SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
October 08, 2016
The New Normal
18° 49.65’ S x 174° 14.19 W
Ship’s Heading & Speed
205° at 5kt
all four lowers
27.5° C, cloudy and windy, humid as always
The Robert C. Seamans and her 38 crew are back to a state of perpetual motion. (You may have noticed that we acquired another member: Ano, our Tongan observer, will be with us until we reach Suva!) We raised anchor in the early hours of the morning and began our voyage towards Tongatapu. This being our second leg at sea, we’ve been given more responsibilities, and started to become comfortable with handling some aspects of the ship’s operation. As we’ve adjusted to our 134 ft home and fewer of us are struck down by seasickness, conversations about what we now consider “normal” frequently arise. There are innumerable differences between life on land and life on a ship in the South Pacific Ocean, some obvious and some subtle, but one of the most striking is the constancy of motion.
While this should not have come as a surprise, I was underprepared for just how far away the concept of stillness would be. Even when we are in port, many of us have experienced the unintended side effect of “dock rock” – the sensation that you are still swaying with the ocean when the land beneath you is perfectly still. (It can be a fun game to look around a group of 269-ers in port and see who is still compensating for non-existent motion). On the ship, walking in a straight line is a thing of the past. While we mainly avoid falling (we’ve done too many man-overboard drills to even think about taking a real tumble), minor accidental collisions, both with the ship and each other, are unavoidable. “Gravity is still turned on” as our Captain is fond of saying. Even laying in our bunks, we are acutely aware of how our home is rolling, pitching, and yawing. The ship’s rolling is particularly noticeable in the saloon, where we still discuss our gimbled tables with bemusement – dishes that look on the verge of sliding off are actually on the high side of the boat(??). The saloon also provides the best place to witness “the washing machine” effect, where seawater swishes up and around our port holes, sometimes with great force.
Two of the best places to get a sense of scale for this perpetual movement, and coincidentally my favorite deck jobs, are as the lookout clipped in on the bow, and manning the helm. Looking aft from the bow, the Robert C. Seamans looks impossibly tiny, like a toy boat on the ocean. It’s also one of the few places where you can get a 360° view of the horizon from on deck. Since Tonga is a group of islands, we haven’t been out of sight of land for long, and we will likely see more tomorrow. As the lookout, you can observe exactly how the wind and waves are interacting with the ship, and predict precisely when you may need to hold on a little tighter. The Seamans’ pitching is especially pronounced at the bow, as evidenced by how quickly the cobalt blue water seems to rise up and sink away.
On the other end of the ship, manning the helm is a unique and important responsibility. Because of the way the Seamans was constructed she likes to pull one way or the other, depending on the wind and sail plan, so it takes a lot of concentration and adjustments to keep her on course. I experienced this for the first time during a particularly disconcerting dawn watch. With a high sea state and full cloud coverage, our watch struggled to adjust to the ship’s pitching in the darkness. When we weren’t clung to the rail, we stumbled around “like baby giraffes”, but it was an excellent hands-on training session in teamwork and trust. When I was placed on the helm, only the red-lit compass, the general outline of the Seamans, and the closest of waves were visible. Piloting this tall ship through a dark night on the South Pacific seems like an otherworldly accomplishment, but we trust each other to sail to safety every single day. We truly do have an incredible community in this floating university. I can’t wait to see what’s still in store for us!
Also, shoutout to Julia!! We miss you and hope you’re healing well; Mama Seamans can’t wait to meet you!
All the best,