man’s magical radar could see through the thick curtain of “vog”!

We knew we had reached the big island also because the swells and winds dramatically dropped in intensity as a direct consequence of the lee from the land mass. Here we were, in Hawaiian waters. We knew mouna kea lay before us, and yet it was only around ten this morning that Moohono spoted it. Moku O Keawe was in front of our bow—the biggest mountain of our Polynesian triangle, its solidified lava rocks, its beaches, condominiums, hotels, and its Kona airport. This entire familiar scene seemed unfamiliar after those weeks spent at sea, when you almost forget what a plane looks like; here they land and take off every hour more numerous than the count on our bird watch.

After a nice lunch with tables parallel to the floor (a first in days) we gathered on the dry quarterdeck for the afternoon reports and lecture. We talked about Hawaiian history from the time of Kamehameha the Great (aka Ka Napoleonia) to the very controversial annexation of the Kingdom by the United States of America—the latest part being a touchy subject but an indispensable component of the curriculum of the spiceys before they meet the Hawaiians. In the second part of the lecture we touched on the concept of HA (the breath of life) and a few other Hawaiian fundamentals that make this state the Aloha State. The presentation was greatly appreciated and we finished with a group hongi session, where we experienced the traditional greetings of the Hawaiian people (see photo).

We then tried to get back to our normal routine, but things are already very different with land in sight. The calm seas, the stability of the grounds, permits the coming back of activities such as laundry, going aloft, playing ukulele, and the little family of S-239 comes back to the tropical cruise mode on a starry night with the numerous lights of the Kona coast in the background. Moohono and I sit at the back of the deck contemplating this coast, this Island: Hawaii, named after our island of origin by our voyaging ancestors some hundreds of years ago.  Tomorrow we will pay respect to Kamehameha, our distant cousin, at his Heiau of Puukohola, which he had erected before he united the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1795. This kingdom, now the fiftieth state of the proud American nation. We contemplate those lights on the hill, Venus and Jupiter above us, and let our minds wonder in the distant horizon of this dark evening with no moon.
Tahiarii

PS: To Momsie a special aloha, can’t wait to see you in O’ahu, we’ll be with brother Jonah tomorrow when he comes visit us on the ship.
A Papa si tu nous lis, bises de Hawaii du petit singe alias le renard ! Kowhai, nga mihi nui ia koutou kaatoatoa.

Mar

12

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Sunday, March 11, 2012
Position: 18o31’N x 156o41’W
Course: 019 psc
Speed: 6.8 knots
Weather: Winds N’Easterly, Near Gale Force 30-35 knots, 14 - 16 foot breaking seas, spray flying, intermittent sun

Photo Caption: A moment of romance found in a quiet evening It’s the moments. When talking with “folks back home,” this journey will likely be described as an epic 2,500 nautical mile voyage on a tall ship from Tahiti to Hawaii—and it is. But that’s only the rough framework within which this incredible, transformative experience has occurred.  As Captain it’s my job to insure the safe and successful completion of this voyage, but as Sean, the individual and educator, I find that the journey is made up of moments.  I’ve been fortunate in being able to go to sea since I was a small lad, and here at SEA I’ve sailed many thousands of miles, but what I’ve come to discover is that the “romance” lies in the moments, and these moments are often the creative foundation of the journey.

I was introduced to the concept of romance a few years ago in a 1983 commencement speech given by author Robert James Waller.  Although at the time Waller was the Dean of a prominent business school, his speech focused on the ephemeral but fulfilling nature of romance.  He said it was hard to describe romance, for if one tries to define it, romance simply slips away. Rather, he shared, romance is experienced obliquely, often appearing just for a moment, but it’s those moments that we take with us, that bring a smile to our lips as we fall asleep after a long hard day.  As this voyage has progressed, I’ve been fortunate to have glimpsed many of these moments - I consider it one of the luckiest aspects of life aboard. Perhaps if I share some of these moments you will understand what I mean.

One occurred just this afternoon as I was beginning this blog entry.

Student Hallie was ringing up the second seating of lunch, and as she passed the door of the aft cabin, mama Seamans took a huge roll.  Hallie flew past the door, and we could hear the thud of her abrupt “landing” at the end of the passageway.  After a look of alarm passed between the Chief Scientist and me, we heard a light-hearted “Oops!” emerge from Hallie, followed without interruption by her ongoing announcement of lunch.  It was just a minor ‘mini-triumph’ (out of a full day of life aboard), yet thinking about it brings a smile to my lips.

Caring for your shipmates and community is one of the elements we stress, but the other night at dinner I had the magic of experiencing the natural evolution of this.  As the second seating of dinner was finishing, a beautiful choreographic flow of students and crew began, people moving around each other as they cleared the tables and brought their plates to the galley, a tight dance with over 20 people in a space the size of a small bedroom.  I sat and marveled. Others didn’t even notice because it was simply happening the way it was meant to.

While some events make great photos and are easy to share, such as the beautiful sunrise rainbow off Nuku Hiva, others carry the magic of the moment but are hard to capture.  This happened two days ago when we gathered for afternoon class.  With the rugged winds buffeting the ship, the ship’s company had to snuggle down on the leeward side of the quarterdeck in order to hear the class presentations.  The students of B Watch were just beginning their rap presentation of a science report when a humongous rogue wave slopped aboard.  This wave was easily ten feet taller than any of the surrounding seas, and it upped and lobbed itself across the deck, cascading over the entire aft half of the ship, the amount and force of the water simply incredible.  After emerging from the deluge and confirming the safety of all, I was treated to the view of the ENTIRE ship’s company completely soaked, sitting in bedraggled stunned, open-mouthed disbelief - this wave had come out of nowhere.  As the shock wore off, peals of laughter followed. Drying off, I was struck by the romance of this moment, unrepeatable, a moment we all inadvertently shared, making our lives richer in its incongruity.

I’ll end by saying I’ve been honored to sail with S239 SPICE, for as Robert Waller said, “The best way to tell a romantic is just to be around one. You’ll know. There is a sense of passion about them, a sense of living just a bit too far out at the edge emotionally.”  This class has seized the day and endured the trials and challenges that nature has thrown at them, from the severe heat of the first few weeks to the incessant buffeting by the seas over the past several days, all with a sparkle in their eyes and laughter on their lips. They are ship mates, and I’m damn proud of that fact.

Sean S. Bercaw
Captain

Mar

11

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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March 10, 2012
Position: 15o58’N x 157o06’W
Course: 025 psc
Speed: 6 knots
Weather: Winds 30-35 knots, cloudy.
Photo Caption: View out of a porthole in the main saloon.

As we roll and rock, wave over wave, closer and closer to land for our final stop, emotions are running high. Currently 10 miles from US waters, 3 days from rough draft number 2, and 8 days from 3 final drafts, stress has become an understatement. The encroaching deadlines for our final papers that have been lingering over our heads since day one bring out one thing that no college student today can deny doing: procrastination. A relationship as strong as a block and tackle, the link between final papers and procrastination is unbreakable. Put into mathematical terms this relationship can be represented as a graph where as the x variable, time (measured in days) decreases, the y variable, procrastination, increases exponentially.

Everyone procrastinates on land, maybe moreso because of accessibility. It’s all too easy to open up an internet explorer webpage and pick your poison, whether that be online shopping, Facebook, The Times, or Neflix, and find you’ve wasted an hour or two. However in our environment, confined to a relatively small space with no internet, the students of S239 have had to get a little creative.

I myself decided to conduct a poll of everyone’s favorite way to procrastinate on land and compare it to how they procrastinate on the boat. On the boat the number one procrastination method was, unanimously, napping. Journaling was a close second, primarily because it gives the satisfaction of accomplishing something. Third place was taken by all things pictures: looking at pictures, uploading pictures, and taking pictures. Other procrastination methods included exercising (Deck of Cards), laundry (clothes sure do dry quick in gale force winds), making knickknacks with shells, coconuts, rope, and wood (aka being crafty), taking the time to learn computer chess (the RCS now has a chess team), and getting passionate about celestial navigation (motivated by desire to impress friends and family when back on land). These procrastination methods are justified by staying physically and mentally healthy, and we consider them to be our extra-curriculars.

As we all sit in the library, reading, writing, and procrastinating here and there, Lissy brings up a good question: how on earth did we go from the calmest cruise to such rough conditions? This proved by our gale force winds reaching 45 mph, students restricted from boat checking foreword of the quarterdeck, clipping our harnesses in at the helm, and motor sailing under one sail—a double reefed main. Lissy answers her question herself with one statement: life throws you curves.  This is true, but I’ve found that we also seem to like to throw ourselves our own curves. Where’s the fun in a paper unless you have only hours to complete it? It adds an extra challenge, as if keeping lunch down while reading journal articles and being thrown side to side weren’t enough. Procrastination aside, I have no doubt the students of S239 will not only complete their research papers on time, but complete them to the highest academic standard. It’s our drive to research, compile, analyze, and not just conclude but ask more questions that slows us down, but also generates a desire to excel. I know that our atlas will be completed even with a little procrastination, because how else did we all manage to get here?

Ashley Taylor
University of Vermont
P.S. Hi Mom & Dad! Wish I had my long johns right now- you win Mom. All my love to everybody! P.S.S. Happy Birthday Hedee’s Mom!

Mar

10

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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March 9, 2012
Position: 14o41’N x 157o39’W
Course: 025 psc
Speed: 6.5 knots
Weather: Winds 28-33 knots, cloudy. Requires a flannel and jorts.
Photo Caption: Laundry, birding and big swells.

Routine.  Finding ourselves approximately halfway between Kirtimati and Hawaii we are in the midst of our longest offshore leg, and we have fallen into the routine of life at sea.  Our days are filled with activities unique to life aboard Mama Seamans:

_Laundry_- The act of putting clothes in a bucket with strong smelling soap, swirling with hands, rinsing and then hanging (lately in cloudy weather) in hopes that it will dry before it smells moldy. 

_Wake Ups_- We need no alarm clock on the ship.  Rather, we wait for our shipmates to arrive at our bunk and hope they correctly distinguish our head from our feet.  They repeat your name over and over again until you jolt upright, and if you are lucky they will remember to tell you it is raining so you can bring your foulies to watch.

_Field Day_- An excuse for a dance party.  Also involves a deep cleaning of Mama Seamans with a sponge system that not even Paul, our boat anthropologist, can understand.

_Celestial Navigation_- The moment when the On-Watch thinks really hard about how they wish the clouds would go away so they can get a celestial fix and correct the less precise deduced reckoning position we have been using to navigate by for the past 24 hours.

_Atlas Projects_- A battle against gravity, computer screens, and the strong desire to do other activities listed above (well maybe not field day). So we find ourselves in the routine of this place that only five weeks ago presented the challenge of a tangle of lines, an entirely new vocabulary, and incredibly close living quarters.  My fellow mates and I have spent the past few weeks passing on knowledge to the students of the SPICE trip, and now we are able to step back and watch as the students take ownership of this place they have come to call home.  As I come on deck, I look forward to the times when the “mini-mate”—the student who is responsible for running the deck for the watch—consults with their watch-mates and approaches me with a plan for getting underway again after a station or a plan for setting the jib.  It seems like only yesterday I was explaining to them how to steer “full and by,” and now they can tell me, “it seems like we got a lift so I can steer a bit higher than our ordered course.”  I would venture to say I will probably be out of a job by the time we get to Hawaii. Maybe Captain Sean will consider getting me and the other mates a lazy boy recliner for the quarterdeck. 

