Thursday, June 11, 2015

Final Blog from SEA 2015

We sailed for science. We traversed the Pacific Ocean on a quantitative crossing most easily explained by the numbers. Over 3000 nautical miles travelled. 5 island stops. 45 science stations. 20,344 miles of wire deployed. 3,425 copepods counted. 74,640 liters of water passed through our flow-through system.

But like the best of science, we cannot rely only on the data. How can you quantify (although chl-a measurements certainly try) the way the bioluminescence in the wake of the ship mirrors the stars? What photograph can capture the view of the pink fore reef of Caroline Atoll as seen from the forem'st? What trigonometric equation can calculate the parallel planes of a snorkeler with arms outstretched above manta ray? What thermometer could explain the frozen sweetness of an ice cream sandwich on a humid afternoon on Rangiroa? How could science even begin to analyze the art of a midnight Tim-Tam slam?

We sailed for science, but we sailed for so much more than that. For making seven knots on a starboard tack under the four lowers. For late night jam sessions under the stars. For dolphins under the bowsprint and jumping mola mola on the starboard quarter. For dawn watch star frenzies and celestial fixes. For pin-balling blindly from your rack to the quarterdeck for mid watch. For gybing. For eating freshly caught tuna on a table that moves with the swell. For deck showers after a long day of snorkeling. For transitioning from pollywogs to shellbacks. For supporting our watch-mates as JWO or JLO. For five men fighting for five hours in full drag. For fresh lychee and passion fruit and pamplemousse.

And throughout all these moments, the Bobby C transformed from a vessel into a home. How long will "over there" still be replaced by NE x N or two points on the starboard beam or 314 degrees true? How long will it take for a galley to become a kitchen again? How many times will we try to turn port or starboard instead of left or right? How long will it take to start feeling at ease on land again?

Being at sea for five weeks creates this strange dichotomy. Standing at the bow and looking out at the horizon, it's hard not to feel infinitesimally small. But there's something about sailing that makes you feel so much larger than yourself, too-a piece of a vessel and a crew and a family making way across the Pacific.

And for all of this, I give my unending thanks to Momma Seamans and all of the little parts-human and otherwise-that form her. She kept us safe on our long journey. She kept us challenged-from calling a sail for the first time to identifying new creatures in a 100-count. She kept us excited and thoughtful and aware and sometimes a little bit seasick and fulfilled and exhausted and most importantly always together. 39 humans who I am now honored to call some of my closest friends and mentors, always together.

As Oahu materializes on the horizon, it's hard to comprehend that this voyage is ending. But the ship must sail on, and so must we. To the Bobby C, may you have fair winds and favorable seas wherever you voyage. And to us-this crew and this family-may our connections to the sea and to each other remain forever intertwined.

Until we sail again,

-Meghan Shea

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

To speak as a salty sailor

Robert Seamans at anchor. Photo by Emma
[As the end of Stanford@Sea draws near, us students have gained a new understanding of the way a sailing school vessel operates as smoothly as the RCS. This poem is in celebration of that understanding.]

To speak as a salty sailor
you must first familiarize yourself with my factions, as living aboard a vessel requires a fresh language acquisition.

Folding gently into sea states
I am born anew by fire hoses and long brooms From inside out and outside in to field day, deck wash and dawn clean up standing up to mung is the first order of the sun who measures cleanliness by the prevalence of puns.

After exfoliating my epidermis,
Make haste in machinery spaces to
ponder the inverted peaks of pendulums
and the point at which you hit your head the hardest. 
Then gauge my personal pressure and potable pumps to know the number of rotations propelling each movement.

Disillusion yourself with stairs,
as my ladders stoop steeply with the swell And as you hop on dog tops
remind yourself that monkeys never lean leeward.   
Tilt my tuba feet as you trip from too little sleep and hook my eye in bowlines and lines fouled for each hour the security of the ship nestles close to your ears, perched on shoulder tops.

In the days defined by watch schedules
cover me in sweltering candy from the galley and sugar coat it in mid-rats seasoning to ring the day in revelry with shouts of nourishment travelling from galley to a gimbled saloon.

