SEA Currents: Corwith Cramer
December 14, 2020
Dawn Watch Brain
26° 22.1’ N x 084° 11.0’ W
Weather / Wind / Sail Plan
Wind SWxS, Force 2, Sailing under the mains’l, main stays’l, fore stays’l, and jib
Description of location
100nm SW of St. Petersburg, Florida
Marine Mammals Observed last 24hrs
Dolphins swimming in bioluminescence alongside the boat!
It’s one of the dark days. That is to say, today B watch is nocturnal, because this morning we were on dawn watch from 0100 to 0700, and tonight we have night watch from 1900 to 0100. Time on the clock is useful for turnover and mealtimes, but I generally find myself keeping track of time in terms of watches instead of days, since we stand watch four times over three days.
Most of my sleep in the last 24 hours has been during the day, as is the case during this part of the watch rotation cycle. Sometimes it feels like every moment I’m not on watch I am sleeping or thinking about sleeping, and other times it feels like I never sleep because there are always compelling things to experience on the boat, like sunrises, stars, someone playing an instrument, or friends on other watches to hug.
Boat life requires a lot of intentionality and awareness in a way that land life often overlooks. Every day necessitates a balance of watch, sleep, absent-minded staring, classwork, and ocean appreciation, among other things. While a regimented planner and sticky notes often structure my life at college or at home, here, we must be more in tune with ourselves and what is going on around us to figure out what to do. Early on, we were told to remember the saying “ship, shipmate, self” as we maneuver through ship life. Since we’ve been on board for almost three weeks, we’ve become more and more aware of how the ship works and what needs our attention, how to nurture community in this small and wonderful space, and how our bodies and minds work in this environment.
Last night, after a long day, I decided I was sleepy enough to climb into my bunk shortly after dinner and fell asleep quickly to the gentle rock of the boat and the waves breaking against its side, right next to my head. I was woken up at 0030 to a weather report of “chilly and clammy,” since the humidity has set in and the wind has risen again. After a slice of pumpkin bread, I climbed the ladder to deck. The moment I walk onto the deck for dawn watch, announcing “Sarah’s on deck,” I always forget how hard it was to wake up a few minutes earlier. As my eyes adjust to the faint glow of stars and of red lights and I feel the wind blowing across my cheeks and through my hair, I am immediately awake and alert. The quiet of the dark is pervasive, seeping into my mind and almost forcing me to open my eyes wider to take in everything around me. (The Geminids Meteor Shower is in its full glory right now, and there is a new moon. While standing on deck for five minutes, I saw at least 10 brilliant shooting stars.) While the rest of the boat sleeps during our watch, we carefully tune into the ship and the world around us, tending Mamma C as she carries us all through the ocean, watching the wind, clouds, seas, and other ships, and processing the data we’ve recently collected about our surroundings. By the time watch is done, the sun has risen, and we finally roll into sleep.
For this dawn watch, I was in lab with Nell and Aleeya, and we were processing a Neuston Tow from earlier in the night. (A neuston net collects organisms in the surface water.) Because there is a new moon right now, a lot of organisms that usually live deeper in the ocean come up to the top to feed at night because without the light of the moon, there is a lower risk of them getting eaten. Among other things, we found eel larvae, paper-thin lobster larvae, two stages of crab larvae, and a plethora of copepods, some laying electric-blue eggs. I’ve become far more excited about marine zooplankton than I ever expected I would. Around 0300, we started learning about chaetognaths, or arrow worms, to present to everyone else during class the following day as part of our Dawn Watch Question, given to us by our Chief Scientist, Heather. Everything feels simultaneously ridiculous and important at that time of day. It takes three times as long to craft a whiteboard presentation than it usually would, and I usually laugh hysterically at least four times during the process. This is part of what we call “Dawn Watch Brain.”
On dawn watches when I am not assigned to be in lab, I spend some time standing lookout on the bow, which someone does whenever it is dark out. From there, we can see what feels like the whole world ahead of us, the ocean, and what feels like our little world behind us, the ship. Olivia, one of our Assistant Scientists, reminded us toward the beginning of our cruise to “be where your feet are.” Standing lookout roots me in place on this ship in the ocean and allows my mind to marvel at and explore the things around me (while staying actively aware of what I’m seeing, of course). This is the other part of Dawn Watch Brain.
Several times during a watch, let alone an entire day, I find myself with my eyes stuck wide open in amazement at sights like mats of bioluminescence around the ship like underwater fireworks, or a sunrise glowing through multicolored puffy clouds. (I love clouds now, too.) Tonight, during night watch, there was a pod of dolphins playing in the bioluminescence next to the ship for hours. The leave light-up trails like glowing, underwater contrails, which were even more spectacular on a pitch black, moonless, and cloudy night. I would love to be a dolphin, I think, and I am fully in awe of the ocean now.
Even amid occasional unprompted crying, a squall, or the deliriousness of steadily growing sleep deprivation, I am constantly reminded of how lucky we are to be here. Sometimes, I don’t even believe it. As Caroline is saying next to me right now, “Aw, I’m gonna miss this boat.” We’ve already grown so much as a community and as individuals, developing and sharing love for each other, this boat, and the ocean. Words can’t fully describe this whole experience or my dawn watch brain (plus, its late after a long day), but I can say that this is easily the best thing I’ve ever done.
Also, I haven’t seen pirates yet.
- Sarah Hutchinson, B Watch, Dartmouth College
P.S. Happy Birthday Grandma! I love and miss you and hope you had a wonderful day. I’m already missing our Christmas visit.
P.P.S. I love you Mom. Thanks for all the encouragement to do this. I love it more than I ever expected.
P.P.P.S. I am having so so much fun and I promise that even when I’m tired or spontaneously crying, I am happy and thriving. I do really miss hugging all my people, though, so I’m sending you all lots of love and hugs. I hope you can feel them.
Editor's Note: In response to the coronavirus pandemic, all SEA Semester students, faculty, and crew aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer boarded the ship after strictly isolating on shore, and after repeated negative tests for COVID-19. To ensure the health and safety of those onboard, the ship will not conduct any port stops and will remain in coastal waters so that any unlikely medical situations may be resolved quickly.