Monday, June 10, 2013

Beginnings, Endings, and the In-Betweens, by Seaman's Sailor Sarto

Sarto at the helm, on the way in to Honolulu
Beginnings are tough but endings are less kind.

The first time I stepped aboard the Robert C. Seamans in Honolulu Harbor, I was surprised at how small she was, uncertain of how the miniature galley could feed 40 and how the saloon would stand up to mealtimes. A friendly crew member showed me to my bunk, a tiny hidey-hole in the wall of the ship. I remember being surprised that all of my clothes and supplies fit into a cupboard and one small drawer. The two showers seemed insufficient for the number of bodies that would soon be covered in sweat and mung. A nervous trepidation was palpable as we prepared to make way with limited knowledge of where the lines that controlled the sails were and what to do with them when we found them. When we finally did set sail, gravity and motion fought with our inner ears and threatened to throw us around the boat in unpredictable ways.

Now we are masters of our moving environment: walking down the ladder on a starboard tack means feet hard to the left and right hand braced against the opposite wall. Standing up straight usually involves leaning to one side. Five weeks later, sail-handling has become our favorite part of standing watch, especially my lovely B-watch who has an uncanny affinity for setting the Fisherman. The two showers that once seemed insufficient are never backed up, and the shower hose up on deck is more often in use. That crew member who helped me the first day turned out to be Don, our chief engineer, and a few weeks later I’d be standing on Palmyra’s North Beach with him having an intense conversation about the importance of experiential learning for conservation. I’ve discovered that my tiny bunk was too spacious at times for the rolling ship, and I had to make use of spare laundry and a rolled up sleeping bag to fill up some of the extra space. Like many other parts of the ship, the galley and saloon have both grown to enormous, well-provisioned spaces that take implausible amounts of energy to traverse.

It is impossible to believe that we are only two days away from setting our salty feet on land and keeping them there indefinitely. It simultaneously feels like we’ve been at sea forever, and like this experience has gone by like a dolphin at the bow – unexpected, thrilling, and sadly fleeting.

Before we left land, we were told that we would discover our authentic selves on this trip. If they meant we would discover what we truly smell like without showering for five days, then that discovery has certainly been made.  Have I discovered my authentic self? As with any great experience, I’ve learned a little bit more about my place in the world (Seaside Sarto is definitely coming out ahead of Seasick/Sailor Sarto), but for the most part I still feel like the same person who stepped foot on the Seamans a few weeks ago.

Instead of our authentic selves, I think we have discovered an authentic community, replete with diverse and wonderful people who are eager to look out for one another, assist with trying tasks, and put the needs and comforts of others before themselves. We’ve learned how to be more genuine, aware, and considerate towards our fellow humans.

To the cast and crew of the RCS – I love all of you and treasure the personal and scientific discoveries we were so fortunate to have made together. Thank you for making it difficult to go back to “real life.” This ending is bittersweet, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

-Sentimental Sarto

Part of the Ship, Part of the Sea

At some point between overcoming mal de mer and obtaining worthy sea legs, the cacophony of sensations produced by boat and sea synchronizes with one’s internal rhythm. The rocking of the ship becomes the lilt of one’s step; the hull crashing into the waves falls neatly in time with one’s breaths, steadily lazing in and out, up and down; the crack of the sails is as measured as the beating of an eyelid. There is a music to the ship, and if one has taken care enough to listen, it has become part of our own inner tempo as the ship’s crew.

As we approach the end of our odyssey, the sensations of the ship have transformed into a familiar quotidian cadence as our symbiosis with the Bobby C. brings us ever closer to understanding her inner workings. From the rush of saccharine anti-freeze upon entry into the lab to the claustrophobic musk of a cabin whose butterfly hatches have been long closed to a squall, the ambiance of the ship is familiar, welcoming, and known. After fighting against the chaos of the first weeks while attempting to memorize sailing lines, get science projects off the ground, and fight against the all-crippling condition of sea sickness, attention to the ship herself, her needs, and her wants as the organism upon which we live was perhaps forgotten. Through time, we were able to make sense of the tempo of daily life onboard the ship and our responsibilities as crew, and the Bobby C. became less of a ship and more of a being whose authentic self we were only just beginning to experience. We now have instincts and an intuition about the ship: we know to jump straight to the JT Halyard  when the winds pick up, we understand which hatches need to be dogged down to keep the people and the ship dry during a squall, and we volunteer when a boat check needs doing. Over the past several weeks, we have matured and tuned ourselves into the rhythm of the ship. Through the initial chaos, we have internalized the cadenced order of the ship.

