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SEA Currents Blog

SEA Currents: Corwith Cramer

December 14, 2014

JSWO and Other Adventures

Heather Gaya, A-Watch, Whitman College

Gabo and Heather lower the Shipek grab into the water as the sun rises over the Montserrat volcano

Noon Position
17° 10’N x 062° 25.5’ W

Description of location
Eastern Caribbean (off the coast of St. Christopher)

Ship Heading (degrees)
320° PSC

Ship Speed (knots)
4.5 kt

Taffrail Log (nm)
3340.7 nm

Weather / Wind / Sail Plan (from 1300 Watch Change)
Starboard tack under the four lowers, JT, and tops’l. Wind SxE F3, cloud cover 4/8 cumulus.

Marine Debris Observed last 24hrs (estimate of totals)
Not much, 1 small plastic sheet in the neuston tow

Sargassum Observed last 24hrs (estimate of totals)
Continuous small windrows throughout the day.

“Hey Heather. It’s 02:30 and you have 20 minutes till dawn watch. It’s nice outside and very warm,” the person waking me up quietly murmured through my curtain.  “mrrrrggg,” I replied, groggily reaching for my bunk light, hoping that maybe today would be the day that the light would turn on with my first try. Five minutes later, nursing chafed fingers and cursing the light for once again resisting my efforts, I grabbed my watch and shoes in the dark and stumbled my way towards the coffee pot. You might expect that after a month on the Cramer the erratic sleep schedule would feel natural, but after a night of normal sleep during our Dominican port stop, my body was strongly protesting my efforts to wake up.

Once on deck, I found my way to the lab, where I learned that I would be JSWO (Junior Science Watch Officer) for the morning. Though this fancy title changed my normal lab routine very little, it did jolt me into a brief period of alertness as I realized I would soon be partaking in the ever exciting “fist-bump ritual” of watch turnover. In order to properly turn over the lab to the oncoming watch and ensure the success of everything scientific on the Cramer, the two head scientists (or JSWOs in this case) need to ensure that all of the knowledge and responsibility absorbed in the last 4 or 6 hours is passed on to the oncoming watch. To do this, the two scientists bump fists and then perform a hand explosion and a quiet “whoosh” sound, ensuring that the knowledge will naturally diffuse across the two hands from the “high pressure” mind of the offgoing scientist to the “low pressure” mind of the sleepy, oncoming watch officer.

Taking our duties seriously, Missy and I fist-bumped and my four hours of responsibility began. The first few hours of the morning were calm and the lab ran smoothly. Post-knowledge transfer, I checked in with deck and Emma, the JWO (Junior Watch Officer on deck), to determine if we were needed for sail handling and discovered the joys of trying to hold a conversation while being monitored/prompted by a scientist and a mate. The conversation progressed along the lines of:

Me: “so… what’s up with deck?”
Emma: “… sailing…. What’s up with lab?”
Me: “Things… processing… science”
Both: “cool.”
Our mate/scientist probably: *sigh*

Back in lab, Nick carefully scraped Sargassum and wrapped the cleaned samples in silica packets for his personal research project while I sieved the samples collected from the midnight neuston tow, weighed sargassum samples and chased an advanced megalope crab around in the sink. Though my intention was merely to gently place the crab in a small graduated cylinder of seawater so I could determine his biomass, the crab had other ideas. After some mad dashes to escape my tweezers, I successfully deposited my uncooperative sample at the top of the graduated cylinder and began the battle to measure the crab’s volume in the water before it crawled back out. In a moment of great victory, I determined the crab was 0.20 mL and my crab
interactions were complete, much to the relief of both the crab and myself.

Around 0530, Emma swung by the lab to report that we were approaching Montserrat and we would possibly be deploying a shipek grab! Montserrat contains an active volcano and past eruptions have deposited ash and other particles into the nearby ocean. As we sailed by, the sun was rising right over the island, giving us a beautiful view of the volcano shrouded in volcanic gas and sulphur. After consulting Sean and Jeff on the feasibility of heaving-to for science, we successfully grabbed a large scoop of the ocean floor, which largely consisted of a soft, thick, silty mud. We left all the remaining observations for C-watch and after another successful fist bump (with Zach this time), A-watch went down to breakfast.

Though my JSWO experience left plenty of room for improvement, I can safely say I’ve improved drastically from when I first stepped aboard the Cramer. When I initially arrived on the boat, I found (much to my embarrassment, and later my frustration), that I had few applicable skills and I was thoroughly bad at almost every task I attempted to accomplish. In a normal situation, you can walk away from something that frustrates you and come back to it later, but on the Cramer, there was nowhere else to go. For one of the first times in my life, I found that simply half-learning something that frustrated me wasn’t possible. I couldn’t just avoid the jobs I was bad at, I actually had to learn how to do everything correctly. What I didn’t realize at the time, however, was that I didn’t have to do it alone. All the mates and deckhands are always willing to answer questions, even if you have asked them 15 times before. My watch mates are incredibly patient and caring and I’m amazed at how close I have become with my fellow shipmates in such a short amount of time. Though there’s no way of knowing if I will ever return to sailing or traveling on the ocean, I know that I will come away from this experience with a skill set I never thought I’d possess, a slew of fond memories and probably a fair amount of galley-dirt that will never truly come off. It’s been an amazing month at sea and I can’t wait to enjoy the next few days as we make our way to St. Martin.


Shout out to Emma and Chris for being the best watch mates and helping me make great culinary decisions. I haven’t talked to you in about 30 seconds and it’s very strange.

Categories: Corwith Cramer,Colonization to Conservation in the Caribbean, • Topics: c256  science • (0) Comments
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