"Gybe ho!" marks the end of the meal
because helms up but don't head up
and idle hands make idle companions
So voices carrying over the quarterdeck remain reminders of on duty on deck.

Learn to brace my shoulders square to secluded destinations Hoist me high with the days haul stretch me out by heaving on my brails claw at my edges with outhauls and clues to sheet home at the end of an evolution.
And when I luff more than I puff
tie me down with a midshipman's hitch on a rolling science top.

Deployments are dancers after data
And as you drive my J-frame out
cast my shadow into hydrodreams below
Bryant in silhouette our graduating senior.
 Photo by Meghan
And count the first hundred moments that bioluminesce blinds any thoughts of a monotonous open ocean.

When time feels lulled by a northeast swell, be sure to shoot down my celestial circumnavigations and ask me what my heading really is to fix my bow to isolated atolls Where we will fish boat falls to raise miniature boats to reefs.

Sometimes you will find yourself off watch, Inhale the air of the tropics and exhale communal music, and shimmy up my shrouds for sunsets and rig checks.
A round tern and two frigates later
you may find me at rest with the folk in sleepy hollow

and if you have a moment to spare,
be sure to call me Robert C. Seamens.



Saturday, June 6, 2015

Life at Sea

Doug Dunbar (photo by B. Block)
With the Hawaiian Islands soon to rise over the Northern horizon, many of us on board are reflecting on the unique experience we have all shared. For me, this trip has expanded my own horizons in many different ways from lab work, to cooking, even just living as a mariner. Our world on board is small but not claustrophobic; it rewards hard work with tangible benefits that we all enjoy. Standing watch on the bow during a squall equates to your shipmates sleeping peacefully below knowing they are literally being watched over. Scrubbing soles (floors) after every dawn watch keeps us all safe from slipping as well as healthy on a clean and happy ship. People are eager to help out whether on or off watch because it feels good to contribute towards something we all share, it also reduces the stress of time imposed on all watch standers.
Time on a vessel following a strict schedule is as much a resource as fresh water, fruit, or toilet paper (the last of which we are running low on). Though the lab and deck are separated by different agendas, both must work together to accomplish the things they set out to do. When coming onto watch for either lab or deck you are confronted with a to-do list often much longer than you have time to complete. It is essential to prioritize, delegate, and communicate in order to get through as much of the list as possible, that way when you turn over to the next watch they have less on their agenda. In Lab you balance deploying scientific equipment with data processing, all the while ensuring the deck is informed and prepared to have the ship at the right speed or orientation so that none of the equipment is damaged. On Deck you balance keeping the labbies happy with maintaining course and speed made good towards whatever destination is next. While getting mama Seamans onto station may sound like a wheel turn away, heaving to on a port tack for science (HTPT4S) involves sail handling, gybing or tacking, and often more hands than are available. This is when you rely on your shipmates to lend a hand so that when it comes time for their watch everything is shipshape and on schedule. Keep in mind, all of this is unfolding on a rolling, bouncing, heeling living entity we have all called home for the last five weeks.
Compensating for the motion of a ship underway manifests itself in many ways. Appetites increase, but weight is not gained, eating meals off the gimbaled tables involves many crunches to maintain a constant range (distance) off your plate. Sleeping in your bunk requires a strategically braced leg to prevent yourself from falling out or crumpling up in a corner.
People walk in sequences, holding fast when the swells make movement energetically inefficient and bursting forward when gravity is once again on their side. Water tight doors that open against the heel of the ship (tilt of the ship) are ankle killing traps that require no small amount of brute force and alacrity to slip through unscathed. Showering involves fortifying yourself in a small stall, fighting an uphill battle against being clean and the negative side effects soap has on your ability to maintain friction. It is easy to spot the freshly woken oncoming watch from their stiff legs and drunken movement, often resulting in unintentional embraces with bulkheads
(walls) or even each other. All in all the motion is one of the many universal forces we all share aboard the Robert C Seamans, it is something that we bond over, from catching one another to jumping up from dinner to clean up a spill from a foolishly placed milk carton.
Without internet or outside communication everyone on board has been relying on the font of knowledge stemming from the book filled library and all of our own skills, strengths, and experiences. This so called intranet arguably yields more information than any Google search, not only do you get your question answered, but you get associated anecdotes and insights that save a lot of time in the long run. Not to mention people frequently expand upon brought up subjects opening up new avenues for future interest or investment of time on board. The number of recommended books, movies, theses, and campsites has merited a long and fruitful list for time on shore. With our journey quickly coming to a close we are all frantically running around to update said lists, download all of our favorite photos, and gather contact information. The last of which is especially important for me as a UC Davis student who will not have the luxury of bumping into these beautiful and intelligent people back on Stanford campus.
A sailing sunset (photo by Nick Mendoza)
Our small rolling world, unifying work ethic, and reliable intranet has brought us all together. Similar to the many remote atolls and islands we have stopped at, we are a product of our environment, relying on the finite resources and community support to thrive. The prime take away from this trip for me was how high the gross domestic happiness was at each of the inhabited places we were so fortunate to visit. There is no need for a high paying salary, flat screen TV, or cell service to lead a fulfilling and happy life, instead the priceless interactions between each other and the place we inhabit is more than enough to fuel our souls. I certainly felt this way aboard the Robert C Seamans and I am hoping to cling to this feeling after my reintroduction to terra firm. I know that if I can incorporate even a fraction of this vibe into my everyday life it will increase my overall happiness and peace of mind.

