SEA Currents: Corwith Cramer
December 09, 2015
Keep the Sun over the Life Ring
14° 44’ N x 057° 26’ W (we thought.)
14° 53’ N x 057° 04’ W (actually)
Description of location
Western Tropical Atlantic
E x N at Beaufort Force 5
As I am writing this, we just finished our final hour of non-instrument sailing. I was both excited and slightly apprehensive when we first covered up the compass and stopped using sextants to get fixes multiple times a day. This experiment in navigation was not only completely new for all of our students, but it was also new for me and the other mates. I have to say that I think most people enjoyed it and learned immensely (there was a chorus of boos at class today when Captain Jason announced that the non-instrument run would be ending at 1700 today). Most importantly, I believe that the non-instrument run made us all better observers. If you lost track of the wind direction, where the sun was, or which stars were where you couldn't just glance down at the compass to reorient yourself. Additionally, you had to use a combination of different observations to guide you. The sun or stars could be completely covered by clouds, the wind could shift, or you could change course and come hove-to for several hours and then have to figure out again where West was. As we return to using the compass I think we will all be more aware of our surroundings and continue to use what we have learned in conjunction with the compass to be better helmspeople and navigators.
This experiment has also challenged us all to better use and understand our resources. We realized that we could take the celestial resourses we have onboard to calculate the bearing of the sun or stars at any time. Combining this with a system of relative bearings onboard, I often heard helm relief turnovers say things like "I'm steering to keep the sun above the life ring" or "You need to keep the wind slightly to starboard but not too far" or "If you are on course Polaris should be on your beam and Capella should be over the hause hole." (And in the morning, when the sun was behind us, you'd often see the helmsperson 'steering the wrong way' or facing aft instead of forward.) By removing these books from the step-by-step calculation sheets for the celestial homework the students worked on and forcing them to use them more creatively, I believe we have all gained a better understanding of the principles of celestial navigation and the multitudes of ways it can be used.
While I am primarily tuned in to the operations on deck, there has been a flurry of activity in the other parts of the ship. The number of squats done by the crew has dramatically increased over the past several days as we all prepare ourselves for the Boiling Lake hike in Dominica. It has become common to see four or five people spread out across the deck all squatting in unison. Last night we apparently caught so much Sargassum in the Neuston Tow that Scott, the mate on watch, had to come back to help the Labbies pull it in. Once onboard, word spread that there was one (tall) assistant scientist worth of Sargassum in the net, which, once calculated, corresponded to 44 pounds! This morning, after having a conversation about how long its been since we last saw whales (day 3 of the trip maybe?), two minke whales decided to spend almost an hour circling the boat, surfing waves, swimming under the bowsprit, and generally entertaining the entire ship's company. Finally, and possibly most importantly, amazing things continue to be produced in the galley, from Amy and Katie's delicious bagels yesterday morning to today's much anticipated mac and cheese for lunch!
I also have to mention that we have had yet another day of fabulous weather and amazing sailing. With the exception of our weekly safety drills we haven't had to motor since the second night of the trip. Even most of the professional crew, who combined have done countless numbers of trips, say that this is one of the best sails they've ever had and one of the longest runs without needing to motor! While we are all looking forward to arriving in Dominica, I am going to be sad to end the Atlantic Crossing section of our trip and the consistency of great wind and even better sailing.
Update: Scott, Jason, and I all guessed that we would be varying amounts north of 15 degrees. We all probably forgot to take into account our southerly drift during science deployments. After 48 hours of non-instrument navigation our estimated position was only 23 miles off the GPS, which is less than a half a mile off per hour! Our Latitude was almost on point, meaning we just thought we were going 0.5 knots faster than we actually were when we used our wake to determine our speed. While we might not have found Dominica, we definitely would have found the Caribbean!