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SEA Currents Blog

SEA Currents: Corwith Cramer

March 05, 2015

Little Bay, Montserrat

Thomas Hiura, C Watch, Carleton College

Colonization to Conservation in the Caribbean

Above: Molly on our reef survey. Below: A view of the reef area we surveyed in Little Bay, Montserrat.

Noon Position (Lat and Long)
16 48.1’N x 62 12.5’ W

Description of location
Anchored in Little Bay, Montserrat

Ship Heading (degrees)

Ship Speed (knots)
N/A (except for some anchor dragging!)

Taffrail Log (nm)
888.8 nm

Weather / Wind / Sail Plan (from 1300 Watch Change)

Marine Mammals Observed last 24hrs (estimate of totals)

Sargassum Observed last 24hrs (estimate of totals)

Souls on Board

"Please be aggressive when you wake me up for mid-watch. I'll need it."

That's what I told Colin and the B Watch crew before going to bed last night. We had spent the past day and a half sailing under the wind/wave protection of St. Kitts and Nevis, and I knew that my C Watch crew would be responsible for launching a potentially tumultuous journey to Montserrat. at 2300 at night. Shout-out to my mom Kazumi and sister Lisa, who know how slow I can be to get going in the morning!

On this morning, however, all of C Watch was early to the quarterdeck, eager to sail to "The Emerald Isle of the Caribbean." I took the helm of the ship just before midnight, and by then, we had progressed from the Nevis coast to the open water, and sailing a southeastern course felt a bit like running on a treadmill. In fact, with 8 to 10 foot waves coming from the east, it felt a bit like running on a treadmill next to an uber-competitive runner on an adjacent treadmill who kept trying to push us off. Then every time we got pushed off, that little magnetic sensor (you know, that red thing that you clip to your shirt) came off, halting the progress of the treadmill belt. Then when we hopped back onto the treadmill, it took a while for the belt to get back up to speed, and in the meantime we had to convince ourselves that we were interested in whatever was being discussed on ESPN on the TV above us (okay, this metaphor has run its course).

At 0100, we turned on the engine to help us make more easterly progress for the remaining two hours of mid-watch. We were excited to be making progress towards Montserrat, and even from 20+ nautical miles away, we started to smell the island's active volcano, which smelled a bit like wood burning. A Watch came to relieve C Watch at 0250, and our crew looked forward to getting some rest. Suddenly, and just minutes before we could go down to our bunks, a wave came crashing over the doghouse, drenching students in both watch groups. My clothes are still wet as I write this, but at least my damp hair helped me stay cool in my warm bunk below!

By the time I awoke in the morning, we were safely anchored in Little Bay, Monserrat, and I was feeling refreshed. You see, the night hours after mid-watch are affectionately dubbed "the sleep of kings," because for those like me who choose to sleep through breakfast, one can sleep through both dawn watch and morning watch, waking up just before lunchtime. Shortly
after lunch was class time on the quarterdeck, where we heard student reports on recent navigation, weather, and scientific deployments. Apparently, while I had been sleeping, we had deployed a shipek grab off the coast of Montserrat. The shipek grab is a really cool device that attaches to the hydrowinch, descends to the seafloor, and scoops up a sample of sediment to analyze in the lab. It's sort of like those claw machines at the mall, but you always win, and the prizes aren't mass-produced knock-off Pikachu plush dolls that you'll inevitably throw away even after you spent twenty quarters - your whole five dollar allowance - to win them when you were 11. Just me? Okay, moving on.

I also learned that after the wave that rudely punctuated the beginning of A Watch's dawn shift, the seas had calmed down significantly as the Cramer sailed towards land. Emily even remarked that she later missed that good ol' wave, which was an awesome morning shower. While our plan was to spend three nights in Montserrat, the winds coming through the island's valleys were causing the Cramer to drag her starboard anchor a little bit. The professional crew later deployed the port anchor as well, and decided to shorten our port stop by one night. This meant that we all got to go snorkeling in the reefs today! 'Oh boy,' I thought! I would have something to talk about for my blog post! As if I would have otherwise had trouble doing that. as a side-note, let me just say that I feel pretty cool for setting a standard of fairly long blog posts here. You're welcome, reader-who-most-likely-doesn't-mind-reading-long-blog-posts-as-evidenced-by-your-still-reading-this-one.

