SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
April 03, 2015
Through Time and Space
42° 59.8’ S x 170° 34.5’ W
Course & Speed
095° True, 6.5 kts
Motorsailing, Stays’ls and Deep-reefed Main
Lovely sun, lousy wind—NE’ly 7-10kts
If you could have a day to repeat, a day to live through again, which day would you choose? That question was posed to the students of S258 this afternoon by the Golden Dragon, the majestic guardian of the 180° meridian and the International Date Line. As Arthur ably told you yesterday, time is both integral to the life of the ship and entirely arbitrary, and we all took this afternoon’s class as an opportunity to celebrate, be a little silly, and mark this unique experience of traveling back through time to live a day over again.
Few people get to make such a transition at such a speed. Many fly over the Date Line, losing large chunks of a day in one direction and stretching single days in the other. We, however, sailed across this arbitrary line delineating one day from another and chose a largely arbitrary hour in the ship’s schedule to declare that we were no longer late in the evening of 3 April—instead we were late in the evening of 2 April again, with all of 3 April still ahead of us.
Aside from occasioning our festivities today, this date change has mattered very little to the schedule and rhythm of time aboard the Seamans. The watches continue to tick over, the routines of science, cleaning, weather observations, and celestial navigation carry on. Rather, the change of date kept us in step with the rest of the world, all now hundreds to thousands of miles away in every direction. Necessary, of course: we are in daily communication with the outside world for check-ins, weather information, and even this blog, and we need to be sure we’re getting our times right. But also arbitrary: just as we briefly enjoyed our unique -14 zone description upon departure from the Chatham Islands, our time here aboard Seamans is our own to structure and delineate as we like. We could call every day until the end of the trip April 3 if we wanted, as long as we kept careful track of the number of such days so that we could make the necessary conversions.
I have come to think about this extra day as something of a symbol for the whole trip, the whole project of taking a traditional sailing ship across an ocean. For many, such a voyage may seem an in-between, liminal space, an extra amid other studies or pursuits. I would claim that a voyage of this kind is both as necessary and as arbitrary as our shifting of days and times across the Date Line. Surely no one needs to cross oceans under sail anymore, but we all must make journeys away from the known, must undertake challenges that shift both our relationships to and perspectives on the world around us. Out here we have engaged in this push-and-pull dance with time and with ourselves, connected and remote, journeying toward a destination and living every moment, every hour, every watch, and every day in our seemingly eternal shipboard present.
Other blue water travelers have joined us over these past few days. Albatrosses--including the Chatham Island species which nests only there--have wheeled around the boat on their enormous wings. These ocean
voyagers are merely partaking of another day in their many-years voyage from the nest in which they hatched. For seven years or more, they live completely at sea, ranging over the entire Pacific; they will not touch land again until they return to the site of their own nesting and fledging to breed and raise the next generation. Their travels, like ours, are a necessary in-between space, a slow maturation toward a new stage of life.
No one, student or staff, will leave this boat quite the same. Wherever we each go when we part ways in Tahiti, when we clock back in to the rest of the world, we will all carry with us this time apart, these extra days and hours spent carefully tending to our shipboard world.
The albatrosses and the Golden Dragon understand such journey-and-return dynamics, and T.S. Elliot put it best when he wrote:
We shall not cease from exploration,
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.