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

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