SEA Currents: Corwith Cramer
Sailing by the Wind
17° 41.6’ N x 062° 27.3’ W
Description of location
Approaching the Puerto Rico Trench
Taffrail Log (nm)
Weather / Wind / Sail Plan
Sail toward BVIs and anchor at St. John
Marine Mammals Observed last 24hrs
7 boobie birds
Sargassum Observed last 24hrs
Football fields of Sargassum!
“Why is there a towel covering the compass?!” was the first question I asked upon arriving on deck for my afternoon watch. “Oh, we’re sailing solely by the wind today!” exclaimed Sean, “Pretend the Cramer is a little boat, and use your little boat skills to move her.” I laughed at the analogy of the Cramer as a Boeing 737 and a little boat as a puddle jumper popped into my head. I relieved Allison at the helm, and was told to steer a close reach. She indicated the correct wind and flag direction of a close reach. I was nervous at first, but that hour of steering the helm was the most enjoyable part of my afternoon. My head wasn’t buried in the compass, instead I was relying on how the wind brushed against my face in order to steer.
It was like experiencing something extraordinary, and instead of trying to capture the moment by taking a photograph you just sat there, tuning into your senses, listening, smelling---basking in the moment. For me, the compass was a camera, an accessory that takes you away from the present moment, and distracting you from your senses. That’s not to say that I will never use the compass again (we would probably end up in Florida if I attempted that), but this afternoon instilled in me a way to sail effectively without being held back by the little details.
I could not imagine steering the Cramer without a compass five weeks ago. But as we have delved deep into our JWO (Junior Watch Officer) phase, you pleasantly discover that you are capable of more than you have imagined. You notice the atmosphere has shifted. As I sit below in the salon, I can hear shouting that is louder, feet marching around in unison, and more pats on the shoulder. There’s a sense of unity and wholeness, as each one of us picks up the various fragments of knowledge we possess, to create a larger picture. It’s a time to dig into your memory, recalling your previous interaction with each sail. It’s from that digging, that much of our experience on the Cramer is unearthed. In floods spin the highlight reel, the pitfalls, as well as many of life’s lessons acquired along the way. Taking a step back, you realize you have developed an entirely new way of thinking, a heightened awareness of surroundings, and a habitual level of effort. Subconsciously, you notice the way the wind hits your face, and register the wind direction. As you lay in your bunk below you can tell if the JT sail is up by the rocking of the bow. It’s through these little things that you realize that your senses have been sharpened, and your mind is keener. In Harvey’ Oxenhorn’s novel, Tuning the Rig, he reflects on the transformation that occurs throughout one’s time at sea.
“I began with my own experience. We had a good laugh as I recalled my romantic expectations before coming on and my indignation and frustration once I was aboard. When I mentioned how everyone else seemed to have it more together, it emerged that each one of us had thought that about all the others. Everyone was scared and stupid. Angry, too, when asked to do things that we clearly weren’t ready for. What sticks in my mind most of all, I
said, was the longing for something—anything—to just stay put. For the deck to stop moving, for the food to sit still in the plate and the plate to sit still on the table, for the compass to stop swimming every time I took the wheel.
Looking back, it seems clear that the mates did not expect us to be competent. What we were meant to learn in those first few days---what mattered most---was not a particular set of skills but a new way of thinking. Being mindful. We were being trained to notice everything, to make that level of awareness so habitual that it became involuntary; to pay attention in the same way that one pays out line. ‘How fast is the helm responding?’ ‘Should it be so quiet if the generator’s on?’ ‘Why is the sky to the east that peculiar color?’ ‘Is there always condensation in the daytank gauge?’ ‘Why is the life ring stored upside down?’ To get in the habit of asking questions was to get in the habit of answering them for yourself. What you gained in the process, when allowed to make your own mistakes was self-reliance, the ability and the desire to follow through.
Along with such independence, learned alone, came a second lesson: interdependence. All those rules! The way dishes were done. Being woken up for morning meeting, even when there was nothing to discuss. Having everybody drink the same-strength coffee. But again, the main point wasn’t the rules themselves. Nor was it to demonstrate someone’s authority. Rather, it was to break down the habit of mind that makes exceptions and desires special treatment. To replace it with the habit of heart called unity.
We began to accept, without having it defined, a code of service: of doing whatever you are doing well. Not because someone will check up or reward you, but because the ship’s very functioning assumes that individual
commitments be sustained in private for the public good. So much of the pressure on land is toward seeking loopholes in order to excel; at sea it is toward refusing them in order to belong.”
Craig read this quote one morning during class, and it deeply resonated with me. There were moments that I thought that everyone else had it together while I was left without a clue, and there were many times I had questions
and found that I could answer them myself. During this JWO phase, it isn’t the individual who is being tested, but rather, the team. This phase and this entire process, has taught me that we may not have it together, but together we have it all.
Highlights From Today: ZOOPLANKTON CHARADES!!
After the class reports, Jeff emerged dressed in an eccentric blazer and red white and blue shades, exclaiming that it was time for Zooplankton Charades. We assembled into our watch groups and played six rounds. When we got to the sixth round A and B watch were tied…we then moved onto the final round. For the final round you were able to place bets—the stakes were high. It ended with Jeff drawing his favorite cartoon character, of which only James knew. A Watch, a rowdy crew, exploded in celebration. Overall, it was an eventful and illustrative afternoon.