So we split up into 5 groups and conducted our biological survey of some awesome reefs in Little Bay. The water and visibility were awesome, and we all had a great time swimming with the fishies and looking for critters. Each of us is assigned a group of marine creatures to search for in reef surveys - for me, this is herbivore fish - and almost every one of us found some of the critters we sought for. I saw a ton of blue tangs and damselfish, and Emily saw so many tube sponges that she couldn't possibly count them all. I was severely tempted to steal a sponge for my best friend Brian Steveson, who is the biggest Spongebob fan in Oregon. In this clash of moral values, I ultimately decided to respect the sponges' right to live; they had been so kind as to welcome us into their colorful home after all.

After the reef survey, we returned to the Cramer for a totally excellent dinner of steak, mashed potatoes, and asparagus. Once we were full, and after a breathtaking full moon rose over the mountains of the Other Emerald Isle, most of the students went to bed as I began writing this. We have a big day ahead of us, as tomorrow we'll get to experience Montserrat throughout the daytime, and start sailing onward to Dominica in the evening. We've learned a lot about the rich history of this small island and I think we're all eager to experience Montserrat firsthand.

In the 17th century, the isle was inhabited solely by Irish settlers (the indigenous population had moved away or had been wiped out) and African slaves. St. Patrick's Day remains a popular holiday here, and while much of the Irish population would be squeezed out by English sugar plantation owners, and while today's Montserrat is a British territory, Montserratians
seem to embrace their Irish roots to this day (hence the name, the Other Emerald Isle). Their late-20th century emphasis on tourism led to the island being put on the proverbial map by George Martin, the British music producer who shaped the soundtrack of my childhood and who was often called "The Fifth Beatle." Martin built Air Studios Montserrat here, which attracted legendary recording artists like Paul McCartney, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, and the lovable yet significantly less talented Jimmy Buffett (just stating a fact here).

Tragically, Montserrat was devastated by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, then two eruptions of the Soufriere Hills Volcano in 1995 and 1997. The volcano destroyed the capital city of Plymouth, buried airport facilities, and left the southern half of the island uninhabitable. The British government responded quickly by transporting Montserratians to nearby islands, but many of these folks never came back. The population of Montserrat today is around five thousand, which is less than half of its 1995 total.

Tomorrow, we SEA students will get to explore the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, and we'll even get to visit the southern half of the island, which is regulated as an exclusion zone during most hours; pyroclastic flows have kept the area unstable and severely wrecked. As we explore, I expect the sobering reality of the Montserratian experience to move our hearts,
just as I expect the resilience of the Montserratian people to inspire us in our own individual lives. Each day of this voyage has been a new opportunity for each of us to grow as sailors, friends, students, and as better citizens of this planet. I know I speak for all of us when I say we're deeply grateful for this experience.

Thanks for reading my long blog entry. Each student only gets to write two, and since this is my last one, let me also shout-out my dad Billy, my grandma Bai-chan (genki desu ka??), and my beautiful friends Dominique Raboin and Marielle Foster. Love y'all. Also, parents, if you have any other kids who are high school-aged, send them to Carleton. I'll show them around. They'll totally love it there.

All my best,

Previous entry: Land-Lubbing    Next entry: Te Papa, the National Museum of New Zealand


#1. Posted by Susan on March 06, 2015

Fascinating - the blogs are interesting and a joy to read.  The detail brings your travels to life. Looking forward to reading more. Hope you had a great day in Montserrat. - Susan Brill

#2. Posted by Becky on March 06, 2015

Thomas, you all are writing the best blogs.  Can’t wait to read observations on volcano site & south side of island. I remember watching the news during the last eruption.  Thank-you for the brief history. I had no idea and was wondering why James was particularly keen on proclaiming his Irish-ness there (from Lillian’s blog)...

Don’t worry about the length of your blogs (everyone).... we are parents… we will read anything you write…..Although, Jimmy Buffet ? Please ! I grew up in MargueritaVille

#3. Posted by Nanny&Papa; on March 08, 2015

Sarah, This will be a birthday you will ever forget! Loved the photo and the blogs.  Such an exciting experience!  Happy Birthday from both of us to our very special granddaughter!  Love, N and P

#4. Posted by billy burger on March 10, 2015

cool =  you da best mon -  love ya billy b



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