While the past few days have presented challenges to the crew of Mama Seamans—primarily in the form of large swells, gale force winds, and today a huge wave breaking over the quarterdeck in the middle of class and soaking the entire crew—we are rising to the challenge.  Our sea legs are stronger, our bruises are numerous, and our clothes are salty.  However at end of the day the scene on the quarterdeck is a familiar routine of Paul and Greg playing their ukuleles, Erin and Laura attempting to do crunches, Tahi gazing at stars, Jan plaiting his coconut rope, John with a fishing line over the stern begging to keep it out a little past daylight. And we can enjoy the sunset with our shipmates, no matter the conditions we are faced with.

Meredith Helfrich
2nd Mate
PS: Hi family and friends at home- miss you. well really just Charlie. If John’s parents would bring his hammock to HI- he would be really happy. Paul says miss you ilu.

Mar

09

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Thursday, March 8, 2012
Position:  11°52’N x 158°23’W
Heading:  025° psc
Speed:  6 knots
Weather:  Wind E Force 6, Cloudy, Air Temp 25°C
Photo Caption: The girls of Shellback Alley after field day.

Several Ways to Know That You Are a Student on the 35th Day of S-239: Putting notebooks, cups, pencils, etc. down is a long process as you try and figure out how to place them so they won’t go flying across the room. Despite this care, half the mugs have been rendered useless, including your favorite one with the California flag on it. Luckily, the crew and students have recently gotten better at holding onto their coffee at all times, so fewer mugs are being sent to Davy Jones’ locker.

While taking nutrient samples from the carousel after a science deployment, you hear shouts of “We caught a fish! We finally caught a fish!” The fish turns out to be a 2.5-foot mahi mahi, and since you are currently a science student, you look it up in the science library. Mahi mahi is the Hawaiian name for a dolphinfish, known for its yellow-green body and a long single dorsal fin. They love hanging out near boats, which explains why we were able to catch one. Four hours later, B watch catches an even larger one. Both find their way onto the dinner table.

You woke up to breakfast sandwiches, had a plethora of leftovers for lunch, and topped off the day with mahi mahi, spinach with feta, and roasted pumpkin. Let’s not forget the snacks of sliced pineapple, chocolate cupcakes, and the candy that kept us going through field day.

It takes as much concentration to stay sitting on the same place on the quarterdeck during class as it does to understand the content of the daily science report. However, this isn’t saying as much as it used to, as even the humanities majors are finally grasping the essentials of oceanography and can discuss currents and chlorophyll _a_ concentrations. You know your shipmates have got your back.

Everyone cheers when an albatross flies by during class. You and your classmates know, from your copious time completing bird observations, that this is a big deal. Conversations about “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” ensue, and everyone is instructed not to shoot the albatross no matter what. There are five kinds of hot sauce on the table at every meal, and each has a nickname. The Chief Engineer, Seth, is loved not only for his ability to keep the engine going but also for his special concoction, 6-S: Seth-Safe Sweet and Spicy Super Sauce.

After witnessing your interviews by satellite phone at Kiritimati Island, your shipmates are just as happy as you are to find out that you got your journalism internship for the summer.

Nora Cassidy
Carleton College
P.S. Much love and cuddles to Mom and Dad, Team Cassidy Team, and Greta. I can’t wait to spend the summer in California with you!

Mar

08

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Position:  9°46.7’N x 158°18.0’W
Heading:  000° psc
Speed:  7 knots
Weather:  Wind NE Force 6, Cloudy, Air Temp 27 ° C
Photo Caption: Lissy, Nora and Kaitlin embracing the waves and each other as they drink their smoothies.

Over the past few days we’ve all been struggling to stand up straight, drink without spilling on ourselves, and sleep comfortably all smushed up on one side of the bed. Today we’re still struggling, but I think we’ve finally embraced the situation, both literally and figuratively.

The Hawaiian word of the day today, _makani_, meaning wind, was particularly appropriate. This morning the wind reached a force 7, meaning there were 30-knot gusts and a whole lot of whitecaps. Since the wind is coming from the same direction that we’re trying to go, we’ve had to use the motor a bunch to help us stay on course. The combination of sailing close to the wind and gaining speed from the motor gives us a lot of apparent wind, meaning it feels even stronger than it actually is.

While I was on watch helping in the galley, Hedee, Kaitlin, Anna and Marty put on their foul weather gear and climbed out onto the bowsprit. They rode the waves up and down, getting half submerged, and returned down below soaking wet. Meanwhile, the infamous galley mats had gotten slippery so that working in the galley was a dynamic activity—super fun.

In addition to giving us something to laugh about, these rougher seas have revealed what a strong community we’ve built over the past six weeks. When I come out of the galley with a stack of hot plates, I don’t need to ask anyone to open the cabinet for me, someone just does it. Lack of balance has forced us to work together to complete the simplest of tasks, and I know that there is always someone to catch me when I fall.

Laura (Hina) Karson
Carleton College
P.S. Happy Birthday J-Dawg, love ya brotha.

Mar

07

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Position:  7o05’N x 157o49’W
Heading:  350o psc
Speed:  5 knots
Weather:  Wind NE Force 5, Cloudy, Air Temp 27 o C
Photo Caption: Tahi, Jan, and Colleen learning to make rope from coconut fiber.

“If we stay on land we shall die. If we go to sea we shall die. Let`s go then.”

Recorded by R. Firth on the island of Tikopia, 1920 In the northern hemisphere, the sea is colder; the waves are 3 to 5m, the wind is about 25 knots. The clouds cover the sky. The vessel is being bounced about by the waves. Yes, the first Polynesians who traveled on the famous sea, called by us “moana o kiva” (Kiva`s ocean), did know that maybe death was waiting for them.  The profound faith of the ancestors gave them the power to do this without knowing what would happen.  Their knowledge of navigation during their expansion in the pacific also brought them an understanding of the risk of going on the sea.

I would like to tell you the story of Ru, who lived in the Tuamotu Archipelago and sailed to the island of Aitutaki: For five days there was rain—no sun, no moon, no stars for the navigation. He was holding his _hoe_ (paddle for steering), and his people were looking to him and asking what to do. He was lost, but in his blood, he was a chief, a _toa_ (warrior), so he raised one hand to Tangaroa (God of the sea) and said:

Tangaroa i te titi, Tangaroa i te tata ( Tangaroa up and down)
Fa`aite mai a oe te fetia a ru (show me the star of Ru)

This is the power of a chief. He did not request for the god to bring them to land, but just to show him his star, and he will do the rest.  Ru’s star appeared, and the canoe arrived in Aitutaki.  These were the first people to settle on this island.

Since leaving Christmas Island the sea has been rough, but the students have behaved as toa, warriors. These American students are valiant. On Christmas Island, we went with Ratita to see an archeological site; that was a great moment. Colleen (our Indiana Jones) found a vertical slab indicating the position of a house. Tahi found scrapers and Jan a pit by the sea and a very ancient wall. We knew there was an archaeological site on the island because it was noted in the report by Emory from 1930, in the papers of early missionary Father Rougier in 1920s, and from more recent carbon dating studies. Unfortunately, the people on Christmas did not know about this site. So I explained to them about the stone remains we found, evidence of houses and sacred sites. I told them excavation had been done there, and some radiocarbon dating indicated the presence of Polynesian settlers between 1200 AD to 1400 AD. Ratita was very happy.  She kept several of the artifacts we found for the tourism office. She wants to build a little museum for Christmas island. If we can collaborate in this type of initiative, it would be great for a little island like this one.

Paul Moohono Niva
Archaeologist

P.S.  Sinon, tout se passe bien, ILU tu me manques beaucoup, je n`ai pu envoyer de mail de Christmas island,mais des mon arrive a Hawai`I,  je t`appelle, ILu.
By the way, Happy Birthday to Megan from sister mate.

Mar

06

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Monday, March 5, 2012
Position:  6°08’N x 157°33’W
Heading:  350° psc
Speed:  5 knots
Weather:  Wind NE Force 6, Cloudy, Air Temp 27 ° C
Photo Caption: Ashley pulling the galley mat off the floor

B Watch started today on mid watch, which meant a couple ginger snaps and a cup of coffee before piling out on deck to check out the conditions. As Anna mentioned yesterday, we’ve entered new territory - a place where swells have jumped to 12 feet tall and the wind has picked up to force 6. This makes everyday watch tasks, like striking sails and steering the vessel, into completely new challenges.  One job specific to mid watch is galley cleanup. Since it’s the middle of the night, it’s pretty much the only time of day we can totally scrub down the kitchen and make sure dirt and grime don’t build up where we prepare our food.

Within galley cleanup is the less-than-coveted job of cleaning the galley mats - rubber panels put down on the soles to ensure our steward and her helpers don’t slip and slide all over the place. To clean the mats, we roll them up, bear hug them down the hall and up the stairs to the foredeck, where we scrub them down and leave them out to dry.  Normally this job is a pain but manageable, especially when extra deckies are around to help lug the mats up the stairs. We quickly discovered last night that with our new sea conditions galley mats became a whole new beast. Our roll, hug, and hope-for-the-best technique was no longer foolproof and ended with some awkwardly intimate moments on the staircase with our rubbery friends. Eventually, despite our staggering and galumphing, we managed to get the mats above deck.

We left Ripple to clean them, which meant holding onto the boat with one hand and holding onto the scrubbing brush with another as our bow crashed into waves and blasted her with saltwater.

At this point in the process, we usually leave the mats out to dry until close to the end of watch. This morning though, the mats wouldn’t dry with all the water splashing over the bow, which meant we had to relocate them. The only place above deck with enough space to spread the mats out is the quarterdeck, but before we could make the move we had to make sure our pathway would be safe. That meant putting a net - or a “student strainer” - up along the rail of the science deck, on the low side of the boat.

After the net was in place, we could make the move. Meredith, Erin and I crouched our way to the foredeck where the mats were still glistening. After rolling the first one, we assembled ourselves in position, inching along the science deck. We bounced from one grab-able landmark to the next until we clambered onto the quarterdeck. One down, three to go. By the third mat, we had our technique down to a science - all inboard, well aware of all the places we would grab as we stumbled forward.

B Watch has the bad habit of getting off watch right as squalls roll in (sorry, C Watch), so we knew we had to get the mats down before we got off watch at 3. Since they were already on the quarterdeck, we decided to take them down through the dog house instead of taking them all the way forward. All in all, a very exciting day for our frenemies the galley mats - their first time aft of the galley, and almost a complete circumnavigation of the boat to top it off!

Bethany Reynolds
Boston University

Mar

04

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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March 4, 2012
Position: 0406N x 15728W
Heading: 013 True
Speed: 7.6 kts
Weather: Winds ENE Force 4, Seas ENE with 6ft swells, temperature 27.1C
Photo caption: A Breezy Morning on the Science Deck

And we are back to the sea, leaving Kiritimati astern and creating waves towards Hawaii. The trade winds are finally making good on their promise to blow strong and steady from the NE, prompting a new (more intense) round of sea leg and stomach acquisition. Dont worry Mom, no seasickness yet. You really have to commit to taking a step or standing up before you act. Its quite comical to watch, as long as no one pitches headfirst into a bulkhead carrying a cup of our good friend, Coffee. As we enter the Inter tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), we are prepared to battle more squalls in our foulies and hopefully let our motor rest a bit, taking advantage of the wind.

