Friday, June 12, 2009

Thoughts at the Journey's End

The Stanford At Sea 2009 Class Returns

All voyages come to an end, and we have reached our final destination - Honolulu. 38 Students and faculty, crew and Captain have sailed over 3600 nm together. It has been a successful trip, and we’re deeply touched by the strong bonds of our shipboard community and the memories of this voyage across an expansive Pacific oceanography and cultural community. We faculty have a deep admiration for our students, who have mastered sailing and navigation of this tall ship through the strong easterly trade winds which brought all of us back to safe harbor here in Honolulu. We sailed in under the guidance of Captain Phil, with Ethan Estes at the helm and all hands on deck to throw our bow and stern lines ashore.

The end of a passage is always a challenging time emotionally. There are conflicting feelings of wanting to be ashore again-to savor our terrestrial world; but also the recognition that our remarkable time together, discovering a new world for many as shipmates on this incredible sailing vessel has finally come to a close. I know for sure that each one of us who made the passage will think deeply about our time on the RCS, reflecting on our voyage of discovery, the explorations of new places, and the growth one garners from the physical, emotional and intellectual challenges of being at sea for five weeks on a tall ship. I have been thinking about how much of our time is spent outdoors in this program- and how little we experience the natural world 24/7 at home. Some students have decided to remain on board during the “Turn Around” period when the ship is made ready for the next sail from Honolulu to San Francisco. We look forward to seeing the ship again in Monterey, Ca. in the summer.

I recall as a student on Westward (w-49) the challenges at this juncture- the excitement of wanting to tell the story to others- but the difficulty of leaving a ship you’ve called home over a remarkable period of discovery. We gathered the class, and they all received their equator crossing “certificates” along with a “graduation pin” from SEA- and we took moment in this our last class gathering to open an envelope signed and sealed on the first day of class. In the envelope we had put index cards with our thoughts from day one when each one of us wrote about what we hoped to gain from the voyage. I will share below a few of these words from our students, written on day one within the first hour of meeting. It is uncanny how in March, many of us wrote down our hopes and dreams for this particular voyage - and sure enough, I think this particular cruise track truly delivered beyond expectations:

“ I’m here to understand the ocean first-hand, to feel what it is like to move a ship with only human effort and the wind, and to make myself a better, more complete person in doing so.”

“ An unparalleled sense of community. A love of the ocean and its beauty. Awesome memories: feeling of accomplishment for all we’ve done! More knowledge than I could have gained in a classroom in years. An appreciation of sleep and life’s other small blessings”

“I want to swim with a shark, and stay up on watch under the stars. I have wished and dreamed and hoped to do this all my life”

“Appreciate Earth and Oceans. Make Lasting Friendships. Know what I’m going to do with my life!

“Safe Passage, Comraderie, Discovery”

For the students and faculty of S-223, we’re home now and all of us will move on- but few of us will forget what we’ve accomplished together. Passages through expansive portions of the Pacific Ocean across two Hemispheres. A voyage through remarkable places in Polynesia where a moving and deep cultural history was shared with us by experts from Tahiti, to the Tuamotas, the Marquesas and Hawaii. It has been a super trip, and a wonderful group of students. We look forward to seeing everyone on campus, where the research, stories and memories from this voyage will be shared. Aloha and Mahalo to all.

- Dr. Barbara Block

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sailing Past Molokai

The Seamans sails past the Cliffs of Molokai

We’ve been sailing along the Hawaiian Islands, finishing the science and oceanographic portion of the trip. The students have presented all of their final papers and the symposium focused on our science was outstanding. Talks ranged from Jessica and Kate’s research focusing on the Licor Carbon measurements taken across the equatorial Pacific and the Revelle buffering capacity of the ocean, to biological talks by Nik, Alex and Joe focused on the oxygen minimum zone and its affect on the biological community we sampled. We are having beautiful weather- and have taken a few swim calls in spectacular Hawaiian locales.. We are sailing along the final portion of our trip- the Cliffs of Molokai. We set sail tonight for Honolulu and should be in port and at the dock by 0900.

