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SSV Robert C. Seamans Blog

Position information is updated on a workday basis only.



S250b Colleague Cruise


Monday, 13 January 2014

Position: 17° 27’ S x 149° 58.9’ W
Heading: 170°
Speed: 5 knots
Weather: Quite changeable. 29 degrees. Rain in morning, sunny afternoon, winds picked up significantly at around 4pm but brought no rain, beautiful evening with a nearly full moon.

B Watch had the morning watch today so we were woken by our shipmates at 0600 in time for breakfast (including fresh raspberries and blueberries… now where did they come from?  and coconut spread for the pancakes. The galley never ceases to amaze us!) Too bad some of us are nauseous enough to have to pass on all the deliciousness and stick to ginger tea and saltines.

We came up on deck only to be surprised by the sight of Moorea not far in the distance.  We were approaching quite slowly I believe because we wanted to stay out deep in order to do a few more experiments.

It was drizzling when we took over the watch but fortunately the rain didn’t last long today.  Our watch was a busy one and we were all feeling more energetic, getting used to the rhythms of the boat, and therefore accomplished quite a bit.

I spent quite a bit of time in the lab today.  First we looked at some of the samples taken by the midnight crew.  They’d found a Lucifer shrimp and our teammate Marine discovered (under the microscope) a really cool creature with eyes like a fly. EZ spotted three dolphins off the starboard side and we all went out to watch them for a bit.

Later in the day Katherine showed us how to report our weather to NOA. That was cool, knowing that the data we send them will actually be key in their weather predictions for the region. Schlee also taught us some chart reading skills.

At one point this morning the wind died down significantly and we spent quite a bit of time adjusting the sails to keep ourselves moving.  But once we changed our course somewhat we were flying along once again. I think we reached up to 5- 7 knots. We put our sail handling skills to the test today and really began to get a feel for what was going on.

Our usual six minute observations and other hourly monitoring aside, our most unique and exciting scientific experiment today was the styro-cast. Each of us was instructed to decorate a Styrofoam cup.  I must say I am impressed with the artistic, creative sides of all these scientist adventurers. We placed the cups in a pair of fishnet (what else?) stockings and dropped them 1500 meters where the pressure shrank them to about 1/4 their original size. The colors became more vibrant yet all details remained.  Waiting for the wire to pay out to reach 1500 meters really made me realize how deep that actually is. And apparently that is not even half the depth of the ocean we’re in.  It is remarkable how quickly the sea deepens between the islands. EZ says that the average depth of the oceans worldwide is 4 kilometers! So while our cups were down there we also took some data which Kelsey fed into the computer.

Once our gear was brought back on board we were able to sail into Opunohu Bay, the bay next to Cook’s Bay, where we have anchored for the night.

In class this afternoon Bill gave us an amusing yet comprehensive summary of our navigation over the past few days. In short, we traveled approximately 240 nautical miles north then sometime in the middle of the
night Sunday night we turned about and headed at a slight angle back toward Moorea.  Willie explained how the water treatment systems work on the boat and Dan spoke a bit about weather systems. Each day we also hear from a recent alum about her experience as an SEA student.

Late afternoon we all participated in a mini “Field Day” of cleaning up the ship and ourselves then celebrated with a jump in “the pool.”  There is nothing better than a sunset swim, especially in a setting as idyllic as
Opunohu Bay.  The current was quite strong and we were all surprised when suddenly it changed in completely the opposite direction.

Ate another delicious meal together, most of us on deck, and finished up the evening with a “Swizzle” celebration of the end of our time together. We were treated to some traditional Polynesian dance by our shipmate Tohei and listened to some great music and stories.