Afternoon class today (yes, we do have class on Sundays) provided a welcome respite from the activity and fatigue that always accompany a port stop (Captain Sean even turned the air conditioning up for us on deck), and we spent the time debriefing our visit to Kiritimati. As is bound to happen, due to the nature of this trip and the group of people on Mama Seamans, talk turned to sustainability, in relation to Kiritimati and, subsequently, the world. What people who study the environment in any capacity need to remember is that we cant get too frustrated by the breadth of the issues. Just in the course of our discussion, we covered economics, history, culture, resources, and more, emphasizing just how many facets of the question there are. Did we come to any solutions? No, just raised new questions. But what I have come to realize is that this is okay: there is no one, single solution in this fluid, ever changing environment we inhabit. The important thing to do is keep working toward an understanding of the experiences and interactions we have.  For now, we take it one uncertain step at a time, weathering the swells, and readjusting to ship time, all the while pondering life upon our island, Earth.

Anna Farrell
Denison University
Much love to Mom, Dad, Drew, Whitney, and Taylor, Nana, Papa, and the rest of the family and to everyone at Denison and my NDA girls! Happy birthday, Aunt Kathy and Jessie!

Mar

03

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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March 3, 2012
Position: 2°00’N x 157°29’W, anchored at Kiritimati Island
Weather: Wind ExN Force 4. Clear skies.  Air Temp 28.0° C
Photo Caption: (left to right) Max, Sam, Justin, Matt, Lissy, Meredith and me after our adventure with manta rays!

Free day on Kiritimati Island! After the immigration officers arrived on the ship this morning and checked our passports, we were free to explore the island. Students eagerly gathered on shore wondering what the day would bring.

Matt, Lissy, Sam, Meredith, Justin and I spent our day snorkeling with manta rays! We were all looking forward to a relaxing day on the beach, but our plans quickly changed to something much more exciting. We were lucky enough to meet Max, a Fisheries Observer working aboard an aggregator ship. This ship anchored at Kiritimati early this morning, and it is here to take on 245 metric tons of fish, mostly Yellow Fin and Big Eye tuna, caught by a smaller long-lining vessel. Max had the day off while the catch was being transferred, and he hired a guide to take him out to the schools of mantas that live in the lagoon. Luckily for us, he was in need of company and invited us to join him.

We piled into a small flat-bottom boat that easily maneuvered its way through the shallows of the lagoon. Not too far from shore, in crystal clear blue water, we spotted a school of about eight manta rays dipping and diving through the waves. It was truly an amazing sight. The gigantic creatures gracefully swam in a line, mouths wide open, searching for food. It was rather intimidating to jump in the water next to rays that had fins longer than my body, but we all anxiously dove in anyway. We were able to swim fairly close to them, until they turned, noticed our presence, and quickly glided away. Then we would swim back to the boat, find the manta rays again, jump back in the water, and float along with them for as long as possible. They are truly majestic creatures.

After this amazing day, we returned to the Seamans with Max, where he met Captain Sean and the rest of the crew. He graciously gave a short talk for all the students and crew to tell us about his life onboard the ship, and the tuna regulations he helps to enforce. Many students are working on research projects relating to tuna fisheries and the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) that control them . Max’s experience and insight into the world of tuna fishing was invaluable to many of us. We are so thankful that we met him and that he invited us to see the manta rays!

Now, after several busy days on shore, we are preparing to get underway once more. We’ve all returned to the ship sun burnt and salty, but excited to make our final passage to Hawaii. We’re expecting rougher seas and an even bigger challenge as we try to navigate without the aid of electronic instruments. With the stars as our compass, we’ll begin voyaging to Hawaii this very evening.

Hallie Robbie
Colby College

P.S. Happy Birthday Mom!! I love you so much!!

Mar

02

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Friday, March 2, 2012 Ship Time (Saturday, March 3 Local Time)
Position:  2o00’N x 157o29’W at anchor
Weather:  Wind NE Force 4, Partly Cloudy, Air Temp 28 o C
Photo Caption:  Hannah Glover and Anna Farrell Planting a Coconut Tree Today was our opportunity to explore this remarkable island a bit further.

Leaving from the main dock, we drove first along the thin margin of shore that separates the main lagoon from the ocean, where the Seamans is anchored.  But unlike the other atolls we’ve visited, Kiritimati went through a period of geological uplift, with the result that it has a substantial inland section, raised about 10m above sea level.  This dry, low-lying land is broken by long chains of shallow salt ponds, with waters in vibrant pink and aquamarine colors, torn into whitecaps by the eastern trade winds.  We were fortunate to have as our guide Ratita Bebe from the island’s Wildlife Conservation Unit.  She led our vehicles first to a salt production facility at the edge of one of the ponds, and then into an area protected for nesting birds.  Since departing Papeete on the Seamans, we have been taking careful note of seabirds, but our sightings have generally been rare enough that they cause some stir on the deck.  On the island today, we saw birds in substantial, sometimes overwhelming numbers.  Perhaps most dramatic was a shoal of some dozen Frigate Birds, big, aggressive flyers with forked tails and sharply raked wings.  We spotted them circling and diving from some distance away, and when we approached we found them harassing a lone person fishing of the ponds.

At midday we arrived at a pristine white beach, called Long Beach by islanders.  Big waves, sugary sand, and wonderful beachcombing made it a highlight and a wonderful break from a long morning in the trucks.  Later in the afternoon, we pushed on to Paris Point, on the opposite side of the atoll, and once again within distant view of the ship.  There Rasta invited us to contribute to a coconut replanting project launched by the Wildlife Unit on the island.

There is archaeological evidence of early Polynesian settlement on this island, but when James Cook landed here in 1777, he found no residents.  In fact he found little life of any kind on shore.  It was later efforts that created the widespread forests of coconut trees we saw today.  All citizen residents of the island now share these trees as a common resource. Kiritimati islanders harvest and dry coconut (called copra in this form) for oil production.  And every part of the tree contributes to the wealth of the island population: its sweet sap makes drinks and syrups; it’s fibrous husks are woven into cord that people buy at the local hardware store; its trunks are used as lumber; its fronds are woven into roof thatch; and of course its nuts provide food and drink.  After we planted some sprouting coconuts, Ratita and some of the trainees working with her at the Unit opened a number of coconuts and shared their sweet water and soft fruit.  It is a plant that gives life to all the islands in this region, one we are grateful for as visitors, and honored to help in some very small way to maintain.

Gordon Bigelow
Maritime Studies Faculty

Mar

02

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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March 1st (in boat days. For Kirimati, it’s March 2nd), 2012
Position: 2o00’N x 157o29’W, Anchored next to Christmas Island
Weather: Partly Cloudy, Air Temp 29oC
Photo Caption: Ashley and Kaitlin proving that Americans can dance, too!

This morning, we split up into two groups and drove off to Christmas Island’s two high schools—one Catholic and one Protestant.  My group toured the Catholic high school grounds, which included some under-construction solar powered pump toilets.  Then 100+ students welcomed us by singing their school anthem in an outrageously powerful three-part harmony.  Afterwards, a few students showed us their impressive dancing, which was, strangely enough, set to a mix of traditional and electronic auto-tuned music.  How were the timid twenty or so of us to respond? Well, despite our somewhat unsynchronized swaying, the kids seemed to enjoy our enthusiastic rendition of “In the Jungle,” aided by ukueles and drums.  The principal liked it so much, in fact, that he ended the ceremony by saying, “I had no idea you guys could sing! Wow, you have some real talent.”  Luckily, the curse of atrocious “Wagon Wheel” performances at this school, which has plagued many past visits of the Robert C. Seamans, seems to have lifted. After a delicious lunch of fried breadfruit, papaya, and coconut water, we walked around the school and mingled with the students.  Hedee met a girl from her hometown, Honolulu, but otherwise, we were lucky to have brought instruments as our interactions may not have gone so far without these joyful icebreakers.  What began in many instances as shy name exchanges and inquiries of age, quickly transitioned into excited sing-offs and dance-offs, with audiences of laughing SEA and St. Francis students alike. The other group’s visit went just as well, but with less singing and more game playing. 

A few hours later, the students paid a visit to the ship, and we broke into small groups and gave tours.  They remarked on the cool critters in the lab, the size of the main engine, and the hot sleeping quarters down below.  At the end, they got a chance to brace the yards and coil down the deck! (and we got a long-awaited break from bracing yards and coiling line). Tomorrow we’ll tour this fascinating desert-like island in flatbed trucks. Then we have a free day before we pull up anchor for the last time and head off to Hawaii.  It’s absurd to think that we’re due in Kona in two weeks..!

Much Love,
Marty Schwarz
Carleton College
P.S. Miss you all back home (in order of how much I miss you): Nene, Nellie, Willa, Mom & Dad.

Mar

01

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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February 29, 2012!
2°00’N x 157°29’W
Position: Anchored at Kiritimati Island!
Weather: Clear skies.  29.0° C
Photo caption: Two schoolchildren we befriended Merry Christmas! Today marks our first day at Kiritimati Island. We anchored around 0700 this morning.  It was very surreal seeing land after ten days at sea, our longest sea voyage yet.

Kiritimati Island, part of the Line Islands, is a low lying atoll about 17 miles at its longest.  It is a beautiful place, and we had the opportunity to explore it his afternoon.  We quickly discovered that there was not a whole lot to do.  When we got dropped off at the dock, we had the option of taking a left or a right.  There’s only one main road around the island. The villages are about a mile in either direction.  The one we went to consisted of a post office, a bank, and a small convenience store.  We passed a couple of schools and many students walking home from school who were all eager to greet us.  We met a few students who attend the Catholic high school that we will be visiting tomorrow.  It is tradition for the Kiritimati students to sing songs for us when we go to their school.  In return we have been prepping to sing a song to them as well.  We chose “In the Jungle,” since we all sang it well the other day at Swizzle.  We practiced this morning on the boat and even managed to choreograph a few moves.  We’ll see how we do in front of a crowd tomorrow, though!  Looking forward to the next few days on the island! Tomorrow we visit the school, followed by tours of the island the next day. 

Kaitlin Summers
St. Lawrence University

P.S.  Much love to everyone back at home! And thinking of you especially tomorrow Cammie!

Feb

29

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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February 28, 2012
Position: 0°8.3’N x 156°34.4’W
Heading: 310° Towards Christmas Island
Speed: 2 Knots
Weather: Wind NExE Force 3, cloud cover 4/8 Cu/Cs, Air Temperature 28.0°C
Photo caption: Deploying the ARGO Float from the Science Deck. We have decided the best way to acclimate to this new winter season is to visit a place where it’s Christmas 366 days of the year.  Tomorrow morning we will be arriving at Kiritimati atoll, Christmas Island. We will be entering a new time zone tonight when we cross the International Dateline but will stay on ships time for convenience. I think most of us are excited not to have to wait another four years in order to see February 29th.  One highlight of our last day at sea has been the deployment of an ARGO Float, one of a large fleet of automated CTD instruments that collect ocean data for the United Nations World Environment Program.  CTD stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth, and the instrument uses conductivity to measure the salinity of ocean waters.  Once activated and launched, ARGO Floats drift freely with currents and periodically descend to a depth of 1500 meters, recording salinity, temp, and depth in the water column.  Once they rise to the surface again, they transmit their data back to the ARGO base of operations, where it is processed and then made available in a worldwide public database. The GPS location listed above is the exact point where we deployed the ARGO Float during ship’s class today. Since the ARGO initiative was started about 10 years ago, over 3,000 of the Floats have been deployed in our world’s oceans. SEA ships have deployed close to 40 Argo Floats, and we are proud to contribute to this project.

