Current position of the SSV Robert C. Seamans. Click on the vessel to view position history. Use the tools, top right, to change the map style or view data layers. Dates and times use GMT (Greenwich Mean Time).
SEA Currents: SSV Robert C. Seamans
October 15, 2016
20° 24.372’ S x 175° 27.692’ W
off the coast of Hunga Tonga
Ship’s Heading & Speed
307°, 8.2 knots
Motor-sailing under the stays’ls
Calm—we miss our wind!
Today all aboard the Seamans ended their first trip to the Kingdom of Tonga as we cast off our dock lines and motored away from our wharf in Nuku’alofa at 12:25. Tonga has been good to us, and I think that all aboard left wishing we were rich in time here. Between Vava’u and Nuku’alofa, we enjoyed incredible natural sights and interactions with the Tongan people which ranged from the briefest of transactions to prolonged and repeated conversations, helping us to better understand this place we have been staying and the people for whom it is home. I started this Saturday morning with a run past the royal palace and along the waterfront with our staff scientist Jami, and was struck by how, even at 06:00 on a Saturday morning, every single Tongan that we ran past greeted us graciously and genuinely. Many of us students have commented repeatedly on how noticeably kind and polite the people that we have interacted with here are—it is one of the many intangibles that make up the character of a place and its residents.
As we prepared to pull away from the wharf this morning, we went about the various chores involved in casting off—preparing dock lines, stowing our ramp, fenders, and rescue boat, and readying sails for handling. As we went through these motions, I realized that this type of business about the ship has become familiar and natural, and that we went through our morning with much less specific instruction from the professional crew. As much as our instructors warned that this would happen, it’s still a surprise to realize how fast we’ve learned all of this, and how fast it has become second nature. Our last order of business for the morning before we left the wharf was getting cleared to go aloft in the rigging of our two masts. We were briefed on the use of special 4-point harnesses designed to arrest falls, and the system of tethers and carribeaners that we use to secure ourselves to stable points around the rigging. Each person then had the opportunity to climb our first set of ratlines to the first platform up the mast (think something similar to a crow’s nest you might picture on a pirate ship, without the side walls) and demonstrate that we knew how to safely clip in to a crewmember waiting aloft before descending again. Even though this first platform is only around a third of the total height of the mast, it still feels as though you are incredibly high off the decks of the ship, and the sudden change in perspective of our surroundings was striking.
As we arrived at the platform, the colors of the water that surrounded us were highlighted—our wharf was directly in front of a long, shallow beach, and the structures of coral that extended out from shore were much more apparent from a higher position. In that spot, my first thought was to how it would feel to be there with the ship underway, with the normal roll and pitch of the ship amplified by altitude—certainly more of a challenge, but with the added reward of an incredible view of our surroundings as we transit.
Several hours after leaving port, we came in view of Hunga Tonga—a recently-formed volcanic island so new that the nautical charts for the area have not yet been updated. We came to Hunga Tonga for a ‘fly-by’, and stayed several miles off shore as we viewed it, situated between two older and larger islands. As we began class for the afternoon and discussed the time we just spent in Tonga, the islands grew closer and were easier to see. It was almost unbelievable that something so large could have formed so suddenly, and that we were actually looking at an active volano that had pushed its way past the surface of the Pacific in the past few years.
As class wrapped up, Captain Jay had us heave-to in order to come to as much of a stop as possible, and announced that, in his words, “the pool was open”. Swimming off the ship in open water is not something that we even knew was a definite possibility, and doing so with a young island on one side of the ship and breaching whales in the distance on the other was one of the many things about this trip that just didn’t seem real in the moment. Students and crew jumped from the sides of the ship and from the more elevated headrig (the webbing that runs below our bow-sprit), and we all cooled off and marveled at how big the swells were, after appearing so gentle from the deck. We wrapped up our afternoon swim with cupcakes from our whiz of a steward Bex (thanks for the b-day sugar load!) and an incredible sunset next to the three islands as we again came underway, bound for Fiji. Even on the days when we don’t have any large activities planned or any major projects to work on, so many cool things pop up that it’s really hard to believe that we’re actually here in the South Pacific, doing what we are. So many great memorable moments are happening every minute, and I can’t wait to look back at these entries by my shipmates in a few years and remember each day that went by on Mama Seamans!
Big shoutout to my family and Kelsey—I miss you all and I can’t wait to see you over Thanksgiving!