SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
March 03, 2020
Culture Shock on a Boat
Eastbound from Aotea Great Barrier Island, 45nm off the Mercury Islands.
As most students, my shipmates, aboard this research vessel would tell you, stepping foot onto the Robert C. Seamans was like walking into a whole new world. Stealing glances at the ship as we loaded our luggage onto it was intimidatin: the ropes (now dubbed "lines") seemed tangled together and unmanageable; the crew members clamored their way onto the net at the bow of the boat (the bowsprit) like they didn't have a fear in the world; Spring, one staff member, stood with bare feet on one of the yards about 20 feet above the boat, bending over upside-down to check the rigging. Everything began to feel a little overwhelming, and even still sometimes can be, as we sailed (haha, get it?) into learning about our new, floating home.
The first week, "learning the ropes", was relatively challenging. The sailing/boating line of work holds its own complex language that ties back to long-standing traditions. For example, we will never call the boat's stainless-steel "kitchen" just that-it should be referred to as the "galley," as it functions differently from your everyday, stationary kitchen.
The intertwined ropes, as mentioned previously, are also named differently: lines. Each line, too, even the smallest of them, holds its own individual name. Most are pretty long and difficult to remember, but speak to the function of it. Some of the thinnest, tiniest lines are the sail "jiggers," and each is given is own title to fit the various sails.
When I was 18, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to China for a month to work. I'd never been outside of North America, or even been on a plane, prior to this! So, understandably, landing in China my first day and attempting to make my way around the week following were tough tasks; I was in a state of culture shock. The food was different, the landscape was different, even the way daily life worked was different. And, much like on our own tall ship, the language took quite some time to get used to. This part of my experience in China is what has, so far, stood out to me as most similar to our own current voyage.
In China, it was imperative for me to learn certain words, like the word teacher (as I was one) to make my way around and succeed in what I was trying to accomplish there. On the Robert C. Seamans, we have had to learn to be comfortable asking questions and pick up, very quickly, on specific words and phrases. "Sheet in the mains'l sheet" means to pull the mainsheet more, to tighten it, not to release tension to lead the sail into the ship to tie down! Unlike my time in China, however, misunderstanding this phrase could prove very bad, and the mistake would be extremely hard to correct.
Traveling to the other side of the world meant a drastic time difference. China has a 12-hour time difference from my home in Connecticut, so I was very jetlagged, and later, very rarely able to contact my friends and family ate home. Although there is a huge time difference here in New Zealand, the time difference felt in my sleeping schedule has been the most drastic. On the ship, we employ 4 watches, which are six hour periods of time where certain groups man the ship. The times are morning (0700-1300), afternoon (1300-1900), evening (1900-0100), and dawn (0100-0700). There are three watch groups, so on any given day, one group may be on deck, performing boat functions, and the two others may be asleep (even if it is 1600 in the afternoon)! It has been really hard for everyone to shift their sleeping schedules around so often, but we have gotten into the swing of things. I've even come to like dawn watch--the clear, starry sky amazes me every night.
My experience aboard the ship so far has reminded me of certain experiences from my time in China, all encapsulating culture shock. The research vessel that we have lived on for almost three weeks, and will for another three, holds a host of obstacles that each student must face. At this point in our voyage, as we began our longest time at sea, 11 days, on our trek to Wellington, my shipmates and I have gotten used to the daily struggles on the boat. We all experienced some form of culture shock in the beginning of our trip, but we've gotten used to our mariner lives--and it has been well worth the struggles!
- Devin Goldsmith