Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Crew Spotlight: Ryan

We're coming up on two weeks into our voyage, and it has truly been a treat for us so far.  We hope everyone following us has had a great time living vicariously through us.  I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone at home for following us.  Although we can't see it, we really appreciate your support.

Today we are launching a new section of the blog! We're going to take some time over the next few weeks to help you get to know the crew members on this voyage through this approach called Crew Spotlights.  Every so often, we will post about one of our crew, allowing those of you following us to get more familiar with who is taking the Stanford@SEA Class of 2017 on such an amazing adventure! These posts will be in a sort of questionnaire format, preceded by some insight on our shipmate by some of our students.

For our first spotlight, we have our Chief Mate, the one and only Ryan! Ryan has graciously signed up to go first out of the kindness of his heart, and as anyone can see that heart is omnipresent in everything he does.  He's a reliable friend who is a classic explorer, someone who loves to try new things in the pursuit of "new synapses," as he calls it.  Ryan loves the ocean and everything in the water, but his favorite part of voyages is sailing into port, since it allows him to see the fruits of his sailing labors.  He is a man of diverse interests who bases many of his interactions on mutual learning; he says he learns as much or more on these voyages from his students than the students learn from him.  Don't worry, though, because Ryan is a wealth of knowledge who always seems to know the answer to questions.  When he's not sailing, he works on boats or in his family's brewery; it seems his brain is always working to find new beer names and recipes. Ryan tries to live as much as possible in the present, and is currently enthralled with the whales we saw on the side of the boat today.  If he was to jump in a pool of anything, he would jump into a pool of mercury, with proper personal equipment of course, to see how far he'd displace the mercury.  Without further ado, here is Ryan!

-Robby Haag


Hometown: Gulf Shores, Alabama

Hobbies: Beer brewing, carpentry, high mountain exploration

Song that is stuck in your head: Blue Sky by the Allman Brothers

Favorite place to travel to: Anywhere new

How long have you been sailing: At least since I could form memories

What draws you to sailing:  The open ocean and arriving into ports by sea

Worst job on the ship: No such thing; ship's needs are ship's needs

What are you looking forward to most on this trip:  Big smiles that fresh fish and clear water bring

Favorite sea creature (or the one you relate with the most):  Octopus


"I am in awe of his general mastery.  He just seems to know what is going on." - a Stanford@SEA professor

"He is not a man of many words, but of infinite knowledge." - a Stanford@SEA student

"When you're sweating the line, and you look up, you can see Ryan on the deck box sweating the line with one hand.  Then you realize, all of the work you've just been doing on those sweats was entirely because of him." - Daela Tipton, Stanford@SEA student [Author's note: Sweating is the action where we pull on the line in a certain manner in order to make it as tight as humanly possible.]

"Like a lot of the crew, he's this jumbled, but wonderful, mess of a teacher and a friend and a mentor and a jokester and a 12-year-old boy excited about laser light shows on the mainsail.  He made our first dawn watch one of the most exciting times I've had on this ship - he's truly a light to have out here in the big blue." - Hanna Payne, Stanford@SEA student

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Perspectives on Palmerston Island

Today we depart from Palmerston Island, an atoll in the Cook Islands inhabited by 44 people. Or is it 64? 35? Ask the different residents and you'll get a different answer each and every time. But in the end, it really doesn't matter; because the instant we stepped on shore, we were swallowed up by the overwhelming love of a people whose hearts truly know no boundaries.

Welcome to Palmerston!
They introduced us to their lives with a hospitality that I never knew existed. Upon coming ashore, we were invited to Sunday church service, to spend the night with a host family, and to get beat ~embarrassingly~ in a volleyball tournament. We toured the children's school, the solar panel site, the graveyards housing late loved ones, the pigpens and the lagoon. We ate poisson cru and drank too much tea and laughed late into the evening. We learned more in the past few days than could ever be compiled into a single blog post, but I know that we each sail away from this place, and from the people who make it the wonder that it is, with a broadened perspective waiting to be shared.

After four days and three nights spent at Palmerston, the crew of the Robert C. Seamans feels a little quieter. In our last few hours on shore, and during our leaving, people seemed a little more lost in their thoughts:
their feet are still running circles around palm trees with Stephanie and James and Carly and Joy; their ears are attuned to the hymns of Sunday Church; their bellies are uncomfortably full of taro and parrotfish and coconut milk; their hearts hold on to the warm embrace of host families saying goodbye on a hot Tuesday afternoon.

Palmerston sunset
Out here, I sometimes worry that the important memories I make, which will forever shape my perspectives, might get lost at sea. I worry I'm not journaling enough, I'm not taking enough photos, I'm not soaking it all in, like my dad told me to. And then I think about my afternoon aloft four days ago. It feels like years ago. I think about the friendships we made on Palmerston. They feel life-long. And as quickly as all of these moments are passing me by, it feels like every one of them is etching something into my perspective, into my person. I couldn't for the life of me tell you what that something is yet, but I have two weeks, and then a whole lifetime, to work it out.

With all the love in my salty, sandy, coconut-filled heart.
Thank you, Palmerston Island.

-Robby Haag

Monday, May 29, 2017

Sunday on Palmerston

"Greetings to our guests and their families around the world. May Jesus bless them all." Nano Marsters calls with a smile from the front right corner of the Palmerston church. She wears a flowing orange dress and a white laced hat adorned with colorful flowers, through the window behind her, palm trees sway in the wind. The audience in attendance, about half from our ship and half from the island, filled the eight pew church on this sunny Sunday morning. For the next hour, sounds of English and Maori hymns emanated through the palm lined lanes and across the white sand beaches of the island.

Sunday for those living on Palmerston is a time for worship, food, and rest. On this Sunday, the community of Palmerston was generous enough to take us in to their homes and treat us as adopted family.  For some of the crew of the Seamans this day began at one of the homes on the island. Families on Palmerston have offered us to stay in their homes on the island and so each night one of the watches gets to stay island-side while the other two watch the ship.

