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Current position of the SSV Corwith Cramer. Click on the vessel to view position history. Use the layer tools, top right, to change the map style or to view data layers. Dates and times use GMT (Greenwich Mean Time).

SEA Currents: SSV Corwith Cramer

January 06, 2016

Getting Underway

Tony Moss, Assoc. Prof. Biology, Marine Program Coordinator, Auburn University

Colleague Cruise

Tony Moss at the helm

Ship's Log

18° 00.5’ N x 64° 25.6’ W

Description of location
Alongside Gallows Bay, St. Croix



Weather / Wind
clear skies, calm

About 6 am. Dawn is gentle over  Christiansted, St. Croix. The coquies have fallen back asleep and their sweet ‘creek’ calls replaced more and more by the calls of an amorous/aggressive rooster and barking dogs. The light ‘pinks up’ over the hills, illuminating the clouds and backlighting the ridge of palm trees across the lower ridges of the island. A crescent moon floats above a brilliant star – no that’s Venus. Saturn below but no longer visible; Mars far overhead but behind the pink clouds and the glare of the rising sun.

Monica from Georgia Institute of Technology is out on deck, getting her first cup of coffee. “Frigate bird” she says quietly, as if not quite sure. It’s a frigate bird alright, gliding silently above the occasional seagull and the rest of the sleepy harbor. Erik’s on deck and he agrees that it’s a frigate – they are common over the island, especially the tiny hotel – covered island in the inner harbor.

Soon everyone is on deck, excited about the first day of sailing. We exercise our small working knowledge of the ship, improving our skills with knot tying, learning the terminology of ‘sheet’ versus ‘sail,’ of ‘downhaul’
versus ‘halyard’ and how to run the carriage across the rail to re-position the main staysail and the fore staysail. The terms start to make sense as we put hands on physical items and devices versus just text in a manual. 

More training: ever-important safety drills, including ‘man overboard’ procedures (look, point with a vertically positioned flat hand – not a finger – keep calling ‘man overboard’ and don’t stop ‘til relieved. Fire drill follows, finally with an ‘abandon ship’ class – including the all-important ‘Gumby’ exposure suite that we pull on and sweat in for a few minutes, learning how to step off the ship and how to properly deflate the suit so it’s more of a friend than a hazard. Then lunch – plenty of food to hold us for the day’s effort, and finally we’re off!

The forward sails are turned so that they catch the prevailing starboard breeze, and the Zodiac nudges the ship’s bow away from the dock; we are off! The professional and learning crew work together to adjust the ship’s equipment for smoother motoring away from the harbor, and before we know it, we are outside the reef  ‘on station’ getting our first underway sediment sample, demonstrating the Shipek grab on a deep sample of mud and coralline mud and sand, to compare with a sample collected yesterday in the harbor.

This maneuver requires ‘heaving to’ so that the grab can go down straight and quickly grab the bottom while the ship is more-or-less still. The sample is pulled on board, and we are off again, following a track at 030 degrees – north by a slight easterly inclination. We move toward St. Thomas and St. John’s, heading for Pillsbury Sound between the islands. After some more sailing we are over 12000 feet of water, 2000 fathoms or about 4000m. Hard to believe we could be out in open water so quickly. It’s afternoon.  The day wears on and a few of the crew are feeling poorly as we move over open water and start to catch the swells as well as the local wind-driven waves. The ship’s constant motion and the havoc it wreaks with the inner ear is taking its toll, but people continue to work to adjust the sheets, optimize the sails and set the ship up for max speed and efficiency.

The surface neuston tow is pulled at a remarkable 2 kt – we pick up Sargassum ‘weed’ as Columbus called it, with Sargassum crabs – Portunus sayi. I ask Erik if we can collect some samples for muscle structure and molecular analysis. He agrees and we decide to hold the animal overnight; maybe we’ll get a few more and we can dissect and prep when things aren’t quite so hectic; the main job right now is to examine different Sargassum morphologies. We continue to move north.

B watch, my watch, is on. More sail adjustments and rope coiling learning what the Ballentine in Ballentine Beer is about (a rope coiling technique that allows rapid deployment of for instance the downhaul rope when needed; I always wondered what the rope symbol meant! Constant learning…).  More speed as the breeze freshens. Christie (American University) and I do an hourly shipboard walk-through – and then another; creeping through the engine compartment, checking the heads (toilets), making sure the gauges all are reading out ‘good’ ranges. We are pleased that our second walkthrough was complete, but took only 10 minutes!

Scott (Miami Univ. of Ohio) has been at the helm (that so many think is on backwards – not this crew!) and Tristan (Second Mate) offers me the helm. What a blast! Guiding a 134 foot brigantine through Caribbean waters, holding on 030 degrees. Some of the crew are feeling pretty salty, we are all quite happy with our accomplishments. It’s been a great learning experience. Around 1845 hrs, we prepare to change watch; the evening watch takes over and finally my day is over. I am exhausted.

Dinner time is as usual delicious, consisting of chicken, a cabbage salad, pasta and addictive apples cooked in apple sauce with cinnamon. But it’s strange; if not downright weird-but-wonderful, like a Harry Potter scene: the gimbaled tables are active! Food, plates, cups appear to move perilously toward-away – no: up and down but WE are the things moving! Odd, unintuitive but logically sensible when you think about it. The gimbaled tables are a new experience for me – most of the new participant crew are at least amused by them. Not everyone can partake, but it’s a great meal. I’m wiped out-impressed by  the camaraderie, the wonder of being at sea and seeing flying fish in a way I’ve never seen before (here I see them flying from a side view; it’s always been either toward or away from the ship; this time I can see the fish flying over the surface. – I was sure they were birds. I marvel at the nearly silent motion of the ship, which uses the wind and waves instead of fighting them like a typical motorized ship; I crawl into my bunk (lucky it’s a lower one!) and I’m out like a light.

- Tony

Categories: Corwith Cramer, • Topics: c263b  colleague cruise  sargassum  life at sea • (0) Comments


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