SEA Currents: s272
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.
Where to begin? I have to quote our Captain Jay and say, “.and this is my life!” For over a month now, 32 of us have been sailing along the South Pacific, learning about our roles on board the Brigantine, how to help each other grow and standing up to the challenges and rewards that Nature has to offer. I would not want to be anywhere else.
Taking our departure from Raiatea
Today at 1530 local time our ship departed the calm, protected waters of Raiatea’s lagoon bound for sea on the final leg of our journey together. For many of us, our arrival to the land brought a mixture of feelings and reactions: a visceral aversion to the sight of cars and trucks, a strange need to carry dirt around in one’s pocket, the urge to lie prostrate and kiss the ground. Our watery world, which had ensconced us in its protective (sometimes combative) embrace, was shattered, and all of a sudden there were these rocks, and people, and colors other than blue. It was weird!
S-272 Gets Their Land Legs Back
Our first full day on land included new cultural experiences, exploration, and a boat ride faster than 7 knots! This morning we were greeted by a group of local Raiateans who gathered at the base of our gangway and welcomed us all to their island. We were treated to traditional music and dance and even joined in with our less graceful interpretations. We then preformed some of our own shanties which turned into a tropical jam session all around. I learned that language barriers are nothing when faced with the power of song.
Arrival in Raiatea
After 32 days at sea, the 32 people aboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans have made it safely alongside the dock in Raiatea, French Polynesia. All are healthy and morale is high. Our arrival was slightly delayed this morning due to responding to a Mayday call from a grounded vessel on nearby Huahine. We were able to relay messages between the vessel, coincidentally named Argo, and the Joint Rescue Coordination Center in Tahiti and we made preparations to assist as needed. However, as we were approaching the island, authorities were able to reach the vessel and were we able to resume our sail track into Raiatea.
An Island of Our Own
It was the beginning of dawn watch. And everyone knows that dawn watch is the birth place of deep and somewhat ridiculous thoughts. But on this dawn watch, I was on the struggle bus. I was at the helm, staring intently at the red light on the compass, trying to keep the ship I was trusted with on course. Scott was giving us an evening star lesson, where all of us gaped at the expansive and wondrous celestial sphere. No light pollution, no limits in how long our horizon could run. We were discussing the naming of stars and who figured out what is where in our galaxy when Scott mentioned that plankton and planets have the same root word- meaning wanderer.
I knew something extraordinary was going to happen today. After five weeks, we’ve gotten into a definite rhythm of life on the ship. There’s the 18 hour cycle of being on and off watch, there’s the three day rotation of different watches, and there are all the tasks that need to be done every hour, on the hour, every hour of the day. It’s easy to get caught up in the cycle, and time has seemed to pass quicker and quicker the longer we’ve been on this ship. But then, there are afternoons like this one that break the rhythm, bring us all together, and remind us how precious our time aboard the ship is.
Alone but not lonely
It’s been 30 days since we left New Zealand, and with the ocean all around, we are alone.
We’ve seen 2 ships in that time, and spoken to only one, in Chinese no less (nice work Jaquelyn and Marcia!). The isolation of our long ocean passage has allowed us to focus inward; the rhythm of the ship’s routine has become, perhaps unnoticed, the new normal for all hands on board.
Taking a Step Back Into the Present
“STRIKE EVERYTHING!!! SET THE RAFFEEE!! DEPLOY THAT NEUSTON BOOM AND GET THAT NET IN THE WATER!!” The mutiny on the Seamans unfolded. Every sail came down at once and Captain Jay watched in horror as the magnificent sail was hoisted way up like a magical pair of underwear before being flipped up into “party hat mode.” With just this small triangular “square sail” we would sail a perfect 2 knots required for the neuston net tow.
Feeling pretty tropical
Just one of the things I never imagined I would truthfully say: This morning around 0330 Sammi and I spotted land for the first time in twenty-seven days. We were standing on the science deck after deploying the Neuston net at 0121 (later than usual but science never sleeps). I noticed an amorphous darkness on the horizon directly in front of where we were looking and questioned my own eyesight. Although it was dark outside, the mass appeared too dark to be a cloud and definitely not part of the ocean that we’ve become so accustomed to looking at.