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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

November 06, 2015

What do you do on lookout?

Erin Houlihan, C Watch, Bowdoin College


A taste of lookout views. Imagine staring out onto these New Zealand coastlines while changing the words of Do, Rae, Mi to sailing terms and you've experienced lookout.

Ship's Log

Alongside At Opua in the Bay of Islands

Course and Speed
Preparing for our last 36 hours underway

Clear skies, Force 2 Winds light and variable, calm seas

Souls on Board

Standing on the monkey deck, tethered around the forestay, I looked out towards the Suva Harbor and looked behind me at the grand Robert C. Seamans and the open ocean. Clusters of shining yellow lights dotted the horizon. A smaller cluster of lights moved across the ocean-a cruise ship heading into Suva. It was a quiet night; I could hear nothing except the waves hitting the ship's hull until suddenly I heard something that sounded like a fountain. My head swiveled and my eyes peeled-I saw something gray swimming right beneath the surface. Then suddenly I saw green. A dolphin surfaced, bringing a surge of bioluminescence with it. Abruptly, I heard another-a second dolphin blew water out of its spout and they chased each other throughout the night. This was my favorite experience standing bow lookout, and something I will never forget. As we prepare for our last 24 hours underway, I've realized that standing lookout has become an influential part of my six weeks at sea. From my first lookout where I constantly scanned all 360 degrees of the horizon, to the lookouts where the novelty wore off so I relied on a workout regimen of 20 squats every 10 minutes to stay alert, to my last lookout where I was able to identify ten navigational stars from Bellatrix to Achernar.

Standing lookout is part of deck's watch responsibilities. During the day, the person at the helm often doubles as lookout, but when close to land, or at night, one deck crew member stands bow lookout. As lookout you are the eyes and ears of the ship, in charge of looking out for anything and everything-do you hear something fall into the water? Do you see any breaking waves? Are there any reefs? Do you see any flares? Do you see changes in weather? A squall? Do you see lights? Any land? Any traffic? Or perhaps, do you see a whale? As lookout, you report anything you might see that is out of the ordinary. 

Now that you've heard what my lookout experience is like, I'll give you a little taste of what my shipmates do on lookout based on a poll I took. Besides maintaining the listed lookout responsibilitiesof being the eyes and ears of the ship, many of us have taken to certain pastimes in order to stay engaged and awake throughout the hour. Apparently, we have a lot of professional singers in the group. Some sing sea shanties while others sing Les Mis. Some switch lyrics every 5 seconds because they've realized that they only know one Taylor Swift song (this one is me). The beauty of lookout is that no one can hear you sing, except maybe the fish that cringe at tone-deaf voices. That is, until the boat check comes around at 20 'til, in which case it is best to lower your volume if like me, you are musically challenged. We also have a people who mediate (**eyes open, obviously), contemplate life, loot, love and the pursuit of happiness. People thank the universe for all that it provides. The most common exercise routines include squats, and heel raises that are particularly effective off the end of the deck. Rumor has it that planking is also a desirable workout activity, although I am not as convinced. A few other pastimes including freaking out from boredom, pretending to be on a roller coaster, celebrity impersonations, wondering how Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are doing, brooding upon the struggles of being a whaler, and making unrealistic future goals. Despite these differences, I think that all of us do a little bit of trying to create the comfiest seat possible without actually sitting, thinking about when we will be relieved, jumping around to stay warm and soaking in the sunsets, sunrises and stars. However, we also all sometimes soak in spray and rain on stormy nights.

Although lookout can occasionally be pretty tough in squalls at 0400 when I am desperately trying to stay awake and warm, lookout is one of my favorite parts of SEA Semester. I've come to appreciate the difficulty-I came here to push myself outside of my comfort zone. As time wears on, I began to simply appreciate my surroundings. I'm at peace with the loneliness and occasional boredom. I've learned to love the silence. This silence has taught me a lot. As this trip comes to an end, I've realized that I'm going to miss the hour of peace, joy and self-reflection that lookout provides me. No one says it better than the Oriah Mountain Dreamer Indian Elder in the poem inside the forward head, which reads:

"I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself,
And if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments."

- Erin

PS. To any friends and family still following the blog, my 6 week internet boycott is almost over-talk to you soon!

**Credit goes to my shipmates for many of their lookout pastimes quoted above.

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