The Argo Float is not the only thing we have been deploying lately. Each day we have been lowering our own CTD to a depth of 600m, as well as towing our Meter net at a depth of 150m and our Neuston net along the surface. All of the students have been processing and analyzing the data from these deployments while the ship travels from port to port. They are becoming very proficient in the identification of Zooplankton from our nets, and analyzing vertical water profiles from our CTD and instruments.

The energy and anticipation are high as we head towards Christmas Island. We will miss the sailing, but everyone will enjoy the full night’s rest on the hook.

Enjoy your leap year day to everyone back home. Thinking of you always
Gregory Boyd
Assistant Scientist

Feb

28

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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February 27, 2012
Position: 0°2’N x 155°49’W
Heading: 310° psc towards Kiritimati
Speed: 8 knots
Weather: Clear, Starry skies, Polaris in sight. Air temperature 27.0° C..
Picture Caption:  A sneak peek at the GPS as we cross the equator for the first time!

Greetings from the Northern Hemisphere, where everything is right-side up, the toilets flush in the correct direction, and it is now winter with temperatures in the 80s! The past 24 hours have been an adventure, as we have crossed the equator not once, but three times. We have been sailing a zig-zag across “the line,” conducting a bathymetric survey of the ocean floor for the government of Kiribati with our Sub-Bottom profiler (affectionately known as “CHIRP”). The opportunity to contribute these data to a nation that routinely allows us passage through their waters is an exciting way to appreciate the importance of the role of the ocean in the world today.

Although the CHIRP survey was thrilling in many ways, it was not exactly the main event of the day.  Keeping true to centuries-old maritime tradition, the entire ship’s company participated in a celebration of “crossing the line.” Our afternoon was filled with ceremonial activities such as: a visit by King Neptune himself, donations of hair to the salty brine, and feasting on an equatorial cake. King Neptune is very proud to have transformed 30 Pollywogs into Shellbacks today!

Nothing can quite compare to the exceptional community we have built aboard the Robert C. Seamans in the past few weeks. Coming together to celebrate things like crossing an invisible line in the middle of the ocean might seem silly to our loved ones ashore, but it is truly invigorating to allow imaginations to run wild - because when they do, the real, belly-laughing fun can be had!

Lots of love to those ashore, we hope you are having just as much fun as we are. Special shout outs to Jane, Keitapu, family and friends in Maine and NH, and Carla’s little bro PJ - we miss you!
Carla and Seth
Scientist and Engineer

Feb

26

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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February 26, 2012
Position: 0°26°S x 152°43°W
Heading: 340° True towards Kiritimati
Speed: 6.7 knots
Weather: Wind: NE Force 3. Mostly sunny. Air temperature 28.0° C.
Picture Caption:  Laura and friends perform at swizzle

This was truly a momentous day aboard the Robert C. Seamans. We awoke this morning to find that King Neptune’s messengers had paid us a visit in the night. The equator is nigh and the anticipation of the crossing has been surpassed only by the excitement for our first swizzle. As afternoon watch got underway, we began to prepare for the soirée. Mama Seamans put on her best mumu, and the whole ship’s company broke into her legendary trove of swizzle-wear.

At 1600 we were overrun by a troop of professors and crew all geared up to haka their little hearts out, and festivities commenced. Majestic. After a toast to the ocean, we were graced with a number of performances, such as C Watch’s dawn clean-up ditty, “12 Days to Kiritimati,” the Uke Club’s sing-a-long renditions of “In the Jungle” and “Brown-Eyed Girl,” and a gang led by Laura with their unique take on Usher. Sam and Hallie brought us an original rap about shipboard life and Colleen, Tahi, Paul, and Gordon performed two beautiful Tahitian songs on ukulele and guitar. If banana splits and hilarious readings by Meredith, Carla, and Seth weren’t enough to make it a party, our swizzle planner and MC, Sarah, topped it off with another of her famous dance lessons. We enjoyed the sunset with some of Laurie’s wonderful pizza.

As the day wound down, we donned our civilian clothes once again and got back to life as usual. Our numerous pollywogs retreated below decks to savor their final moments with their luscious locks, as the equator crossing and our date with King Neptune are expected at about midnight. Swizzle on. Be excellent to each other.

Lissy Enright
Endicott College

P.S. To all those back in Maine: you will be glad to know that my swizzle attire included camouflage suspenders. If that’s not state pride, I don’t know what is. Love you all.

Feb

25

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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February 25, 2012
Position: 2°01’S x 150°30’W
Heading:  301° True towards Kiritimati
Speed:  6 knots
Weather: Wind NExE Force 4. Partly sunny. Air Temp 27.0°C
Picture caption: A tooth brushing tradition that makes me giggle.  Matt, Are and Marty.

Our world out here is overflowing with a flavor all its own.  So many of the ingredients can only be grown in the middle of the ocean.  We are constantly caring for the ship, adjusting our path towards Kiritimati, exploring the ocean that we are moving through, and caring for the people that we live so closely with.  If you could attach sounds to it all, there would be a symphony of little bursts every time new critters are pulled up from a net,  or someone learns a new star, and a whole mess of explosions the first time someone leads us through a gybe and then coordinates a scurry of action to make sails fly and power us on our course to Kiritimati.  Every little burst ends in a conversation with someone that makes you grow a little closer, or a meal that is ridiculously delicious, or a drift into deep sleep in your bunk. 

There are many layers of activity within our own community in the middle of the Pacific.  We have made the shift to using only the GPS for our scientific studies, while to navigate our way to Kiritimati we are using both dead reckoning and celestial navigation.  As we steer through the night, we turn to the location of Gemini, Canopus, and Antares.  You can watch as people step on deck at three o’clock in the morning.  Everyone’s head turns up to the sky to look for the familiar stars, and these will help us navigate far beyond this trip.  There is a new level of confidence as we estimate our speed every hour. After a few weeks of regular practice, finding our own rhythm in counting the seconds it takes for us to pass by bubbles in the water, the anxious tone of committing to a speed has diminished, and now there is confidant discussion as we fine tune our results. 

There is a lot of careful checking on our mileage left to the ceremonial crossing of the equator, and the appearance of the North Star in our sky.  We are creating a culture all our own.  It is a mixture of every crew member’s past, perspective, and personality.  It gives the name SPICE a deeper flavor.

Love to you all. 
Erin Bostrom
Robt. C. Seamans, Third Mate

Feb

24

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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February 24, 2012
Position:  2°51’S x 148°19’W
Heading:  290 degrees True towards Kiritimati
Speed: 9.0 Knots
Weather: Wind NExE Force 4. Partly sunny. Air Temp 27.0°C
Picture caption: Shooting stars with a sextant

The winds are picking up! Everyone aboard was glad to see more breeze today than we’ve had so far, with some big swells rolling in from the East. It was another wonderful day aboard the Seamans, which we filled with celestial navigation. This morning A watch was on from 0300 to 0700 and observed the sunrise. We had a great time contemplating the sun and even got a visit from otaha, the frigate bird. In addition to being a beautiful moment, dawn is a critical time of day for celestial navigation, when both the stars and the horizon are visible, thus allowing the use of a sextant.

The sextant is a wonderfully precise instrument that measures the angle between a celestial body and the horizon with great accuracy. By “shooting” several stars at precise points in time, we are able to triangulate our position on a chart without the use of electronic instruments. All of us have started practicing shooting the sun and the stars with the sextants on board, determining the angles with greater and greater accuracy. Holding the instrument steady on a rolling ship is harder than you might imagine!

In addition to weaning ourselves off of the GPS and the electronic knotmeter, we are beginning to put the principles of Polynesian non-instrumental navigation into practice. Guided by Tahi, we are learning how to determine our speed by looking at the bubbles over the side of the vessel, how to find our bearing—the direction we are heading—by looking at stars and planets, and how to steering using a star rather than the compass.

Twice I have had the chance to steer by a star, and I find it both a slightly stressful and an exhilarating experience. However, looking up from the compass and at the sky is a wonderful experience. It allows the helmsman to open up to his or her environment and to be much more aware of the surroundings. We are connected much more intimately with the swells, the sails, and the stars above our heads.

I don’t think I am only speaking for myself when I say that I am tremendously excited to learn more about non-instrumental navigation techniques. They are a wonderful way to gain a deeper, more intrinsic understanding of the ocean that surrounds us and to spread knowledge that is in danger of being lost.

Looking forward to more starry nights, steering under ever more familiar constellations.

Fair winds,
Gabrielle Page
Northeastern University

PS: Gros bisoux à ma petite famille qui me lit. Vous me manquez! Lots of love to everyone back home!

Feb

23

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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23 February, 2012
Position: 3°44’S x 146°59’W
Heading:  290 degrees True toward Kiritimati
Speed: 8.0 Knots
Weather: Wind NExE Force 3. Partly cloudy. Air Temp 28.0°C

Picture caption: Interview with tattoo artist and musician Cain Kaiha in Nuku Hiva about Marquesan tattoo

We are four days out from Nuku Hiva and 726 nautical miles from Kiritimati, well into our first long leg of sailing. Last night, A watch woke up at 2300 and had midwatch until 0300. It was quite dark, and labbies fumbled across the deck without night vision. The brightest light sources were the stars and, for the lab group, the bioluminescent blue scum that persistently stuck itself to the inside of the meter net. The net was deployed on 300 meters of wire down to a depth of 150 meters. The scum took not one, not two, but three thorough dousings with a seawater hose to be persuaded out of the net. In the Neuston (surface) net, over 15 little man-o-wars were caught. They’re cute but need their personal space.

After midwatch was over, many people worked furiously on their papers, getting up early to continue doing so in the morning. Watch meeting was out on the bowsprit. Nestled in a net and “speeding” over the endless blue below, A watch discussed the changes we have seen in our group, mainly our growing communication skills and comfort with the intricacies of life on Mama Seamans. Later, a few of the crew shared high hopes to perform some experimental archaeology by making shell fishhooks modeled after museum pieces. A project is also underway to create a working model sail set, complete with halyards, downhauls, sheets, and stays, which we can demonstrate at the schools in Kiritimati. In the afternoon, I got to be the mini-mate and help direct the group in setting the JT and striking the fisherman and the tops’l. People were pretty surprised to learn I can be loud when I want to. I feel that our group is starting to work more seamlessly and be adaptable to whatever situations arise, which is exciting. The day ended with storytelling under the night sky with Tahi, who taught us the names of stars and constellations. The phrase given to us in a presentation in Papeete the first full day of our time here becomes more real each waking moment:

Korerotia ka wareware
Whakatungia kamahara
Whakamahia ka mohio
Tell me and I will forget
Write it down and I will remember
Involve me and I will understand

Colleen Doyle
Beloit College
PS. Happy Happy Day <3 I love you Mom, Dad, Connor, Shannon, Chris, and Hurley. Happy Birthday Grandma!

