Thursday, June 11, 2015

Final Blog from SEA 2015

We sailed for science. We traversed the Pacific Ocean on a quantitative crossing most easily explained by the numbers. Over 3000 nautical miles travelled. 5 island stops. 45 science stations. 20,344 miles of wire deployed. 3,425 copepods counted. 74,640 liters of water passed through our flow-through system.

But like the best of science, we cannot rely only on the data. How can you quantify (although chl-a measurements certainly try) the way the bioluminescence in the wake of the ship mirrors the stars? What photograph can capture the view of the pink fore reef of Caroline Atoll as seen from the forem'st? What trigonometric equation can calculate the parallel planes of a snorkeler with arms outstretched above manta ray? What thermometer could explain the frozen sweetness of an ice cream sandwich on a humid afternoon on Rangiroa? How could science even begin to analyze the art of a midnight Tim-Tam slam?

We sailed for science, but we sailed for so much more than that. For making seven knots on a starboard tack under the four lowers. For late night jam sessions under the stars. For dolphins under the bowsprint and jumping mola mola on the starboard quarter. For dawn watch star frenzies and celestial fixes. For pin-balling blindly from your rack to the quarterdeck for mid watch. For gybing. For eating freshly caught tuna on a table that moves with the swell. For deck showers after a long day of snorkeling. For transitioning from pollywogs to shellbacks. For supporting our watch-mates as JWO or JLO. For five men fighting for five hours in full drag. For fresh lychee and passion fruit and pamplemousse.

And throughout all these moments, the Bobby C transformed from a vessel into a home. How long will "over there" still be replaced by NE x N or two points on the starboard beam or 314 degrees true? How long will it take for a galley to become a kitchen again? How many times will we try to turn port or starboard instead of left or right? How long will it take to start feeling at ease on land again?

Being at sea for five weeks creates this strange dichotomy. Standing at the bow and looking out at the horizon, it's hard not to feel infinitesimally small. But there's something about sailing that makes you feel so much larger than yourself, too-a piece of a vessel and a crew and a family making way across the Pacific.

And for all of this, I give my unending thanks to Momma Seamans and all of the little parts-human and otherwise-that form her. She kept us safe on our long journey. She kept us challenged-from calling a sail for the first time to identifying new creatures in a 100-count. She kept us excited and thoughtful and aware and sometimes a little bit seasick and fulfilled and exhausted and most importantly always together. 39 humans who I am now honored to call some of my closest friends and mentors, always together.

As Oahu materializes on the horizon, it's hard to comprehend that this voyage is ending. But the ship must sail on, and so must we. To the Bobby C, may you have fair winds and favorable seas wherever you voyage. And to us-this crew and this family-may our connections to the sea and to each other remain forever intertwined.

Until we sail again,

-Meghan Shea

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

To speak as a salty sailor

Robert Seamans at anchor. Photo by Emma
[As the end of Stanford@Sea draws near, us students have gained a new understanding of the way a sailing school vessel operates as smoothly as the RCS. This poem is in celebration of that understanding.]

To speak as a salty sailor
you must first familiarize yourself with my factions, as living aboard a vessel requires a fresh language acquisition.

Folding gently into sea states
I am born anew by fire hoses and long brooms From inside out and outside in to field day, deck wash and dawn clean up standing up to mung is the first order of the sun who measures cleanliness by the prevalence of puns.

After exfoliating my epidermis,
Make haste in machinery spaces to
ponder the inverted peaks of pendulums
and the point at which you hit your head the hardest. 
Then gauge my personal pressure and potable pumps to know the number of rotations propelling each movement.

Disillusion yourself with stairs,
as my ladders stoop steeply with the swell And as you hop on dog tops
remind yourself that monkeys never lean leeward.   
Tilt my tuba feet as you trip from too little sleep and hook my eye in bowlines and lines fouled for each hour the security of the ship nestles close to your ears, perched on shoulder tops.

In the days defined by watch schedules
cover me in sweltering candy from the galley and sugar coat it in mid-rats seasoning to ring the day in revelry with shouts of nourishment travelling from galley to a gimbled saloon.

"Gybe ho!" marks the end of the meal
because helms up but don't head up
and idle hands make idle companions
So voices carrying over the quarterdeck remain reminders of on duty on deck.

Learn to brace my shoulders square to secluded destinations Hoist me high with the days haul stretch me out by heaving on my brails claw at my edges with outhauls and clues to sheet home at the end of an evolution.
And when I luff more than I puff
tie me down with a midshipman's hitch on a rolling science top.

