SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
December 15, 2018
Divine Things Well Enveloped
36˚10.90’S 175˚21.36’E Great Barrier Island, Port Fitzroy / Kaiarara Bay
Course & Speed
23˚C Winds Beaufort Force 1, NE 3/8 Cloud Cover, Cumulus
I’d like to start this blog post with an excerpt from
"Song of the Open Road," by Walt Whitman:
We must not stop here
However sweet these laid-up stores
However convenient this dwelling
We cannot remain here
However sheltered this port and
However calm these waters
We must not anchor here
However welcome the hospitality that surrounds us,
We are permitted to receive it but a little while
Please forgive any line-break errors, as I’m going from pure memory here. I love this poem for many reasons, and have loved it since long before I boarded the Robert C. Seamans, but I’ve been seeing it in a new way since being here. I always thought this specific excerpt was rather sad, expressing an inability to stay where everything is so clearly pleasant and favorable. Now, I think I understand the sentiment more clearly.
Whitman writes of sweetness, of convenience, of shelter and calm and welcome. These things sound good to us, as one might imagine. These are desirable circumstances, conjuring up images of safety, stability, and care. What I have learned, however, is that they can also be limiting circumstances. For a fairly literal example, when we are getting underway leaving port, like we did so recently in Napier, there is always a complicated emotional mix in the air, my shipmates and I excited to get underway and back into the swing of things, of course, but also sad to see our time on shore come to an end, to say goodbye to a place we just started to know. So many of us, including myself, were drawn here by the spirit of adventure, but I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t always easy to leave your comfort zone, to give up something simple for something complex.
That being said, I’m sure all of us could agree that we’ve had vastly more fun since leaving Napier than we ever could have if we had stayed idle in port for several more days. The truth is, choosing comfort is often the same as choosing stasis. I learned this pretty quickly when I was assigned Junior Watch Officer. The first time that I undertook this duty, I was anxious and unhappy beforehand, feeling underqualified and uncomfortable. I was to direct our watch through a special 18 hour joint science-navigational mission, and had to undertake more responsibility than ever before during any preceding watch. I really surprised myself with how much I was able to decide an enact without supervision, and that we completed our objectives, despite many outside mission pressures that had to be adjusted for. After that, I’ve actually been excited about being JWO, leaning into the discomfort and relying on my watchmates to help make sound decisions and get our tasks accomplished. If I had allowed my initial anxieties to take hold, I may never have gotten us through that original mission, and may have let down my watch.
We had a swim call today, at anchor off the coast of Great Barrier Island. We were all elated, looking out at the lush mountains and sparkling water with anticipation. We lined up near the bowsprit, eager to jump off and into the cool sea below. When I got to the end of the bowsprit, I looked down and saw how truly far below the water was, and thought for a moment about how long the drop would be – and then I jumped. When we were still on shore, all of us took a trip to Martha’s Vineyard together, completely student planned. We went to the bridge that appears in the film Jaws, and many of my shipmates participated in the tradition of jumping off of it, but not me.
Even though I had seen it done by others, and then over and over by my shipmates, I was perfectly content to be the videographer for that experience. Something in me was content to stay put, to remain in the convenient dwelling of my comfort zone. Today, however, I did not even consider such a thing. How could I ever justify to myself that I did not experience the amazing and unique thrill of leaping from our beloved ship and into the dazzling Pacific? In fact, after the initial jump, I went back up and did it all again, as so many of us decided to, just for the sheer novelty of the experience. I won’t say I wasn’t apprehensive, or even a little scared in that moment – I was – but I was also sure that I was capable of surviving that discomfort, and ultimately, I was sure that I would be glad of having done it.
Finally, I think this excerpt speaks strongly to the strange nature of saying goodbye. I know that all of us on the ship are thinking a lot about endings and goodbyes lately, and the immanence of both is too glaring to be ignored. In just a few days, we will all be going our separate ways, some of us flying home for the holidays, others staying in the country for weeks or months to come. This will, of course, be incredibly sad, since we have all become so close in our time together in this tumultuous environment. However, perhaps our experience here with one another has been made more sweet, more special, by its finite nature.
This ship and her crew have become ‘the hospitality that surrounds us’, and because ‘we are permitted to receive it but a little while’, we cannot let it become inconsequential, we cannot allow it to stop being precious and special and something to be grappled with daily. We have become the comfort of one another, and we are reaching the point at which it is necessary to part to grow, no matter how bitter it may be in the moment, how scary and uncomfortable. I am sure that we are capable of surviving this ending, just as we’ve pulled each other through this experience, and that our already forming plans for reunions will be made that much more dear to us for it.
- Mia Sigler, Mount Holyoke