Feb

22

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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22 February, 2012
Position: 4°55’S x 144°45’W
Heading:  322 degrees True toward Kiribati
Speed: 4.5 Knots
Weather: Wind NNE Force 2. Clear, beautiful night with a new moon. Air Temp 27.5°C
Picture caption: Sunset off of the mains’l

Ahoy landlubbers!
Another beautiful and toasty day here in the South Pacific, as we begin our final approach towards the equator. The fish are flying and the birds are… well somewhat rare in these parts, but you get the picture. We were able to get some decent sailing in today and even set the raffee (that tiny triangular sail on the top of the foremast).

Today was another infamous field day, in which we whole-heartedly dig down deep and clean the grime out of every nook, cranny, or otherwise unmentionable space on our dear Mama Seamans. (Don’t you parents wish you could get us to do that on land!). Wielding our buckets of envirox, two cornered sponges, and extended ipod playlists, we charge into battle in the never-ending war against mung. The two hour frenzy allows us to get intimately in touch with our vessel, fine tuning and keeping her in working order.

All kidding put aside, I feel as though we are finally starting to really attune ourselves to life onboard (and yes, that does include cleaning). In Tahitian the term for boat is va’a, but it means more than simply a vessel. It has a level of sacredness to it; you and the boat are a pair traveling across vast and potentially hazardous spaces. There is a certain level of connection that is necessary to function. I don’t know that we are completely at that level yet, but I’m starting to find myself able to walk around the ship in the dark without bumping into things, and the lines are becoming more than just ropes on pins with strange names. The night sky is no longer a mess of twinkling pinpricks; names and shapes and patterns are starting to appear.As I watched the sunset tonight (with a green flash), I thought about how much we have already learned only halfway through our voyage. I, personally, am excited to see what the future holds.

Hannah Gossner
Boston University
P.S. Love to Mom, Dad, Ju, Sam, and Lar. CB, JL, all mah BUMP buddies- miss you guys!!! Hope you’re having fantastic semesters!

Feb

21

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Monday, February 21, 2012
Position: 6°43’S x 142°39’W
Heading: 330° NW to Kiritimati
Speed: 9 Knots
Weather: Winds NE, Force 3.  Clear Skies.
Photo Caption: Cephalopod caught in science deployment

Half way through the trip!
After getting more familiar with sail handling, hourlies and science deployments, we have now formally started working on celestial navigation. After Tahi’s class about Polynesian celestial navigation yesterday, a brand new calendar was posted in the doghouse to be filled in with our observation data. We have been enjoying looking at the stars during night watches since the first day of the voyage, and Tahi has been teaching us to identify them whenever we want to learn. But it is not an easy task, especially with an ambitious goal before us: non-instrument celestial navigation only from Kiritimati to Hawaii! Right now, most of us still can hardly imagine steering without compass and GPS. But at the same time, all of us are excited about sailing without modern technologies and trying the methods of traditional Polynesian navigation in the very near future.Another piece of news is that we started a “critter library” project in lab. We are going to preserve cool creatures caught in our science deployments and collect them for the schools that we are going to visit on Christmas Island. In addition to the specimens, we will put together pictures of each creature as well as a paragraph explaining its behavior and characteristics. Each student will choose a favorite creature, conduct research, and write the text about it. So far we’ve got cephalopod (see photo), janthina, chaetognath, myctophids and some other cool babies.

Finally, I have to mention the message bottle deployment that our chief scientist missed in yesterday’s blog. Captain Sean has been throwing bottles with message letters in them into the sea since he was 10 years old. Many of his bottles have been found in different places all over the world. Tatiana, a Tahitian woman who found one of Sean’s bottles four years ago, kept in contact with him and even visited us on the Seamans in Tahiti. Yesterday at sunset, after the brightest green flash we’ve seen on this trip, about 30 message bottles were thrown into the vast Pacific Ocean. Hope most of them will arrive somewhere to be found, with a greeting from Robert C. Seamans.

Ripple Fang
University of Washington

Feb

20

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Monday, February 20, 2012
Position: 7°49’S x 141°43’W
Heading: 335° NW to Kiritimati
Speed: 4 Knots
Weather: Winds NE, Force 3.  Clear skies.
Photo Caption: Taiohae Bay anchorage, Nuku Hiva

We are back underway, with Eiao, the northernmost of the Marquesan Islands, slowly vanishing into the horizon.  Slowly, because the trade winds, missing completely on our leg from Tahiti to Nuku Hiva, are still very gentle.  So we are wafting downwind with the pyramid of all our square sails set, our course pointing North West to Kiritimati Island some 1100 nautical miles distant.

That tall stack of sails is an imposing sight from the deck of our ship, and it represents a big shift of perspective for us on board from a day or so ago. Nuku Hiva seemed an island larger than its mapped proportions suggest, when experienced first hand.  Just the day before yesterday, we were standing on a turn in the switchbacked road leading out of Taiohae Bay and across to Taipivai Valley, our anchored vessel but white speck beneath brilliant white clouds on the equally brilliant blue sea.

This perspective on our ship as but a small enterprise came from other sources as well.  All around the island we came face to face with the stone remains of a civilization numbering more than twenty thousand at its peak, before contact with the Western colonizers and the diseases that all but extinguished the Marquesan culture.  Today some 2800 people make a home on Nuku Hiva.  The French colonial rule has yet to end, and with it has come a modern pan-european lifestyle with associated economic distortions that pose a challenge to these island cultures.  Fruit, vegetables, wild pigs and goats and fish are to be had in abundance, but the modern requirements of four-wheel drives, gasoline and satellite TVs are not.

All this was excellent grist for our mill as we keep thinking and writing on the topic of sustainable development on these island communities. Ultimately, of course, we’re interested in finding lessons that might help us along back home. The natural abundance all around, and the incredibly friendly and vibrant community that welcomed us everywhere we went created a lasting impression. But then again so did the isolation and limited educational opportunities (no high school on the island).  A short visit of five days will, of course, barely scratch the surface of these issues.  We packed in a lot though, and spoke with a range of people from students and artisans to teachers and town officials.  Everyone on the ship has had their perspectives challenged, and in many cases changed, by these encounters.

Now it is time to turn our attention back to the ocean, the dominant environment for all these islands and their people.  We’ve already re-started our sampling program and the effort to interpret the physical and biological processes that fire the oceanic ecosystem is well under way again.  An unexpected highlight last night was a small Cookiecutter shark (Isistius brasiliensis), a diminutive 15 cm specimen brought up in our plankton net.  Its feeding habits involve taking a small bite out of much larger prey, and likely this small guy came to investigate our net with a very surprising result.

Our next stop will be in the Northern Hemisphere, with the equator to cross before we reach Kiritimati.  Ten days full of deployments, lab analysis, setting and striking of sails, writing, music on deck, sunrises and sets…  Back on the ship, it is once again our island, our world.  It, too, has much to teach us as we go on, wafting along under our great pyramid of canvas.

Jan Witting,
Chief Scientist

Feb

19

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Friday, February 18, 2012
Position: At Anchor 8°55’S x 140°06’W.Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva
Weather: Winds Varying, Force 1. Mostly sunny. Air Temp 31° C.
Photo Caption: Students paddling in an outrigger canoe

There have been a lot of “first” moments for us on our voyage so far:sailing a tall ship, swimming in a waterfall, performing a /haka/, seeing Manta Rays. The memorable “first” of today was paddling in an outrigger canoe. Although today was our last day on Nuku Hiva, and a “free day” as well, almost all of the students jumped at the opportunity to borrow the canoe for the morning.

We arrived on shore and marched over to the canoe house, paddles in hand. Hedee, a fellow student and outrigger paddler, taught us the basics of how to hold the paddle, how to stroke, and how to work together to get the boat moving through the water. All hands were then called to pick up the 6-person canoe and gently place her into the surf. 5 students climbed cautiously into the bouncing canoe and Tahi took up steering in the 6^th seat. After some directional words, they were off.

The first few trips were short and allowed us to work on making our strokes in unison. Quickly though, our competitive and adventurous sides came out, and we decided to take the canoe on time trials across the bay, around Mama Seamans, and back. Hedee now took up steering, and led each of the three teams through beautiful runs. Team Two (my team, can you believe it?!) came in first at 14:12, Team One at 14:17 and Team three at 14:24. I was very impressed that we all came in so close to each other, thanks to Hedee’s pep talks and great teamwork by all! My arms felt like they were going to fall off afterwards, but it was completely worth it. Feeling the movement of the boat underneath me as my teammates and I paddled was a wonderful rush.

Our day ended today with the students performing our /haka/ for the town at a dance and music festival! We were all completely surprised when Paul called us to the stage, but adrenaline kicked in and Laura did an amazing time calling out our /haka/. All in all, today was a day that reenforced the sense of teamworkwe have been building since we all met in Woods Hole. This really is a unique and amazing group of individuals!

Tomorrow we leave Nuku Hiva, headed northwest towards the equator and Kiribati. I think I can say that we will all be a little sad to leave the wonders of the Marquesas behind, but we are off to a longer voyage at sea and new adventures!

‘Till next time,

Michelle Rossi

Muhlenberg College

P.S. Happy Birthday Mom!!! I miss you and love you lots! Lots of love to all of my family and friends at home & ‘Berg as well. Across 2 oceans,
Ben, I love you!

 


Feb

19

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Sunday, February 19, 2012
Position: 8°58’S x 140°42’W
Heading: 330° NW to Kiritimati
Speed: 3.4 Knots
Weather: Winds E, Force 2.  Partly cloudy at sunset.  Temperature: 28°C.
Photo Caption: Local dancers performing a haka

As we begin our first lengthy sea leg and Nuku Hiva disappears in our rearview mirror, we find ourselves looking back on an amazing five days. We know that we have left because there are no longer chickens and roosters populating the streets and inspiring constant “why did the chicken cross the road?” jokes. No one can make use of the crepe and ice-cream truck anymore, although we may have cleaned them out anyway. Our haka chanting is silenced, for the time being, and all of the energy, enthusiasm, and volume that we poured into our haka is being put back into sail-handling.

There are also no more Marquesan statues everywhere watching us as we walk along. The Marquesas are famous for their wood and stone carving; the art form was revived in the seventies, and now tourists can find beautifully carved tikis, daggers, paddles, and jewelry in the art isan market (I can safely say that we made good use of the market!) as well as lining the roadways and inside buildings. During our tour around the island on the 16th, my car discovered that our taxi driver, Roti, is also a carver whose goods are for sale in the market. The art of carving was passed on to her by her father and hopefully will be passed on to her children as well.

We will not only miss the tikis and carved turtles but the people, such as Roti, who made them. Throughout our stay, many students befriended Marquesans of all ages. Some played Frisbee with children out on the quay, some were taken horse-back riding, and others had meaningful conversations over crepes, but everyone came away with an appreciation for the kind and genuine nature of their new friends.

Our bug bites will eventually heal, the debate over whether Nuku Hiva looks more like Avatar or Jurassic Park will quiet down, and we will eventually finish off our newly-acquired mountain of mangoes, but we will not forget the Marquesas. During our debrief today on the quarterdeck, it was clear that they had made a lasting impression on the students and crew. Paul explained to us the importance of the concept of fertility on the island: the endless generosity we experienced is a demonstration of the fertility of the land and people. At the dance and music festival last night, we were given a glimpse of the community that this sense of generosity creates. People from all across the island joined together for a benefit concert, which we were invited to participate in as well. We laughed, danced to the drums of the reggae band, and began to slowly appreciate the great gift we had received from the Marquesas and her people.