Deployments are dancers after data
And as you drive my J-frame out
cast my shadow into hydrodreams below
Bryant in silhouette our graduating senior.
 Photo by Meghan
And count the first hundred moments that bioluminesce blinds any thoughts of a monotonous open ocean.

When time feels lulled by a northeast swell, be sure to shoot down my celestial circumnavigations and ask me what my heading really is to fix my bow to isolated atolls Where we will fish boat falls to raise miniature boats to reefs.

Sometimes you will find yourself off watch, Inhale the air of the tropics and exhale communal music, and shimmy up my shrouds for sunsets and rig checks.
A round tern and two frigates later
you may find me at rest with the folk in sleepy hollow

and if you have a moment to spare,
be sure to call me Robert C. Seamens.



Saturday, June 6, 2015

Life at Sea

Doug Dunbar (photo by B. Block)
With the Hawaiian Islands soon to rise over the Northern horizon, many of us on board are reflecting on the unique experience we have all shared. For me, this trip has expanded my own horizons in many different ways from lab work, to cooking, even just living as a mariner. Our world on board is small but not claustrophobic; it rewards hard work with tangible benefits that we all enjoy. Standing watch on the bow during a squall equates to your shipmates sleeping peacefully below knowing they are literally being watched over. Scrubbing soles (floors) after every dawn watch keeps us all safe from slipping as well as healthy on a clean and happy ship. People are eager to help out whether on or off watch because it feels good to contribute towards something we all share, it also reduces the stress of time imposed on all watch standers.
Time on a vessel following a strict schedule is as much a resource as fresh water, fruit, or toilet paper (the last of which we are running low on). Though the lab and deck are separated by different agendas, both must work together to accomplish the things they set out to do. When coming onto watch for either lab or deck you are confronted with a to-do list often much longer than you have time to complete. It is essential to prioritize, delegate, and communicate in order to get through as much of the list as possible, that way when you turn over to the next watch they have less on their agenda. In Lab you balance deploying scientific equipment with data processing, all the while ensuring the deck is informed and prepared to have the ship at the right speed or orientation so that none of the equipment is damaged. On Deck you balance keeping the labbies happy with maintaining course and speed made good towards whatever destination is next. While getting mama Seamans onto station may sound like a wheel turn away, heaving to on a port tack for science (HTPT4S) involves sail handling, gybing or tacking, and often more hands than are available. This is when you rely on your shipmates to lend a hand so that when it comes time for their watch everything is shipshape and on schedule. Keep in mind, all of this is unfolding on a rolling, bouncing, heeling living entity we have all called home for the last five weeks.
Compensating for the motion of a ship underway manifests itself in many ways. Appetites increase, but weight is not gained, eating meals off the gimbaled tables involves many crunches to maintain a constant range (distance) off your plate. Sleeping in your bunk requires a strategically braced leg to prevent yourself from falling out or crumpling up in a corner.
People walk in sequences, holding fast when the swells make movement energetically inefficient and bursting forward when gravity is once again on their side. Water tight doors that open against the heel of the ship (tilt of the ship) are ankle killing traps that require no small amount of brute force and alacrity to slip through unscathed. Showering involves fortifying yourself in a small stall, fighting an uphill battle against being clean and the negative side effects soap has on your ability to maintain friction. It is easy to spot the freshly woken oncoming watch from their stiff legs and drunken movement, often resulting in unintentional embraces with bulkheads
(walls) or even each other. All in all the motion is one of the many universal forces we all share aboard the Robert C Seamans, it is something that we bond over, from catching one another to jumping up from dinner to clean up a spill from a foolishly placed milk carton.
Without internet or outside communication everyone on board has been relying on the font of knowledge stemming from the book filled library and all of our own skills, strengths, and experiences. This so called intranet arguably yields more information than any Google search, not only do you get your question answered, but you get associated anecdotes and insights that save a lot of time in the long run. Not to mention people frequently expand upon brought up subjects opening up new avenues for future interest or investment of time on board. The number of recommended books, movies, theses, and campsites has merited a long and fruitful list for time on shore. With our journey quickly coming to a close we are all frantically running around to update said lists, download all of our favorite photos, and gather contact information. The last of which is especially important for me as a UC Davis student who will not have the luxury of bumping into these beautiful and intelligent people back on Stanford campus.
A sailing sunset (photo by Nick Mendoza)
Our small rolling world, unifying work ethic, and reliable intranet has brought us all together. Similar to the many remote atolls and islands we have stopped at, we are a product of our environment, relying on the finite resources and community support to thrive. The prime take away from this trip for me was how high the gross domestic happiness was at each of the inhabited places we were so fortunate to visit. There is no need for a high paying salary, flat screen TV, or cell service to lead a fulfilling and happy life, instead the priceless interactions between each other and the place we inhabit is more than enough to fuel our souls. I certainly felt this way aboard the Robert C Seamans and I am hoping to cling to this feeling after my reintroduction to terra firm. I know that if I can incorporate even a fraction of this vibe into my everyday life it will increase my overall happiness and peace of mind.