My Sunday began at five am with anchor watch. Anchor watch consists of using the GPS and visual markers to make sure the ship isn't moving from its mooring.  It is especially important to keep a vigilant anchor watch here because we are only 0.08 miles from the reef crest, a stretch of exposed corals that have torn holes in many ships' hulls. A constant easterly wind is what keeps us pushed off towards the sea but the wind could change at any point. By 6:30 the ship woke up, and the smell of frying up eggs wafted from the galley. After breakfast small boats from the island came out to the ship to take crew members to church.

I got on board Edward's 20ft aluminum skiff and we were off. When we reached shore Mary Marsters was there to greet us and insisted her granddaughter Ester lay out chairs for us to sit on as the rest of the crew caravanned to shore on other aluminum small boats. Once we were all on shore those staying the night, A watch, stood at the front as the different families looked them over and chose who would be staying where for the night. Then the rest of us were divvied up in the same way to different families that would be taking over for lunch after church.

I was taken in by Edward, Simon, and Shirley Marsters, who live over on the NW side of the island. At Simon's house Andrew, Nick and I were greeted with a table piled with eggs, papaya, ground coconut, and toast. Shirley made us sit down and eat. I got to talking with their son John about California and my family and dog back home. (The island has no dogs.)

At 9:45 Shirley declared that it was time for mass and inspected each of us to make sure we passed before we walked over. On the way to church, we caught up to Natasha, Hanna and Andrea, who were all wearing brightly colored hats borrowed from their host families.

Sunday lunch on Palmerston
Church, instead of lasting the four hours we had expected, was done after only an hour of song and sermons. After, Simon and Edward greeted us back at their house with a table overflowing with food. There was goat, chicken, lamb chops, steamed mullet, raw fish in coconut milk, taro, mashed breadfruit and rice. Shirley announced that there was also a special treat to which David walked out of the house holding up three bottles of soda that came on the cargo ship over a month ago. Each time we cleaned our plates Shirley and Simon urged us to eat more.

After lunch I went for a walk along the picturesque beach, palm trees hanging over the crystal blue water.  I turned in by the school to look at the new solar panel grid that powers the island and gives it 24 hour power instead of 6 hours per day. While I was walking through the town, I heard a voice calling from a coconut leaf thatched shack on the beach "Ay Chris, come grab yourself a coconut." Bob Marsters pointed to a basket under a palm tree overflowing with husked coconuts. I chose one and then Tepou showed me how to cut it and gave me a knife. I went over to a table where Mehau was doing homework and distracted her for a while by asking to read the packet she was working on.

Bob came over and said that he had set up a mat for me to take a nap on by where Sam and Mike were passed out in hammocks. I had laid down for about three seconds when I felt the full weight of a laughing four-year-old crash down on my back.  A few seconds later his 7 year old sister came over saying, "Henry you can't play on Sundays" to which I asked if they wanted to draw. So for the next two hours we played Pictionary in my journal, with Denia coloring in all the drawings with her colored pencils.

At three I had to go to Edward's for a ride back to the Seamans, since I had watch duties that night. Back on board, I found Charlie in the galley baking bread and helped to wash dishes and prepare dinner. After dinner, it was time to make cookies for the islanders who are coming on board tomorrow morning for tours of the ship.

Now it's almost 1 am and I am about to be done with this anchor watch and go to bed. Tomorrow morning I am excited to get our research underway and play volleyball with the locals. Until then, goodnight!


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Welcome to Palmerston, this is the place for me

Today I woke up for morning watch anticipating a call of "Land ho!!" at some point in the following six hours. After three days at sea, today was the day we were to make it to our next island stop, a small island and coral atoll with, last we had heard, around 60 inhabitants. Nearing land, anticipation on the ship was high, as crew members lined the starboard rails, watching two small, metal boats belonging to local residents help the Robert C. Seamans navigate the reef and find a place to drop anchor. 

Palmerston Beach
The reef crest, exposed in the low tide, surrounded the island and offered a jarring surface to imagine the sweet Bobby C. running aground, but of course, those of us the rails paid it little attention except to marvel at its beauty.  Captain Pamela stood aloft on a platform near the helm calling out orders to bring us safely to anchor, and having just been relieved of watch, I was free to simply take in the scene before me. The island on the starboard beam was covered in a dense tropical forest of palm and mahogany trees with white coral sand beaches on its perimeter. Beyond the reef crest, the lagoon shone a bright turquoise in contrast with the deep blue of the pelagic waters with which I've become so accustomed on this journey. In the preceding few hours, we had to fight our way through a few squalls and some heavy rain, but the sun had just shown through, making the colors shine a little bit brighter. A small rainbow appeared off the port side of the ship. It was surreal upon arrival.

The welcome ceremony at Palmerston Island
The island dead ahead of us was Palmerston - it, its reef, and fringing islands a product of a sinking volcanic island over the last millions of years. But in its more recent history, Palmerston has an intriguing story (which I won't try to recount in detail without the fact checking power of the internet, but for all you internet able folks on land, the Palmerston Wikipedia page is worth a peruse). The island was settled by one man in the 1860's, and today, most of the permanent inhabitants are descended from him.

Never having visited such a secluded community, I possessed no real sense of life on what was to me just a pretty little island in the South Pacific, but a true homeland to its inhabitants. Luckily, we were going to have the chance to find out.

