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Voyages

SSV Robert C. Seamans Blog

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Jul

31

S242 - Colleague Voyage

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30th July 2012
1900 or 7PM local time
Anchored off Two Harbors, Catalina Island, CA
33°28’N by 118°30’W
Sunny, warm with a light breeze

Image caption:  Laura and Juliette bracing the yards sharp after a gybe. 

Post by Professor Laura Mitchell – UC Irvine

“Point Conception…is the largest point on the coast, and is an uninhabited headland, stretching out into the Pacific, and has the reputation of being very windy.  Any vessel does well which gets by it without a gale.”

“In fact, as I afterward discovered, Point Conception may be the dividing line between two different faces of the country. “

Richard Henry Dana, Jr., Two Years Before the Mast , 1840 (voyage 1834-36)

Although the technology available to sailors and the degree of development along the California coast have changed in the 170 years since Dana sailed up and down the West Coast of the Pacific, Point Conception is still an important landmark. Sailing around it is a reminder that prevailing winds and the power of the sea remain much as in Dana’s day.  The rough seas and winds blowing up to force 7 rattled the nerves (and stomachs) of novice sailors aboard the Robert C. Seamans as we traversed Monterey Bay and headed south toward warmer waters. Standing watch through that stormy night I thought about the passengers Dana’s ship took aboard in Santa Barbara as the Pilgrim sailed these same waters, northbound.  Seasick and scared, those passengers stayed below deck, at the mercy of the weather and the crew. As apprentice sailors aboard the Seamans, we had the benefit of modern anti-emetic meds, a solicitous professional crew, and most importantly a watch to stand—which was a reason to stay above deck, in the fresh air. Standing mid-watch as the Seamans sailed with the California current and a strong tailwind, I experienced some of the challenges mariners aboard tall-masted ships have faced since the fifteenth century.  Though this voyage is considerably more comfortable (and shorter) than Dana’s blue-water journey, five days aboard the Seamans has given me a greater appreciation and understanding of the shipping records I’ve spent years reading as a historian.

Thankfully, the most aggressive wind and waves subsided as we rounded Point Conception and found shelter in the Channel Islands.

Now, lying at anchor off Catalina Island on a warm, sunny afternoon, after enjoying a glorious swim in crystal clear waters, the challenges and fears of sailing around Point Conception seem more distant than two nights ago. Until I returned to Dana’s description, that is, and read again about the many facets the Pacific presents to those who sail upon her.

Jul

30

S242 - Colleague Voyage

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From the Robert C. Seamans:
July 29, 2012
Sailing in the California Bight just south of the Channel Islands

Photo caption:  The SSV Robert C. Seamans enjoying a downwind sail. 

Force 7 seas (with 9 foot waves and 30 mph winds) last night on our 2300-300 watch.  Still, the captain, Virginia Land, authorized us to perform some science in this deck-pitching weather.  So, as the other two watches rolled back and forth in their bunks in time to the waves, vying for sleep, at midnight our watch of 8 mostly dilettante sailors (supervised by an experienced mate) brought down the big square top sail, and replaced it with a storm jib, then jibed the boat around to back the wind in the sails and slow the boat’s progress from 9 knots to 2 knots per hour. 

For the next half an hour, we towed a net that captured zooplankton, then hauled it aboard, processed it through a sieve and brought it to the microscopes for closer analysis.  None of this procedure was as simple as it sounds the decks were wet with spray, every step forward was taken with care on the rocking boat, and by the end of our watch, we were clipping our chest harnesses into jack lines for safety as we pulled down the mainsail.

By Sunday noon the next day, all were on deck in tee-shirts, enjoying stellar weather, blue skies, and just enough wind to propel the ship at a pleasant 7 knots per hour as we raised more sails, took pictures and continued net deployments from the port side Science Deck. 

This is life about the Robert C. Seamans—138 foot long, $6 million dollar brigantine that combines elegant square sailed tradition with a state of the art science lab.  Our crew of 36, for this blissful week of sailing, comprised an even mix of college professors, administrators, scientists and professional crew, whose mission was to contemplate and discussed the value of a student’s experience during their chosen Sea Semester program.  We watched sea lions and white sided dolphins, breaching humpback whales, a black turnstone weary from winging north (who joined us for an hour on the port rail) and the California coastline fade in and out of view as transited 420 nautical miles south from San Francisco to Los Angeles.  Altogether an unforgettable trip, which for a student semester at sea, or my upcoming 6 weeks from San Diego to Hawaii studying plastic contamination, offers the experience of a lifetime.

—Jonathan Waterman

Jul

29

S242 - Colleague Voyage

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28 July 2012
Position:  35o 8.5’N by 122o 14.3’W just north of Point Conception.

Winds have been favorable the last 24hrs, blowing from the NNW at Force 5 (meaning 4ft. seas with 8-10 ft. swells).  Good sailing conditions for the Robert C. Seamans.

Not surprising for this time of year off the California coast we have observed clouds and fog in the morning that burns off to reveal partly sunny skies in the afternoon. 

Mary Malloy, Maritime Studies Faculty:

It is a blustery day on the California coast as I write this from the aft cabin of the Robert C. Seamans.  We anchored in San Francisco Bay last Wednesday night (25 July 2012) after welcoming 18 faculty colleagues from colleges and universities around the country. There are a number of National Marine Sanctuaries in this region of the Pacific and we will travel through four of them as we transit to Los Angeles.  Yesterday, with Santa Cruz visible in the distance off our bow we deployed our carousel of water samplers in calm seas.  The sea life around us was nothing less than astonishing.  Two dozen black-footed albatrosses were among the many birds that floated around us, and sea lions, dolphins and whales spouted and frolicked in every direction.  One sea lion gave us an impressive show of leaps along the Seaman’s hull.  We crossed the Davidson sea mount and have collected interesting data for our knowledgably curious crew.  We have a number of scientists in our company, as well as historians, anthropologists, environmentalists and college administrators and our discussions have covered a lot of ground in many disciplines.  SEA alumni in the crew, including four deck hands, are excellent representatives of our programs and have enthusiastically described their experiences to our colleagues.  All is well.

Photo caption:  Members of “B” watch don immersion survival suits in an “abandon ship” drill.