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SEA Currents: SSV Robert C. Seamans

March 07, 2020

Those who keep us afloat: The professional crew of the RCS

Grace Leuchtenberger, Carleton College


Above: Me at the helm; Below: Henry, the chief engineer, observing the pyrosome; Kate, the third mate, checking out a pyrosome.

Ship's Log

Off the East Cape of New Zealand

Souls on board

Ocean life has treated us to a new lifestyle, new friendships, and most importantly, new guides in this strange world. The professional crew of the Robert C. Seamans is the force that has taught us everything from how to eat on a gimbaled table, to proper wake-up etiquette, to sail trimming and setting. They each have distinctive personalities that balance each other, and the students, out. They are also always there to make sure we're not pulling on the main stays'l halyard when we should be on the mains'l downhaul, tying a bowline instead of a midshipman's hitch, and other greenhand blunders of the like. Their presence is essential, like our new parents guiding us sailing toddlers into a blue, new world.

Starting with the "other" crew who aren't faculty, there's Sonia and Henry, our assistant and chief engineers, respectively. Sonia, a former SEA student from Macalester, is a sweet and calm presence on deck, always making sure to watch the morning sunrise with their cup of tea. Never far from Sonia, and often with a knife, sandpaper, and an object of whittling in hand, is Henry, the picture of a sailor standing at 6'6" (dwarfing me, the tallest student, at 6'1"), with a Paul Bunyan-esque beard and flannel. He can't really fit in the cramped engine room, but is as calm as ever, and has earned his sea legs as a former engineer at that Coast Guard.

There's also Sabrina, our beloved and hardworking steward, who is up at 4:30 and doesn't get to truly rest until 9:30 at night. A bread-making wizard, and quick to offer a friendly roast/tease, she effortlessly maneuvers her way around the hot and cramped galley, day in and day out, and serves up meals with cool pragmatism and a side of sarcasm. She is a force that keeps everything turning, and you would be wise to follow her rules when you're on her turf.

Then there's our mates, who handle above deck life with ease, and climb the rig as though they've lived there their whole lives. Kate, our third mate, has a wicked sense of humor. She's short but powerful, able to jump between offering a joke and keeping us in line seamlessly. Spring, our second mate, fresh from Maine Maritime Academy, carries herself with the calm mojo of an experienced sailor and adult that matches the attitude of someone far older than her young age of 22, making all the students feel like we need to get our lives together. Rocky, our first mate, bearded and tanned from 19 years at sea, is incredibly understanding of us new sailors, making sure to guide us through making an eye-splice (a way to make a "permanent" knot in some rope) or re-rigging the mains'l halyard to the storm trys'l halyard with a gentle hand. He makes sure that we find our own answers to questions without letting us stray too far off the path, allowing us to learn more quickly.

Our scientists offer some of the most colorful personalities on board. Ella, our third assistant scientist, has recently graduated from University of New Hampshire with a degree in oceanography, and has already worked on serious research vessels. She's kind and chill, and is always ready to offer a laugh for your lame joke. Sophie, more often known as "Supi," our second assistant scientist, is gregarious and high-spirited, always affirming you with a "sweet as" and good-naturedly yelling at the computers on board (as our resident IT person, despite her lack of formal training). Steve, first assistant scientist, Supi's partner in crime, is goofy yet balanced, unfazed by all and a repository of good stories, like the time he worked and traveled with a Renaissance fair.

Now, for the head honchos who taught us on shore and run the show on board, we have our captain Elliot, our chief scientist Jan, and our Maritime History and Culture professor, Rich. Elliot is calm and quiet, carrying a cloak of experience and leadership with great dignity, but can roast the daylights out of you if you're not careful. Jan is always in high spirits, even when he rolls out of bed after breakfast to get his first cup of coffee, barefoot and bleary-eyed. Whenever we have trouble identifying something under the microscope in lab, he can almost immediately pick out what it is, his vast experience helping us all along. Then there's Rich, aka "ship dad," who is beloved by all and usually has a fun fact about a seabird or whale we just saw that he either tells us about or posts an infographic about it in the main salon the next morning.

All of these staff members are incredibly special people who have very difficult jobs. Even though I've had my fair share of difficult dawn watches as a student, our staff members are always up before we are and working hard to keep us safe, happy, and healthy. Every single person is valuable to the operation here, and they never seem tired of the sea, even when we're stuck in a gale and being tossed around like a toy boat. They make a huge part of our experience here. I hope I don't lose touch with them.

- Grace Leuchtenberger

Categories: Robert C. Seamans,The Global Ocean: New Zealand, • Topics: s290  study abroad  life at sea • (3) Comments
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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 tracy burlock on March 09, 2020

Wonderful writing, Grace, and it’s such a treat to “meet” your crew.  Enjoy this amazing physical, spiritual, and intellectual journey.  And happy 21st birthday!

#2. Posted by Anne Burlock Lutes on March 10, 2020

What an adventure on a Tall Ship!
I enjoyed reading your very interesting log of your experience on board Grace!
Interesting note my husband Fred’s cousin a
Prof at Acadia University in Nova Scotia
taught Economics to students taking an University Term through Class Room Afloat programme on a Tall Ship.

#3. Posted by Elaine Lipworth Beech on March 12, 2020

I LOVE reading about your talented crew — it sounds like they have become friends. You write so vividly, I feel like I am there with you all, Grace!



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