Sunday lunch with Bill and Mietz Marsters
After anchoring, the boats that had guided us through the reef began shuffling us off the ship and to the island for a welcome ceremony. As we approached the beach, our guide exclaimed, "Welcome to Palmerston! This is the place for me," and it wasn't a stretch to see why. The beauty was evident, and the people were friendly. The welcome ceremony consisted of a song, a quick introduction, and tour around the island by some enthusiastic younger inhabitants. As it turns out, our visit, a near doubling of the islands population, is a big to do, so almost everyone came out to say hello.  But in our short time on the island this evening, I couldn't help but compare my own life to those who grew up here. The pace of life, the isolation, even the complete reliance on religion seems so foreign to me. To view myself as a child in their open air school house or living in one of the palm frond huts was difficult. Being of the adventurous persuasion, I imagine most of us on the ship can't imagine living on a small island for our entire lives. Yet, of course, in each of our two groups, crew of the Bobby C. and inhabitants of Palmerston, we found similarity almost immediately, and it wasn't a minute before laughter and warm greetings filled the beach. The warm welcome we received this first evening is extended to homestays over the next three nights and a church service on Sunday. No doubt you will be hearing more about life on Palmerston, in much greater detail than can be gleaned with our short visit this evening. In the meantime, welcome to Palmerston!

Palmerston Church - Andrea and the RCS ladies in their hats
Warm Wishes from the Robert C. Seamans,


Friday, May 26, 2017

Perspectives from Aloft

I started this blog after spending an afternoon looking at the ocean from a slightly different perspective than I've become accustomed to on board Mama Seamans. After getting trained in the protocols of 'going aloft' (which basically means to climb up into the rigging much higher than my mom is going to be comfortable knowing about), Mike and I headed skyward for our first climb on our own. Two unidentified whales, which swam alongside us for over an hour, had interrupted afternoon class; we were determined to spot them from above.

View from aloft (Hanna)
My childhood was often plagued by the draw of high open spaces, but the reminder of the dangers that such places bring. Some of my favorite memories are of climbing oak trees with my brothers, winding through their marvelous branching mazes as we played tag on the most precarious limbs. We were always brought back down to Earth by the warnings of a loved one- Mom or Dad, who had quick tongues driven by their big hearts.

I miss leading my brothers into trouble. Whether we strayed too high in a tree or too far on our bikes, adventuring with them was one of the greatest parts of growing up. As Mike and I perch on the course yard and share stories of our siblings back home, I can only imagine the childish joy this one spot would bring mine.

Another view from aloft (Hanna)
Mike and I never spotted the whales from aloft. They probably rejoined their own pods, as we were telling tales about ours. But our short hour off-deck provided me with a new perspective of the wonderful ship I get to call home, and one of the wonderful people I get to share it with. Amidst the hustle and bustle of ship life, it's sometimes hard to find time to talk individually, to learn about each other beyond Stanford@SEA. Mike and I reflected on his honors thesis and his year abroad, our siblings who will both be at Berkeley next year, and how accurately we would have to spit to hit Chris, who stands lookout on the bow below (no worries, Captain- no spitting occurred and no lookouts were harmed). I appreciate little moments like these, with the students, professors, crew, and shipmates who keep me afloat.

-Robby Haag

Thursday, May 25, 2017

True Selves

I haven't written anything in this blog yet.  It's not for lack of content; our trip has been a fantastic opportunity with much to write home about, and some things I don't think should ever leave the knowledge of the 21 students. I guess I wasn't really inspired to write anything.  Today, after we left Rarotonga last night and I was able to reconnect with the outside world, I think I found something to ponder and put to paper.

Robbie speaks at ship's meeting
Before we left Hopkins Marine Station, our Maritime Studies professor, Dr. Mary Malloy, gave us a piece of advice.  She said that ship life is its own entity; the rest of  the world functions without you, and that's just a fact you have to accept.  In her previous voyages, she spent time wallowing on outside issues, but everything resolved without her presence.  In the end, she said, you just have to let it all go, and dive fully into ship life.

Although Dr. Malloy isn't here with us on our voyage, I can still hear her voice as clear as day when I go back to those words.  Every word she said is true.  Out here in the ocean, it's just us and the sea.  The blue ocean is our whole world, with nothing in it but our ship's company of 39, the SSV Robert C. Seamans itself, and the mysterious blue liquid upon which we sail. Everything else is out of reach in our peaceful paradise, and in most things, that's the way it needs to be.  Our group has solidified, even more so than we had during the land portion of this program. Strange watch times have become commonplace, sleep has become out of cycle almost permanently (which kind of makes it into a cycle),  and the crew has become our dear friends.  The Robert C. Seamans is now the "Bobby C", home more than in writing on our immigration papers as we land in new places, home more than many things in our lives. 

Happy at the helm (Natasha)
And yet, on some level, it's a really difficult fact to accept.  We're missing some of our beloved shipmates right now for other obligations (huge shout out to Barb and Big Robby - we miss both of you dearly!), responsibilities for which they can't be on this ship.  The outside world moves on without us, without a second glance.  I know for me personally I don't totally like this fact.  Today was perhaps the biggest game of my younger brother's sports career, and the first major event for which I can't be there in any capacity, virtual or in person.  It's killing me to be sitting on this ship, as amazing an experience the past 10 or so days have been, and not know what's going on at home.  I couldn't focus on my watch duties at all as I thought about what advice I could have given him, what I would think in his shoes, what I couldn't help with from halfway across the world.  As my mom can attest, I don't ever get homesick; I guess that's why I went to school 3,000 miles away from home.  But this worrisome person, this was definitely a different me.  Same complexion, slightly less clean and more salty, same knowledge and thinking, but not me.  At least, it wasn't the me I was used to.

When I was in high school, an English teacher told me that you don't find your true self until much later in life.  To this point, I had believed him 100%, and used that as a sort of justification for indecisiveness.  I didn't decide to come to Stanford until three hours before the deadline.  I haven't declared my major yet.  I have no long term vision for my career.