One thing that has struck me on this voyage: as Dean for Study Abroad one of my goals is for my students to put themselves in unfamiliar situations where they are required to adapt to different ways of thinking and being; where they are required to learn new communication techniques and forms of expression.  I must admit that, while I have always admired and supported SEA Semester programs it wasn’t until I lived on the ship for a few days and experienced this new world that I recognized exactly how it is the ideal study abroad experience. It may not be what we traditionally imagine as a different culture but in adapting to it students learn the same skills.  In being at sea, students cannot avoid learning new ways of being, speaking, seeing the world and reacting to it.

Gretchen Young,
Dean for International and Intercultural Student Programs,
Barnard College



S250b Colleague Cruise


Saturday, 12 January 2014

Ship’s Postion: Lat. 16° 20.5’ S x 149° 55’ W
Heading: North until 9am, when we turned and headed back to Moorea on a heading of 170
Speed: 7 knots
Weather: cloudy, with winds from the NExE, sea state 6

Image Caption: The Science Team on C-Watch does a superstation deployment while I enjoy my Sleep of Kings.

A lifetime ago, I used to work with the U.S. Navy supporting her submarines, and a sailor on SUBMARINE NR-1 once told me, “Every great sea story begins with ‘So there I was…’”

So there I was, serving as lookout on the midnight watch, scanning the horizon under a brightly moonlit and starry sky, as Friday turned to Saturday.  I had recently danced (yes, that is the official term) the 2m net over the side of our boat, and James had deployed 600m of wire at a 30 degree angle to the horizontal to get our net down to a depth of 300m for a 30 minute collection.  As we deployed the net, the weather gave all
indications that we would have a beautiful and calm evening, but the Pacific and her skies had other plans.  Only 5 minutes into our new day, I saw lightning and a rapidly darkening sky approaching.  Dan (our fearless leader) woke up the captain, our deck crew started closing hatches, our science crew began hauling up the wire as fast as the motor would allow, and all the while, I stood lookout and watched as the darkness enveloped us and a hard stinging rain began its assault on our operations.  Our speed picked up with that of the wind, and our 30 degree wire angle was now much closer to 10 degrees.  The captain had no choice but to fall off from the wind a bit, which brought the net’s wire abnormally close to the haul of the ship.  As Dan and I tracked the wire with a flashlight, we watched the net break the surface of the ocean and began to soar like a kite behind our ship.  The next few minutes seemed like hours, as the storm tossed us and the equipment about like toys in a bathtub, and our captain, crew, and watch team intently focused on our individual tasks all designed to keep the ship and her crew safe while retrieving our net.  With the net safely on board, the squall continued to batter us for another hour before receding into the night.  At 3am, we were relieved of our watch under a mostly starry sky.  Exhausted, I climbed into my bunk, having truly earned my Sleep of Kings (the longest period of rest between watches on our three day watch rotation).

Around 7am, Lauren (who is amazing and wonderful despite how mean she may sound in this story) rang the breakfast bell, interrupting my Sleep of Kings.  I groggily came to the table in my PJs (clothes are required for meals, but PJs *are* clothes, right?), stuffed in some food, cleared my place at the table, climbed back into my top bunk while trying not to step on my lower bunkmate’s head, and promptly resumed my Sleep of Kings.  I am sure I was having a wonderful dream about mermaid lagoons or finding an elegant and rapidly converging solution to an inverse problem optimizing parameters for a system of coupled differential equations in nine dimensional space, when Lauren’s triangle bell brought me back to the reality of my top bunk existence and the fact that I needed to scarf in my lunch and get back onto the deck to resume watch.  And there ends the Sleep of Kings…

During our watch meeting, we learned that at around 9am, our ship had changed course, and started heading back to Moorea.  The sea was rough, but there was no accompanying weather, so it would’ve been easy to forget we were on watch had it not been for our hourly science reports, boat checks, weather reports, and boat checks.  As the day began to turn to dusk (which happens early here), I volunteered to serve as lookout.  Given the beautifully clear skies, I took a position up on the bow platform, tethered to the ship by my harness.  Standing up there, overlooking the vast Pacific on such a glorious vessel, it is hard not to channel the spirits of the great explorers, and I stood posed like one in a painting - one knee up on the deck rail and one hand shading my eyes as I surveyed our ocean surroundings.  As I scanned the horizon, a jagged figure emerged from the clouds.  After a few minutes of studying it carefully, I was convinced that this was not a mirage, and the mountainous peaks were exactly those we had left a few days before.  Land-ho!  I unhooked and darted back to inform Dan that Moorea had just come into view.  Thirty minutes later, the smoother but no less impressive northern hills of Tahiti appeared on the horizon. Both islands were visible until another nasty squall approached, just as we handed over the watch.