Still Sailing Strong
-Doug Dunbar S259

Friday, June 5, 2015

Changing States

It was a dark and stormy night.  I woke up to a voice whispering my name from the blackness.
"It's windy with a light rain," the voice informed me. "You might want to bring your foulies."
"Okay thanks," I mumbled.  I heard footsteps retreating as I checked my watch.  2:28.  Twenty-two minutes until I needed to be on deck for turnover.
I closed my eyes for ten more minutes before forcing myself to sit up and throw on the clothes I had balled up in a corner at the foot of my bunk.
Probably one of the few times I didn't need to be woken up a second time.
I fumbled down the hallway in the darkness toward the closet where we keep our waterproof gear, our "foulies."  I reached into the back left corner where I had hung my jacket a week earlier but couldn't find it.  I checked my watch again.  2:48.  I wouldn't be able to find my jacket without a flashlight, and I didn't have time to grab one so I headed upstairs instead.
Besides, it was just a light rain, right?
As I stepped onto the quarterdeck, I noticed it was darker than it had been the last few nights under the moon, and as I rounded the corner of the doghouse top to gather with the other members of my watch for turnover, a harsh wind hit my face, and raindrops began to soak the side of my body facing into the wind.
"We're in a squall," the Junior Watch Officer from midwatch stated.
I would definitely need to find my jacket.
Ten minutes later, with raincoat zipped up to my chin and hood tightened around my face, I took the helm as another member of my watch went in search of her own foulies.  I pulled the right side of my hood forward to protect my glasses from the rain coming in streaks with the northeasterly winds.
I squinted through the darkness at the compass as I worked to maintain our heading of 010.
"Mark your head!" our watch officer called through the wind.
"015," I sang out.
"Can you get back to 010?" he asked.
"Yes."  I turned the helm gradually left and then rotated with more force when the Seamans gave no response.  A large swell hit the side of the ship, and I found us rapidly passing through 010 and on to 000.  I swung the helm clockwise to readjust but again found myself missing the mark as the waves threw us even farther off course.
"Mark your head!"
Frustrated, I reluctantly responded, "020."
"Sing out when you're on course," our watch officer instructed.
Although I was soon able to steady up at 010, I found myself battling with the wind and rain and swells throughout my time at the helm - something I haven't needed to do before.  Later, as I stood lookout on the windward side of the quarterdeck, saltwater from the crashing waves sprayed my face.  As the damp air hit me in full force, so did the realization that this was the first time I had felt cold during an entire watch.  I could tangibly feel the change in environment.
With only five more days until we reach Oahu, six-to-eight-foot swells have become a nearly constant sea state, and during the day we can now work below comfortably (without sweating).  The number of laptops in use around the ship has also been increasing steadily as we prepare for our final presentations, and watches have felt different besides just the colder temperatures.  With student JWOs and JLOs (Junior Watch Officers and Junior Lab Officers) giving the orders, we're taking on more responsibility as crewmembers.  "Kylie has the deck!" is both the scariest and most empowering phrase I've heard throughout this entire trip.  Today during class, one of our Conservation Friday talks focused on reflecting about our Stanford@SEA experiences and thinking about what we'll take away from our research and trip.
While the sea state is changing around us, the state of the Seamans is also changing.  The end is near.

Homeward bound,

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Coming to you live from 8˚ 43.4’ N x 158˚ 34.1’ W

“So I was right yesterday, you are our first JWO (Junior Watch Officer).”
I was groggy and still half asleep, and it took me awhile to register what Scott, my mate, had said. “Cool beans.”

“As Junior Watch Officer you assume the responsibilities for organizing the watch and carry out my orders under the watchful eye of your mate. The planning and execution of watch activities are under your immediate supervision. Understand that you directly communicate with me for your instructions.” These were the instructions from our captain, and I was about to find out whether I was ready.