Nick and friend (Natasha)
Stanford@SEA is making me go back to those words and question him - what is stopping us from knowing who we are right now? This trip has given me the tremendous opportunity to reexamine who I am, look myself in the mirror and see if I recognize the person looking back.  Just standing at the bow (or anywhere on the boat), closing my eyes and taking in the world around me for a few minutes has flipped my perspective on many things.  Try it - wherever you are, just close your eyes and observe. It may just change how you look at the world.

Captain Pamela told us at the start that people meet their true selves on these voyages.  I guess I'm just another salty sailor who's finding himself on the high seas.

-Robbie Haag

Happy as a...

Alternatively, thoughts from bow watch that have had some time to tumble around. Despite its bad reputation among the student crew, dawn watch has provided me with some of my best memories on board. Most of these memories have come after I learned that a cup of coffee makes the 0100-0700 block significantly easier. 

Sierra contemplating a clam shell
During my second dawn watch en route to Ile Maria, my mind had some time to wander while I was scanning the horizon at the bow. The ship swaying beneath my feet, I realized, is not unlike horses or fire. All three are integral to certain human activities and require a kind of unspoken communication with nonverbal entities. With horses, it takes time and practice to display the confidence that the animals will respect and respond to. The art of fire-building requires a similar attention to details, like the flame's response to added fuel. I am just beginning to understand the Bobby C. and her peculiarities, but watching the professional crew has convinced me that the ship, too, sometimes requires a well-timed, nonverbal nudge to set everything in order.

More broadly, humans also have this kind of nearly one-sided relationship with the ocean. The swells that move me up and down ten to fifteen feet at a time at the bow, for instance, are barely changed after they move from one side of the ship to the other. At the end of the day, the ocean is supremely unconcerned with the actions of any one individual or even a ship full of people. The bruises on my shins from being thrown off-balance by rogue waves are definitely testament to that. Despite the ocean's indifference, humans are bound to the big blue through commerce, transportation, and our dependence of extracted resources.

Horses and fire are a fine comparison to make to the ship and the ocean, but my initial thoughts at the bow and later reactions to what I saw on Ile Maria, I think, are rather lacking. Why do I immediately compare everything I see at sea to something it vaguely resembles on land? To a certain extent, my tendency to think of exhibits at the zoo when I smell guano from tropical birds or to think of cornmeal when I roll the beach sediment between my fingers makes sense based on my life experiences. Still, it seems inadequate to rely on the land to understand the geographic majority of the world.

On the other hand, the marine environment does inform much of how I interpret the world. Phrases like "like a fish out of water," "crabby," "plenty of other fish in the sea," and "happy as a clam" come to mind only a little less frequently than do terrestrial comparisons. I learned perhaps my favorite ocean-related expression, "not much to speak of at high tide," from my housemate last summer when she was talking about small islands. I haven't used it as a creative veiled insult, but it seems to beg to be used that way. Hopefully, I will bring some salty language back to land to remind myself that the ocean is out there, working much as it always has, regardless of what we think or say about it.


Early departure from Rarotonga

It's Wednesday or Thursday, I'm not really sure anymore, but as I come back to the Bobby C. after a day of wondering around Rarotonga and drinking nice coffee I learn that our ship must leave the harbor earlier than was planned.

The reason was that our masts are too tall and they could disrupt the path of the airplanes coming in. This news was pretty startling, since most of our group was still wondering around the island; we were supposed to have two more hours on shore. But we get straight to work, prepare to leave, and miraculously everyone makes it back on shore. We leave right on time, with Captain Pamela shouting out orders of which angles to steer the ruder at.

We now begin what is called phase two of the program, which is pretty hard to believe. A week and a half ago we were barely able to make it through a watch without tripping, messing something up, or having a second meeting with our dinner. Now we are a slightly more coordinated group who can successfully switch between steering at the helm, keeping lookout, and checking the boat every hour on the hour. It's crazy that the crew trusts us enough to give us more responsibility with everything that's happening with the ship. As part of the second phase we get to shadow our watch officer, the mate that is in command during the time we stand watch. I was the first in my watch to give it a try, and followed Allison around during dawn watch, from 1-7 in the morning. I met with captain Pamela at the beginning and filled her in in what was happening with the ship and the weather, and got to learn the millions of things our mates have to think about when they are in charge of the deck. You have to make sure students are rotating, monitor radars, radios, and all sorts of equipment I didn't know our ship had, and plan how the sails are going to come up and down. All with the winds shifting, swells that constantly rock the ship side to side, and splashes of rain. It was a great opportunity to get a new perspective on how our ship works, and everything went pretty smoothly. You just have to keep working, and roll with the changing plans.

-Andrea Contreras

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Waiting in Rarotonga

We remain in port today, docked in a small and surprisingly unprotected harbor in Rarotonga, one of the Cook Islands, and delayed by the (late) arrival of one of our observers.

The dock in Rarotonga (Natasha)
A google image search of the island shows Rarotonga to be what many would imagine, a tropical paradise full of sun, sand, and surf, but our experience has been somewhat different. Skies have been overcast, with frequent mist and occasional rain. The wind has been howling, and as a consequence, the water, turbid.

"Oh, what a s*** show," in the words of one of our esteemed TAs, as he comes out on deck.

Today will be a down day. Laundry will be done, hopefully, a necessity for some more than others. Papers will be written, and books read. Nothing more exciting to write, yet, and given the weather, hopefully nothing more exciting to write for the rest of the day.

No news is good news today. It means the ship is intact and its lines are holding.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Arriving at Rarotonga

This morning on dawn watch, I left the lab to help set a sail and noticed a glowing light rise gently above the horizon, just off the starboard bow of the ship, in the northwest. I glanced at my watch, which read 04:15. The light was in the wrong direction and a bit early for sunrise, especially as we move into Southern Hemisphere autumn. It was land.

