Our primary job onboard is standing watch. The Robert C. Seamans uses the modified Swedish watch system to divide our days into five blocks of time. The two daytime watches are six hours long, and the three night watches are four hours long. Students, mates, and assistant scientists are divided into three teams, allowing each team to rotate through all five watches every three days. The watch system takes some getting used to. As around half our work is completed during hours of darkness, the division between night and day has lost much of its importance. We eat, sleep, and work at all hours. Captain Pamela said she feels that each “day” ends up taking 72 hours, the time needed to rotate through all watch times. This means that the days run together into a patchwork of darkness, dawn, high noon, and evenings playing music on the quarterdeck.
This unique schedule also means that our watch groups are the nuclear families of the larger shipboard community. Though we have an all-hands meeting for afternoon class each day, it is sometimes difficult to interact with members of other watches. This division leads to friendly competition between watch groups, and watches were put to the test by this afternoon’s “line chase”.
On a ship, ropes that do work are called lines. The Seamans has lines for lifting sails and handling sails, controlling sampling nets, and raising and lowering the small skiffs. In total, there are 83 lines on the boat! The line chase pitted watches against each other in a relay race to identify lines.
The line chase began with the three watches lined up on the back deck. The first member of each watch was handed an index card with the name of a line, and then other members of the team were allowed to call “warmer” and “colder” to help guide their teammate to the correct line. Once the line was identified, the student walked back to tag off their next teammate. Running was not allowed for safety’s sake, and racers caught running were required to crab walk all the way back to the team members. The deck of line cards also contained a few wild cards. In one instance, the card mandated that the student tell a pickup line to someone in order to identify the correct line. The game ended when a member of B watch (my watch!) received a card ordering “congo line”, at which the students danced around the ship in victory.
While memorizing the location and function of all 83 lines was arduous, it will enable us to better function as a team of sailors. We do not use lights on deck at night, so it’s critical that we can quickly and unthinkingly find lines. The better we know our lines, the more readily we can take down sails in a wind gust or storm. Our ability to effectively manage sails will give Captain Pamela the confidence to set more sails, allowing us to sail faster. For now, we’ll continue our way south, with an anticipated arrival at Palmyra Atoll on Monday evening.