Nora Cassidy
Carleton College
P.S. All my love and lots of cuddles to Mommy, Daddy, Brendan, and Greta.

Feb

15

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Position: At Anchor 8°56’S x 140°09’W   Hakatea Bay, Nuku Hiva
Weather: Winds NNE, Force 1. Clear skies and starry night.  Air Temp 27° C.
Photo Caption: Almost to the falls!

It is now 2230, and after an action-packed day the bustling life aboard the Robert C. Seamans has finally come to a halt.  By 0600 this morning, all the ship’s crew was up on deck admiring the surrounding high island precipices and preparing to lower the anchor in Hakatea Bay, Nuku Hiva. We wasted no time stuffing our bellies to the brim with Laurie’s amazing chocolate chip pancakes, golden brown and cooked to a perfect fluff, all while love and excitement wafted through the air from exchanging Secret Valentines on this unique Valentine’s Day. Following this frenzy the engineers, Seth and Jimmy, manned the two small boats and got us near shore in Taio Valley. We trudged in on foot from thigh high water towards the idyllic coconut palms and that lined the beach.  Cliché, I know, but this was the start of our adventure today.

We warmed up for our hike with a run-through of the haka and made our way to a clearing, passing all sorts of trees (mango, papaya, noni, and apple banana trees to name a few) until we arrived at a site where we performed archaeological surveys.  We documented built rock structures, some more organized than others, that were remnants of ancient Marquesan settlement.  Being under the canopy of the tropical forest and out of the sun’s rays was a cool treat.  Soon after we continued inward toward the sheer cliffs.  After a downpour, a little sweat, and some river wading, we made it to the waterfall. Adjacent to the towering rock faces, a sublime pool of cool fresh water greeted us.  From where we were standing, it was difficult to capture the whole scene in one snapshot, and thus I chose this picture, courtesy of Ashley, to give you a taste of how majestic it was.  The trek? Definitely worth it.Ocean bound again, many of us decided we wanted a true taste of the islands and devoured what coconuts and mangoes we could scavenge along the trail.  Near the beach, we were welcomed with open arms, chilled sliced pineapple, papaya, Tahitian Mango juice, and a nice serving of homemade monoi oil, supposedly great for baby soft skin and mending broken hearts.  Perfect for Valentine’s and a true testament to Polynesian hospitality.  This cute little grandma there told us of how simple life was on the island when she was growing up and how much the culture of a remote island changed in the past sixty years due to Western influence.  It made me sad, but happy that she was healthy and willing to share part of her story. We tried to return the hospitality by inviting her and her neighbors aboard for dinner.

The sky looks incredible.  I’ve never seen so many stars before, a couple shooting stars too. Mama Seamans will move to another side of Nuku Hiva tomorrow morning.  I think we get two more days of play here, so time for some rest. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Aloha,
Hedee Kim
Boston University
P.S. Wish you were here to share this with me, mommy, UB, Chester, and B. And thank you so much for making my birthday awesome from the other hemisphere! Love you 

Feb

14

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Monday, February 13, 2012
Position: 9°07’S x 140°14’ W
Heading: 030 NE to Nuku Hiva
Speed: 5.5 knots under power
Weather: Wind NE Force 2. A clear, starry night.  Air Temp 27.6  C
Photo Caption: Nora, Bethany, Sarah, Lissy and John lying on top of the lab with Ua Pau in the background.

We’ve reached the Marquesas! I arrived on deck for watch at 1300 to see the peaks of Ua Pau off our starboard bow. During class at 1415 Captain Sean announced that we’ll be in Nuku Hiva bright and early tomorrow morning! We originally weren’t supposed to arrive in Nuku Hiva until Wednesday, but due to the light winds we’ve motored most of the way from Rangiroa, which has put us a full day ahead of schedule. Now we’ll spend an extra day on the island!

During class Sean let us know that we’ll be doing the line chase tomorrow evening. For the past several days students have frantically scrambled around the ship trying to learn the seemingly endless list of lines. Hopefully our hard work will pay off and we’ll successfully complete the line chase.

At the end of class we practiced our haka. A haka is a traditional dance of the Marquesan Islands. During a haka the chief leads the group in a chant. Paul Niva wrote the following haka for the Seamans: 

E te toa no Seamans
Hei
Haka ta ne mai e
Hei
A tu mai na e
Hio hio nia te fetia
Huti huti mai fenua
To te titi to te tata
A tu e
Tamarii Seamans e
A heke na runga ia te moana o kiva!

Tahi leads us in the chant and we all respond while making firm, powerful gestures. We will perform this haka several times during our port stop in Nuku Hiva, but the first time will be tomorrow when we enter the Hakaui valley. Because we’re arriving a day ahead of schedule, we have one less day to prefect the haka, and trust me, we need the practice. The haka is a strong, fearsome dance, and we are all still timid with the words and gestures. Maybe I’ll practice on my dawn watch overnight and hopefully by tomorrow we’ll all be ready!

Hallie Robbie
Colby College

Feb

13

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Sunday, February 12, 2012
Position: 10 ° 26’S x 141 ° 47’W
Heading: 040 NE to Nuku Hiva
Speed: 2.0 knots
Weather: Wind NE Force 1. Mostly cloudy. Air Temp 31°
Photo Caption:  The view from aloft.

Another great day aboard the Robert C. Seamans!  I started the day off with mid-watch, which is from 2300 to 0300, singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Hedee, her big 21st.  We spoiled her with melted chocolate cookies at the top of the hour.

After mid-watch ends at 2300, we get what’s known as the “Sleep of Kings.”  Our next watch is not until 1300, and we are allowed to skip breakfast, so we could potentially sleep a whole eight hours.  However this morning, after I ignored the initial breakfast bell, two separate friends (Laura and Hannah) personally woke me up demanding that I come to breakfast.  “There’s nutella,” they both said.  Needless to say, I jumped on that.  Nutella is quite rare around here, so when it comes out we’re all ready.

We started afternoon watch setting numerous sails in order to capture the light winds. We’d been going so slow it barely felt like we were moving.  Our biggest challenge was to set the mains’l.  It took 8 of us to set that sail today, while it took almost all 23 of us to do the same task on the first day.  I guess a little motivation can go a long way.  It was awesome to see our accomplishment. 
After setting the sails, Captain Sean gave us a lecture on nautical science.  In his lecture, he explained to us how important perception is.  In our readings we have to take into account the perspective of the author, and when we travel to the different islands we have an opportunity to learn about the perspective of another society. 

Captain Sean’s lecture came to life for me today.  In honor of Hedee’s birthday, our watch group climbed the foremast, giving us the chance to get an entirely new perspective on the Seamans.  Nerves aside, we bravely climbed to the course yard.  Once we got there, and I finally looked somewhere other than at my sweaty hands, I was blown away.  Never have I envisioned such a gorgeous view.  From the top, the boat looks completely different.  The view of endless ocean was also much more dramatic from above.  We closed our eyes, felt the wind on our faces, and it sure did feel like we were flying.  It was truly a beautiful moment.

Kaitlin Summers
St. Lawrence University

Feb

12

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Saturday, February 11, 2012
Position: 11 26’S x 142 50’W
Heading: 40 NE to Nuku Hiva
Speed: 2.8 Knots
Weather: Winds ESE, Force 2, Sunny skies with scattered clouds, Air Temp: 29.5 C.
Photo Caption: Jam Session after Field Day/Swim Call

Today the infamous Field Day occurred, where all hands gather to clean the ship top to bottom.  We began at 1420 and the cleanup lasted for roughly two hours.  Armed with our trusty buckets, bleach, squeegees and brushes, we scoured the ship until it was squeaky clean and free from residue.  One of the nice perks about Field Day is that we are able to hook up music from our music players to a boombox, so we can listen to music while we clean.  Having music seems insignificant, but it is nice to have because it is so rare.  While we are on watch, we constantly take hourlies (boat checks, weather observations) or process samples in the lab, so there is no time for it.  And when we are not on watch, people sleep, eat, or write in their journals.  As a result, having music was a nice reminder of home.  Plus, people enjoy singing while they work.

After the intense scrubbing, we whooped with joy when Sean the Captain announced on the intercom that there would be a swim call.  Everyone changed into their swim attire and jumped into the “open pool,” aka the ocean.  The water was fairly tranquil, and the large swells slowly lifted everyone in the water 2-3 feet every other minute to create a gentle rocking sensation.  After the pool “closed,” everyone took a much needed fresh water rinse to clear the last bits of grime still clinging to our bodies.  Immediately a group had to go on watch and set sails to get underway.  For the other watches it was a nice time to relax, watch the sunset, or have a jam session as seen in the photo. (Greg, Tahi, & Paul from left to right).  Others joined with their own ukuleles, and it was wonderful and relaxing to listen to after a hard day’s work.

Although this was the first of many more field days, it is very important to give back to the vessel that serves both as a home and as a method of transportation.  As Tahi described in his first formal lecture (mentioned in the previous blog post) our vessel (for the Polynesian people, a va’a or canoe) is a living creature, something that takes care of us and something we need to take care of in return.

Janie Wong
Carleton College

Feb

11

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Thursday, Februrary 10, 2012
Postion:  13 04’S x 144 11’W
Heading:  020 NNE to Nuku Hiva
Speed:  1.5 knots
Weather:  Winds NNW Force 1, Cloudy, Air Temp 30.0 C
Photo Caption:  Tahi in the afternoon class

The Robert C. Seamans is on its second full day at sea en route to Nuku Hiva. Captain Sean Bercaw currently estimates that we will reach the island, in the Marquesas archipelago, on Wednesday, February 15. Today the students did their first presentations. One group reported on the status of the ship:  distance traveled since leaving Rangiroa, the amount of diesel oil used by the engine, and the overall consumption of water, including the average amount one shipmate consumes per day. The second group of students detailed the scientific work of the past day, describing what was found in deployments of the carousel as well as the Neuston net tow.

In addition, the Seamans had a few firsts today. We had our first MOB (man overboard) drill. All three watches took charge and swiftly moved to their specified positions on the vessel, fulfilling their responsibilities in a productive fashion. In response, the rescue boat reached the man overboard poles (with radar reflectors and flags for high visibility) in just minutes—an impressive result! Secondly, the watch group working in the lab has added a bird observation period for fifteen minutes in each of their hourly checks from 0700 to 1700.

During daily class, the students were very fortunate to have a practitioner of traditional Polynesian navigation, Tahi, inform us about the fundamentals of that system. He began by explaining the significance of rope and its relation to navigation. It is one of the few things that has not changed over time. It is the link between where you are and where you are going. Your route across the ocean is like a rope that connects your vessel to its destination.  It’s as if, in Tahi’s words, “you don’t go anywhere. Things around you move. You are the center of the universe.” This, Tahi affirmed, is a key principle in Polynesian navigation.

Tahi finished by explaining that he considers himself to still be a student of navigation, not yet an expert. Navigation is something you learn, and then teach, in order to preserve what you’ve learned for the future.  If you teach it, you must know why, building and maintaining a confidence in what you convey. Currently Tahi does not have a particular aspiration. He is simply committed to the process of learning.
The day ended with an impressive ‘Green Flash’ at sunset, as we head into the weekend and tomorrow experience our first Field Day!
Sam Kaiser
Denison University

Feb

10

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Thursday, Februrary 9, 2012
Postion: 13 52’S x 145 40’W
Heading: 045 NE to Nuku Hiva
Speed: 5.5 knots
Weather: Winds N Force 3, Cloudy, Air Temp 31.8 C
Photo Caption: A Watch doing the James Fonda!