As the morning progressed, the lights and then silhouette of Rarotonga, Cook Islands, came into view. As we turned and sailed north to our port, Jonathan and Nick found a Lucifer squid in a net tow. We arrived in port, cleared customs, and were greeted with some new arrivals. Brian, straight off a red-eye from LAX is joining us (with his DNA lab-in-a-box) for the next few legs came aboard for introductions and a tour this morning. Soon after, we met Alice from Cook Islands Marine Services and Stella Marsters, our Cook Islands observer.

Each nation we pass through has the right to send an observer on board while we are in their waters and we are super excited to have Stella as our newest shipmate! She'll be joining us until we arrive at our next island stop, Palmerston, and we can't wait to sail with her! After our two nights in Rarotonga, it'll be back to sea with the lot of us.

Highlights from walking around shore today have included visits to grocery stores for postcards, chocolate, and ice cream, walks along the beach outside of town, pizza pit stops, and signs for Hinano beer, a throwback to our time in Tahiti. The Seamans is cleaned and polished and ready to welcome the public for an open house ship tomorrow afternoon. It's been a bit over a week since we last interacted with people off the ship and we're already throwing around "what if the aliens come while we're at sea" hypotheticals.

Plans for tomorrow are for a day packed with in-water data collection on the reefs! As our first inhabited island stop, it will make for a fascinating comparison with Maria, a relatively unvisited atoll. We've got snorkel gear ready to go, piles of temperature sensors, waterproof datasheets printed, and a small army of student-scientists ready to hit the waves and gaze intently at small areas for long periods of time.

The ship doesn't roll while in port and the lack of motion is just as disorienting as the introduction of it was when we first took to the seas. I constantly come close to falling over as I brace myself for the next swell. With watch schedules a bit lighter for the port call, we've found time for music and inter-watch mingling. It's clear from the high volume of postcards and letters being written that we miss our family and friends dearly. However, we have the opportunity and obligation to be part of the Bobby C. community for these five weeks and I know for my part it has been such a privilege so far to get to spend this time with everyone here.

The day before I left for sea, my mom (hi parents! I'm good, just have less hair!) wrote and asked me to greet the Southern Cross for her the first time I saw it. My first night out, with the glow of Tahiti constant on the horizon, I had to have it pointed out to me. Now that I know more stars, I follow Gacrux to Acrux (along the long axis of the Cross) to watch Corvus fly across the celestial sphere each night. In the antsy times between swim calls, I see a Manta ray in Scorpio.

The sun is sweet but the wind is sweeter,


Somewhere in the Big Blue

Ahoy! This morning I woke up after a full(er) night of sleep and could feel a slight ache in every muscle in my body. Every action we do on the ship has our bodies working, whether it's walking across the deck or even sitting to read. After a week though our bodies feel stronger and our balance is better. No wonder we are so ravenous all the time. But, as Captain Pamela says, the sweetest nectar a sailor can get is sleep. Between the swaying of the ship and anchor drops, I think I can now sleep through anything!

With the 18-hour watch schedule, our sleeping patterns are always in flux, but it's allowed us to appreciate all times of day. Being on watch during the morning and afternoon when you can clearly see Robby C, the ocean, and the sunset is fantastic. We are completely surrounded by water, with nothing but the puffy clouds and occasional tropic bird over our heads, the sun baking our skin to nice golden browns (or some tomato reds), a few sea creatures jumping out of the ocean, and the entire crew busy at work aboard the Robby C. In my opinion however, the evening and dawn watch hours bring about the true magic: the stars. Clear skies sprinkled with brilliant stars is a truly spectacular site. The Milky Way will stretch over our heads, Scorpio flies through the sky, the Southern Cross helps us with navigation, Jupiter shines bright behind us, and once in a while a shooting star or satellite will dance through the celestial realm. Our TA Ben pointed out that every time the ship rolls upward it feels like we are going to launch into space. Sometimes I feel like Peter Pan about to jump into another adventure-"Second star on the right and straight off to Neverland!" Even better is when we see speckles of green-blue bioluminescence in the wake of the ship; it's as though the stars are both high above us and in the watery realm below.

That's not to say the evening watches can't be a little rough. We spent a couple days in a squall before reaching Isle Maria, which really keeps you on your toes at night. I've never felt more like a salty sailor than when I was at the helm at 0400, steering through rainy Beaufort 6, gusting 7, winds and 10 foot waves. It's nerve racking because you can't see well but also exhilarating getting a taste of both the wind and ocean's great strength. And with Watch C diligently handling the ship and our mate Rocky calmly and carefully guiding us, it's hard to have any fear of the weather. As Andrea would say, we all still have salty sweet smiles.  

In the meantime, we're steadily approaching Rarotonga, our second island stop and the first one where we will meet new people. We will be staying in the harbor for 3 days, and the ship is open to officials who will come on board to do inspection for any biohazards, as well as the general public to see what our ship life looks like. In preparation for our guests, we had our first field day, which is the once-a-week full clean up of the ship. You could hear several "Swab the deck, Mate-ys!" floating around as we brought our sea fairing home into ship-shape.

After the 1.5 hour frenzy of everyone cleaning and wiping and scrubbing every nook and cranny on board, we were met with a special treat: ice cream and a fire hose shower. The ice cream was the perfect sweet treat to offset the heat and the showers were appreciably timed to clean off our sweaty selves. The mates hosed us with seawater on the science deck as the sun began to dip close to the horizon-talk about great water pressure. Deck showers are by the far the superior showers, and what makes cleaning even easier is having less hair (look mom, no hair!)