We sat down for dinner, where the widely swinging gimbled tables were a constant reminder of the weather above.  During a squall, the hatches are closed, and it gets hot, so after dinner, I went to take a cold shower.  On land, this is an uneventful task, but showering at sea during a squall is like trying to take a shower in a malfunctioning carnival ride.  After my shower, I climbed into my bunk and spent a few minutes reflecting on my day…  From the beginning of the day to the end, I had taken my place in this community, doing my tasks, helping others as needed, and feeling important - but no more important than any other member of our team.  I felt valued by my peers, I felt proud of my efforts, and above all, I felt excited about waking up in 7 hours to do it all again.

Jessica M. Libertini
Assistant Professor of Mathematics, University of Rhode Island



S250b Colleague Cruise


Saturday, 11 January 2014
Position: 17° 27’ S x 150° 05’ W
Heading: 330°
Speed: 1 knot

Weather: mostly sunny, wind ExS force 4

Image Caption: Robert C. Seamans at anchor in Cook’s (Pao Pao) Bay, Moorea.

Awoke to the delicious smells of breakfast including: hash browns, bacon, veggie sausage patties, and papaya.  The stewards onboard take really good care of the crew and I’m sure this is a great moral booster on long voyages.  Katharine Enos from SEA gives us a briefing on some of the exciting new programs SEA is offering this year aboard the Corwith Cramer including a trans-Atlantic voyage from Woods Hole to Ireland, a voyage exploring major European port cities, and another trans-Atlantic voyage from Cape Verde to the Caribbean. On the Robert C. Seamans there are two longer voyages from Hawaiii to American Samoa and American Samoa to New Zealand.  I wonder how I could disguise myself as a college student so I could go on one of these adventures!

After the presentation we head over to the Gump Research Station on Moorea.  The research station is run by UC Berkeley and is one of a small number of permanent research stations in the vast South Pacific.  Neil Davies from the research station gives us an overview of the work done at the station including: education, cultural outreach and of course scientific research.  One interesting research project was the careful
release of a small number of wasps to control an invasive insect species that was destroying vegetation on the island.  The plan was to release a small number of wasps at one location on the island and observe the local effect on the invasive insect.  The wasps removed the invasive insect locally and across the entire island.  Not only that, but the wasp was able to spread to other islands as well.  The scientists were surprised by how quickly the wasp was able to spread and it is a cautionary lesson on what happens when humans interfere with biological systems.

Back aboard the Seamans we have lunch (African Peanut Soup) and we go through a series of safety drills for Man Overboard, Fire, and Abandon Ship.  I am responsible for the jump kit, blanket, and back board as well as the spare water in case we have to abandon ship.  Captain Sean Bercaw brought us back to the quarterdeck to demonstrate how to put on an immersion suit (a big wetsuit that floats and conserves body heat) in case we have to abandon ship.  To make it fun the deckhands compete to see who could get the suit on first.  The winner, Julia, donned the suit on in 33 seconds.

Anchors-a-weigh!  Leaving Cook Bay was exciting - beautiful views of Moorea and the open ocean.  All hands help raise the “lowers”: jib, fore-staysail, main-staysail, and mainsail.  There is a lot of wind (gusts to 25 knots) and the seas are 5+ feet.  The boat is really rocking and I wonder who is going to get seasick (myself included).  It can take a couple of days to get used to the motion of the boat and I work on keeping my eyes on the horizon, eating bland food, and drinking lots of water.

