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SEA Currents: SSV Robert C. Seamans

May 24, 2019

A Sea of Paradoxes

Audrey Bennett, Stanford

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In this microcosmal world, life is both busy and simple at the same time.

There are lines to memorize, sails to haul, mouths to feed, and projects to finish, but there is still the simplicity and peace that accompanies the realization that this is your world, at least for the moment. What we have, and who we have, is all we have. There is a phrase on the ship that has circled around: "ship, shipmates, self." Before you take care of yourself, you must look out for the ship and those around you, which in turn keeps all of us safe. Living on this floating island has given me a new perspective on the urgency of conservation: just replace "ship" for "earth." The care that goes into this ship is intentional and rigorous; every day we mop the soles [floors], clean the heads [toilets], sheet our sails properly to protect them, maintenance machines, clean dishes, and scan for danger on the horizon. These chores come from a collective understanding that without the ship, we would all be in danger very quickly. I am reminded of this feeling of dependence on the ship and my shipmates every time I climb aloft and look down at the concentration of life on deck, and the vastness of the ocean that surrounds us. The islands that we have visited seem to have a similar mindset.

However, with the earth, it is not as easy as climbing aloft to understand that this is all we have. It is more difficult to see how connected we are, that each piece of plastic we produce could end up in the stomach of an albatross, or that each Amazon package we have shipped contributes to the warming of our oceans. When Sylvia Earle came to visit our class in Monterey, she talked about the importance of the image "Earth Rising," a picture of our planet taken on an Apollo mission circling the moon. She talked about how looking down at our finite and precious planet, and the expansive galaxy that surrounds us, inspired many people to better protect it.

This trip has been full of paradoxes, and at the same time that this ship feels limited and precious, the voyage has reminded me of the immenseness of the ocean and the mysteries it holds. We hold small petri dishes full of glowing life and look up at an expansive sky twinkling with stars. I feel so close already to the thirty-nine other people aboard, despite only being together for less than two weeks. Within a day, or even a watch, I feel frustrated, overjoyed with a cool discovery, hysterical with laughter, or sad at the sight of plastic adrift so far from land. Perhaps this trip will be a process of grappling with these problems of immense (how will we save this planet?) and microscopic (can I count these plankton without getting seasick?) scale.

By being placed on a vessel in the South Pacific, thousands of nautical miles from my comfort zone, I have become acutely aware of my own shortcomings and how much more I have to learn about sailing, the ocean, and myself. However, I could not be more grateful for the endless sense of wonder and growth that this adventure has brought me so far, and the newfound connection I feel to my shipmates and the watery world that surrounds us.

P.S. For a better glimpse into our life on board, I've included a list of some of the most memorable sights, smells, sounds and feelings that I've encountered:

- The hot air of the engine room

- The sound of a guitar, ukulele, and someone singing

- The sky just before dawn

- Huge swells and thick, sweet cinnamon rolls

- Laughing and eating oranges until my stomach hurt with Thom and Alema

- Seasickness and my desperate attempts to curb it: ginger and saltines

- The drop in my stomach when the ship falls into the trough of a wave 

- The sense that every place and person has an important role 

- Looking out the port holes and seeing water

- The tug of a squid on my line

- The way that everyone seems connected by the same forces that bring us to stand in awe: a whale, a sunset, a good meal, the sight of land

- The inevitable hysteria that comes with standing watch from 0100 - 0700

- The thoughts of home and family that punctuate my day

- The sounds of waves hitting the hull as I go to sleep

- The cool breeze in my bunk from one small blessed fan

- The sound of the wind in our sails

- The cold, quick water and our shouts of joy when Daniel, Alex, Chloe, Thom and I arrived at a beautiful waterfall

- Singing sea chanties at the helm with Snark [our second mate] in the middle of the night

- The confusing feeling of waking up and wandering into the main salon for a meal, having no idea what meal it is

- Learning about tuna anatomy and physiology from Barb as she reaches into a freshly caught yellowfin to find the heart

- How difficult it is to close heavy doors in a big swell

- My sense of time, which has been defined by the 18-hour watch schedule

- The sight of several minke whales that swam alongside our ship, and the feeling that we are all at the mercy of the same winds, seas, and forces

- The simplicity of the greatest joys on the ship: a delicious meal, a good laugh, full sails, sleep, natural beauty, a shower

- Audrey Bennet, Stanford

Categories: Robert C. Seamans, • Topics: stanford@sea • (0) Comments

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