At this moment, Chris, Mike, Marianne, Sierra, and myself are the brave few that decided leave traces of our eDNA in the sea via, well, all our hair. We are sporting exciting 1-inch cuts (in my case, 1/8th of an inch, I'm basically bald), and everyone looks fabulous. Everyone keeps going around petting each other's heads to appreciate its new soft, stubbly feel. These hairstyles also require no maintenance, which allows us to now say 'I woke up like this.' The feeling of the sun, wind, and rain on your scalp is truly amazing, as though that skin is experiencing the sense of touch for the first time. Having almost no hair is also very liberating in its own sense and it seems like you can really see people's faces because all of their beautiful features are shining through, unmasked. I'm looking forward to seeing whose hair walks the plank next!

-Natasha Batista

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Three Sheets to the Wind!

Stanford at Sea 2017 is on the move once again. At 2213 Friday evening, after 38 hours at anchor to the lee of Isle Maria, the ship's company hoisted the Bobby C.'s anchor and got underway for our next stop - Rarotonga!

The weather is cooperating. We are finally being pushed by the west-blowing trade winds predicted for this voyage, and our estimated time of arrival to Rarotonga is 0900 Monday morning.

38 hours may seem like a short time to accomplish a great deal of work on Isle Maria, and it was. Yet we were able to accomplish an impressive ten missions to and from the uninhabited atoll, its reef, and inner lagoon.  In large part, this was all possible because of stable weather and a good anchorage. The stars were also incredible, and with so many of the stars comprising the Milky Way visible, it was easy to imagine several thousand of them aligning in our favor.

Student-sailor scientists were stood down from their shipboard duties to focus on the tasks and exploration for which they came. A plethora of roosting seabirds was observed on the island. Instruments documenting 24-hour-temperature cycles were set out and retrieved from the surrounding waters, and students, several of whom had never before snorkeled on a tropical reef, were welcomed to the wonderful world of coral-appreciating people.

Many of us have no idea how lucky we are. Data is still being downloaded and processed, but even with significant coral bleaching and evidence of commercial fishing, the reef supporting Ile Maria still ranks among the most impressive many of us have ever seen.

Stealing a last victory before we departed, Robbie S. sighted the first school of yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) seen this trip and hooked and landed a beautiful specimen. Not only did the fish make for a wonderful sushi lunch today, but its heart and other viscera are going towards several of students' projects. Or, as we so often say, they are going FOR SCIENCE!!

Spoiler alert: several of the students are now sporting much sportier haircuts, but I'll leave them to share that themselves in a future update.

-Adam Behrendt

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Routine and Disruption

Just as we started settling into the swing of things on board - seasickness dissipating, and our circadian clocks finally syncing with the 18-hour watch cycles - today disrupted normalcy once more. Today was the day we reached Ile Maria - our first island stop, and an uninhabited one at that.

We finished our first full cycle of watch rotations this morning. All three watch groups have stood all 4 of the watch shifts. 24-hour days only exist externally; we report position and weather observations to the outside world. Internally, though days truly are 18 hours long. Hours become time either standing watch or sleeping, preparing to stand watch, and days become building blocks of full watch cycles - when a single watch group completes all 4 cycles before starting once again. 

Dawn watch this morning was quite special. Approaching Ile Maria, fighting exhaustion and delirium, watch group A (pronounced watch A-yy) learned to identify navigational stars, but that quickly spiraled into a disco star-lit dance party. The hours passed seamlessly with intermittent torrential downpours and striking/setting sails to control our arrival time at the island. The highlight, though, was standing lookout, alone on the front of the ship, trying to make out the outline of Ile Maria on the horizon before the sun brought first light to the sky.

Anticipating a day full of reef activities, A watch only thought of our pillows after finishing breakfast. The chaos, though, began as we were jolted awake as the anchor descended down 100m to the seafloor. Quite alarming when exhausted and fast asleep, it was as if someone had misjudged the location of the reef and crashed us into rock bottom. (Those were my thoughts before my brain starting firing. The anchor. Right, it's stored right above your head.) These are the things you hope your brain hasn't stashed too far from short-term memory.

The first of many surprises, it was as if dropping the anchor not only freed us from our finally normal routine of watch duties, but also released the tension and stress that understandably had built during our first few days at sea. We stepped off the ship for the first time in 5 days and it was as if a sense of confinement lifted. Afternoon and evening on the quarter-deck was quite literally a joy. It was as if the stars were aligned for us, the skies parted in dramatic fashion, and people started bringing out the guitars and ukuleles for some wonderful improv singing and interpretative dance.

The highlight of the day was snorkeling on the reef of Ile Maria. We saw eels, octopi, too many fish to name, and even an occasional shark (don't worry, mom, we all came back with 100% of our limbs intact).

Returning to the ship after only a few hours of snorkeling, it was as if leaving allowed us to call her home for the first time. Coming back to snacks, singing, and a new sense of life on the ship, the night continued as a carefree moment of appreciation for what we are witnessing. While leaving the ship may have disrupted the routine we finally adopted, it also made us realize that this ship truly is home. 


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Day On Board

I write this blog post after just consuming a freshly baked, cranberry orange scone made for morning snack by our wonderful chef Charlie. Still warm from the oven, with a light lemon glaze, each mouthful melts in my mouth with the perfect combination of sweet, tart, and soft scone-y perfection. I can't help but feel that life is good, and all is right in the world.

It's amazing how important good food is for morale on board.

RCS in 30 knot winds
Yesterday was my first full day at sea, and I got to be the Steward's Assistant in the galley (cook's assistant in the ship). I was in the galley by 0545 slicing strawberries for yogurt parfaits for breakfast. As is custom when I cook, I sampled some of the prettiest berries while assigned this task, but soon regretted this dearly. The heat of the galley, combined with the constant rocking motion of the ship left me hot and sticky, while water and berries sloshed around in my stomach. Feeling nauseous, I told Charlie I needed some fresh air and was soon sprinting up the stairs trying to hold back vomit. I made it to the deck with my cheeks puffed full, and our Canadian TA Andrew (with a truly world class farmer's tan) quickly directly me to the down wind side of the ship to chunder (an affectionate term for vomiting that has been quickly adopted by all students aboard.think of the Little Mermaid song repurposed to "Chunder the Sea", and jokes like "The Land down Chunder", you get the idea). After the quick expelling of strawberry red juice into the ocean, I felt much better, and went right back down to the galley to help clean up the breakfast dishes. As my first and only tactile experience with seasickness thus far, it felt like a right of passage and gave me huge compassion for my mates who were more affected.

