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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

December 08, 2014

Trans-Atlantic Magic

Sean S. Bercaw, Captain

Colonization to Conservation in the Caribbean

Above: Westward bound, rolling our way downwind under the ‘Full Stack’ of Squares. Below: Chris completing a Main Engine Hourly Check

Ship's Log

Noon Position
15°32.0’N x 59°28.4’W

Description of location
A beautiful Starry Evening
81nm ESE of Dominica, our Destination, ETA tomorrow

Ship Heading
282° per steering compass

Ship Speed (knots)

Taffrail Log (nm)

Weather / Wind / Sail Plan
Sky 1/8 Altocumulus, Winds SE’ly Force 2, Seas SE’ly 3-4ft, Broad-reaching on a Port Tack under the ‘Full Stack’ (Raffee, Tops’l and the Course ), Main and Main Stays’l

Marine Debris Observed last 24hrs
None collected, a few errant pieces spotted

Sargassum Observed last 24hrs
Lots!!  Many massive windrows and (almost continuous) clumps

As Captain, one may think that my job revolves around ‘driving the boat,’ but it’s more like being the choreographer of a complicated dance production. I’ve been fortunate to be the Captain for this undertaking, and what an undertaking it is – When we drop anchor tomorrow off Portsmouth, Dominica we’ll have sailed in excess of 3,200 nautical miles, averaging over 7 knots of ship speed to complete the 23-day transit. This accomplishment will have been made possible by the focused efforts of the entire crew – the scientists, mates, students, voyagers, sailing interns, engineers, steward,  and faculty – as we set, struck, or reefed sail over 330 times!!  Although many weeks in length, this passage has been a ‘sprint’ – we’ve had to determinedly keep sail up until just moments before stopping for a science station, and then as soon as the Neuston Net or CTD was back aboard, we’ve gotten the ship making way again, constantly keeping her moving to the West, to our destination. 

Not unlike the sailing ships of old, we’ve been forced to capture the winds that have been offered and capitalize on the available conditions.  Back in 1990, Corwith Cramer’s last trans-Atlantic, during the same time of year, we encountered the robust NE trade winds which gave us a ‘sleigh-ride,’ day after day of wonderful easy sailing all the way to the West Indies. 

This year has been different – we’ve had some great sailing, but we’ve had to work for it, as evidenced by the number of times we’ve handled sail.

Upon departing the Canaries we stayed well north of 20° North latitude to allow us to scientifically investigate the North Atlantic gyre.  We rode the southern reaches of a mid-Atlantic high pressure, a ride made quite challenging at times by the 15 – 18 foot swells charging down upon us from the far north heavy-duty Atlantic storms up by Iceland and England.  The crew were champs and kept positive even with the challenges of the ‘dynamic’ (shall we say) motion.

When the elusive Sargassum didn’t appear we dropped down into the trades to investigate Researcher’s Ridge.  Ah I thought, now we’ll get our sleigh-ride.  Such has not been the case – instead we’ve had very light easterly winds, necessitating our putting up all the canvas we could to capture those winds – including a six-hour period where we set the entire nine sails – a rare event in the ship’s life. At another point we set the Storm Trys’l, allowing C256 to say that they’ve proudly set all the sails the ship has.  Even the west bound North Atlantic Equatorial current has been in abeyance, as evidenced by the less than 2.5% difference between the GPS log and our taffrail log.  Somehow ‘Mother Cramer’ has seemed to know of this need to make miles; at numerous times during this passage we’ve had speeds of up to nine and ten knots, normally a rare occurrence.  As a matter of fact, I’ve seen it more often in the last 3 weeks than all the other times in my 20+ years aboard put together! Yet, even with these efforts, we’ve been forced to rely many hours on the main engine, putting ‘the miles in the bank,’ so to speak, to allow us to reach Dominica on time. 

Colonization to Conservation in the CaribbeanThe ship’s Main Engine [affectionately called ‘Thunder’, and the generator ‘Lightning’ in years past] is the mechanism that allows us to combine the traditional 19th-century trans-Atlantic crossing with the 21st-century expectations that we will arrive at Dominica on the afternoon of Tuesday December 9th, as stated in our cruise plan presented to the US State Department over six-months ago (a necessary step in our being granted clearance for scientific research).  Although well designed and very efficient, the noise and heat of the big diesel main engine is draining on the ship’s company, and the crew has worked extremely hard to minimize the amount of running time by capturing whatever fickle wind that’s been available.

But, the magic of this crossing is not the miles sailed nor sails handled, it’s the camaraderie and esprit de corps that’s developed within the ship’s company.  Watching as the students scamper forward to set ‘the stack’ (all three square sails, one on top of the other) … yet again, or the visceral excitement as we sought out and found Researcher’s Ridge, the ship’s company crowded around the science deck as the shipek grab returned from the depths with its stolen tidbits of the mid-Atlantic crest, or today when the ‘on-watch’ spotted an impressively large sargassum windrow and, forsaking lunch, we abruptly struck sail, hove-to the ship and launched the small boat with scientists and students to gain an intimate view of the weed and gather samples for processing.  Sometimes it’s more subtle, like watching in awe as just after the post-dinner clean-up, five different conversations ranged around the main salon, from the Halobates caught in the day’s Neuston tow to the pros & cons of a contemporary musical group, all with the positive energy of peers immersed in and relishing the moment.

We’ve sailed the miles and sampled the seas, but what will be in my heart tomorrow when I shout out, “Let go!” and the anchor plummets to the bottom will be the mystical nature of our shipboard community.

- Sean

Categories: Corwith Cramer,Colonization to Conservation in the Caribbean, • Topics: c256  sailing • (3) 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 Stacey on December 09, 2014


#2. Posted by Andrew Bunn on December 10, 2014

Well done Captain and crew!  What a fabulous adventure.  You have many avid followers here in Hawaii, checking on each day’s events.  Can’t wait for the next post!

p.s. Chris, Mom says its time for a hair cut!  wink

#3. Posted by Steve Hadik on December 11, 2014

Capt. Sean

It has been an honor and a pleasure to have our daughter Becca make this passage safely and under your command. Thank you and your crew for all you’ve done.

Steve Hadik



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