SEA Currents: Corwith Cramer
December 12, 2018
The Cramer and her crew in flight
17° 27.8’N, 062° 00.6’W
Wind is 4 Knots, sea is ExS, clouds are 2/8 cumulus, and air temperature is 26° C
A Reynolds number (Re) can be used in aquatic science to quantify the viscosity an organism experiences. An organism with a lower Re experiences more viscosity than an organism with a higher Re. Part of the Re formula includes the size of the organism, smaller sizes contributing to smaller Re (more viscosity) and larger sizes contributing to larger Re (less viscosity). As a scientist, this is especially important for understanding different life history strategies for differently sized phyto- and zooplankton. If you don’t like the scientific explanation, you might prefer to visualize yourself swimming in a pool of honey, which is how some of the smallest marine organisms perceive the ocean.
This was a useful analogy my marine ecology professor used in explaining Reynolds numbers during one of her lectures. The idea excited my brain: “if a microscopic phytoplankton feels the ocean as honey and humans feel it as ‘normal’, then the largest marine organism must feel it as air—maybe.” When I asked her whether my thoughts had any validity, she told me she would get back to me. I very vividly remember her email to me that night: yes! The Reynolds number of a blue whale is similar to that of a bird’s (the way a whale feels the ocean is akin to the way the bird feels air), and yes, mathematically, whales don’t swim through the ocean—they FLY. I screenshot the email as memorabilia and did not talk about anything else the next day.
The reason I call upon this memory now, aside from it being the finest fact I’ve ever learned, is because of a special moment during mid-watch. I am posted as lookout at the bow from 0000-0100. The ship pitches and rolls, and so do I. I’ve become familiar with the feeling, but at this moment I am only just starting to describe it. The bow lifts, my body lifts, the bow falls, but in the moment before my body falls I am weightless. Is this weightlessness? The idea travels through the conduits of my mind for evaluation.
As I process, the word weightless evokes the memory of learning that whales can fly. The Cramer is no blue whale, but she is large enough that I wonder whether she is swimming or whether she is flying. And in turn, are we as her crew vicariously experiencing ocean flight? I begin to identify a few discrepancies (i.e. the ship inhabits two different substrates, air and sea), but I dismiss the thoughts because after I have realized I am feeling weightlessness, my mind enters a similar unencumbered freedom.
When watch is over, I curl up into my bunk and I let the lifting, falling, and rolling of the ship carry me to dreams. When I wake up, however, it is the same day, literally and functionally; thoughts of weightlessness stay with me through the entire day. We all gather for class at 1430 as the Cramer continues flying to Antigua. At the conclusion of class, Captain Seán reminds us we will begin a transition to a new captain tomorrow because he will have to leave for his next voyage in Antarctica.
He tells us how proud he is of us, how much we’ve learned, and he emphasizes our growth as a group in Woods Hole to the crew we’ve become sailing in the Caribbean. His words stir the latent sentiment we knew we had; some of us cry, and my heart is so full of appreciation and happiness it aches. Class is over, but we stay as the sun begins to set. Bryce plays the guitar, Ale is at the helm, and a few who are off-watch sit closely together. So picturesque it’s laughable, a pale yellow butterfly comes to join our moment, flitting between us on the quarterdeck. My cheeks still hurt from smiling.
- Maria Alfaro, State University of New York - College of Environmental Science and Forestry