As the day passed, I got very intimate with some chicken thighs, chopped large amounts of onions, eggplant, and asparagus, made tomato sauce, layered Eggplant Parmesan, set tables, continually washed dishes, and did whatever else Charlie needed help with. All the while, chatting and get to know some of her life story. What. A. Badass. From being a theatre prodigy in high school, to homeschooling herself so she could be in a children's theatre company, completing a very difficult double major in college, studying abroad in Japan, doing SEA semester, sailing the world, and working as a scuba master for a water circus show in Las Vegas, getting to know more about her was awesome.

CTD in rough weather
Working in the galley, I also gained an appreciation for the prodigious amount of work that it takes to make food to feed 37 people six times a day: breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, and midnight snack. For those of us that were hoping to shed a couple pounds on this trip, the prospects look grim. Charlie's cooking is exceptional, and I think it's safe to say that we have been eating better here on board than we have been for the first 5 weeks when we were responsible for cooking for ourselves.

I was relieved of kitchen duty at 1820 when we had our first seating for dinner, and then headed up on deck for my first real watch at 1845. For the first hour I struggled to learn how to steer at the helm, and trust me, I REALLY struggled. So much so, that a couple times our First Mate Ryan had to quickly take the wheel from me in order to greatly correct my mistake so that the ship wouldn't be in big trouble. I kept on correcting in the opposite direction I was supposed to (essentially, making our off course direction worse) because I was focused on reading the ship's compass too much. It felt hopeless, but I was impressed by Ryan's undying patience and compassion with teaching me. Not once did he raise his voice, or express the exasperation I felt after making the same exact mistake over and over, and over again. While I was not even close to mastering this skill, I feel hopeful that it can happen with such exceptional teaching staff to guide me.

The human ability to adapt is quite astonishing. Only a couple days have passed on board, and already I feel as though our class is starting to get into the rhythm of things. The rotating 6 hours on, and 12 hours off for our watch schedule, the six feedings a day, and the daily all crew class meetings as 1430. We have already experienced and learned so much together, I look forward to all there is yet still to come.

-Amy Bolan

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Dawn Watch

I wasn't quite overjoyed to hear that Watch Group A had been assigned the 0100-0700 shift on our first evening underway. The excitement of our previous night on board and the beauty of Moorea's jagged peaks was not lost on me, but I was exhausted. Hours in the hot sun and still air sapped my energy as we rehearsed the ship's procedures, and none of us could wait to finally lift anchor and depart for Iles Maria that afternoon. But that night, instead of passing out in our bunks, the ten members of my watch group would be taking on the responsibilities of the ship: changing sails, manning the helm, conducting boat checks, staffing the science lab, and so on.  We were all undoubtedly excited to begin our journey, but doing so on a couple hours of sleep was not ideal.

My bunk felt like a furnace when I finally fell asleep at 2200. The lights of Moorea had faded gently into the wind behind us, and my classmates were busy jettisoning their dinners from the quarterdeck. At 0050 I ascended the ladder still half-asleep and blind. Time for dawn watch. I don't think I'll soon forget the moment I stepped on deck. Moorea was long
gone, leaving only banks of cumulus to ring the horizon encircling our ship. Stars shone through the tears in a cloudy ceiling and the moon's pale light perfectly halved my sphere of vision into grey sky above and black sea below. Waves disappeared into the shadows of my imperfect sight and left the ocean as void as the night sky it opposed. My eyes adjusted and I found the quarterdeck situated at the exact center of this perfect sphere, no longer burdened by the visual clutter of sunlight and land. It was a perfect simplicity that focused my mind on the vessel beneath my feet, the cool wind
at my back, and the invisible swells rolling off the bow. After our day enclosed in the hot lee of Moorea, it was electrifying.

Watch Group A stood steeped in moonlight and watched three ghostly sails hold the wind. It was 0100, and Sam and I began the first of our hourly boat checks. We stumbled about the deck tugging on life rings ("Yep, that's a life ring") and testing fire hose valves ("Wait, did we just break it?"), and then headed down below for the engine room check. In what was not my proudest moment, I stared at the main engine instrument panel for a solid minute wondering why all of the readouts were zero. Sam politely reminded me that the engine was off. We were, in fact, sailing."This will be like the last watch on the Titanic," Sam chuckled. But there will be plenty of practice to come.

At 0230 I was sent to relieve Adam as forward lookout. By now the converging rings of cumulus left only a few last windows to the celestial dome, through which I glimpsed a shooting star carving its pale green notch in the dark. It lingered briefly before the blackness flooded back in and reclaimed the inch-long streak. The Southern Cross laid on its side directly in line with the tilting bow, reclining imperceptibly into its shroud of clouds, and I watched it sink as I took to the platform. Forward lookout at dawn is a rare moment of presence and solitude during busy shifts-the horizon is your concern, geometric at heart, and your eyes and mind wander freely over the shape of the bow cross-cutting the sea and stars. With every rise you feel like you can peer down over the horizon, and with every crashing fall you feel the might of the ocean push back on you. 
Sunrise on May 15

I stood as lookout for thirty fleeting minutes. 0300 and not a single tired fiber in my body. I felt instead a focused presence of mind, the invigorating feeling that I could stay on deck for hours as our ship crossed the Pacific, neither shore nor soul in sight. I wasn't mourning my missing hours of sleep-rather, I was endlessly glad to be awake and present. A call came from the quarterdeck for the next boat check and I headed aft under the sweeping shapes of the sails. Still four hours to go, and I'd never felt better.