We have bid adieu to the Tuamotus and set sail on the six day passage to Nuku Hiva. We are currently 447 miles away. After two very exciting days in port, the boat has settled into the 24 hour watch schedule once more. On dawn watch, we spent the early hours of the morning narrowly avoiding squalls to the left and right of us. The skies were beautiful throughout the morning, with different types of clouds forming right in front of our eyes. We thought our luck would last and we would stay dry for our shift, but during the last half hour, from 0630-0700, a massive amount of rain started pouring from the sky. We took it in stride. We donned our foul weather gear, struck the mainsail, and continued to complete our boat checks and hourly weather observations. Meanwhile in lab, people were hard at work processing the Neuston net, a net towed on the surface of the water to collect sea creatures. They found three octopods, one octopus, and two squid. Our watch’s science officer, Katy, jumped on deck with petri dishes to show the deck watch.

After dawn watch, we had a delicious breakfast of cinnamon rolls and assorted fruit. Dawn watch is in charge of cleaning up the boat after second breakfast, and we had an exhilarating introduction to the dawn cleanup process. Heads were scrubbed, floors were scoured, and the trash was separated and emptied. Usually after this process, the watch group crawls defeated into bed for some much needed sleep, but this was not the case for A watch. We busted out the “deck,” a set of playing cards that has a corresponding exercise for each card. Imagine: seven people sprawled out on the deck attempting to do sit-ups, push-ups, and other crazy exercises with the rolling ocean. There was some falling, some laughs, and some groans of pain, but we pushed through with the help of Katy: workout extradonaire.

Instead of short bursts of boat time and island time, we are on the ocean for a longer stretch. This will allow for a more settled routine to develop. Hopefully more James Fondas and walking lunges will be in store for your enjoyment!

Sarah Feiges
The Colorado College
P.S. Happy Birthday Mom! Sending all of my love to you

Feb

09

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Position: 14 44’S x 147 07’W
Heading: 055 NExE to Marquesas
Speed: 7.5 knts
Weather: Winds NE Force 2, clear, air temp 30˚C
Photo Caption: The Rainbow of “Good Omen”

Most of the ship’s company awoke at 0600 to the smell of Lorie’s pancakes wafting through the bunks, signaling the start of an exciting new day. Today would be the last one that we had to explore the atoll of Rangiroa. At roughly 0730 we loaded up the rescue boats and began delivering the ship’s crew to the bus ashore.

Our devoted faculty arranged an air-conditioned meeting with Manua, Mayor of the Commune of Rangiroa, which includes the islands of Tikehau, Rangiroa, Makatea and Mataiva. The gathering was extremely informative, and with the help of our talented translator/classmate Gabrielle, we were permitted to bombard the Mayor with all the curiosities of our thirsty, young minds. Luckily for us, after this meeting, we had some spare time to devote to wandering around the nearby town. At 1030 we piled back onto the bus, happy to relieve our pale bodies from the sweltering heat. We were on our way back to the dock, when the bus made an abrupt and unscheduled stop at a local market. We were not permitted to leave the bus, but after several minutes of waiting, our compassionate professors and Jane (Our boat Mom) emerged with ice cream treats for the entire bus. Sometimes the simple pleasures are the best.

The extreme heat was to be expected given that the sun was in fact directly overhead and at its closest point to the earth. This was unusual event for those of us from the northern latitudes, and we observed it with sextants on deck once we had arrived back aboard. After lunch we welcomed Punoa, captain of the Tahiti Nui Freedom, a traditional Polynesian sailing canoe that voyaged from Tahiti all the way to China in 2010. He shared with us an interesting perspective on a voyage that has a deep cultural significance to many Polynesians. After Punoa’s talk, we heard those magical words uttered once again: Swim Call! 15 minutes of refreshing Rangiroa lagoon water was just the boost we needed before our 500-mile adventure to Nuku Hiva.

On our way out of the main pass of Rangiroa, we were greeted by a welcome group of visitors. A small pod of dolphins showed up just in time to wish us farewell on the next leg of our journey. After a few minutes, they became uninterested, and a school of yellow fin tuna feeding on the surface filled their place. As if this were not enough of a finale to our trip to the Tuamotu Islands, a magnificent rainbow made its mark across the sky, almost to signify an omen of good things to come on our journey to the Marquesas Islands.

John Jinishian
The University of Vermont
P.S. Happy Anniversary Mom & Dad. Much love to everyone back at home.

Feb

08

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Position:  At Anchor 1458S x 1474W, 1/2 Mile SE of Tiputa Pass,
Rangiroa
Weather: 31.5 C and Beautiful!
Photo caption:  Hallie Robbie and I enjoying our snorkeling adventure

In the wee hours of the morning, as we made our way from Tikehau to neighboring Rangiroa, rumors surfaced and word spread quickly from watch to watch that plans were being made for a possible snorkeling excursion. After the rumor was confirmed, excitement on the ship quickly grew. Myself and a few others had never been before, but personally speaking I couldn’t have imagined a better place to go for a first time snorkeling excursion.  After lunch the group was split into two due to the lack of space on the small boats and the amount of snorkeling gear the ship had. I was in the second group, which turned out to be a great thing. While we were waiting on the ship for the first group to return, we heard something we had yet to hear called out by the mates and captain- swim call! We had been anticipating this the whole trip, uncertain when we would finally get the chance to jump off of our home to cool off in the clear blue water that constantly surrounds us. Everything was dropped at once, and we all ran to the bow of the ship eagerly climbing out onto the bowsprit, something we had only done before when wearing a harness and clipped in for the purposes of furling a sail. It was an exhilarating experience jumping from the bowsprit, at a height that seemed so much greater standing on the edge of a wire than from the sturdy boat. Swim call only lasted for a short time, but it was thoroughly enjoyed by those of us lucky enough to experience it this time around.

But the swim off the boat was not our last of the day. After gear was donned and snorkeling buddies paired, we set off on the short boat ride to one of the nicest snorkeling spots in the Tuamotu Islands. As we all made our way into the water, we were surrounded by schools of fish who didn’t seem to mind our presence at all, and continued on their own merry ways. After those first glances around, everyone’s curiosity quickly escalated and we were all off in our own directions, following whatever fish or path suited us. It was incredible. It truly felt like I was swimming in an aquarium. The list of fish, coral, and aquatic animals spotted could go on and on, but some noteworthy ones were eels, damsel fish, my favorite the parrot fish, and oh, how could I forget, some black tipped reef sharks! Snorkeling was thrilling and yet at the same time so calming. You are forced to focus on your breathing and take in the surroundings. It was this serenity that brought me back to a reoccurring thought that is starting to weave its way through this trip. Every time something special occurs, I stop and take a mental picture, and as I do that I cant help thinking back to a certain quote from one of my favorites- Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The exact quote has escaped my mind, but the gist is that life moves so fast that if you dont stop and take it in every once in a while, it will pass you by.

Ashley Taylor
University of Vermont

Feb

06

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Monday, February 6, 2012
Position: 14° 48’S x 148° 4’W
Heading:  056 NExE towards Tikehau
Speed: 7 knots
Weather: Wind Force 3, sunny with scattered clouds, air temp 31C
Photo caption:  R.C. Seamans welcomes us back from a day ashore on Tikehau

Iaorana! (Hello in Tahitian) Today marks our third day since leaving Papeete. Everyone is settling in well to life on board, shifting over to boat time and getting used to the watch schedule. Last night during mid-watch (2300-0300), Tikehau, our first port stop, was spotted off the starboard side by Janie at the bow, and we hove-to off the atoll early this morning, departing for shore shortly after breakfast. We had a slight change in plans which prevented us from entering the lagoon, so we only spent the day at Tikehau, and tomorrow we head to Rangiroa. Bonus island! On the ferry we were accompanied by the Mayor himself, who spent a large portion of his day answering our questions about sustainability and culture on the island.

When we stepped onto land for the first time in three days, I experienced a bit of difficulty walking in a straight line. Acquiring your sea legs comes in stages: First you stagger around holding on to everything and anything. Then you learn that its okay to bend your knees with the swells, and muscles you didn’t know you had start to hurt. Inevitably, as soon you’ve earned your sea legs, its time for land again, and you have to relearn how to walk on a surface that’s not constantly rolling.

So, Tikehau. After a morning spent in the town hall, listening to the shouts of children at recess across the way through the open door, asking questions with fellow-student Gabrielle translating, and drinking fresh coconut water, the mayor took us for a jaunt through a coconut plantation. We were warned not to stand under a tree at the risk of being bonked by a coconut. The production of coconuts is big on the island, and the mayor expressed future hopes of extracting oil from the copra (the white flesh of a coconut) and using it as an energy source, gaining energy independence. Coconut trees are also harvested for their wood and exported off the island. Fish is another large export, with two tons leaving the island each day.

After walking around the plantation, down to the reef, back past an in- progress tsunami shelter and the new sorting center for recycling, we were all dripping with sweat and ready for a swim. Half of us took off down one of the islands two roads to a beach on the lagoon where we sat under a palm leaf thatched roof, eating lunch, before reapplying copious amounts of sunscreen and wading into the clear, warm water, picking up pieces of broken coral and shells. We stalked an octopus for a bit, swam out to where the water changed to a deeper blue, then swam back to shore where we cracked open some coconuts. Sound like paradise? We thought so too. And greeting us on our return was Mother Seamans in the sunset.

Anna Farrell

Feb

05

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Sunday, February 5, 2012
Position: 15° 41’S x 148° 17’W
Heading:  356 N towards Tikehau
Speed: 5.6 knots
Weather: Light winds, sunny with a little cloud cover, 29.5C air temp
Photo caption: View of Makatea. If you look closely, up on the hill is the first cinema built in French Polynesia.

Wow, I cant believe this is only our second full day of sailing. It feels like its been weeks. First and foremost, we just had sushi as an afternoon snack, how awesome is that? So many exciting things have happened in the past 24 hours! We conducted our first three science deployments, put up the fisherman sail, and sailed by a beautiful island called Makatea.  Makatea is a raised atoll, meaning that it was once a low-lying coral atoll but has been raised up due to bending in the lithosphere. This island is quite old, and it has been inhabited by Polynesians since the 2nd century. Archaeologist Paul Niva informed us that in the early 1900s Makatea was mined for phosphates until there was nothing left. As a result, the land has big holes in it, and today only 10 people live there. Paul is from the Tuamotos and has a lot of family around here, and we are extremely grateful to him for sharing so much useful knowledge. Of course we are also grateful for our other Polynesian friends on board, Tahi and Are.

I’m lucky enough to have Tahi in my watch group. This morning when I was checking the weather for the 5am hourly, I was standing on deck looking like a fool with my arms out in front of me, trying to figure out where the wind was coming from. Tahi pulled me aside and told me to close my eyes. He told me to turn my head until I felt an equal amount of wind on both of my ears, and where I end up facing, that is where the wind is coming from. And it worked! Tahis also been teaching us to recognize different stars, planets and constellations.

I will leave you with the Tahitian word of the day that I found on whiteboard in the main saloon: aita pea pea, which means no problem. I think this word characterizes a sentiment that weve all been feeling. Although there are always sails to haul on, positions to plot, and other orders to fulfill, its important to be calm and take a second to absorb our surroundings, aita pea pea. Were on the peaceful Pacific, after all.

