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SEA Currents: SSV Corwith Cramer
October 27, 2020
Star light, star bright, the Corwith Cramer sails at night
34° 19.4’ N x 068° 38.8’ W
Ship’s Heading, Speed and Sail plan
175°psc, 7.7 kn, Four Lowers, single reefed Main
Sunny and warm, light wind
As anyone on this ship could tell you, time passes in a peculiar way aboard the Corwith Cramer. Perhaps it is because of our rotating watch schedule of 6 hours on and 12 hours off, but by nightfall, that morning’s sunrise always feels like days away. While it certainly takes some getting used to, over the past two weeks I have grown to appreciate our unique schedule. There is something oddly satisfying about being awake and experiencing every time of day throughout the 72 hours it takes to rotate through a full watch cycle. As much as I love the electric blue color of the ocean during the day and the reflection of a light sky on a dark sea, I’ve learned that there is nothing quite like nighttime on the ocean. After finding a friend or two on another watch who are remarkably awake at the same time I am, I’ve had some of the best late-night conversations on the quarterdeck. Sleep deprived and yet unwilling to go to bed, I’ve found myself discussing ontological parasites one minute and talking about whether time really exists the next, all while staring up at more stars than I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Even in the dark, the Corwith Cramer continues on its cruise track south to Key West, as sails are raised and passed by moonlight.
As for the oft dreaded dawn watch, I have learned to prioritize my sleep ahead of time, ideally heading straight for my bunk after class at 1400. Slowly I have grown more accustomed to being awoken by a soft voice outside my bunk curtain whispering my name, alerting me that it is 0030 (half past midnight), it is once again raining so I should wear my foulies, and I have to be up on deck for watch turnover in 20 minutes. As jarring as that may seem, once on watch, my eyes adjust to the red light on my headlamp, and I become more focused on doing an hourly boat check, or deploying the surface station (a black bucket tied to a rope that gets gracefully tossed over the side to collect seawater) and then processing the samples for pH, chlorophyll-a, and bacteria. Sometimes, I become so focused that I forget that it is nearly 2 o’clock in the morning. As I said before, time passes in a peculiar way.
There is something quite special about being awake on the ocean at night. After all, few people can say they’ve seen the flashes and twinkles of bioluminescence as dolphins leap through the wake of the bow, leaving a glowing trail behind them. Perhaps even fewer have processed the contents of a nighttime Neuston tow, counting and identifying copepods and other zooplankton while trying not to fall over as the vessel takes on 8-foot swells. Even fewer have picked out each tiny, pink shrimp (no bigger than an eraser shaving) in a tray of thousands of small, translucent, gelatinous salps that clog our sieves, all while overcoming waves of seasickness. And although I understand I may hold an unpopular opinion, in my mind, all are equally magical experiences in their own way.
- Claire Gabel, Mount Holyoke College 2022
P.S. (from Claire): Hello to family and friends on shore! I miss you all and can’t wait to tell you about my adventures at sea. Love to Mom, Mott, Grandma, and Grandpa! Since I know you are wondering, the food is good, I like my bunk (tucked in the port aft corner of the ship), and I am having a fantastic time!
P.S. (From Ethan): Happy 21st birthday, Milady. I miss you very much and think about you every day. Have a day as absolutely amazing as you are, and I cannot wait to see your beautiful face again in November. I love you with all my heart. Forever yours, faithfully, Your Knight.
Editor's Note: In response to the coronavirus pandemic, all SEA Semester students, faculty, and crew aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer boarded the ship after strictly isolating on our Woods Hole campus for a minimum of two weeks, and after repeated negative tests for COVID-19. To ensure the health and safety of those onboard, the ship will not conduct any port stops and will remain in coastal waters so that any unlikely medical situations may be resolved quickly.