-Dr. Barbara Block

Monday, June 8, 2009


As the Seamans approaches Hawaii, we can see steam plumes where hot lava is flowing into the ocean

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sunset on the Ocean Passage

Stanford At Sea student Jessica Hinojosa uses a sextant to estimate the ship's latitude

We are nearing the end of our 15 day journey from the Marquesas to Hawaii. Strong trade winds have been in our favor for the past few days, blowing 20-25 knots. The sun has been shining, and dry air has been a welcome change from the moist tropics. We've pretty much eliminated the “mung” from our clothes and the ship, which accumulates from the wetter tropical portion of our trip. We’re sailing at high speeds of up to 9 and even 10 knots, with 6h of science stations daily. We’ve been making about 110-120 nm a day.

We are within a 100 nm of reaching the Big Island of Hawaii- where potentially tomorrow we will be close enough to witness lava flowing into the sea, producing clouds of steam - giving us a visual record for this tectonic hot spot. We’re not exactly sure where the lava is going into the sea, but hope to pinpoint the volcano flow by the afternoon. It has been a long journey home to the US- we’ve passed the 3100 nm mark in our ship’s log -- a trip full of adventure, exotic natural beauty, and spectacular sailing. We’ve used the motor very little in comparison to past trips north; we came on this leg from the Marquesas a lot further to the east than our prior trips up from Palmyra. We have had the wind pushing us north with steady breezes on the beam the entire way.

We are conducting our last biological collections today- a deep Tucker trawl- probing the depths to examine the biodiversity of the Deep Scattering Layer. This station is a comparison to our low oxygen stations earlier on the leg. We will be finishing our work in the North Equatorial Current by tomorrow. We’re hydrocasting now to 1000m and putting the final touches on the oceanographic section we’ve created from sailing and sampling from about 15 S to 19N. Students are pulling together their individual projects to start the process of presenting their results in formal talks and writing up the final project papers due on Friday.

We plan to sail along the Kona coast of the Big Island on Tuesday- a remarkable coast with epic history of encounters. I could not help but wonder today how the Polynesians could sail and paddle their early vessels through the blustery conditions of the ITCZ. I understand better now how stars such as Arcturus or Vega made navigating a bit easier- but wonder what it took to make such arduous journeys. The oral history of Polynesians included a knowledge of stars that far exceeds our own- but students on this trip have made almost all their fixes home with either star or sun site positions. A contest for the student who can put the last fix on the map approaching Hawaii with the highest accuracy drew a lot of activity. And as always we’re trying to guess what time we’ll hear the shout “Land Ho!”

We’re coming in almost under full sail to Hawaii- into the areas where Captain Cook took his ships- and plan to make a stops in the vicinity of Kealekekua Bay, where Cook miscalculated returning and lost his life. This bay, with its deep waters and lush mountain views, is also an area where blue marlin spawn- where yellowfin, bigeye and albacore tunas also call home, and where tourists come to snorkel and view the historical sites of Hawaii. Should be a grand sail over the next two days.

-Dr. Barbara Block

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Settling Seas in the Journey's Final Week

Ship’s meeting just ended, and it marked the finale of our weekly Friday afternoon marine conservation talks from Barb and Boris. The weather cooperated for another precious day of class outside on the quarter deck – blue skies, fair-weather cumulus, and northeasterly trades seem too good to be true at times. Our greater appreciation of the beautiful weather follows our almost weeklong squally journey through the ITCZ (I think everyone onboard would agree that we overstayed our welcome). Anyway, we have about two hours until first sitting for dinner, and our two ‘COWs’ (Chief of the Week) have left us with plenty to think about. As Barb pointed out a few days ago, the students of Stanford@SEA 2009 are experiencing a very different ocean than she did on her voyage on the Westward. Despite passing through some highly productive waters, our lack of shark, turtle or marine mammal sightings throughout the cruise track is a good indication of how depleted our oceans have become in terms of biodiversity and top predators.

However, as I’m sure everyone at home can imagine, it is difficult to be a pessimist while sailing on a tall ship through the Central Pacific Ocean. So our marine conservation series ended on an appropriately optimistic note, with a nod towards the intimate experience and education we’ve had with the Pacific Ocean and how we can bring that home with us to increase awareness and even *gasp!* concern about the status of our finite and fragile marine resources.

