Friday, June 10, 2011

The Last Sunset

The last week of Stanford@SEA is an endurance test. Our students finished their oceanographic project presentations which were exceptional in all regards, worked up their last star sights, and completed research papers in oceanography and a book review for conservation biology. All under conditions where the seas were a bit tougher than we hoped for, particularly as we navigated to conduct one last oceanographic station in the vicinity of Cross seamount.  Here we were lucky and picked up spectacular baby swordfish and potentially our first ever 1 day old blue marlin in a 2 meter net (we will have to check with DNA). We crossed the Alenuihaha Channel (which means literally in big winds in Hawaiian) between Hawaii and Maui on a moonlit evening.

Sails up, and wind pushing us hard- with the motor to help us point in the right directions for our final port of call in Honolulu.

We arrived on a warm day after a wonderful evening where we held a "swizzle" where we played music, shared poetry, stories and emotions about the trip as the wind whipped through the rigging near Lanai.  Our time together has come to a close but we're all very thrilled to have safely sailed 3000 nm to a pristine sea, to coral gardens, Palmyra, Christmas Island and the vast Pacific.

We had an exceptional team this trip aboard ship, led by Sea Scientists (Laura, Katy and Anne) and on deck Captain Phil, and Mates (Rick, Molly and Austin). The galley was made more fun with Sayzie and engineering was tough on this trip- with many small problems but super capable folks handling all aspects of the ship (Tom and Zena). We left with 38 aboard, and came home with 37 (Rob had departed in Palmyra). I particularly enjoyed having one of my mentors aboard ship from Palmyra to Honolulu-- Dr. Joe Bonaventura, who we named the "Director of Morale" Joe, listened to students, helped on projects and baked something almost daily for snacks or meals, and our sea physician Dr. Mike Lipnick (One of my former post-docs who was also inspired early on by Dr. Bonaventura made a wonderful film about the trip shared with all the last night.

We had this year aboard ship helping on every watch with students-  a terrific trio of Stanford graduates teaching assistants (Dane Klinger, Chelsea Wood, Sverre Leroy) and our 3rd mate also hailed from Stanford- the IPER graduate student (Austin Becker). All and all S235 will go in the books as a wonderful trip- to pristine seas at Kingman, that provided vistas and experiences beyond expectations. We learned there were places on Earth that humans had not yet impacted and the power of these places (Kingman Reef & Palmyra Atoll) provided strength and inspiration to a new generation of ocean explorers.

Monday, June 6, 2011

B Watch

B watch is currently on watch, having taken over the lab and deck from A watch at 0300. We're spread throughout the vessel, everyone doing their job and watching as the sun, not quite yet up, slowly lights the eastern horizon while the stars fade away. It's a quiet time as the rest of the ship's company sleeps. At the helm, Sverre steers the ship, powered only by sails and NE trade winds. Andrew  roams between the quarterdeck and the doghouse, checking the radar and chart and fulfilling his duties as junior watch officer (J-WO) this morning. Annie stands on bow watch, no doubt lost in thought about the beauty of the morning. Julia just headed off to perform a boat check, and Laura makes an appearance on deck, taking a brief break from the galley and her job as steward for the day to join in the sunrise appreciation. Good thing she left the personalized chef hat that her watchmates surprised her with when they woke her up below decks.  We would hate to see such a unique thing get blown overboard! After all, it's not every hat that comes with a homemade medallion featuring a chef cat declaring, "Only you can prevent a galley cat-tastrophe." Sarah, Aaron, and Josh have also come up on deck from below where they, as the dawn lab-watch team, have been hard at work on their science projects. Josh, this morning's junior lab officer (J-LO), has been ensuring that all lab work still gets done despite the project focus. Austin  and myself, rendered nearly obsolete by the junior watch officers, just finished a morning "star frenzy,"shooting the stars with a sextant in order to determine our location. Everything besides the motion of the ship seems to pause as we wait for the sun to appear above the horizon.

Time: 1905
A posterboard recently appeared in the aft starboard head reminding us to appreciate the small moments. People have added things like, "Discovering your bunk fan has a 'high-speed' setting," and, "Using a head right after it's been cleaned." Sunsets, always looked forward to with anticipation, has also been added to the list. Once again, life pauses for a moment as we gather to watch tonight's colorful sky. As opposed to sunrise, the majority of the ship's company spreads out along the port rail gazing at the horizon and hoping to see the notorious green flash that sometimes comes with sunsets at sea. You know you're living in a differently paced world when your whole community gathers for a moment like this. B watch just started the evening watch and Sarah and Julia, the junior deck and lab officers respectively, confer over what needs to get accomplished in the next 4 hours. Laura, basking in the completion of a delicious day of cooking roasted chicken and potatoes, pauses with musical triangle in hand, before ringing up the second dinner seating. She joins the sunset patrol, while Andrew contemplates the dishes and galley clean-up that await. Aaron is at the helm, and Josh, Annie, Austin and myself join in the sunset-watching moment. A hush falls and the sun slowly dips below the horizon. Sadly no green flash tonight, but there's always tomorrow.

