SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
April 22, 2018
Galley on Deck: The Days Standing Watch
30°22.6’S x 159°23.0’W
Ship’s Heading & Speed
027° true, 7 knots
Motor sailing under stays’ls
Hot and still during the day, 25°C
Many members of the RCS S278 staff first came to the ship as students and eventually found their way back as professional crew. And several of them have sailed with SEA numerous times a year for multiple years. I, on the other hand, am a brand-new crew member. Before I arrived in Lyttelton a month ago, I had never seen the SEA Semester program in action. As the Assistant Steward, I spend most of my time working in the galley with Lauren. I've gotten to know the students individually through their galley assistant rotation, but for a long time, their world outside of mealtimes was a big mystery to me. I'd caught glimpses of it sitting up on deck, watching them pass the stays'ls, buzz about with their sextants, and empty nets full of zooplankton into buckets. But these snippets gave me only a limited understanding of the big picture. In order to fully appreciate the program that I'm a part of, it seemed essential that I break out of galley-world and spend some time living the student experience.
The idea to let me spend a few days standing watch with the students had been floating around since before the program started, but weather and other logistics postponed it for a while. There has been plenty of excitement in the galley to keep me busy. Getting dinner on the table - and getting it to STAY on the table while we rolled around in heavy weather - proved to be a challenge that required both stewards' full attention (there's nothing like watching a fresh pot of chicken noodle soup overturn onto the main salon floor to make you appreciate cooking on land). But as things calmed down this past week, Captain Jay and Lauren decided it was a good time for me to take three days off from cooking to experience the rest of the goings-on onboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans.
I was assigned to rotate with A Watch - that is, Kat, Kyler, Phoebe, Noa, Melia, Brittany, and Justin, with Mike and Erin as Mate and Scientist. Though I was grateful for an opportunity to think about something other than food for a few days, I have to admit I was a little nervous about changing mental gears completely to confront a brand new set of challenges on deck. But those nerves quickly disappeared when the group welcomed and got me up to speed on their routines and responsibilities. Their confidence impressed me - they are old pros now, practiced in the art of the boat check, with heightened senses to conduct weather reports and the knack for making gentle adjustments at the helm to keep our ship on course. Beyond that, I got to watch them prepare to enter the final phase of their voyage: the Junior Watch Officer phase, where they take over the responsibilities of the Mates and Scientists and run the ship on their own. The amount of knowledge they have gained over their semester is staggering. I may not know everything they have gone through to get to this point, and I'm sure they feel overwhelmed sometimes, but they continue to rise to the occasion.
The three days I spent standing watch felt like the most ideal days I could have hoped for: fair weather, with a few exciting highlights that I was lucky to witness. On my second day, I woke up at 0100 for Dawn Watch. It was clear and cool, a perfect night to stand on forward lookout and sing into the wind while enjoying the Milky Way. We knew from the radar that we were expecting to cross paths with another ship - a Chinese fishing boat. This was exciting news, because it has been so rare over the past several weeks to encounter anything or anybody else out here on the ocean. In fact, we passed another ship on only one previous occasion, and I was asleep at the time. Kyler was the first to spot the fishing boat's light on the horizon. Over the next hour, we watched it draw closer, a single light becoming many. The large vessel came as close as 2.6 nautical miles away before slipping past and silently disappearing again into the distance. This brief encounter thrilled me more than seems reasonable in retrospect, but in the darkness of night it felt profound to catch a fleeting glimpse of another world full of anonymous people living their own lives at sea. When our ship is so far from land, it sometimes feels like we are floating along in our own parallel universe. But a small blip of almost-contact with other humans is a strong reminder of the big world that continues to go on even while we are far away.
During my three days standing watch, I also had the opportunity to deploy the two-meter net, run around with the students setting all of the sails for a boat photo shoot, act in a dramatic interpretation of zooplanktons' use of bioluminescence, and stand at the bow on lookout singing every song I have ever known to Neptune. I'm back in the galley today, just in time to celebrate Phoebe's twenty-first birthday with Oreo cake and get ready for
Staff in the Galley Day tomorrow. Today we had a swim call, the best possible surprise on a hot, still day. I feel physically and mentally refreshed, happy to be singing in the galley with Lauren again for certain, but with a much better appreciation for all work the students have been putting in to this experience for months.
Happy birthday Mom! I love you!
- Natalie Marshall, Assistant Steward