SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
Queens Wharf, Wellington
Ship’s Heading & Speed
cloudy, light winds out of the SW
Our journey along the NZ coast has been shaped by the diverse perspectives, aspirations and experiences of SEA Semester students, crew and faculty aboard the Robert C. Seamans (RCS). We’ve found some common threads – an all-encompassing love for hot chocolate, for example (almost to the point of needing to ration said beverage – tragedy of the commons anyone?), or our general appreciation for swim calls a stone’s throw away from an active volcano. On some other subjects we are split – Beyonce’s songbook (dare I even question Queen Bee?) and the crunchiness of one’s peanut butter come to mind. Along the way we’ve also learned about what brought each and every member of our group to the Global Oceans program – be it for a dream of traveling New Zealand, a love of sailing, or a desire to get a first look at what sea-going oceanography entails.
While we’ve grown together as watches and shipmates, our collective will was tested upon leaving Wellington on the 11th of March. Heading into the Cook Strait we found an unruly sea, churned up by strong (25-40 knot) southerly winds blowing precisely along our intended cruise track. Tangaroa, the Māori god of the seas, seemed ill pleased. As Elliot, our captain, reminded the class on the first day of the shore program, the Seamans is a sailing school vessel – no passengers allowed – and for the next 20 or so hours, watch after watch played their part in driving us to our next intended destination, Dunedin in the southeastern corner of the south island. Standing at the helm proved challenging, with wind and waves conspiring to drive the ship, dipping and rolling, off course, while lookouts were faced with chilling sea spray periodically washing over the ship’s quarterdeck. Adorned in bright (shades of fluorescent are de rigueur) foul weather gear, students would take turn on deck and down below where they conducted boat checks to ensure the ship was still safe.
We pushed on for 20 or so hours before deciding to return to port after only having reached the mouth of the Cook Strait, the forecast indicating these conditions would persist for three days. While I saw many exhausted faces that morning, and despite our apparent defeat, I was struck by how far this group of students have come. As sea-going oceanographer I often spend many weeks at sea, working in difficult conditions (freezing weather and high-seas are daily offerings for high latitudes). However, as opposed to the life on the RCS, duties on research vessels are strictly separated, with crew tasked with operating the ship and its occupants safe, while scientists work to accomplish their research goals if conditions allow. Students have over the last few weeks demonstrated a relentless desire to learn from the experienced crew (deck, galley and science), building each other up while gradually assuming a leadership role in all of the ship’s operations. This progression and personal growth has truly been inspiring to witness, and one of the features that makes SEA Semester programs so unique.
The Tasman Tempest we faced has forced us to change plans, with Dunedin now but a fading memory and Lyttleton, our ultimate port stop, now clearly in sight. I’m already looking forward to see what this last phase of our trip has to offer.