SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
June 09, 2020
Reflecting on (almost) 9000 miles
36*29.3’N x 126*10.1’W
Days underway and Trip log
Day 15, 2285 nm
Winds NxW Force 4, Sailing under the Jib, Stays’ls and Tops’l
Description of location
196 nm WxS of Santa Cruz, California
As we are rapidly approaching San Diego, a lot of us are trying to figure out what this voyage means to us and what things will be like when we arrive. When you sail a lot, you are used to missing out. I've been at sea for elections, friend's weddings, several births, a death in the family, the events in Charlottesville in 2017, the Pulse massacre in 2016, and now, in 2020, for both COVID and the George Floyd murder and subsequent protests. News reaches the ship, through daily calls from the office, the occasional email from friends and family, or, in this case, from news summaries sent to us daily by Craig, one of SEA's Maritime Studies faculty members. But it is not the same as being able to be with friends and family or even being able to pick up the phone or use the internet to connect.
At the same time onboard we are creating a new community each trip. The community is made up of different people, we go to different places, and different things happen. We focus in on the present and disconnect from the larger world. We have these profound experiences that are almost impossible to distill down and explain to those not present. We are exhausted and working hard and focusing on keeping ourselves and the ship safe and sane. We focus on the motto "Ship, Shipmates, Self" which some see as a hierarchy, but I see as more fluid. In order to be a healthy and safe community, all aspects need to be tended to. We need the ship to be well maintained and functioning to safely house and carry us to where we are going. We need to care for our shipmates because we are driven by our community and onboard we only have each other. We also need to care for ourselves, so that we can continue to work for the ship and our shipmates. Each one depends on the other two.
For the first time onboard I feel like the world we are sailing into will be just as foreign to us as our shipboard community is to those who aren't here. We can share about the sunsets and the sailing and the complete lack of megafauna*. Former shipmates will understand the sail repairs and maintenance projects and how difficult it is to complete basic functions when the ship is rolling. I don't think any of us onboard has fully processed what this trip is, and how it differs from other trips. Because it is different. Not only are there only 13 of us onboard right now as opposed to the usual 30-40, but there are no students. Our primary mission is education. It is the reason a lot of us sail here. It is what keeps us going on little sleep and less pay than we could make in the commercial maritime industry. I often talk to my students on watch about how the point of these vessels isn't to go from A to B, it's the science and the exposure to new places and people and the innumerable things you can learn about yourself and others when you are tired and uncertain of yourself and your skills but are still given the conn during a gybe or other maneuver during JWO phase. I love watching students learn, sometimes begrudgingly, how to speak up or how to step back. I love watching students get so excited over 100 counts and each individual copepod. As a crew we constantly remind ourselves that while this is our job, and many of us have sailed countless miles, that this is often a singular experience for our students. And their progress and learning helps to mark the passage of time and gives the individual watches distinction and character. It's hard to think that this trip really is about A to B. It's about moving the ship to help facilitate future programs. It's about the training we can do and the community we can form. For some it's their first trip with SEA, for some it's probably their last. Many have been asked to take on completely different roles than usual. Everyone is working hard. Everyone is lucky to be here; lucky to have been onboard already, or been travelling in New Zealand, or made one of the last flights allowed into New Zealand before the borders closed. But none of us really know what this trip means to us. Not yet.
And we can speculate about what things will be like when we arrive in San Diego, but none of us know that yet either. A couple of us have jobs waiting, but most of us are unsure of where we will be and what we will be doing come July. When I left the States in February it was after seeing family in Chicago, visiting friends all over the country, going to a professional conference, and generally not spending more than a week in any one place. None of that is really possible in the world we are reentering. And in the States in those four months there have been rapid changes and progressive changes and changes that we can't even imagine. And we're going to have to figure out how and where we fit into this new reality. And just like I can't really explain to anyone what it is like to be at sea, I don't know if people are really going to explain to me what it has been like to be at home for months, unable to work or see friends or family. I can imagine the desperation and anger and fear at the killing of yet another black person at the hands of the police, on top of the desperation and anger and fear caused by the corona virus. But I'm not there watching people risk their life in a more tangible way than ever before to protest our country's deeply ingrained and systematic racism. I'm not there to process with friends or to hear a diversity of voices or to show up and march and lend my physical presence. I'm here. And I need to be present here to safely get myself, my shipmates, and the Seamans to point B, to figure out what's next, to figure out how we fit into a world that is fundamentally different from the one we left.
At the same time we are aware that this is the last time we'll be underway, potentially for a little while, so we are trying to be present for all of the small joys of sailing. The skies have cleared up and we can see the sunsets and sunrises and starry nights again. The sun is out and it's starting to warm up. We are onboard with our friends. And the wind finally filled in enough for us to turn off the engine and start sailing.
- Tristan Feldman, Chief Mate