There is a pulse to the Bobby C., a throb of life generated solely by our cooperation with one another and with the ship herself. We live in time with the rise and fall of the waves, the gusting and waning of the winds, and the timely passage of a storm. And for perhaps the first time in any of our lives, these extreme conditions which have demanded equally extreme degrees of attention and vigilant observation have permitted us to transcend the perspective of an individual and plug into an experience built on synchronized camaraderie. With two days left until we greet land and soil once more, we have become part of the ship and part of the sea, for as much as we need the Bobby C. to set sail for new horizons, for science, or for whatever reasons brought us here in the first place, the Bobby C. has needed us to remain in perpetual harmony.

-Alessandra Santiago

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Working at Sea

So there we were. Winds force four out of the North East. 8 foot seas pounding the rail, spray covering the deck. Below, the smell of top ramen and coffee at 3 in the morning tells me  it must be the first day of finals week. Stepping on to the quarter deck for dawn watch, we are given our first test. “Set the fish!” Looking back 4 weeks ago when we walked onto this ship I would have stared down at my toes then into the faces of my watch wondering if anyone happened to speak sailorese or knew what was going on in the least. But now, after four weeks of being at sea, we are running this ship. Harnesses clinking under the starry night we stumble, bumping into rails and walls on a 20 degree heel, to engage in B watch’s favorite task: sweating the throat. Our cheerful TA Robbie is the first to get in there, fortunately someone had freshened the nips quite well before us. I grab on the line as John calls out the sail handling orders, and immediately half of B watch is sweating up the throat with Laura and Caroline buried under a mass of muscling bodies lifting our sail to a glorious climax above the wine dark sea.

 Back at Stanford some 3,000 miles away, our friends are cramming for an Ochem final, knowing that studying is futile when the Professor asks them to solve what earned someone the 1965 Noble Prize in Chemistry. Yet, they have much more relaxing next few days. If you think your Math 51 class was hard, try writing a scientific paper on a gimbled table on a starboard tack close reach into force 5 winds and 8 foot seas; the only thing keeping your laptop from hitting you in the chin or flying onto the soles is a fierce grip, furious typing, and your faith in the limited friction of teak. Our personal Meyer library is quite small but still has some of the same old charms. Faint light of computers reflected onto glaring faces in deep concentration, deep sea mining excel spreadsheets to find the secrets of marine snow, purple back flying squid, and whether parrot fish are really the pansiest fish in the sea. Markers and straight edges replace power point, as I try to recall my drawing skills which peaked in about 3rd grade. The noises of the waves on the starboard hull drowned out by the endless clicking of 45,000 coral point counts like some strange educational video game from hell. A rogue waves catches our scientist Tommy and the lobby with a salty surprise reminding all of us  that we are indeed still on the ocean. Normal is all relative. Our jib sail beginning to rip might have sounded frightening back in Palo Alto but its just another chance to jump out onto the head rig and get lifted from 6 inches above the swell to 20 feet in air like a dream see-saw. The rest of the library just looks up at the messenger before returning to the drone of data processing.

Students listen to a presentation

It  may sound like our own little hell, endless processing dissolved oxygen and net tow data,  but unlike on main campus, we are having a lot fun and all in preparation for our presentation marathon the next day because this is our own science. We all cram into the main salon, every space is either covered in left over fruit bars or sweaty Stanford at Sea students. Despite the PCO2 rising and creating our own OMZ, we are stunned by the 8 well crafted presentations. Sitting around 35 of my new family members, trying to avoid breathing through my nose and risk smelling the lack of showers and laundry, wishing someone had bleached their keens. Sitting on the sole listening about squid bursting with gonads, the sewage input onto coral reefs, praying I didn’t swim by any floaters on Fanning island, and about marine snow from robot lasers I realized how far we have come from learning oceanography in Monterey. After three hours of presentations, a serious lack of oxygen, and sunlight, we head up to the quarter deck, the sun setting over the deep blue sea we have called home for the past 4 weeks. Our orange ventilation tubas pointed toward the wind, as we have conversations of phrenmid amphipods and mantas, as in the background a guitar strums In the wind. The Life Aquatic.  “Happy llama, sad llama, totally rad llama. Super llama drama big fat mama llama. Baby llama, craaazy llama, Barak Obama llama, yes we can.” Okay maybe we are losing it just a bit out at sea, but hey its finals week and where else would I rather than be than sailing 9 knots under the fisherman heading straight for Walters special place; an eddy on a sea mount south of Hawaii, he glory of sailing for science.

