SEA Currents: The Global Ocean: New Zealand
The students of S-276, The Global Ocean, will join the SSV Robert C. Seamans in Auckland, New Zealand by November 11th. They will return to Auckland around December 21st, after port stops in Russell and Napier, as well as a trip to the Kermadec Islands.
We’re about a quarter of the way through our time on the Seamans, and after some time of seasickness, and nerves about being the people in this (very small) ship community who don’t yet have knowledge of the ship on the forefront of our minds, people are feeling like themselves again. More time has been found for good conversations, sharing music and stories as well as sailing knowledge. The magic of this community is starting to shine through all of the transitions and information and changes that we have been processing for the last week and a half.
You enter Lyttleton Harbor through a deep slot in the tan brushy hills of the Banks Peninsula, on New Zealand’s South Island. This was all a volcano once, and now the flooded crater reaches inland as a series of long sheltered bays. We’re just short of halfway to the south pole. That’s a latitude similar to Boston, but with no continents nearby, the feeling is different. There’s a lot of motion in the sky here, with the hilltops alternately visible and obscured by folding patches of cloud. It’s possible to feel several seasons’ worth of weather roll by in an hour-bolts of warm sunshine, blasts of sharp wind, sudden sprinkles of rain from some non-vertical direction.
After arriving on deck to begin afternoon watch I learned, from a reliable source, that we were sailing in a whale sanctuary. To some this fact would be described as “cool” or “exciting”, but to me this information was life altering. I love whales. I admit it. Maybe a little too much, but I have dreamed of one day seeing these majestic creatures up close and personal. Yet the sea, at least what was visible on the surface, was absent of whales.
Mattias, the Chief Scientist, and I were sitting in lab the other day idly chatting and, after a lull in the conversation, Mattias turns to me and asks what I think the theme song for the Neuston should be. With some thought and discussion, we decided it should be some kind of power ballad from the 80s. Perhaps Styx’s “Come Sail Away” or Journey or something like that.
Since we’ve left Wellington, reminiscence that starts like “I’m really going to miss.” has begun to filter into our everyday conversations. The other day, sitting on a port-side deck box, Elsbeth and I couldn’t stop talking about how much we’re going to miss good old steady Bob, our uncreative yet endearing nickname for the Robert C. Seamans. When you live on a 135-foot boat and it’s your job to attend to the details it’s easy to become hyper-familiar with every nook and cranny.
Reporting live from the Robert C. Seamans! Guess who is leading the troops this dawn watch as J-WO (Junior Watch Officer)? THE SAVAGE as my fellow teammates like to call me (it is also my last name). This entails overseeing the deck and wellbeing of the ship along with making sure hourly checks (boat checks, engine check, navigation) are being done. Who knew that this would be the most challenging part of this program for me personally?
New Zealand is a country with a very active geologic history. The country sits at the convergence of the Australian Plate and the South Pacific Plate. The movement of these plates over time created the mountain ranges and geologic features that New Zealand is famous for. Another result of this movement is that the country experiences almost constant seismic activity. Last November, an earthquake near the Kaikoura Peninsula changed the bathymetry and topography of the region, raising portions of the land and seafloor several meters along the fault.
A sunny day yesterday gave us time for one last cone of gelato and the opportunity to catch up on school work before taking on busy life at sea again. I think it’s safe to say that we all had more than enough time to do and see what we wanted in the city, and a lot of us were anxious to get back out to sea for our last week together. Between visiting Te Papa museum (multiple times), the McGuinness Institute, climbs to Mount Victoria and cable car rides to the botanical gardens, we were able to cover a lot of ground.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned since sailing, it is that time is undefinable. Hours of watches meld into one another, days bleed into weeks; you blink and the semester is over. How can that possibly be? The sun rises, sets, and the stars set in as night comes as it does every day, and yet time seems to slip away in our ship’s wake faster than on land.