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
April 02, 2020
Shipboard Social Distancing
Alongside Starboard Side to, Queens Wharf, Wellington, New Zealand - When I arrived to the Robert C. Seamans the evening of Saturday March 21st, it was under very different circumstances than a “normal” contract. Some things were very much the same; I was still excited to see my shipmates who I hadn’t seen I left the ship in Auckland six weeks prior. I was still looking forward to arriving “home” (I have spent more days living on the Seamans this past year than anywhere else) and unpacking and settling in for good. But when I finally set my bags on deck, it was with an uncharacteristic and overwhelming sense of relief. I took a few deep breaths to calm the nerves in my belly. We made it.
My friend Tristan, a mate at SEA, and I had just spent two weeks living on a farm in Golden Bay, the north end of the South Island of New Zealand. We spent our last week watching and reading from afar as COVID-19 cases and regulations rapidly escalated in the US. We were nervously anticipating a similar fate in New Zealand. Every day we were grateful to be healthy and working on a beautiful vegetable farm, and on Friday March 20th, when New Zealand prudently banned all international travel, we felt especially grateful that we were already in the country. The next morning we began our journey to join the ship in a different place and three days earlier than originally planned. On the ferry from Picton to Wellington, we joined other travelers and Kiwis whose ride across the Cook Straight was part of “Essential Travel” to return home .
Last Wednesday, March 25th, New Zealand closed all non-essential businesses and asked everyone to self-isolate. You can read the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern’s statement here.
She emphasized wanting to make the most of New Zealand’s opportunity to act early and “stop the chain” of infections in the hopes of avoiding the same fate as countries around the world with overcrowded hospitals and exponentially increasing COVID-19 cases and deaths. She emphasized that the future health of New Zealand is in the hands of everyone living here, concluding with the optimistic request to “be calm, be kind, stay at home. We can break the chain.”
As professional mariners and crew who have the privilege to work in New Zealand, we have the responsibility to respond accordingly. As a company and crew, we had planned on self-isolating for two weeks starting the 25th, regardless of government mandates. We want to make sure we are all healthy before departing New Zealand to sail to Hawaii, a trip of over 5,000 nautical miles. SEA has determined that if able, taking the ship to Hawaii will not only have the benefit of returning the ship and crew to the USA, but it will also set the ship up for success once academic programs can resume as normal.
This past week has been busy getting ready for this unprecedented transit. We were lucky and grateful to be able to fill the ship with fuel and food provisions Monday and Tuesday, before New Zealand closed down on Wednesday. We have also been working on routine maintenance in the deck, lab, and engineering spaces. There is always so much work to do, so it has been excellent to have time for important but not crucial projects--like repairing deck boxes and updating documentation--that usually get pushed to the bottom of the list.
Yesterday we had the opportunity to do some extra crew training and spend the day learning from and teaching each other. I learned how to switch power from one generator to the other, how the RADAR and electronic chart plotter in the doghouse get the navigation information they need, how to pump our bilge spaces, and tips for being an effective leader and captain. I also got to practice driving the rescue boat and troubleshooting our outboard engines. Other lessons included: how to operate our RADAR, how to seize and splice, and how to use the ship’s sewing machine. I love working here because there is always more to learn and it was a treat to have the time and space to capitalize on the each other’s diverse knowledge and skillsets. It was also great to focus a full day on growing as effective teachers and communicators.
There are 17 of us total – some who were already on board for the last trip, and some of us who were traveling in New Zealand before travel restrictions came into place. Together we make an experienced crew of 1 Captain, 3 mates, a cook, 2 engineers, and 10 watchstanders, comprised of people who have sailed as students, mates, engineers, cooks, and assistant scientists (like myself).
The ever-changing plan is to depart Wellington sometime next week (weather dependent). Working with students underway is my absolute favorite part of my job and a highlight of SEA’s program, so I am bummed that I will not get to sail with the students and crew of S291. That said, I am so grateful to still have the opportunity to be here right now: in a home that I love, with practical work to do, and a way to help out the organization I work for and care about.
Even though we won’t be in program, we plan on sending updates via the blog twice a week.
Kia Ora (good health!) Kia Kaha (stay strong!) and please follow along!
- Anna Wietelmann, Assistant Scientist, S290T Watchstander
Editor's Note: In response to the coronavirus pandemic, all SEA Semester students departed our ships on or before March 18, with modifications made to the cruise tracks to ensure swift travel home. A small, dedicated professional crew aboard each vessel is working in a closed community to return our ships to the US waters. The crew aboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans is complying with New Zealand's 14 day self-isolation period to establish & maintain crew health before getting underway on an open ocean passage.