-Zack Gold

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Continuing Our Uncommon Dialogues

The past week of uncommon dialogues has been brought about some fascinating discussions on the topic of conservation, covering many points that merit dissemination past the hull of our wandering ship. As we know, conservation is a group effort, and although the SSV Seamans is currently carrying a very promising group of individuals, we can always do better to bring our ideas of sustainability and conservation to the wider world.
For her uncommon dialogue, Alexis Woods presented us with a novel, utilitarian view of sustainability. She had us imagine it was the year 2300 and the world as we know it had been wasted away by our harmful actions. In order to preserve our species, the remaining humans set off to a fresh, unexploited planet capable of sustaining life. With this scenario in mind, Alexis asked us, what should we bring, both in terms of our practices and our material possessions, to sustain ourselves in this new world? The class was quick to eliminate all sorts of disposable materials we use today, but we came to this conclusion in an interesting way. At first, we decided that bringing plastics of any kind would be a bad idea, but as the discussion progressed, it was clear that some plastic are extremely useful and necessary to our society. The question of food was also a point of debate. Although it was agreed that grains would be extremely useful as a stable food source, how to go about supplying protein to the population was more complicated. Bringing livestock seemed the obvious choice but it presented the problem of the very low caloric return we would receive in exchange for the food we would have to supply the livestock with. This led to the suggestion that if we are being purely utilitarian and ignoring factors like preference and taste, should we do away with animal protein all together and focus only on plant sourced protein? The practice was a revealing one, posing us with the question of whether or not true, perfect sustainability is possible without sacrificing our preferences and pleasures in life.

                The following uncommon dialogue was hosted by Alessandra Santiago. Alessandra talked to us about using concepts of sociology and anthropology to promote conservation. Although many of us were familiar with the concept, it is admittedly one that too often slips from the minds of those absorbed in the scientific community. In an age when communication of data is arguably becoming a more dire need than the accumulation of the facts themselves, the powers of sociology and anthropology can be an extremely powerful tool. Through a few examples, Santiago reminded us that information is much better received when delivered in the right cultural context. For example, one Stanford sociologist studied the most effective ways of disseminating advertisements in Kapmandu and found that the most frequently viewed form were those aired on karaoke videos. This example highlights just how drastically things can change across cultural borders, because as you and I both know, karaoke advertisements would not be very effective here in the united states. With this in mind, we began brainstorming the best possible ways of providing the parts of the world that we do not necessarily fully understand with conservation and sustainability information. Alessandra’s ideas were received very positively by the group and we were soon discussing the place of proactive behavior in science. As we gather information about the instability and frail nature of our planet, is it our responsibility in turn to do something about it? Or, should the answer to the problems we as scientists point out be left to a different community to figure out? In the end the students agreed on one point. What is the point of being a scientist if you are not part of the change you hope to bring about?

