SEA Currents: ocean exploration
George Washington Students take Science to High Seas
SEA Semester in the News
Practicing Science on the High Seas
GW students combined oceanography research on environmental threats with the rigors of seamanship during a 12-week journey aboard a tall ship in the South Pacific.
By John DiConsiglio
Somewhere in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, about 200 nautical miles east of New Zealand, Lily Anna Segalman got her sea legs.
An environmental studies major at the George Washington University, Ms. Segalman held steady to the rail of the tall ship as 20-foot swells sprayed her head to toe with salt water. For the first time since setting sail 10 days earlier, she stumbled across the wooden deck of the 135-foot Brigantine named the Robert C. Seamans in 25-knot winds without getting seasick.
“I considered that a major victory,” she laughed. “I wouldn’t say I was a sailor yet. But it was a start.”
That winning moment for Ms. Segalman came in the middle of a 12-week journey at sea. Along with 13 other students from 12 different schools, including Turi Abbott, a rising senior at GW, she was participating in the Sea Education Association’s SEA Semester, a study abroad program that combines oceanography research with basic seamanship.
How to Become an Old Salt
Don’t shower – you will literally be salty head to toe from sea spray, along with your sweat from hauling on lines day in and day out.
But actually, have you been wondering what it would take to be a sailor aboard the Seamans? This is a (short) cheat sheet from what I’ve learned so far, mostly in order of importance:
Expect the unexpected. This is by far the most important tip I have! I’ve been surprised at every turn. It pays to be ready at all times, whether it be for a fire drill where you have to head to your assigned station and wait for orders, for a swell that’ll knock you off of your feet, or for when things don’t go quite as planned.
On Shipmates and Happiness
I haven’t seen land in 23 days. What a wide, wonderful, watery world it is out there, surrounded by nothing but the ocean, and the ship carrying you across the waves. Of course, on this boat you’re surrounded by more than just the ocean: and no, I’m not talking about the sky and I won’t be waxing eloquent on the majesty of the stars at night, though they are brilliant.
So what am I surrounded by then? If not the ocean or sky or stars?
My SHIPMATES. I am surrounded, day in and day out, by a boatload of salts, jokers, and eccentrics who make my 134.5 foot world go round. You can see how comfortable we’ve all gotten around each other; this photo was taken after parading around our boat screaming “Science!! Science!!” at the top of our lungs for March for Science today, on Earth day. Almost inevitably we wind up learning as much about each other as we do about sail handling or our research projects. Other people, when living in such a tight knit community, are fascinating. How they relate to each other, what their quirks are, what makes them tick. And: what makes them happy.
Peace and Chicken Grease
Hello there all you land folk and loved ones.
This is Lauren, the steward, here.
I’ve been feeding all of your wonderful people on this trip so far, but today was a very special day for everyone onboard, but for me in particular. The whole staff decided to take over my job for the day and each of them chose their own dish and meal to make for us, so we had 13 different people cooking for us today. And what a day it was! Beignets and brownies, toasties and tagines, cappuccinos and date bars! No one went hungry today. No one goes hungry any day actually.
Looking out and other (disjointed) musings
Lookout is my favorite part of deck watch. As lookout, you gain distance and perspective, both physically and figuratively. Standing at the bow and clinging to the forestay as the swells pass, your job is to look, listen, and report anything that seems amiss.
This blog post is a collection of some of the thoughts that I had as I stood lookout on dawn watch this morning, eating trail mix out of my pocket and watching the clouds gain blush and peach tones as the sun rose. Everyone agrees on a few aspects of looking out from the bow. Firstly, pocket snacks are essential. Secondly, you are going to end up singing regardless of whether you ever wanted to or not. Time either flies or drags on while you are trying to remember the beginning of a song that you never expected that you would forget. Thirdly, you will think strange thoughts. These thoughts fall on the spectrum defined by profound introspection on one end and utter absurdity on the other, but they tend to be closer to either end of this scope than to the center.
Happy Easter from the Robert C. Seamans
As I was sitting down to write the blog today, I heard a crew member mention that we crossed the 2000nm log today. That is a long way to sail and puts us a long way from anywhere. This is perhaps what I love most about this life at sea, the community it builds. Ship, Shipmate, Self…. it’s a pretty good guideline, and really cool to see all the acts of kindness that unfold each day.
Sunrises and sunsets, the other two reasons I really love doing this, and it was clear enough to see both today. The highlight of my day was working with students on their upcoming engineering presentations. They will be pairing up and giving 5 minute presentations on subjects such as, “Shipboard Life without Power” and “Water Desalinization.” Bound to be entertaining and informative, just like what we learned in class today; a blue whale’s tongue is bigger than a bull elephant… the more you know.
Aloft for Rig Inspection, Moving into Phase 2
We have now settled in to Phase 2, the watch groups having swapped officers a few days ago. Now the students will take turns shadowing their watch officers in lab and on deck, and begin to take on greater responsibilities. They will learn all they can in the next two weeks to prepare for running the watch as Junior Watch Officers (JWO’s) in the final Phase.
Today marked other turning points as well. We have a had a few days of nice sailing without the engine, but the light and unfavorable direction today led to the engine coming to assist in the afternoon. The good news was the return of clear sky for celestial navigation. Today our noon position was fixed by advancing a morning sun line to local apparent noon (LAN).
The sky remained clear for evening twilight, where half a dozen students shot the stars. A Watch was able to turn over to B Watch with a celestial position fix on the chart from evening stars. We are all looking forward to more star fixes in the coming weeks.
We Sail For Science
The wind has filled in the past couple days and we have been able to sail full and bye (as close to the wind as possible) to make our way north and east to Tahiti. It has been wonderful to sail again, the endless thrum of the motor replaced with the hum of the wind as it blows through the rigging.
Yesterday, the students wrapped up their creature features with a presentation on Hyperiid Amphipods during class. Také and Romina presented on amphipod’s parasitic relationship to salps to the tune of “Your Welcome” from Moana.