The limited nature of these resources is even more apparent now as we approach Hawai’i and head into the more oligotrophic waters of the North Pacific Gyre. Thankfully there is still plenty to occupy us as we approach the home stretch. Our GPS continues to be concealed by a sign that says ‘Seek Guidance Elsewhere,’ so every morning and evening between Civil and Nautical Twilight, we are perfecting out celestial navigation skills through STAR FRENZYING!! During ‘Star Frenzy’ the quarter deck overflows with sextants and the air is filled with shouts of “Standby on Arcturus! Ready…and…MARK!” We have also moved into J.W.O./J.L.O. phase (junior watch officer/junior lab officer), so the 22 of us who thought a jib jigger was some sort of dance four weeks ago are now taking turns running the ship during our watches. Any offerings made to King Neptune would be greatly appreciated.

-Annie Scalmanini

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Rough Seas in the ITCZ

We’ve been sailing through the last of the inter tropical convergence zone (ITCZ), an area of atmospheric activity that has led to confused seas in squalls, some high wind gusts of 35 knots and heavy seas. The ITCZ has handed RCS some heavier weather-without question its been rough the last few days, cloudy and squally- some of the biggest swells of the trip. Cooler weather is a welcome relief after the heat of the tropics.

The students handle this weather with ease now – their capacity to carry on scientific station work- measuring and pouring fluids to do nitrates, phosphates and nutrient or microscopic observations, sailing the ship, creating delicious galley meals, and being up at all hours to keep the vessel going by watch, from galley to deck is remarkable. Boris and I served all day yesterday in the galley, and this reaffirmed my awareness that this job is the hardest by far on the trip. Imagine cooking three meals and three snacks in a single day in a hot galley in a rolling sea. It is not easy, and the students do this every day with the guidance of our Steward Anna. At this point, the students of Stanford@SEA (S223 in SEA terms) are primarily taking charge in all aspects of the shipboard function.

The final phase of the trip has begun when each student is a JWO, which means a Junior Watch Officer. Here they will be completely in charge- with the true watch officers standing close by. JWOs provide leadership on the watch, calling out the commands for changing sails or helm orders, and JWO will be the communications point person with science deck.

The Tucker trawl being prepared for deployment

We’ve been studying the oxygen minimum layer intensively here in this portion of the Pacific. Its shoaled up to 100m in the past few casts. Oxygen is very low below 100m - perhaps becoming a biogeographic boundary for larger vertebrates. We’re using the Tucker trawl with 3 nets to sample the mesopelagic world that lies in this low oxygen zone and we’re finding some remarkable squid, hatchet fish and other very beautiful midwater animals capable of handling the harsh environs.

A silvery hatchetfish and a variety of bright red crustaceans come up in a midwater trawl

Alex and Nick have projects that will utilize the data sets being generated by the daily tows and intensive processing. Kate Lowry’s been working up the station data from the CTD and corresponding with our shore base support from NOAA (Dr. Dave Foley) for an in situ comparison of chlorophyll from the CTD and satellite data. Students are busy analyzing data for their individual projects and final oral reports and papers which are due early next week. The ship is a bee hive of activity and everywhere you go you see students with computers either discussing data or writing up their work.

The log shows we’re past 2500 nm on this trip- and we’re about 600 nm from Southpoint, Hawaii. That’s a lot of sailing in the Pacific, with a few hundred more miles to go before we see the mountainous volcanoes of the big island.

-Dr. Barbara Block

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sampling the Deep on the Long Haul to Hawaii

We're sailing and doing some motoring as we head north towards Hawaii. We have to average over 110 nm a day these days, with over 1000 nm ahead. We're doing 5-6 hours of station work, and the rest is travel time. Another large project has taken off- this time its Alex and Nik's OML project studying the remarkable shoaling of the oxygen minimal layer in this region of the inter tropical convergence zone (ITCZ), and examining the critters in the deep scattering layer. We're using a Tucker trawl which, when it works correctly, should tow a zooplankton-collecting net at a specific depth. We're pulling three nets and sending down messengers - small brass weights that slide down the line to open and close them - to sample the mesopelagic organisms at specific times and depths. We're pulling up lots of exciting fish, many of which have bioluminescent light organs and other adaptations specifically for life in the deep sea. Squalls are making things a bit blusterly at times and clouds have filled in as we course through the ITCZ.

-Dr. Barbara Block