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SEA Currents: SSV Robert C. Seamans
December 08, 2018
2 am Talks at 2300
Alongside in Napier
Light and variable winds, temperature rising to about 20 degrees C, sun shining down
So many times I think that I have reached the peak of an experience and then an opportunity arises that surpasses all expectations. Today, after an early wake up for another delicious breakfast (shout out to Sabrina, our fabulous steward), we headed into Napier once more, and after some brief but much appreciated free time in the morning to grab coffee and pastries and otherwise explore, we were bused to visit the gannet colony out at Cape Kidnappers. We took a tractor ride out to the colony (Pop Pop, it looked just like yours), stopping along the way to learn snippets of the fascinating geology of the cliffs we were cruising by, our mouths agape at this absolutely amazing and unexpected field trip. We spent the day exploring cliffs, climbing up to view hundreds of amazing seabirds, and enjoying each other's company and the beauty of the surrounding land- and seascape. As my watch was off for the evening, the night was spent exploring various shops as well as the amazing art deco of Napier - many of which is based around ocean conservation - viewing over 20 murals over the course of several hours, with a fantastic meal sandwiched in the middle followed by appetizers and a game of cards sitting in the cool evening air.
I look back on this day amazed at the shear amount of activities we were able to do and so very grateful for the opportunities that have been placed in my wake through this program. I began this journey at sea with a blog post that pondered my ability to be present in the midst of experiences that stretch the scope of anything I could have imagined. I ended that first post with this quote: "Funny to ground myself, I had to go to sea." Quite a nice and polished statement to finish off my reflection on why I chose to try out my sea legs.
Well now I have been to sea. I have spent 15 days out of touch of land, aboard a vessel that never stopped moving, amidst a sea that never quite relented. I have spent sleepless nights being tossed in my bunk, and sleepless nights gazing at a universe of stars. I have cleaned every head (toilet) on this boat, and furled the jib at 0100 in the morning. I have spent hours under the microscope scanning for and identifying hundreds of phytoplankton, and I have spent hours laughing and bonding with shipmates who have turned into family. And after all of that, I think I need to amend my original statement: to survive going to sea, I actually had to ground myself.
The night before we got into Napier, I had forgotten my headlamp on the quarter deck and attempted to briefly scuttle up the ladder to grab it before tucking in for an early night. Little did I know I was about to have one of the most inspiring conversations I can yet recall, with Emily, the assistant scientist of A watch. And so, at 2300 when we both should probably have well been asleep before that 0600 wakeup for breakfast, we had the following conversation:
Ship life forces you to be in tune with your surroundings: to feel the wind, roll with the swell, be in the rain, look up at the stars. It's a very intimate form of travel. It reminds me of the times I've been backpacking: everything you need is with you, in your bunk or on your back. There is nothing passive. No time to tune out. No interlude. And the biggest thing I have learned is that you cannot live the voyage just for the arrival, just for that far away port; that's not what it's about. In fact, in many ways, our sailing is not really about the destination at all. I couldn't spend two weeks waiting for Napier to come, no matter how many times my mind attempted to rationalize a countdown. And maybe that was part of what was weighing on my heart during our open sea passage. You miss so much if you are sailing just to get to port. You miss laughing while hanging from the sheet in your vain attempts to sweat in the stay'sls. You miss sitting on the doghouse and talking about life with your shipmates to a beautiful sunset, sometimes even with a banjo playing in the background. And did I mention furling the jib at 0100 out on the bowsprit in the crashing waves with the comforting presence of Orion just above the mainm'st? You miss these little pleasures when all you think about is reaching your destination. As Nate our engineer said an old apache once said, "you're only lost when you have a place to be and a time to be there."
So much of my life is spent in interlude, going through motions. Yet there is so much beauty in the everyday. As Emily said to me, there is even beauty in going to the grocery store. It is so interesting to reflect on humanity's interaction with and perception of transportation - its purpose - in the context of life on a tall ship. I think if I had to really boil down my time here, what I've learned and what I've experienced, at the moment three rambling thoughts come to mind. Number one: life is not about being passive. Strive to live active, in the present tense. You have to accept certain things like the constant rolling as fun or else you will go crazy. Number two: do not fall into normalcy. Sometimes things happen that jolt you back to reality; like coming out of the doghouse to that unfathomable amount of stars, as if a child has thrown paint upon a dark canvas. Night on the ship is my favorite time. Maybe it is the calm. Maybe it is that so relatively little of our time on earth is lived at night. Especially from 0100 to 0700. There's something particularly special about being active a that time. Number three: this trip has been such an interesting juxtaposition of isolation and close community. You feel so isolated - not alone, per say, an important distinction - at the same time you are constantly working and living as part of a collective. Ship life teaches you all that goes into being a human - all the ins and outs - because it all happens within 134 feet. Nothing is hidden, and there is no hiding.
Emily and I had this conversation, really digging into our experiences aboard, all while looking at what seemed like two completely different worlds: the beautiful stars dappling the universe, and the bioluminescent plankton floating in the wake of the ship. Emily said the neuston net reminded her of "catching dreams." A whole universe under the sea. "Funny to ground myself, I had to go to sea." I'll admit, when I first wrote this statement, which earned a proper shout out on the SEA Semester instagram page (my actual dream come true), my primary motivation was that it tied a neat bow on my post, an inspiring sound bite to take from a student who had yet to spend a day at the helm in a squall, a dawn watch surfing on "non-slip" mats in the galley, a night scrubbing mats to the sound of a fiddle. And now, I can really say to myself:
I am NOT in Florida. I am in the South Pacific. I have embarked on a voyage to the Kermadec Islands and back. That screen has not shattered, although it is cracked. There are still countless times I fall into the motions of this "life at sea," pretending life at a 10 degree slant is normal. And yet I am constantly aware that now, my time aboard is counting down. And I want to absorb every second of this before it is over. Because I know that this crazy experience will forever change who I am, even if I am not quite sure who that is yet. And on that note, let's get back out to sea.
- Caitlin DiCara, A watch, Middlebury College
P.S. To my Mom and Dad, I love you more than words will ever be able to portray, and I wish you nothing but joy this holiday season. Nicholas, I am so proud of you, and love that you are pursuing what makes you happy and fulfilled. Thinking of you all everyday, and sending my love from across the world. To my friends at home and at Middlebury, a happy finals season, you've got this! I love you all so dearly. Remember to breathe and absorb this amazing time in our lives.