-Lucas Oswald

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Come So Far

                It’s been a rough couple of days for sailing. We've been encountering squall after squall and some rough seas on our last leg towards Oahu. With the gray skies unleashing their frequent downpours on our ship as it heels to the mercy of 9 foot swells and blasts of variable winds, it’s almost hard to believe that this is the same ocean that brought us sunny skies and smooth sailing on our south-bound leg to Palmyra. The storms and the starboard tack have changed the gravity that we came to know, making maneuverability a bit more rough and tumultuous; the increased force in the rolling of the ship has made sleeping more adventurous as our motherly ship ever so gently sloshes our unconscious bodies back and forth in our bunks; and rogue waves have made bow watch less a time of a serene, internal reflection and more one of an extreme, splashy connection with the Pacific. While it would seem that in these pitching conditions the last place I would want to be would be staring at small-print in a word document below deck, I found some inspiration and perspective.
Opening up my laptop to write another blog post, I encountered something on my desktop that made me realize just how far we have come on our journey—a picture of the Stanford@SEA class of 2013 on the all too familiar steps of the Agassiz building at Hopkins. Agassiz is where this experience all began for us. There we readied ourselves for sea, studying oceanography to help prepare our research projects, learned nautical science to become familiar with ship and sea functionality, and got to know the people that would become our shipmates. But looking at this picture now at sea, that place—that time in our lives seems so far away, and the people in this image are difficult to recognize.
Since then we've experienced so much. We've traveled over 2000 nautical miles on the Central Pacific. We've hauled lines, set sails, and manned helm. We've deployed CTD’s, towed meter nets, and gathered samples. We've cleaned heads, scraped up mung, and scrubbed soles. We've seen the beauty of pristine nature in Palmyra, walked the trails through the villages of Fanning, and witnessed unsurpassed human compassion in Christmas. We've observed fluid disturbances, analyzed data, and ran hundred counts. We've gasped at shooting stars, been captivated by the bioluminescence in turbulent waters, and watched land ascend from the horizon. We've run transects in coral reefs, swam among dolphins, and tagged mantas. We've cut each other hair, undertaken new hairstyles, and shaved each other’s backs. We've shared incoherent conversations after mid watch, sang songs at sunset to the chords of ukulele, and showered by fire hose on the science deck. We've basked in our sweat, smelled each other’s dirty laundry, and cleaned our clothes in buckets. Together, we've learned and laughed in a collage of new experiences, marine research, and ship life.
Being separated from mainland communication, news, and luxuries, we have seen life and each other in a whole new perspective. Being present in the moment, we have come to know one another, and have come to know our authentic selves. This is why it is so hard to recognize the people in this picture: they seem too clean, a bit naïve, and they’re wearing jeans. As a class and as a community, we have come a long way since then, developing a deeper understanding of each other and a worldly perspective.  While the people in this picture are the same people I have come to know as friends, peers, and teachers, they are far more dynamic than this picture gives justice to: they are shipmates, they are scientists, and they are sailors.

So while we are met with rough seas as we continue on our last leg past the ITCZ,  we’re not in poor spirits. The squalls are testing us, pushing us past our lengths, and taking us out of our comfort zones, but that’s exactly what we wanted out of this experience—to live in new ways, to learn in a new classroom, to sail to new horizons. Given that leaving the life you knew for a different one is not always easy, it’s through the struggles, just as much as the joys, that come the rewards. If it was easy, it would just be a vacation, this is an adventure.

-Brian Leahy

The Junior Watch Officer Reporting

                “Anja, Anja, it’s 0600 and it’s time to get up.” Ugh, it was one of those mornings when the wake up seemed to come way too soon. I stumbled into breakfast still half asleep and already counting down until our watch would be over.
                “Oh hey there JWO.” I looked around confused trying to slowly piece together what the watch officer was saying to me. JWO. Junior Watch Officer. I was racking my brain, what does this mean? Coffee. Definitely coffee.
                Walking onto deck I prepared myself for what I could only anticipate would be the longest most stressful watch so far as I was entirely responsible along with the guidance of a part-time amnesic watch officer who seemed to “forget” answers at the most inconvenient times. As I mustered my watch on the quarter deck I quickly realized my shipmates were not waiting for me to bark orders and tell them what to do, they were waiting to help me. The first words spoken were, “Anja, whatcha need?” It quickly dawned on me that I was not in this alone. I had an amazing knowledgeable trustworthy group ready to help me shine as the JWO. And that is exactly what they did. Instead of passing by painfully slow and stressful as I had anticipated, the watch flew by with more things being packed into a morning than I thought possible. Sail handling, squalls, science stations, updates, sail plans, shooting the sun, and all the hourly needs of the ship seemed to magically happen with an unimaginable ease.
                To say I learned a lot in my first watch as Junior Watch Officer would be like saying the 35 knot winds we were hitting were just a little gusty. I learned how to brief the captain, how to maneuver the ship to the right point of sail with the wind at the correct point off our bow, how to shoot Local Apparent Noon, how to call a sail set, and so so so much more. Yet all these details and the vast amount of ship knowledge I gained all seem inconsequential to the real lesson I learned as JWO.
                With supportive dedicated shipmates at your back, anything is accomplishable. Sails can be set, squalls can be faced head on, and a first time mariner who still can’t walk the deck without tripping can keep the boat sailing happily to Honolulu.