After a couple of hours at sea it is time to deploy the Neuston net.  This is a net that collects material at the ocean surface.  The key to a successful deployment is to make sure that about half the net is above and
half below the surface.  The seas are rough and the boat is going along at close to seven knots.  To slow the boat down we “heave to” which involves changing the boat direction so that most of the sails are set on the wrong side of the boat… the sails then act as brakes to slow the boat.  We deploy the Neuston net and I’m on “net watch” making sure that the net stays near the surface - not completely submerged but not skipping across the water either.  I am curious about what we will catch in the net!

Our first watch ends at 1900 and we head down below for dinner.  My colleagues and I are feeling green and we don’t eat much but it is fantastic anyway: mashed sweet potatoes, ham, salad, veggie stir fry… yummy!  After dinner I head to the bunk so I’ll be ready for watch again at 0300. At around 2300 I wake up as we “heave to” to deploy the two meter net down to a depth of 300 meters.  The two meter net is similar to the Neuston net, but collects material at a greater depth.  During the deployment we encounter a squall… there’s lots of thunder, lightning, rain, and wind. The boat heels enough to create an air bubble in the fuel line that feeds the generator one and we temporarily lose power.  Engineering was able to restore power within minutes by switching to generator two… they are good. Unfortunately the two meter net was also damaged during the squall and it’s going to need some welding work to repair the frame.

I fall asleep again thinking that although the weather is rough and many of us are feeling under the weather, we are in good hands with the professional crew and scientists aboard the Seamans.  We are all up for this adventure and I wonder what will happen next.

Bob Dugan
Associate Professor Computer Science, Stonehill College



S250b Colleague Cruise


Friday, 10 January 2014

Postion:17° 29’ S x 149° degrees 49’ W
Heading: at anchor
Speed: 0 knots
Weather: mostly sunny, wind ExS force 3

Image caption: Jessica Libertini (URI, Math) and Chrissy Dykemen (SEA First Scientist) deploying sediment sampler in Cook’s (Pao Pao) Bay, Moorea.

Thirteen participants representing nine institutions boarded the 134’ Sailing School Vessel Robert C. Seamans in Papeete Harbor this morning by 0930. After stowing their gear in bunks below and briefly exploring the
vessel, everybody gathered on the quarterdeck for introductions and our first safety briefing. At 1100 we pulled away from the dock and headed out of the harbor through the pass in Tahiti’s fringing reef. Working with
their watch leaders (mate and scientist) participants began to learn about lines, sails, and shipboard responsibilities. They helped raise sails and soon we were being propelled by the wind under staysails, jib, and topsail. The laboratory came to life as we started collecting and logging data on salinity, temperature, currents, and depth. During the transit over to Moorea, we saw a flock of red footed boobies and terns feeding above a patch where larger fish must have been pushing bait fish toward the surface. On approach to Moorea, the Seamans moved carefully through the narrow pass in the reef to enter the spectacular harbor of Cook’s Bay where we dropped anchor at around 1430 (2:30pm).

For the next several hours all watches cycled through orientation sessions to familiarize everybody with operation and safety in the lab, engine room, deck, and galley. The last rotation of people through lab deployed a Shipek grab using the hydrowinch to collect our first sample from the bottom of the ocean: fine, dark gray carbonate mud! Following the orientation, we shared a tasty all-hands meal of pasta, garlic bread, and salad with fresh local mango. We were treated to an impromptu music session on deck under the stars with fiddle, banjo, and singing before people drifted off to their bunks. Staff members rotated through the night on anchor watch so the thoroughly oriented (and very tired) participants could sleep through the night for some well-deserved rest.

Erik Zettler, SEA Chief Scientist



S250b Colleague Cruise

Wednesday 08 January 2014

The Colleague Cruise will begin on Friday, January 10th and return to Pape’ete, Tahiti, around Tuesday, January 14th.