For our dedicated blog followers, today was the start of the Junior Watch Officer phase on the Robert C. Seamans. Prior to today, a member of the watch was appointed as the shadow to follow the watch or lab officer. The shadow phase was intended to prepare us for the responsibility of running the watch as the JWO or JLO (Junior Lab Officer).

‘A’ watch started our morning watch at 0700, relieving ‘C’ watch from duty. I was going to be the JWO for the first half of our watch, and I was brought up to speed on the vessel and its status. We were motor sailing under the four lower sails, with force 5 winds and six foot swells coming from the Northeast. There were no squalls in sight, and it looked like it was going to be a nice, breezy day. The main goal of our watch was a science station deployment at 1000. Before we got to that though, I had a number of things on my to do list that had to get done before we were going to heave to on a port tack for the science station. I reported our weather, plotted a GPS fix on the charts, organized a deck wash, used a sextant to shoot the sun to obtain a line of position, sent watch members to help out with dishwashing in the galley, and completed many other items that are all part of our daily routine on the RCS. All this time, I was also organizing my watch to complete hourly boat checks, hourly weather observations and half hourly engine checks. There was a lot to accomplish, and with good coordination between the deck and science watches, we managed to get everything done with time to spare.

At 0945, we prepared to heave to. We squared the braces, brought the stays’l travellers to their port stoppers and informed the crew that we were about to tack. I reduced the throttle on the main engine to 1000 RPM to slow us down, and told the helmsman to turn the helm 15˚ to the right to initiate a turn through the wind. When we reached a beam reach, the helmsman brought the rudder back to midships and I brought the engine to idle. We were now hove to on a port tack. It was time to drop some science on the Pacific! Kylie, the second JWO of the day was about to take over and run the deployments, so I went below to the doghouse to log the events of the morning before turning it over to her.

Having the responsibility of JWO was a little nerve-wracking. My mate was there to ensure that nothing disastrous occurred, but as the captain said, I was directly in charge of ensuring that watch activities were carried out. After we were relieved from watch though, I was thinking about the amount of responsibility that the JWO has. I realized that it actually was not anything special. On this little ship that has become our world, we are all responsible for each other. Being the JWO technically puts you in a position of extra responsibility, but everyone else has just as large a role to play. I know I could not have done my job without the help of my watch mates.

Throughout this amazing journey, we have had to rely on each other daily.
When others are keeping you safe while you are asleep at night, or cooking your food, or helping you collect data, or even catching you when you stumble during a bad roll, you really start to appreciate everyone. Before starting this quarter, I knew two of the people who I am on this ship with.
Now, I cannot remember a time when I did not call these people my friends, let alone remember a time when I did not even know them. The students, the professors, the scientists, the crew; we are all a part of this world, and we are all intricately intertwined on this sea-faring voyage. Out here, we have each other’s backs, and I’ve never felt more support or love from a group of people in my life. From countless watches together, to late night talking sessions, I have learned some weird and wonderful things about these folks. But all these experiences have brought us closer, and I am honored to call these people my friends and shipmates.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015


If there is one thing for certain that I have learned from Stanford at Sea, it is that you have never truly experienced the vivacity of color until you have sailed the open ocean. While there are a plethora of events that I will never forget or cease to cherish from this incredible five-week voyage, my experience with colors will remain one of the dearest to me.

Alicia sits in the rigging
The first time that I had ever seen the color blue was the first time I was truly out at Open Ocean. Never had I seen something so vibrant, electric, and piercing as the Pacific Ocean fifty nautical miles out from shore. The water here had escaped the tainted grays and blacks of urban living, and was free to pulsate with a profound, living blue. From it, a salty breeze whipped playfully around the stern of the ship, as I saw white as bright as snow form frothy foam at the tips of waves that broke here.
The first time that I had ever seen the color green was the first time I had spotted the lush landscape of an island. The hills of Tahiti were gentle giants, a lulling slope blanketed by a vivacious green. Green so deliciously bright that when I closed my eyes, the resonance of the color remained a phantom of my vision. Green so memorable that I doubt I can continue to accept any other green as true.

The first time that I had ever seen the color red was after a five hour battle with a one hundred and fifty pound tuna. As the gorgeous, silver streaked, deep blue beast was hauled aboard the ship, red poured out of its lesion like wine out of a silver goblet. This red was so profound that I thought of my own mortality as I watched it gently pool around the luminous creature. Perhaps a sterling trophy to some fishermen, but an orb of color for me.