Laura Karson
Carleton College

P.S. I hope everyone had a good Superbowl Sunday! There are a few people on the boat waiting anxiously to hear the results

Feb

04

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Saturday, February 4, 2012
Position: 16° 14.927’S x 148° 44.390’W
Heading:  NE to Tikehau and Rangiroa
Speed: 4kts under all four lower sails
Weather:  Sunny, winds Force 4
Photo caption: Preparing to Heave-to for a Science Station

We have now been underway about 24 hours and are starting to learn our way around the Seamans.  Those who have been sea-sick (like me) are finally adjusting and are again able to enjoy the wonderful cooking of our steward, Laurie. We are also adjusting to eating on gimbaled tables. I am on C watch and we had quite an eventful first day.  We took the afternoon watch yesterday from 1300-1900 and then the dawn watch from 0400-0700.  We saw both the sunrise and the sunset, and began the immense task of learning to sail this vessel.  Our first challenge was to handle a squall, which appeared almost immediately after leaving port.  We took in the topsail, which is our higher square sail, to steady the ship in case of sudden gusts.  The wind and rain passed quickly though and we were able to set the topsail again.  However, it was not meant to be as we hit another squall about an hour later.  We took in the topsail once again and then set it once the storm had passed. Needless to say were feeling quite friendly with that sail. It was both thrilling and terrifying to watch the rain and wind roll in across the ocean.

All of the watches are settling into the rhythms of life on board and the repetitive routines of watch. We are slowly gaining confidence in our boat checks, weather reports, and charting since we do them every single hour. We live in a tiny city that never sleeps. We are also learning how to take the helm and control this 300 ton vessel. In addition to learning how to steer by the compass, we are learning how to read the sails and the weather to keep the boat on course.  Holding the ships wheel is a chance to get intimately acquainted with her, and it is a humbling experience.

As if learning to sail were not enough, we are also beginning to collect data for our oceanography projects.  Each watch is separated into deckies, who sail the boat, and labbies, who work in the lab. We are currently learning how each of the pieces of equipment works and the procedures for deploying equipment and working in a moving lab.  We are also learning to ignore the constant bing of the CHIRP Sonar which creates a profile of the ocean floor.  The noise can be heard throughout the ship, yet no one seems to notice it.

It has been a hectic first day, but we are slowly becoming sailors, and I am very excited for the rest of our cruise. We have a steady breeze and nothing but blue ocean all around. Let the adventure begin.

Hannah Glover
Bowdoin College

P.S. Much love to M+D, Caitlin, Salve, Pookie, Botty, and Crazy Legs.

Feb

03

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Onboard Robert C. Seamans, outside Papeete Harbor.  Overcast skies with occasional squalls.  Winds NW force 2-3.  Steering NE toward Tikehau Atoll. Goodbye Papeete, hello Open Ocean! We have been under way for about 2 hours now, and it has already been quite a whirlwind of activity. Last night, a bunch of us took our last ventures to the amazing food trucks parked right beside our boat. Wednesday night we had the chance to sample their offerings (many of us went for the delicious Steak Frites), and we were all craving our last crepe before hitting the open ocean (although Laurie’s cooking is fantastic and we will NOT go hungry anytime soon).

This morning, we awoke excited-we were finally headed to sea! Our excitement was almost dampened by the announcement of an all hands dawn cleanup, until we realized how much FUN we could have cleaning. No really. Everyone at home knows my love of mopping-wait till you see this method. It will put even my cleaning particulars to shame. I don’t know about everyone else, but I had a good time. The best was yet to come though!

We spent the morning learning and running emergency drills. My watch (B watch) is in charge of sail handling in any emergency. It is an exciting prospect, but as Captain Sean teases, we are all a bit “vertically challenged,” so we are more than happy to welcome our (tall!) Tahitian watch mate Tahi! Tahi is here to learn, but also to teach us about traditional navigation. In between trying to learn lines, we learned how to set the main stays’l. Our first try went well, but I know we will soon be setting sails more efficiently than this first run. I cannot even explain what an experience it was to see the first sail go up on Mama Seamans! On the dock, there was a bustle of activity as we took in the gang plank, readied buoys and said goodbyes to our Tahitian friends. In between the activity, I looked out to see Faafaite (a Tahitian sailing canoe that we had the opportunity to visit Wednesday) sailing along side of us, ready to see us out of the harbor. It literally sent chills down my spine and tears to my eyes to see our new friends blowing a conch shell horn and beating on a traditional drum to wish us a safe passage at sea. I can only image what it must have looked like from shore-a US Brigantine sailing alongside a Polynesian Sailing Canoe!

As we left the harbor, sails were quickly being set. It is a little intimidating now as we are all still unfamiliar with our lines. We have a lot of studying to do! After we were safely underway, we had a quick all hands meeting as we wished Gabrielle a happy birthday-complete with cupcakes-before our first squall was upon us. I hurried below deck to munch on a delicious cupcake and take shelter from the squall-I didn’t even realize it was upon us! I know some of us are taking this new movement differently than others, but I hope good health continues and makes its way to all aboard!

Now that we are headed to the ocean, I think the amount of work we actually have to do is finally sinking in. As soon as I am done writing, I am going to sleep before my watch at 2300. It is going to be busy from now on! We are at sea for the next 2 full days at least. On to Tikehau and Rangiroa!

‘Till next time,

Michelle Rossi
Muhlenberg College
P.S. Lots of love back home and across 2 oceans! I think of you all daily and I wish you could be experiencing this journey with me!

Feb

02

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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On board Robert C. Seamans, Port of Papeete, Tahiti

Last night everyone cycled through the evening on one-hour watch shifts for the first time, practicing boat checks, knots and charting. Then to our surprise, after days of rain, we were graced with the shining sun and a delicious breakfast of freshly baked blueberry muffins and oatmeal to begin our event-filled day.  Soon after we boarded a bus and began our day trip around the entire island!

Upon arrival to Tahiti we were finishing up Céleste Viate’s novel Breadfruit. The novel depicts Tahitian daily life, cultural norms and descriptions of Tahiti’s most important crop, breadfruit. Today we had our first real encounter with the tree and fruit, as we began to notice its prominence in island vegetation. In fact, we learned that over one hundred varieties exist on the island making up one tenth of the entire plant diversity here. All in all, the novel illustrated many things about Tahiti that prepared us for our excursion today. However, one thing that the novel did not prepare us for was the cornucopia of flavors and ingredients that Tahitians use in preparing foods. One of the many highlights of the day was sharing a meal at a local catholic church, where we had the privilege of trying an array of traditional eats! Some of the foods we tasted included: taro (a root vegetable similar to potatoes), the beloved breadfruit (which does indeed taste like bread), plantains, many seafood dishes including pahua, large bivalves that resemble an oyster except twice the size, raw fish, and finally only for the daring—Fafaru or fermented fish!

Tahi, our resident expert on Polynesian navigation, loves the fish so much he claimed he would drive all the way across the island if he heard he could find Fafaru there This quite pungent food is a treat for most Polynesians and is said to have originated at the time when the people migrated by canoe as a means for preserving food over long voyages. New Englanders have their salt cod, Koreans their Kimchi, and Tahitians love their Fafarru.

But before our fantastic feast at a catholic church on the small part of the island, called Tahiti Iti, we stopped to investigate the Musee de Tahiti where we looked at artifacts from the history of this magnificent island. Of particular note was a special photographic exhibit on indigenous Taiwanese
tribes, illustrating some similarities between Taiwanese and Polynesian traditions.

After the museum and the flavorful feast we, all took a break to swim at Teahupoo, among the world’s most famous surf spots, known for enormous and powerful waves that only few surfers dare to try. We finished our trip at the beach where Captain Cook set up his instruments to observe the transit of Venus in 1791 and—perhaps the most exciting part of the day—a local “blowhole.” This is a place where waves crash against the rocks and flow under the road to send a huge gust of air out of a hole on the opposite side of the road (see photo: Hallie Robbie and me). To finish off our day we had the opportunity to listen to two local anthropologists discuss Polynesian tradition and archaeology.  On Celeste Viate’s theme of breadfruit, I thought it would be nice to share the traditional symbolism of the tree within Polynesian culture.  It represents the human spirit—the round fruit as the head, the branches as arms and legs, the leaves as hands, and the roots as feet.  The image reminds us that we are all connected to our earth and ocean, something to reflect on as leave port tomorrow at 1200. 

To the seas!
“I hear, I forget.
          I see, I remember.
I do, I understand”
-Confucius
“Korerotia Ka wareware
Whakatyngia Ka mahrara
Whakamahia Ka mohio”


Meredith Bosco
Cornell University

Feb

01

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

The Robert C. Seamans boards students of class S-239 (SPICE) in Papeete, Tahiti on Monday, January 31, 2012. They plan to sail north, with potential port stops at Tikehan, French Polynesia; Rangiroa, French Polynesia; Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia; Kirimati, Kiribati and Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. The ship will then finish in Honolulu, Hawaii, where students will disembark on Sunday, March 18, 2012.

Feb

01

S239 Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems

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Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Port of Papeete, Tahiti

Good news- it was an incredibly long day of traveling, but everyone has made it to the ship safely and on time, late on Monday evening. Many of us spent around 15 hours in the air and were a little out of it, but none the worse for wear. If anyone was jetlagged it was hard to tell—with watch rotations our sleep schedules are going to be all over the place for the next 7 weeks. We’ve been so busy getting oriented to the ship and to the island that there really isn’t time to be tired.

Our first real view of the island came with all hands wakeup at 0730 followed by an incredible breakfast of pancakes, sausage, blueberries, and grapefruit. After breakfast we had one of many ship orientations and split into the three watch groups (A, B, and C) that were set for the duration of our trip. We walked through the ship’s engine room and labs and learned the procedure for the hourly boat check performed by the on duty watch. After lunch we spent a few hours checking out Papeete. The main attraction was definitely the market and the incredible assortment of fish, fruit, vegetables, wood carvings, flowers, baskets, dresses, the list goes on and on. Anything you could possibly need was right there. After dinner back aboard, speakers came to give presentations on the local vanilla economy and the Tahitian voyaging society Faafaite i Tea o Maohi.  Finally, after dinner some local musicians came aboard to sing and play guitar and ukulele.

Wednesday we split some free time in the morning between touring a traditional Polynesian canoe (va’a in Tahitian) operated by the Voyaging Society.  The boat is called Faafaite,  a 70’ double canoe, docked not far from our ship.  Gabrielle, Colleen, and I met with representatives from the French Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Environments, Energy, and Mines regarding our research on water and waste water management. A representative from the private water management company SPEA joined us aboard around 1130 and stuck around for lunch. Immediately following lunch we split into watch groups for more specific orientations to the galley, line handling, hydrographic winch operation, and navigation. 

Definitely safe to say that even without all of our projects and research there is an incredible amount to learn. It’s one thing to walk through an engine room or lab and gaze up at the thousands of feet of lines above us, and an entirely different thing to do so with the knowledge that in a few weeks these will all be part of daily life.  It can be overwhelming at times, but everyone is putting the work in to learn as much as possible. Tomorrow we’ll tour the rest of the island before shoving off on Friday. Everything has been incredible so far; the crew, the food, and the people (both on the ship and off) have been nothing but helpful. All I’m hoping for now is a little break in the rain tomorrow.
Justin Lawrence
Boston College