 -Anja Brandon

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Haiku: Saltines

What taste of flesh, crunch?
Glistening square salty, safe
Meet my mouth again.

Here we are motor sailing under the four lower, under a starboard tack, full and by for the JT. We’re turning 1400 RPMs, keeping above 9 knots with winds from the NE bye E, steady force 7 gusting 8.

Read as: “We are using the engine to go really fast through big winds, so it’s something of a puke factory for y’all seasickies hanging out below deck.”

The unforgiving ocean doesn’t want you to succeed. It seeks to drown you and dehydrate you and make you crazy. It is not warm and soft, but will break your back and give you hypothermia. It wants you to hurt and to be frustrated, and to never leave it. It also wants you to vomit. It wants to take you to the leeward side (“lOO-wERd” side; the side downwind) and either toss you over or keep you indefinitely lurched with dizziness over her side. But, the sea, she will not win.

It’s been approximately 2 days since we left Kirimati Island, our final port stop before heading ourselves towards the North Star and Hawai’i once more. As I mentioned, lovingly before, the present conditions aboard our floating home are trying. Don’t let me get ahead of myself; let me and my brain take you back to Kirimati for a moment…. Do me a favor and close your eyes (well, close one and read with the other). Imagine the brightest, warmest day you’ve lived through and a long, dusty-white road. On this road, picture all 200 of your closest friends and family throwing a party. Not just any party, but the biggest party of the year. There are balloons and floats with 20 people riding in the back of pick-up trucks. Now imagine that no one has shoes, it’s Sunday morning, and the finale will take place in a 50m aluminum hut, AKA church. This is the annual processional during which about half  the island population walks from one Catholic church in Tabwakea to the other in London People travel from far and wide, namely the villages of Poland, Tennessee, and Banana (yes), to participate.  After walking against the grain of the parade for some time, Nicole S., Christina, Jason, and I found ourselves in front of the Tabwakea church. We walked into its wall-less aluminum hut to greet the people living under handmade banners featuring the Virgin and Holy Cross. Of course the first to say hello were children. Who else but the most curious uninhibited little girls and boys will run up to strangers to demand to know them?

Nicole Sarto with some of the children that greeted us as we approached the Tabwakea church. They were dressed specially for the procession, ready to leave their home under this aluminum hut.
Before too long, the final group of the procession was leaving and they graciously offered us a place in their loaded truck bed. We thanked them with a “corapa” and hopped in.  The stares were not mean, just interested and amused. Our light complexions, short hair, enormous smiles, and excessive-looking foot attire probably amused them more than we could tell from occasional giggles and constant smiles. The mass that followed was unlike any other Catholic mass. No incense, large glimmering cross with a bleeding Jesus, or pews. Just the hundreds of harmonic voices of the I-Kiribati people singing hymns and prayers.

I reflect back on this now because of the local primary school’s motto, as noted by Martini and Walter: “Struggle to succeed.” Though it could most likely be attributed to poor translation, the slogan embodies the journey of the people of Kirimati Island, in constant struggle with their environment. And to a much lesser extent, it embodies our journey thus far on the trip.

Kirimati Island has few of the natural resources  we consider necessities to sustaining a population, like freshwater and agrable land. Yet, the people are happy and have a thriving culture there. They struggle, but win for their culture and people. Here aboard the Seamans, we face rough conditions and greet them kindly. Despite illness of the body, mind, or dysfunctional projects, we work hard and will come out on top. This might be the most exciting homework situation ever, but we’ll get it done. We have to. C’mon. We’ll be alright. 

-Alexis Wood

Saturday, June 1, 2013

At Anchor off London, Kiritimati Atoll, Kiribati

On small wonders –

Over the first three weeks of this voyage, I’ve found that the sensory and emotional panoramas with which we’re blessed are a product of countless details. Having chosen to observe at nose’s length for most of this voyage, I’d like to train a microscope on life out here and give some consequential tiny things their due.

Several of us aboard S-247 have been geeking out on the miniscule. Projects range from fishes’ blood cells to tiny mollusks called pteropods to plankton’s daily vertical migration, sinking organic particles called marine snow and medically valuable cyanobacteria (formerly blue-green algae.) Sub-centimeter phenomena like these act on a global scale; they represent livelihoods for millions of species and affect the contents of our larders, our medicine chests, and the air we breathe.

