SEA Currents: Corwith Cramer
June 18, 2014
C253 Web Blog - 18 June 2014
46° 56.9’ N x 028° 21.3’ W
17°C, partly cloudy (Cu), wind 16 knots from the East
I’m sitting on the port side deck-box with the mainsl flying over my head, looking out at the sun setting, listening to the melodic sloshing of the waves against the hull, basking in the balmy 17°, having trouble keeping my eyes open with the Cramer so sweetly trying to rock me to sleep. Its amazing how much the color and texture of the water can change throughout the day, the diversity of the clouds and stars.
Some moments are overwhelmingly peaceful like this. It can be absolutely surreal like standing on deck handling lines by the light of the full moon or watching the waves at night when every white cap becomes illuminated by sparkling bioluminescence like underwater firecrackers. I don’t think I‘m the only one who has taken a liking to the regular chore of standing alone in the bow as forward look-out.
But the schedule is demanding, the work can be rigorous, and the weather isn’t always so serene.
The boat requires diligent 24/hour maintenance. There must always be people on watch to steer, log the weather, chart our position, monitor radar, tend sails, conduct science deployments, clean, cook, and routinely check over the entire boat above and below decks to make sure that all is well. We rotate through three watches; two 6-hour watches during the day, and three 4-hour watches during the night. We wake up the next watch 20 minutes before they need to report on deck, wearing their safety harness and ready to work. I can’t help but be reminded of the extent of repeated hassling that I required in order to get out of bed on time in high school. Now I have no choice. The boat depends on all of us. When you are at the end of your watch, ready to be relieved, it is hard to have sympathy if you have to wait because someone on the next watch fell back to sleep! We are all learning to move quickly from asleep to alert and, similarly, to be able to fall asleep quickly during any little snippet of time between classes, watches, and meals. I have never napped so well or so thoroughly. I have been having dreams of sleeping!
Though right now the waves are of that perfect cradle-rocking temperament, with swells about three feet, we have experienced as high as fifteen on this trip. Sometimes it feels like walking around in a fun-house. You‘re strolling along on the deck, one minute youre feet are walking uphill and the next youre moving downhill. Standing in the bow can sometimes feel less like a fun-house and more like a roller coaster. When the boat is pitching and heaving to that degree, every simple little task becomes an ordeal. Pouring yourself a cup of tea, not falling out of your bunk while you sleep, using the head, getting dressed everything becomes a complicated strategic operation at the least and quite possibly a full-bodied acrobatic maneuver.
The experienced crew seems to make this into an art, timing their movements with the swells standing or sitting or reaching at the exact moment that the boat propels them in the direction they want to go. But most of us have to bend our knees in some kind of horse-stance just to stay upright and take constant advantage of the conveniently ubiquitous hand-holds throughout the vessel.
While life on the boat means constant motion, everything on the vessel compensates by being exceptionally steadfast. It is a house that was built with the expectation that it will sometimes be lived in sideways. You can safely climb on almost anything. Things that in a typical house you would avoid bumping up against for fear of breaking like a picture on the wall are mounted in place and perfectly practical handholds. There are chin-up bars on the overhead to help us climb into our bunks. In fact if something is not acceptable to stand on, it is usually labeled as such.
All this climbing inevitably results in bumps and bruises that are affectionately called boat bites. In case my parents happen to see it in any pictures posted, I earned myself a pretty fantastic boat bite during our first few days at sea. While on watch at night, I fell on deck and face-planted into a metal cleat, resulting in a shiny black eye that is just now finally faded. (No, Dad, I didn’t get to wear an eye patch!)
It is incredible to see first-hand the level and diversity of skills that go in to maintaining this self-sufficient little world of life on the boat. The crew has this understanding of the wind, sails, physics, navigation, math, engineering, meteorology, that can seem so daunting as to almost be mystical. But what I find most amazing is their ability and willingness to delineate every subtle nuance of these mysteries for our benefit. Every member of the crew is working two full time jobs keeping the Cramer running and multi-tasking as a teacher, on duty nearly 24/7 to answer our every question. In addition to the nautical sciences, I have been enthralled by lessons in the engine room. (Which reminds me, Dad, could you start my car up every now and then, maybe let Jordan drive it down the road?) Tomorrow I get to have my day in the galley How exactly do you cook for 35 hungry sailors, all on different sleep schedules, on a hot stove in a moving boat? (It seems impossible, but the food has been phenomenal and plentiful!) We take regular shifts in the lab and while most of the science is well over my head, it delights me endlessly to pull up nets full of strange and bizarre creatures from the ocean depths, to touch them and look at them under the microscope. Some are scaly and bug-like (including a phronemid amphipod, the creature that was the inspiration for the monsters in the movie Alien), many are gelatinous and gooey, some look like nothing at all until you get them under the microscope, and a surprising amount of them are phosphorescent. We‘ve caught a little squid, jelly fish, and today a Portuguese Man of War (a large brightly colored stinging jelly fish.)
On a completely unrelated note, my parents will be amused to know that, while the boat is not named after him, there is a large framed photograph of Seinfelds Cramer on board.
Now I must go crawl up into my cozy little bunk and sleep. 0400 wake up tomorrow! Love to my family. I miss the peepers and campfires. I’ll be in touch as soon as I reach land.