The first time that I had ever seen the color gold was the thick, buttery yellow that spread across the crisp, pale sky as the sun dipped, hot onto the horizon. This gold seem to drip, broiling and shimmery, onto the abysmal, rolling sea, spreading out like a carpet woven with shimmering thread. The gold was so dazzling it seemed to seep into my skin, and warm my breeze-cooled veins. I welcomed this soothing warmth despite the climate of the tropics.

While I have seen many gorgeous colors on this trip, my favorite by far is the colors of hands as they haul, ease, make fast, make ready, and coil the lines of our egg-shell white sails. These colors range from a gradient of golden brown to sun-kissed ivory. I love these colors not only because of their physical appearance, but what they signify.  We have come so far in our journey aboard the Robert C. Seamans, sweating, singing, and working under the sizzling sun of the equatorial Pacific. Not only does color help preserve the myriad of memories I have made, but it serves as an indication of time, an indication of commitment, and an indication of how far we have progressed as sailors.
Perhaps the most memorable color will be radiating red of the Morning Watch sunburn. On the RCS, earning a freckle is like earning your stripes.

A little more freckled

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Busy Time

It’s Tuesday, June 2nd, and in a week we will be approaching Honolulu. It’s been quite a journey aboard the Robert C. Seamans, and it’s hard to believe that our time together will soon come to an end. The thing about being on a ship for five weeks is that it’s enough time to really get into a routine, and our lives have been filled with personalized wake-ups, hauling on lines, snorkeling in remote places, and walking with a wide stance to accommodate the motion of a rolling ship.

It’s a very busy time. Students are collecting their last few samples, analyzing their data, and preparing for final presentations and papers. Sometimes it seems like we’re spending more time with our spreadsheets than with our pillows. But even though our hours of sleep per day are diminishing, the big picture is finally coming together – taking a very close look at the mountains of data we’ve been accumulating over this entire trip and trying to draw some conclusions about this understudied and very intriguing portion of the ocean.

Since Fanning Island was our last port stop before we end the journey in Honolulu, we are now on the longest open ocean leg of the trip – 10 days at sea, which are filled with lots of sailing, science, and weather. This is the most wind and swells we’ve seen all trip, and I was certainly reminded of this when I was on lookout last night and got completely doused by a wave that came over the bow and into the ship. Not to worry though – I was smiling the whole time. In addition, the ship has been heeling about 30 degrees to the left for the past day, which makes all of us look very funny as we’re walking, leaning sideways in order to stay upright. A few of us are trying to stage a protest against the law of gravity.

As we approach American waters, we are starting to encounter a bit more traffic, although there are still days when we don’t see anyone. One of the most interesting interactions we’ve had with another vessel occurred yesterday, when during Dawn Watch Erica spotted a small sailing ship off our port bow. Kevin, our Watch Officer, made contact with the vessel and talked to the captain, whose name was Yoda, and in his words, had a “very large crew of one”. We were very excited to hear more about this guy, and crowded around the radio as Kevin asked him questions. We learned that Yoda was sailing by himself for six months from Honolulu to Brisbane, Australia, with many stops in between. Yoda was from Israel and gave us some good information about the weather ahead – some more wind, but not too much rain. You really meet some fascinating people out here on the high seas.

Tomorrow, we are beginning a new “phase” of our academic journey on the Seamans: JWO, or Junior Watch Officer, phase. During our time on the ship, we’ve been working under our Watch Officers Scott, Ryan, and Kevin, and our Assistant Scientists Maya, Laura, and Kelsey. As we have become more and more familiar with ship operations, we’ve been given more responsibility, and have been in a “Shadow” phase for the past two weeks. During the Shadow phase, we followed our Watch Officers and Assistant Scientists around, taking note of how they communicate with the Captain and other leadership, how they make decisions, and what regular responsibilities they have during watch. In JWO Phase, we will be the ones in charge of making sure that everything gets done on deck and in the lab. It’s a lot of responsibility, but it’s so exciting to think that it’s only been a month since we started and we’re now ready to take this big step in leadership.

Overall, things are running smoothly on the Robert C. Seamans, and even though we’re all buckling down on our projects, we’re also becoming quite sentimental in this last week on the ship. Living on board has truly become a way of life for us, and it’s hard to believe that we’ll soon be back on terra firma, with tall buildings, cell phones, cars, and fresh fruit all around us. For now, we’re maximizing every minute, squeezing everything we can out of this truly unique experience.

Fair thee well,