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SEA Currents: SSV Corwith Cramer

October 31, 2016

The Last Day of October

Ellen Jacobus, Carleton College

The Global Ocean: Europe

Some C-watchers power pointing

Ship's Log

165 nm west of Ras Cantin, Morocco

Sail Plan
Motor-sailing under the mains’l, jib, and stays’ls at 1200 rpms

c/o 240 PSC

wind W/3, seas WNW/2

Souls on Board

I am having the conventional difficulty of trying to convey an immersive experience, where sharing the chronology of the day, the what happened is an entire entity, and conveying the sense of the boat, the what it is like is something else entirely. In an effort to achieve a happy medium, I am including a little of both.

What happened:
Today is Halloween, which means that when A Watch (Feldmen) relieved C Watch (Sleeper) at 0700 this morning, they came entirely outfitted in creepy Halloween face paint. They brought their pumpkin, lit with a headlamp, and displayed it on the quarterdeck. I was excited by their festivities, but, having slept a max of two hours the night before, I was mostly just excited to see them, period, because it meant it watch turnover time. 

Sometime after breakfast and finishing up dawn cleanup, I clambered into my bunk, and eventually fell asleep. I got out of bed sometime after snack but before lunch, and came blearily into the main salon, where people were prepping or already costumed. C Watch has two costumes today: our first one, with our watch officer, intern, and scientist from the first half of trip, was Peter Pan themed. The second, with our current watch officer, intern, and scientist, is Snow White and the 7 Dwarves themed, so I guess we have a Disney thing going. I'm Sleepy, which feels appropriate.

Most of our class is spending free time doing project work. With the exception of our lab practical at 1430 and evening watch later, it's what I've been doing as well. The lab practical was, in the words of our Chief Scientist, a celebration of everything we've learned. My favorite question was number 16, in which we had to properly identify and use Light Attenuation Spheroids. They're a highly technical piece of scientific equipment which, surprisingly enough, SEA Semester uses to collect data for NASA. At least, that's what our assistant scientist told us yesterday before we deployed them for the first time. Turns out they're M&Ms, the proper use of which is eager consumption. While not the technical wizardry we were expecting, I do not think any of us were disappointed.

For me, the rest of today looks like finishing this blog, doing more school work, eating dinner, and standing evening watch. On dawn watch this morning I was reading through some of the Audubon Field Guide to the Night Sky, so I'm hoping this morning's cloud cover will have dispersed, allowing for optimal stargazing.

What it is like:
Today is Halloween, which means it is October 31st, which means tomorrow is November 1st, which means this trip is almost over. Which means, amongst finishing up school work, continuing to learn about sailing, and knowing that my time with this crew is dwindling, I am also wondering how I will convey this trip to those back home. I do not yet have an answer, but I do have an analogy.

Learning the boat is learning a language. This is not just the lexicon of all the boat words, although that's an aspect. I mean structurally, dimensionally, in physical space, in an embodied way, learning the boat is like learning a language. At first, you have no idea what is being said. There is nothing familiar to literally grasp onto, and therefore nothing familiar to associate with the map in your head about the workings of the world. You stumble around in total confusion, doing the grammatical equivalent of pointing at a book and calling it, "yodels."

Then, eventually, an aspect sticks. You learn the basic structure of the boat, the basic idea of where nouns and verbs and direct objects go in a sentence. The system of watches, the location of the doghouse, the lab, the heads, the way eating meals works. The bones of the language begin falling into place, and maybe you're still saying "I sleeps the sandwich," because you don't know conjugations or vocab, but even as the words are wrong, you've figured out the subject-verb-object order in this language.

Then, you get the hang of placing prepositional phrases or embedded clauses. You know the sails and that they have halyards and sheets and downhauls and jiggers. You know where a few of them are. You know how to fill in the weather in the logbook, you start walking on the high side. You learn how to clean the soles properly. You stop leaning your elbows on the gimbaled tables.

Then, you start gaining the vocabulary. You know all the lines, the points of sail, and what bulwarks are. You are filling in the details. You've heard "AIS" for the 43th time, and this time actually know what it is. Hove-to on a port tack means something. As structures became clearer and easier, vocab became useful and not just rote memorization. "Tops'l clewl'n" became not just a word but a line that helped me convey a point and achieve a goal.

And then, maybe, you start to understand the nuance of the language. You start to notice when the wind is shifting, you see the sails luffing. You unconsciously keep on a turn of left rudder to keep from drifting. You start filling out log entries, you know what sails we're under and on what tack and on what point of sail, and you didn't even entirely notice that you've noticed. You begin to notice how much went on while you were shouting "yodels" at books.

Rather than just saying "I like boats. Boats are on the ocean. The ocean is blue," you can begin to create interesting sentences with texture and flavor and personality. You steer the boat in 10 foot swells. You know how to strike the main and furl the jib and you do it with alacrity when you see a waterspout. You set the raffee. You sing with your watch and make stupid jokes about oatmeal and ask each other questions. You lead the watch turnover. You call a gybe. You mess up, almost constantly, but you finally understand enough to understand your mistakes. Your sentences become more comprehensive and beautiful and even though they still aren't always entirely grammatically correct, they're always getting better.

And all this while: you are changing. This is the what I'm like, where what happened and what it was like implode and evolve. I am changing because of 6 hour stints with my watchmates, games with my shipmates, conversations with crew and the continuous intersection with the swells, and the stars, and the lines. I am changing because at the heart of this language is challenge and change and resilience and teamwork, and to speak this language is to do the work that keeps the boat afloat.

- Ellen

Categories: Corwith Cramer,The Global Ocean: Europe, • Topics: c269  life at sea  science  research • (4) Comments


Leave a public comment for students and crew to read when they reach their next port and have access to the internet!

#1. Posted by Rose Sword on November 01, 2016

Wow! Great read!! Your humor drew me in and then the profoundness of your insight bonked me on the head! Wonderful!
Wishing you all the best in life as you move forward with this new expanded insight.

#2. Posted by Bill Jacobus on November 01, 2016

Well Gang,
Close to wrapping it up!  Sounds like a solid Halloween carried out on the vessel And a fun celebration back here in Seattle, WA was carried out.  The most imaginative custume I saw last night was a young girl who appeared covered in numbers and immediately asked “Did I get it?  Did I get it?”  I had to reply “No, I don’t get it. ”  “I am a woman who can be counted on!” All right.  Witches, characters from Star Wars and Harry Potter flicks all appeared.  I had to encourage most of them to pillage the bowl of candy.  Most of them were really polite.  None just getting me to look away in distraction, and then striking the bowl.  Alas!  May the breakup go well and everyone have fun.  Nice job Ellen on the blog entry.  I loved it!  And a Rabbit, Rabbit to all.
Bill (Dad)

#3. Posted by Judy Pollock on November 02, 2016

Snow White!!

#4. Posted by Claudia Epple on November 04, 2016

I hope you’ve gotten in some optimal stargazing.
Much love to you,



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