SSV Corwith Cramer Blog

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C241f - Thoreau


Caption-Ship’s Company alongside the dock in Boston.

The SEA/Thoreau Foundation program successfully concluded Monday afternoon when the scholars and researchers departed the Corwith Cramer in downtown Boston.  Monday morning while we transited from Gloucester to Boston each watch presented an analysis of a subset of the data collected on this trip.  After these data reports Chief Scientist Jeff Schell led an engaged ship’s company in a discussion of global conservation using the ship as a metaphor for the globe.  Ships have limited resources (water, fuel, food…) that need thoughtful management, they support a diverse community of people who rely on each other, and the traits required to be a ‘good shipmate’ are analogous to those of a ‘global citizen’.  The Thoreau Foundation supports college students who are on their way to being the environmental leaders of the next generation.  SEA offers these leaders, and every student who sails with us, an opportunity to consider the ocean’s relevance in the context of that global environment.

Captain Chris McGuire



C241f - Thoreau

Date:  Sunday, August 26, 2012
Position: Stellwagen Bank
Weather: Clear, sunny

Image caption:  Ross, Julie, Andy, and Sophie examine the contents of a Shipek Grab with SEA chief scientist Jeff Schell. 

Narrative:  A day in the life of B Watch aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer It’s 0603 on Monday morning and the Corwith Cramer is anchored off of Gloucester.  A handful of folks are up on deck, awaiting the final sunrise of our journey.  The last 24hours have been full.  Yesterday at this time we were just beginning to make our way into the Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary.  The winds and sea were quite calm and we were lucky enough to see a few early morning whales, including a humpback calf, who was initially misidentified as a minke whale based on size until observing his/her fluke, which was distinctively that of a humpback.  At the beginning of the day yesterday, we were also surrounded by a flurry of shearwaters, darting about and skimming the surface, presumably in search of food.

Our course kept us within the sanctuary for most of the day as we sailed back and forth across Stellwagen Bank.  At 0900 we stopped in a designated sampling box just by the edge of the bank to collect a Shipek Grab (a small sample of seafloor sediments).  Denise, a NOAA scientist onboard, also deployed a hydrophone for much of the morning in hopes of picking up some whale vocalizations.  None were detected, however, which wasn’t terribly surprising since we saw few whales throughout the rest of the day (and that you are also more likely to hear whale calls at night).  In fact, after deploying the hydrocast later in the morning with considerable success we headed straight for the bank with the specific goal of seeing more whales.  We spotted just a few more whales among the flurry of commercial whale watching boats, fishermen, and recreational boat traffic.  After making a few swings back and forth across the bank, we motored north to Gloucester, where we arrived just in time for dinner.  Today we will make our way to Rowes Wharf, Boston to conclude our trip.

B Watch



C241f - Thoreau

Date:  Saturday, August 25, 2012
Position: Cape Cod Canal, Gulf of Maine
Weather: Clear, sunny

Image caption: Andy, Ross, and Sophie on the head rig as we pass through the Cape Cod Canal.

Narrative:  A day in the life of A Watch onboard the SSV Corwith Cramer

Saturday began with everyone on board waking up to see the sunrise at Menemsha Bight before getting underway. We set sail from Vineyard Sound through the Elizabeth Islands toward Cape Cod Canal. By noon we were passing beneath the Bourne and Sagamore bridges accompanied by several other vessels admiring the beauty of our tall ship. There was just enough clearance for our masts to make it under. After the canal, we set our sights on the protected waters of Stellwagen Bank where our course was charted for the next day.

SEA treats its students as registered crew members. As such, we are responsible for maintaining the ship. Our duties onboard include managing the ship’s many lines and sails as well as conducting routine scientific measurements. The ten Thoreau scholars are broken up into several watches that oversee the ship twenty-four hours a day. By our second day, we are already becoming well acquainted to the lexicon of the high seas. We now know our halyards from our downhauls and our fisherman’s sails from our jib sails. Several times we practiced “gybing,” a maneuver to change the side with which the wind hits the ship, to cast out our scientific equipment. We harvest marine organisms from the water using a Neuston Net that drags alongside the ship. We count species and take volume measurements of our catch to characterize biodiversity. The Shipek and Secchi disk are among the other weapons in our oceanographic arsenal for measuring seafloor sediments and water clarity, respectively. Additionally, we track the temperature, salinity, depth, and chlorophyll concentration of the waters we pass over every hour to look for trends. One observation we have noted is the increase in productivity around elevated banks where nutrients are pushed up from the seafloor by the tides.

That evening we were responsible for the night watch from 11pm to 3am as we continued sailing. Throughout the four hours we were tasked with a number of rotating jobs from steering the ship at the helm to checking the engine room. Our awe at the blanket of stars overhead kept us from succumbing to exhaustion. The only points of light visible from shore were from Provincetown and Wellfleet. We were delighted to catch a number of comb jellyfish whose bioluminescence caused them to glow green in our midnight Neuston Net.  After concluding our watch, we were relieved by the next group. We quickly crawled back into our bunks to sleep off our weariness and prepare for another day at sea.

A Watch



C241f - Thoreau


Thoreau Foundation Sail C241F 2012
Date:  Friday, August 24, 2012
Position:  Vineyard Sound
Weather: Clear, calm

Image caption:  Thoreau Scholars trying on their safety immersion suits

The Henry David Thoreau Foundation ( partners with SEA to run a leadership program for Thoreau Scholars. Eleven members of the Henry David Thoreau Foundation arrived yesterday afternoon to the SEA campus in Woods Hole.  Thursday was filled with a land-based component, consisting of initial introductions and engaging talks about Stellwagen Bank by visiting scientists, including Michael Thompson (Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary), Chad Smith (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution - WHOI), Dr. Denise Rich (National Marine Fisheries Service), Yip Ye (SEA alumni and summer intern), Dr. Emelia DeForce (WHOI and SEA), Athena Aicher (Marine Biology Laboratory - MBL), and Melissa Paddock (MBL).  This cruise will be a special one because many of these scientists will also be joining Thoreau Scholars aboard the Corwith Cramer for a four-day sailing adventure. Members of the Thoreau Foundation include:  Kathryn Au, Ben Bramhall, Katrina Malakhoff, Adam Formica, Sophie Duncan, Sophie Purdom, Andy Hong, Liz Wade, Julie Erickson, Ross Lieb-Lappen, and Dr.  Jennifer Gavin. Today Thoreau Scholars, SEA staff and visiting scientists boarded the Cramer.  Most of the day was spent running safety drills, understanding crew responsibilities, and getting comfortable on the ship - now home to some of Massachusetts’ most promising environmental leaders.  Captain Chris McGuire led the ship from Woods Hole through Vineyard Sound.  Some sediment sampling was done on Lucas Shoals and Dr. Jeff Schell, Cramer’s Chief Scientist, encouraged crew to do some dip netting for the lab’s aquarium.

One of the visiting scientists, Dr. Emelia DeForce, has come to share her research about plastic pollution in the marine ecosystem.  She sailed with SEA during the Plastics at SEA:  North Atlantic Expedition 2010 ( to better understand the role that microbes play in plastics marine debris.  Because coastal waters (including Stellwagen) are threatened by human impact, she will be keeping a close eye on the net that captures plastic (neuston net) while sampling during the expedition.  She will also connect with the Thoreau Scholars to better understand how their environmental background can tie in to and contribute to her concerns about marine plastic pollution.

The Cramer was anchored for the night in calm waters just off of Menemsha. After another great meal,  the crew was entertained by jellyfish and squid circling the ship.  Nothing like a little “fish TV” to end a great first day on the Cramer.