Grand implications aside, we temporary inhabitants of the Pacific feel the effects of small wonders daily. Some are intentional: when walking the deck, one notices sharp corners padded or filed down, hooks and latches to tame entropy and expertly stitched leather shields to keep lines from wearing through. These thoughtful touches keep us intact. Many small wonders are whims of nature to which a scientist must respond: swarming zooplankton means applying zinc oxide war paint, winding miles of hydrographic wire and jigging for squid in the dead of night. Others are a confluence of artifice and chance: this afternoon, taut fishing line sang in the wind, making music for a placid day at anchor. Most small wonders just are: somehow, waking to bioluminescence swishing by my portlight redeems all four hours of dawn watch and ship cleanup after breakfast.

 Such brief thoughts and stories are the drifting fodder for each whale of a day that passes at sea. Though they don’t all make it to the blog, small wonders will continue to stack up, stick with us and shape our mindsets on the return leg.

There’s nothing quite like the open Pacific and its sky to remind one that we ourselves are tiny and that size is so relative it ought not be tied to significance. With this in mind, the tiny creatures aboard the SSV Seamans begin their migration north, bringing with them all the experiences we can carry.

Thanks for reading,


What a Week!

For me, it feels like our journey on the Seamans accelerated over the past week. In my last update, I wrote about our very first day of manta observations. Since, I have had some amazing experiences that I will never forget.

Dr. Block and I looking for mantas

First an update on my manta ecology project. Continuing on our initial success, Team Manta conducted three more focused manta observation settings with fantastic results. In total, we had over 50 interactions with manta rays. We saw smaller rays that quickly darted away from us, and we saw a few much larger rays silently gliding along. We saw a huge variety of patterning on both dorsal and ventral sides of the rays, and we observed rays heading into and out of the channel we were observing. In total, we deployed 7 acoustic tags and 5 satellite pop-up tags. The pop-up tags will record the ray’s position and depth and send the data to us after a set number of days. One of our tags already popped off (sometimes that just happens), so we have some very preliminary data. Meanwhile, on the acoustic side, on our final day in Palmyra, we deployed a floating acoustic receiver that listens for mantas with tags to swim by. Then, when it hears a manta, it uses satellites to send an e-mail back to Hopkins that they forward to us on the boat. We have had some very exciting results over the past week. We are hoping to correlate time of day and tidal phase with manta movements in the channel, but to see those results, you’ll just have to check the cover of Nature in a few months.
Robbie and me returning from a successful tag of a manta
Our next destination after Palmyra was Fanning Island, a small atoll in the island nation of Kiribati. I spent a morning on-shore and can honestly say that I have never felt more out-of-place in my life. I was taller and of course, paler, than anyone on the island. Fanning Islanders live mostly through subsistence food gathering, fishing, and foreign-aid supported imported products like rice. Some of my classmates were also struck by how different Fanning was from our lives and that’s been echoed elsewhere on this blog.

That very same afternoon, I had one of the coolest experiences I’ve had all trip (probably a close second behind swimming with mantas). Aloft training. We strapped on full body harnesses and hopped onto the shrouds (those black net ladders you see running up the side of the Seamans). Safety is a major concern and we were exceedingly careful but I had the great joy of climbing to the very top of our forward mast and looking out over all of Fanning Island. It was an incredible experience to get above the boat that I have become somewhat familiar with and also a stark reminder of just how small we humans are compared to our natural surroundings.

And my final crazy adventure this week took place just yesterday on our second day on Christmas Island. I had spent the first day exploring the island and securing an ice cream cone. (There is a distinct lace of ice cream onboard for my tastes. Side note: I was amazed that I was able to buy a Drumstick here on Christmas, more than 1000 nautical miles from Hawaii or Australia for $2.20 AUD, about $2.50 USD.) Then yesterday morning, we hopped onto a Dive Kiribati boat that looked kind of like a large outrigger canoe with a patio lashed on top and an outboard motor slapped on the back. We brought fishing poles and lures and set out in search of tuna. We trolled the oceans off Christmas Island all morning and were lucky enough to catch 5 skipjack tunas and a kawa kawa. There were 6 students onboard and we each had a chance to reel in a fish. On my first attempt, the tuna managed to escape the hook at the last minute so I was feeling bummed that I might miss my chance. But then, on our last troll before we needed to head back to the boat, both of our lines got a bite at the same time and I got to race Christina to see who could reel in their fish faster. I was a close second, but still so excited to have caught a tuna.

