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SEA Currents Blog

SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans

July 17, 2018

0 degrees North, 0 degrees South. The Equator!

Andrew Chin, A-Watch, University of Washington


Above: Hydrocast standing by for an equatorial deployment. The bottles around the carousel will close and capture water at different depths, allowing direct analysis of the water column. Photo by Nate Johnson. Below: Shellback cake! Photo by Andrew Chin

1°0.00’S, 169°35.00’W

Current Heading and Speed
165°, 5.4 knots

Sail Plan
Motorsailing under the four lowers - jib, fore stays’l, main stays’l, and deep reefed main

Force 4 SE winds under persistent cumulus and cirrus cloud cover

Souls on board

The ship's company gathered on the quarterdeck today a little before 0700, with C-Watch bleary-eyed but excited from their dawn watch. Captain Rick gave the order to throttle back on the main engine, slowing to a steady 2.7 knots under sail power. With our four lowers and Brian at the helm, we watched the GPS tick down, down, down to 0°00.00'N, hold for a moment, switch to 0°00.00'S, then begin tick back up in latitude. We cheered! My name is Andrew Chin, and together with my shipmates, we sailed 1546 nautical miles to reach the Equator, a place of unique importance for both oceanography and mariners.

The Equator is a fascinating place in the global ocean, as it where the southern and northern hemispheres meet. The southern hemisphere is a place quite unlike the northern. The northern hemisphere has an abundance of land, the southern mostly vast ocean; the seasons are flipped; even the ocean moves differently. The Northern and Southern Equatorial Currents flow in opposite directions from each other (east and west, respectively), allowing deep, nutrient-rich water to rise to the surface. This creates an area of high primary productivity, supporting an abundance of life. In the days leading up to the crossing, we observed this richness firsthand: sighting flocks of seabirds feeding on forage fishes, peering into diverse 100-counts of zooplankton, and numerous hookups of tuna on our handlines (though sadly landing none of them). In order to directly examine this amazing
productivity first-hand, we maneuvered back into the position over the Equator and deployed our sampling equipment. As I watched the hydrocast descend to collect water samples at different depths, it was humbling to know we were taking a hard look at such an important, but under-studied part of the ocean.

Crossing the Equator has tremendous significance for mariners as well. Charts are changed over, the stars to steer by and pinpoint latitude change, and the plain fact remains that we are a long way from home. Therefore, crossing the Equator is a milestone; those sailors who have crossed the line are known as "shellbacks." Those who have not crossed the Equator are deemed "pollywogs"; these pollywogs must "pay tribute" to Neptune and his court and pass his trials to prove their worth. As all of the students (and a few of the crew) were pollywogs, we wrote poems, sang, performed, and cut our hair, to celebrate the crossing. In the end, we proved ourselves to Neptune and tucked into a delicious shellback cake prepared by our steward, Sabrina. Don't worry parents and loved ones: haircuts were optional, and all are very stylish.

Tonight, as I am writing this entry, the Robert C. Seamans marks another momentous occasion: we cross into the borders of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, our long-awaited destination. Now, we begin our work in earnest, hoping to draw valuable data and first-hand experiences from one of the wildest and untouched places on Earth. The crew is excited to see land and beautiful coral reefs, but there is some apprehension. In the aftermath of the short-term climate shift known as El Niño, when sea temperatures rise dramatically, coral reefs can be greatly degraded and the life-giving upwelling nutrients can be cut off. Previous voyages have seen dramatic changes in PIPA in the wake of El Niño, (which occur on an irregular basis, from decadal to multi-year time scales), and the 2015-2017 event may have some lingering effects. However, PIPA has bounced back from previous El Niño events, reflecting a healthy, resilient ecosystem. Whatever we see, we will be among special company; few humans have the opportunity to give first-hand accounts to the beauty and changes in this slice of the tropical Pacific. Stay excited, and we'll see you on the other side!

- Andrew Chin, A-Watch, University of Washington

Shoutouts to the family! Mom, Dad, Allison, Andrea, Alex, I'm having the best time of my life right now and I couldn't have done it without your love and support. Thank you for letting this fishboy sail off into another amazing adventure. Happy birthday Allison, from fellow black sheep to another...hope you don't feel too old yet. For my Adventuress shipmates, especially Arthur, Sam, Laura, Lena, and Zeal: thank you so much for
encouraging me to do this program! It's more than I could have ever dreamed of. For friends back home, and further abroad: thank you for reading, and I'll see y'all soon!!

Photo caption 1: 

Categories: Robert C. Seamans,Protecting the Phoenix Islands, • Topics: s281  pipa  study abroad  polynesia. • (4) Comments
Previous entry: My home away from home    Next entry: Into the Protected Area


#1. Posted by Mabel CHIN on July 20, 2018

AHOY to Andrew Chin and all his fellow Shellbacks on board the good ship Robert C. Seamans!

We are so happy and excited to follow your sea adventures of S-281 with all the delightful and informative blog postings since the start of your voyage. 

We especially enjoy this update by Andrew about your crossing of the Equator!  So amazing!  (Andrew: your sister really appreciate your birthday greeting to her sent from the Equator!)

Wishing you all great success in your research and conservation work at PIPA.

God Bless all!

Tom & Mabel

#2. Posted by Tom & Mabel Chin on July 23, 2018

Dear Andrew

We are so happy and proud of you!  A shellback at 21!  Living the dream!  Study hard, work hard, and strive on! 

Mommy & Dad

#3. Posted by Amy kwan on July 25, 2018

sb study work, play hardER

love, EE

#4. Posted by Wai Wai on July 26, 2018

What a great entry! Hopefully next time you cross, you’ll get some of those tuna! You’ll have to take this pollywog with you someday.

- your big sis



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