Current position of the SSV Corwith Cramer. Click on the vessel to view position history. Use the tools, top right, to change the map style or view data layers. Dates and times use GMT (Greenwich Mean Time).
SEA Currents: SSV Corwith Cramer
July 22, 2015
A Sea of Stars
43° 59.8’N x 009° 22.6’W
Description of location
34 nm NW of Cabo Villano, NW coast of Spain
Weather / Wind / Sail Plan
Sunny, 3/8 Cu clouds, Breeze NW’ly F2, all fore-and-afts set
The Cramer has been doggedly making her way southwest, and everyone aboard cherishes hopes of cloudless skies and the steady, favorable breezes of the Portuguese trades once we turn the corner off Cape Finisterre. The Bay of Biscay has offered us a mix of marvelous sailing and tedious motoring, but all of it under a seemingly endless dome of clouds varied only by whether those clouds are actively misting on us or not. During the past two days and nights, we’ve been treated to this leg’s first clear views of blue skies and boundless stars—many of us have seen for the first time the green flash of an unobstructed sunset and the bright blip of the ISS wheeling overhead.
For sailors throughout the ages and across all the oceans, the sun, moon, and stars have not merely been things of beauty and bringers of the kind of cheer our ship’s company has recently experienced; these heavenly bodies have long served as vital beacons for navigation, guiding explorers across new waters and voyagers home again. The noonday sun tells of latitude, Polaris and the belt of Orion are guides to cardinal directions, and even the fussy moon offered a way to check longitude before we managed to take time to sea. Days and nights without sun and stars were not just a downer before electronic and satellite navigation—they were an increasingly dangerous venture away from knowledge and certainty.
SEA Semester is one of a very few institutions which still teach celestial navigation and actively use it to cross oceans and participate in a long history of way-finding. Of course our GPS and radars are faster and by that measure better ways of determining our position, and the electronic fixes are going down on the chart every hour as the students of C-261 hone their plotting skills. But with the return of clear skies, we can again look up for guidance, can feel some small measure of that relief our forebears felt when they could again fix their position with confidence.
We humans like to be confident about where we are, how things stand, and where we’re going. Yesterday during class, Dan addressed the concept of the “shifting baseline syndrome” with regard to fisheries, and we all discussed various ways we can and cannot know with certainty about the fish populations of today, past decades, and previous centuries. As far as fish go, we sail under cloudy skies in an age which craves certainty to guide our policies and our priorities. We gather information as best we can, we wait for a gap in the metaphorical clouds, we carry on in the incompleteness of our knowledge because we can do little else.
But perhaps the practice of celestial navigation can remind us that certainty and clarity are not always guaranteed—these are boons we must sometimes muddle along without. Some nights you see the stars and some of what we know about the world’s fish populations is very well substantiated by diverse research; often the reverse is true in both cases. Such a lack of certainty should not paralyze us, but rather make us consider thoughtfully the choices we make. I certainly know little enough about the myriad issues facing the world’s fisheries; I do know that this evening looks like an excellent one for shooting stars. I’m off to remind myself that certainty is precious, lest I come to take the GPS too much for granted.
P.S. – A very happy birthday to Julia Rocchi! Hope it’s been a lovely one, and I can’t wait to catch up soon.