Christina and me with our skipjack tunas
Tonight, we depart Christmas Island, and point ourselves north towards Honolulu for a final ocean leg back home. I’m looking forward to getting back into the rhythm of the ship, but I will never forget the amazing week I had in the line islands. Check out pictures below from our adventures this week.


The Fine Line

     There is a fine line between passion and obsession, the difference being that one fulfills you while the other eats away at you. Although I am convinced that it is still a passion, my constant need and love for documenting is at times worrisome. I love to memorialize moments, to inscribe them into permanence, whether that be in the form of writing, recording, photographing, or filming. However, this trip has made me more aware of the fact that when an opportunity to document is missed, I cant shake the feeling that it is a moment wasted. And so I think to myself, “Why cant the experience of a moment be enough in and of itself for me to feel fulfilled?”
            There are many people on this boat that are clearly untroubled by this issue. I can see it in their smiles, a lighthearted kind of smile that does not require recognition and can just as contentedly fade away as it can grow. These people lean over the rails and watch a sunset with a calm and placid mind, instead or rushing below deck for camera gear or pen and paper. Their experiences build upon their characters instead of weighing them down.

The galley wall
            Recently one night, I had been assigned to mid-watch galley (kitchen) duty. Let me tell you, there are few more glamorous jobs than this one. You are given the privilege of being woken up in the dead of night to crawl around on your hand in knees in the kitchen with a moldy floor-sponge, scraping out the bits of soggy carbohydrates and fermented meat-juices from various corners and crannies. However, you do get to change the page on the calendar that resides in the kitchen, the page-a-day kind that gives you a new quote every day. This night it read, “All that is required to feel that here and now is happiness is a simple, frugal heart.”
            The quote seemed curiously relevant, but something about it was off. How can there be value in a “simple, frugal” heart? It seemed to clash against everything my privileged, profundity-prizing, liberal arts education and depth-seeking western society had taught me.

A family on Fanning Island

            The next day we arrived at Fanning Island. Walking between homes that could wash away on a rogue tide, I was struck by a foreboding sense or transience in everything I saw. I couldn't shake the feeling that despite their cheery perseverance, these families seemed doomed. Fanning Island may very well be completely uninhabited in our lifetimes, with its ability to support its population quickly waning. From the perspective of someone who sees little value in anything that is not remembered and recorded, I felt a deep sense of guilt as I questioned why a society like this carries on at all. I looked at my feet and wandered around, wondering all the while if a few pictures on some college student’s old computer would someday be all that remained of an entire society.
            The villages’ ephemeral future, however, clashed against the constantly fulfilled expressions of its inhabitants. There were smiles on the faces of not just naïve children but also full-grown adults; people who likely have a complete understanding of their fragile homes and likely fate, who work hard to keep their children’s names on the list of “top students” scrupulously posted to the school wall with left over tape from old morphine bottles. Seeing this, I was able to connect the dots: they bore the same smiles worn by those I envied on board our ship, and in this context I understood what it meant to have a “simple, frugal heart.”

            There is nothing wrong with delving into the profound, but it is a task that should be appointed to the mind alone, not the heart. It is the difference between exploring the big ideas and being concerned with them. This is not to say that those that truly enjoy each passing moment, those with a “simple, frugal heart,” are simple-minded; that was my mistake. It is to say that they know what merits contemplation of the heart and do not waste it on unproductive pursuits. They let the present moment contribute to their hearts, where as people like myself are prone to pile it upon our minds. For the heart is not like the mind. It does not concern itself with the past or future. The heart does not value memories; it values what we gain as individuals from experiences instead of the specific experiences themselves; it values any action for the worth of the act itself and not how it fits into the larger picture; more than anything, the heart values the simple, frugal joys of life in and of itself instead of scouring it for arbitrary reason and meaning. It may take me some time to fully embrace this understanding, but at least I now know what I am looking for, and surely if the people of Fanning Island value the passing moment enough to enjoy what may be a transient society, I can find a way to do so as well. I cannot guarantee that I will not continue to document and record the moments I value most, but I will at least now try to spend some time experiencing them in the present moment, rather than solely through the lens of a camera.

-Lucas Oswald