SEA Currents: Corwith Cramer
Dawn Watch Days
28° 00.0’N x 059° 16.0’W
South Sargasso Sea; 1128 nautical miles west of Fort Pierce, Florida, and 854 nautical miles north of Barbados.
Cloudy with scattered rain along the horizon, a F3 NNE wind and four foot waves coming from the NE.
4 lowers ( single reef main, mainstays’l, forestays’l, jib)
Somehow, dawn watch always arrives sooner than you think: the 0030 wake-up call, the red lights that preserve our night vision below decks, the bowl of midrats (midnight snack) to grab from before we stumble out onto the deck. The cool early-morning air and the endless expanse of stars above us brings us more fully into wakefulness, though cups of coffee clutched in sleep-heavy hands may also help. The silhouette of our lookout, posted in the bow and outlined by bright moonlight, seems small beneath the taught sailcloth and endless lines of rigging. I found myself in the lab, sorting through sargassum and salps and siphonophores as we try to assemble some picture of the life that surrounds our ship. As we look out into the gathering gloaming, we pause in our endless categorizing and step out onto the deck. Back aft, near the helm, our deck counterparts have pulled out sextants. Following their lead, we tilt our heads back to more fully take in the night sky, the names of navigational stars – Riegel, Sirius, Aldeberon- rolling from our tongues. Later, the measurements we take are reduced, then expanded into the position of our ship: latitude and longitude found from angles, minutes, and distant points of light. But in the here and now, it is just us and the stars, fading swiftly as the sun’s light sweeps across the sky. We too are fading, yawns contagious as we turn the watch over to the oncoming crew before stumbling down to breakfast. As the shore-based world begins its day - coffee in French Presses and percolators, newspapers half-read on tables, cereal steady on un-gimbled tables – we roll back into our bunks to catch up on much needed sleep.
After all, today is lab practical day.
Imagine: a treasure hunt of questions taped to various surfaces on the deck, checking our understanding of protocols and systems. What does red tape mean? (Formalin, a preservative we use for some of our samples). What does CTD stand for? (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth). Which dyes do we use for microplastics? (Rose Bengal, which dies organic matter while leaving the plastics their own various colors). We are presented with neuston nets and carousel set-ups, asked to tie a bowline, to identify four organisms under a microscope, to find the “bio”volume of a handful of small plastic pigs. Moving around the deck, it is amazing how much we have learned, and how many of these answers flow easily from my pen and onto the answer sheet. Two weeks aboard has transformed us from stumbling, seasick students to stable scientists, measuring and decanting flawlessly even as the boat rolls beneath us.
The clearing skies, deep blue water, and laughter of my shipmates is calling me away from the library in which I write this blog; there’s just enough time before dinner to grab a book and head out to the headrig (the net on the front of the ship) to enjoy the breeze. It often seems as though time is slipping away from us, each day chasing the next even as we cling to each passing moment. So I’m off to make the most of this incredible experience!
Fair winds and high spirits,
P.S. To the Pranksters: Frallie’s robe has made a number of appearances, including as a stylish dress at our ‘formal’ Sunday dinner. To friends, family, and all others who have made their way to this tale, endless love and well wishes; I miss you all dearly, but I am reveling in this new experience. Love you all to the moon, to the woods, to the sea, and back.