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SEA Currents: SSV Corwith Cramer
December 14, 2018
Birthday Boat Time!
At anchor off Barbuda
I'm not sure I'm cut out for this, I think to myself as I am buffeted by wave after wave, gingerly skirting the reef to avoid being knocked into sharp corals and spiny urchins. I squint through the turbid water, trying to identify fish whose names dance at the edge of my memory. I frantically flip through ID cards, looking for the pale, yellow-striped fish meandering below me, mocking me with its unbothered manner. Distracted, I fail to notice the swell that crashes over my snorkel, leaving me sputtering at the surface.
Some reef days are harder than others.
But today is a big day, momentous and melancholy: the last reef survey day. Earlier that morning, I admired the reef more peacefully while doing my independent research. I'm studying the correlation between coral reef health and reef zooplankton population, so my data collection consists of swimming above the bustling reef community with a phytoplankton net, hoping I can swim faster than the copepods can.
This Barbudan reef is beautiful in its own way. Vast structures of dead, algae-covered Acropora palmata skeletons lay stark against the white sand, looking strange and lonely. But a closer look reveals the juvenile fish darting between the lifeless corals, as well as egg sea urchins and live corals nestled in the shelter of the calcium carbonate framework. Soft corals rise up from the bottom, their exerted polyps waving like a 70s shag carpet. Groovy.
I hold this beauty with me as we motor back to the Cramer, cresting white-tipped cyan waves that relentlessly spray us. ("They're sporty!!" Emma insists.) (Meanwhile, I'm thinking about how many cats I could stack on top of one another to match the height of the waves. Cats stand about one foot off the ground, making them the perfect measurement for waves.) As soon as we reach the Corwith Cramer, I beach myself on the quarter deck, feeling half-drowned and chilly from the long swim. But the sun and cheery chatter of my peers warms my skin and lifts my spirits, and soon I'm back to the lab.
Afterwards, I head to the galley. (I'm assistant steward today!) I bake chocolate chip cookies for Christian's birthday, making only a few mistakes. Did you know that if a bag is labeled "brown sugar," that may just mean that it is sugar that is brown? I did not! ~Brown sugar~ is special because it has molasses. Ger remedies my situation with a manual molasses addition to the deceptive sugar-that-is-brown concoction I made. Keinan lurks at the galley doorway, silently eyeing the cookie dough. He begins to creep closer. "You're not wearing shoes," Ger chides. He slinks off and promptly returns with sandals. He lingers and puts away some clean dishes until Ger allows him a small spoonful of cookie dough. I roll my eyes as he giddily trots away.
The (baked) cookies are a hit. We gather in the main saloon and sing "Happy Birthday" to Christian as loudly and as off-key as possible, and we congratulate his great success of living to the grand old age of 20. Some of us sit on deck to watch the sky fade to pastels of pink, blue, and yellow, a painter's backdrop to the clouds glowing with the setting sun. I marvel at my situation. How is it possible that I'm here, in the Caribbean, surrounded by my closest friends and beauty that takes my breath away daily?
Captain Sean told us to be sponges and absorb as much information as we could. I feel like I'm bursting at the seams with new knowledge of sails and stars and cultures and zooplankton, and I can't help but be afraid that, once I get home, someone will hug me too hard and it will all squeeze out. I am determined to remember. I don't want to forget the feeling of being among my friends, absentmindedly playing with each other's hair while lazing on the deck during anchor watch. There's something special about this place, this crew.
Dinner is baked mac and cheese and a side of broccoli, bell peppers, and corn. Members of the Waitt Institute (the same institute that Keinan and Chase are affiliated with) join us and easily chat with the crew. It's another end to a busy day, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
- Chloe McKinley, Beloit College
P.S. Mom, Dad, Maggie, Alex, Roshni, Lizzie, and Martha, I miss you all so much!!