SEA Currents: Corwith Cramer
May 16, 2017
35° 26.2’ N x 066° 32.0’ W
Description of location
North Sargasso Sea
Weather / Wind
Partly cloudy with NW winds, force 6; seas NW, 12ft swells
My days onboard are more or less the same; at 0600 I get a wakeup for breakfast, which I inevitably ignore until 0700 when the second seating of breakfast is served. I’ll wander around haphazardly until 1000, when the ship goes hove to for morning station. I get my dipnet, my buckets, the saltwater hose and begin staring out at the sea for the next two hours, hoping to catch a glimpse of tiny spots of gold flecked among the vast expanses of blue water.
Depending on how much I catch my day is either incredibly long, stretching into the early hours of the evening, or short, stopping right after the lunch bell rings. Either way, I end up having a lot of time to think. My thoughts can drift any number of ways, but lately I find them going back to my own student trip, which was MBC two years ago.
The night before we were set to board I came down with a terrible stomachache. I was, at that point, convinced of two things: (1) I was certainly dying of some rare stomach cancer, and (2) there was absolutely no way I would be embarking on a six week trip sailing through the Sargasso Sea. I called my best friend and told him this in so many words, convinced that he would readily agree with me and encourage me to come home. Instead he asked me: “What are you afraid of?” So. Many. Things. What if I fall off the boat? What if I’m seasick? What if I hate it? What if I’m no good at it? He ended up calming me down and telling me that I wouldn’t know until I tried.
One of my fears did end up coming true. I was the first person to donate my lunch to Poseidon, after which I remember excitedly bursting into lab and proudly proclaiming to my assistant scientist: “I broke the puke barrier!” There were some challenging days where I crawled into my bunk, hugged my stuffed whale that my best friend had given to me and cried, wishing I was back home. But, more often than not, I grew, learned, and surprised myself in ways that I didn’t think were possible.
About a week into our voyage I was at the helm. At the time I found it nearly impossible to maintain my course, jumping five degrees around our intended course in either direction. Eventually my mate told me to stop looking at the compass and pick a star to steer by instead. I found a particularly bright star near the tops’l yard on the forem’st and eventually settled down, enjoying the beautiful night air. My mate wandered back later to check on me and asked which star I had chosen. I pointed, and she smiled, telling me to turn around briefly and look at what was behind me. Painted boldly across the sky directly behind us was the Southern Cross. I had unknowingly decided to steer by Polaris, the north star, which felt rather fitting considering I am from the North Star State (Minnesota).
A couple of days later we were motoring through a still night. No wind, no swell, no moon, and no clouds, just perfect glassy water everywhere you looked. I was up at the bow standing as our lookout for the hour and noticed that there were bioluminescent organisms in the water that we were inadvertently agitating as we cut through their home. The stars were reflected almost perfectly in the water, and it created this serene illusion that we were sailing through the galaxy.
There was the time we saw mola-mola swim by our ship, the time I only slept two hours so I could get all of our molecular work done before we arrived at New York, the time that our third mate told me to set the Course during my JWO watch (a sail we had set once for picture day) and laughed at us from the quarter deck as I struggled for 45 minutes trying to figure out how to set the stupid thing, the time that one of us was "killed" in the galley by one of the scientists wearing a banana costume during a game of assassins, and the time a pod of dolphins swam under our bow for the better part of an hour twirling through bioluminescent water.
I think of these things because your students, your friends, and your children are all experiencing their own triumphs and challenges. We are nearing the end of the trip, and I can’t help but think of the rambunctious group of students who boarded just a handful of weeks ago not knowing a halyard from a downhaul. They will each have their own perfect memories that they will want to share with you in just a week when our trip is done and I hope that you will take the time to listen.
All the best,