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
October 03, 2016
Standing Watch and the Sea
39°59.6’N x 001°51.5’E
Description of location
Western Mediterranean Sea, between Spanish mainland and the island of Mallorca.
Hove to for science
Weather / Wind / Sail Plan
Wind ENE Force 1, Sunny
The first thing I noticed about the Mediterranean Sea was how blue it was. I grew up going to Cape Cod every summer, and the Atlantic Ocean of my New England life is a dark green and indigo shock of cold that makes you gasp. The Mediterranean is nothing like that. It’s startlingly blue. It’s the color of a Crayola crayon I used to draw oceans with when I was a child, bright and uniform and gently warm. It’s also surprisingly empty of marine life, at least by my standards. The most common wildlife I have seen are jellies; big, orange jellies that drift by the boat and cause all of us new kids to point with glee. I have not had my Lab Watch yet, but once I do I will see the smaller myctophids and zooplankton that we are catching in our neuston net tow twice daily. And yesterday evening during a beautiful cloudless sunset we were treated to a few glimpses of dolphins and a very amusing jumping swordfish; but otherwise no other larger megafauna. However, we have seen quite a few shipping vessels, literal ships passing in the night; also, quite a bit of trash - drifting pieces of plastic, a bottle, a burlap sack.
Our first few days have been relatively similar, three days of mostly calm seas with 360 degree views of blue ocean and scattered cumulus clouds. When you are on Watch you are thinking about these conditions all the time, checking the height and direction of the sea, the force and direction of the wind, the temperature, and the pressure. My first Watch was an Evening Watch, 1300-1900. It was a golden six hours during which I learned how to steer the helm. I did not realize they would allow me to do such an important job just a few hours underway, but there I was, steering a course using a compass. It was surprisingly easy and quite fun. We also started learning our lines and sails. We were shown how to do the hourly boat check, which is a general sweep of the boat paying attention to make sure the conditions on the boat are stable and safe. The engine room is very loud and hot but it’s exciting to be in there among all this machinery chugging away. As someone with little mechanical knowledge of anything, I felt pretty excited to be reading dials and checking fuel levels.
Lookout is a position I have mixed feelings about. So far, lookouts have been posted at the break in the boat, crossing back and forth along the travelers to keep a 360-degree lookout for anything of interest that is happening. For the first five minutes during Afternoon Watch, I was excited to be watching the waves and the horizon, squinting at the hazy mountains of Spain or the shadow of an oil tanker. And then after five minutes, I suddenly realized I did not know what to think about. It is unusual in our age of constant entertainment and technology to have nothing to do. Usually when I am in a waiting situation, I take my phone out and play with it. But on lookout, you have no phone and you have to stand. It is a challenge I am slowly adjusting too, having long stretches of time alone with my own mind. Seasickness for me takes the form of overwhelming drowsiness, so I’ve had to work very hard to keep my mind active and alert (don’t worry, Mom, I’m not nauseous).
I was on lookout last night during part of Dawn Watch, 0100-0700 and the dark was full of things to see. I stepped out of the red glow of the doghouse onto the quarterdeck under a scattered diamond jewel box of stars and I could not stop smiling. I go to college in New York City and the stars there have fallen out of the sky and taken the form of city lights, leaving the night sky an empty purple orange smog. This Mediterranean sky is full of the stars named for the Greek heroes and monsters that inhabited and travelled around this sea. I was so absorbed in the Milky Way that an hour passed of my lookout without any boredom. The sea itself was just as fascinating, on account of the glowing waves tumbling off the ship due to bioluminescent plankton. That was the moment where I felt a sense of wonder and gratitude that this was my junior fall semester. In that moment, we were a white sailing vessel at night under sail steadily rocking through a glowing sea under ancient stars with a gentle southeasterly breeze and I was thrilled. My shipmates and I are in for quite an adventure.
P.S. Hi and lots of love to Mom, Dad, Calvin, Tara, Baci, and all my other friends and family!