Till then,
-Laura Nelson  (Asst. Scientist) and Austin Becker (3rd Mate)   

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Thoughts on the Last Leg

As we begin the last leg of our journey, I would like to describe my experience aboard the Robert C. Seamans to you, but I am afraid it is inexpressible. You see, this is one of those moments in life that you have to experience for yourself.

During our journey thus far, the sea-sickness monster had its way with many of us, including me. However, we have gathered as a community and overcame our obstacles. No longer are we eating saltines and ginger ale for dinner (to all you parents, that is not what they serve us for dinner but a great option when feeling sea-sick). No longer are we awkwardly stumbling over our feet as the waves rock the boat by-and by. We have earned our sea legs. We watch each other’s backs. We heave and ho as a unit. We cook for each other. Clean for each other. Care for each other. We have learned that one strand of string can easily be broken, but a rope entwined with many is strong enough to brace a mains’l. We work as a community, not afraid to get on our hands and knees together and clean the soles (floor of the boat) with a sponge and bucket of water. [I am inclined to say that the boat is cleaner that most of the people on the boat! We keep the boat even cleaner than my home in Tennessee. My mom would be proud.] I will spare you the details (you may not know how much you will appreciate this courteous gesture) of the smell that we are acquiring as our journey progresses. It is not the smell of the ship or the oceanic specimens we have collected. My dear reader, it is that of your loved ones. It is the smell of a shirt that remains unchanged---for days; it is the smell of your child who has not bathed in a week. If you could only see the beaming smile on one who flaunts a freshly laundered shirt or washed hair after a freshwater shower (even if it lasts only a few hours).

As we embark on our journey, some of us like to imagine ourselves as sailors, others as scientists, and some as pirates. Personally, I succumb to my generation’s media and glorification of a pirate and will hesitantly admit that I find myself every so often singing “A Pirate’s Life for Me” or humming the Pirates of the Caribbean theme song while on lookout at the bow.
Epicness in its entirety.

Together, we have embarked on the ultimate adventure. I yearn to describe to you the way the world looks from the bow during a clear starry night. The way the deep velvety waters cloaks our path like an ebony satin sheet. The salty mist of the sea spraying our sun-kissed faces as the sun plays peek-a-boo with the horizon. How the stars sing to us in their own version of Morse code while the night’s shooting diamonds wish us a safe journey home. A photograph cannot capture the electric blue pigment of the ocean or the magnificent bioluminescence as the night waves crash against the side of the Seamans. Words cannot articulate how the moon manifests its mastery over the night sky or the majestic fashion in which the Milky Way transcends the heavens. I wish you could share our joy as we cry “Land ho!” together when we first see the contour of land silhouetted against the azure sky. If only I could bottle up the smell of the sea and bring home with me.

If only I could share the feeling of having absolutely nothing in sight for miles or take you along with me on the head-rig as we sail away --with dolphins swimming along our bow. Only here have I been able to watch the sun completely traverse the sky, rising in the east and setting in the west; a recurrent phenomenon I will never forget.

This is a humbling experience, to say the least. The power of the ocean dominates our course and its mystery enchants our intellect.  Being one of 39 people on a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, I cannot help but imagine the thousands of souls that have sailed this ocean before me and have lost their lives to the high seas. It is far too easy to look over the rail and see the water and the sun—what is viewable to the human eye—and forget about the beauty that lies beneath the ocean surface.

-Calah Hanson

Friday, June 3, 2011

Haiku Moments at Sea

a tiny tuna
said “hi” to us fisherman
as I ate its heart

a giant tuna
it wanted to say “hi” too
a shark said hi first

palmyra – pristine
kingman reef – untouched beauty

one double rainbow
then, a ghostly gray moon bow
fluctuating light

swing swing a lone rope
dangling, enticing, calling
jump, jump it’s shallow

row row row your boat
gently on the “Gene” (you see)
life is but a dream

the atmosphere drops
“plitter platter” the sky falls

jig to catch a squid
caught three :“Jesus”, “Bart”, “Princess”
Princess ate Jesus

dolphins are lazy
they dance around the bow wave
frolicking all day

bonfires, dance parties
christmas in may, gift exchange
dancing life away

our watch climbed the mast
overlooking paradise
no comparison

the world is all wrong
small lights speckle the dark sea
while a squall beats us

--Josh Coronado