-Mike Burnett

Monday, May 15, 2017

Orientation to the Seamans

It's been a little over a day aboard the ship that will be our home for the next five weeks, the Robert C. Seamans. Our main engine has a Darth Vader hula girl- yes its as weird and awesome as it sounds, kind of like our engineer Dylan's beard- that dances when the engine is on. It has a Lego cowboy keychain you can see standing at the helm, and our cabins have names like Sleepy Hollow or Sixteenth Street. 

Since we just spent the past 40 hours learning about the ship, preparing for emergencies aboard, and starting to become familiar with it, I will take you on a bit of a walk around her. I'm not really sure why ships are "she", but that's how it works, so I'll refer to her like that. I'm sitting aft, on the quarterdeck. It's at the stern or the back of the boat, where Daela is currently at the helm, and Big Robby and Ben, the Stanford Fisherman and our TA, are setting up the canes to try and catch us lunch.  

Walk towards the bow, or the front, on the starboard, or right, side of the ship, and you come across the lovely railings that held our bodies in as C watch fed the crazy bioluminescent organisms we saw during our evening watch. Watches are one of the three groups our crew is split up into, and we take turns being on or off. One thing we learned is that Charlie's curry tastes much better coming in than out. 

Keep going forward and you can start to see the lab, where we have all the equipment we will be using for our projects. 

Cross the ship, and on the Port side of the science lab you can see where we will be doing our science deployments. We have a carousel, where we have equipment that measures light, salinity, pressure, temperature, and other extremely useful parameters we need for our research. We also have equipment to collect sediments. This was the first we successfully deployed, and we took a sample of the sediment of the bay we were anchored at earlier in the day, and we found greyish-green clay.  

Amidships, or the middle of the ship, below decks, which is the inside; we have the galley, what you would call the kitchen, and a nice salon area with a library. Our Steward Charlie, the same one that made the curry, makes magic there. The same food get's put on tables that move with the motion of the waves, but it looks like they swing around, it's quite a confusing site. Bobby C is a pretty special place, and I hope to keep learning from her as the voyage goes on. 

-Andrea Contreras

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Hello landlubbers!

All is well on the Robert C. Seamans. We set sail from Papeete 40 hours ago and made a fast transit to Oponohu Bay on Moorea to conduct our ship station drills and familiarization routines. Captain Pamela chose this location for its natural beauty and calm waters (photo).

We lay at anchor at Moorea for 20 hours while all aboard trained and made ready for sea. Fire drills, man overboard exercises and abandon ship training must be completed, as we are not a passenger vessel. Our Stanford students are members of the ship's crew and everyone has an important and assigned role to play during emergencies. As part of our training we donned our immersion suits (photo) - designed to keep us warm and safe in the event of a prolonged stay in the sea.

Moorea is spectacular - with soaring, vertical-sided volcanic peaks and serrated ridges separated by tropical forests (photo). We collected our first scientific samples at Oponohu, including a sediment grab plucked from the seafloor 43 meters below the ship. The mud was clean and oxygenated - with many small invertebrates.

We set sail for Ile Maria at 1600 on 14 May 17 - and soon thereafter began experiencing a crew shortage due to mal de mer. It wasn't so much the force 5 winds but rather the complex sea conditions created by a distant cyclone to the northwest, a local tropical wave, and the defining influence of the nearby islands on wind and current. Yet smiling faces were the norm, fueled by our sense of shared adventure as adjust to the motions of home at sea. We are SAILING a tall ship in French Polynesia, with no motor assist needed and science on our minds. 

-RB Dunbar

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

If you don’t know exactly what’s happening, just state your observations.

The lessons of sea can be distinctly different from those on land. Sometimes, what we see will be more important than how we see it.

One morning, sitting at the point, we had five minutes of silence to simply observe what was happening around us. Discussing what we noticed as a group afterwards, everyone picked up on something different. Only all together could we begin to make sense of our surroundings. I couldn’t focus my attention on one thing for too long, wanting to take in the entirety of the setting; I wanted to see the big picture, how everything fit together. Others zeroed in on the currents, others on the bird patterns, and others still on the seals. Without all of our eyes together, we wouldn’t have seen the bay in the same way. That day, we began the process of relying on one another to bring individual perspective to our collective experience.

It’s now been 5 weeks since we first walked onto the Hopkins campus.  I distinctly remember sitting on the 3rd floor of Agassiz, the building that would become our home, mind racing with questions of what I was doing in this course and who I would become at the end of this journey. As if anticipating these very thoughts, Barb started off the morning reading us the first page of the journal she kept during her SEA experience as an undergrad. That was a moment I won’t forget. Expressing many of the same concerns and excitement many of us probably felt, the sense of community formed. Discussing WHY we would embark on a voyage like this one encouraged all of us to frame the voyage as an opportunity for personal growth – physically, mentally, and intellectually.

I think I speak for everyone in saying this is an experience we won’t be able to recreate. Already, it has been an opportunity to engage our hands and minds simultaneously, an opportunity to connect deeply with a group of 20 other students, and an opportunity to go beyond our comfort zones in order to become better versions of ourselves. With everyone taking the same classes, we define our experiences together by what we are learning. Our classes constantly in communication with one another, discussions are that much richer.

These 5 weeks went by faster than any of us could have anticipated. We learned how to navigate with both lines of position and celestial bodies, observed weather patterns, perfected (?) safety protocols, began to grasp the complexity of oceanography, and explored the cultural history of the places we will visit. Each of us crafted a research project to complete while aboard the ship. They range from corals to water masses, from plastics to squids, to sharks, and to tuna hearts; all of these projects together will define our shipboard experience. With (almost) all of the equipment packed up for the boat, we are just about ready to embark! 

-Lindsay Allison