Still Sailing Strong
-Doug Dunbar S259

Friday, June 5, 2015

Changing States

It was a dark and stormy night.  I woke up to a voice whispering my name from the blackness.
"It's windy with a light rain," the voice informed me. "You might want to bring your foulies."
"Okay thanks," I mumbled.  I heard footsteps retreating as I checked my watch.  2:28.  Twenty-two minutes until I needed to be on deck for turnover.
I closed my eyes for ten more minutes before forcing myself to sit up and throw on the clothes I had balled up in a corner at the foot of my bunk.
Probably one of the few times I didn't need to be woken up a second time.
I fumbled down the hallway in the darkness toward the closet where we keep our waterproof gear, our "foulies."  I reached into the back left corner where I had hung my jacket a week earlier but couldn't find it.  I checked my watch again.  2:48.  I wouldn't be able to find my jacket without a flashlight, and I didn't have time to grab one so I headed upstairs instead.
Besides, it was just a light rain, right?
As I stepped onto the quarterdeck, I noticed it was darker than it had been the last few nights under the moon, and as I rounded the corner of the doghouse top to gather with the other members of my watch for turnover, a harsh wind hit my face, and raindrops began to soak the side of my body facing into the wind.
"We're in a squall," the Junior Watch Officer from midwatch stated.
I would definitely need to find my jacket.
Ten minutes later, with raincoat zipped up to my chin and hood tightened around my face, I took the helm as another member of my watch went in search of her own foulies.  I pulled the right side of my hood forward to protect my glasses from the rain coming in streaks with the northeasterly winds.
I squinted through the darkness at the compass as I worked to maintain our heading of 010.
"Mark your head!" our watch officer called through the wind.
"015," I sang out.
"Can you get back to 010?" he asked.
"Yes."  I turned the helm gradually left and then rotated with more force when the Seamans gave no response.  A large swell hit the side of the ship, and I found us rapidly passing through 010 and on to 000.  I swung the helm clockwise to readjust but again found myself missing the mark as the waves threw us even farther off course.
"Mark your head!"
Frustrated, I reluctantly responded, "020."
"Sing out when you're on course," our watch officer instructed.
Although I was soon able to steady up at 010, I found myself battling with the wind and rain and swells throughout my time at the helm - something I haven't needed to do before.  Later, as I stood lookout on the windward side of the quarterdeck, saltwater from the crashing waves sprayed my face.  As the damp air hit me in full force, so did the realization that this was the first time I had felt cold during an entire watch.  I could tangibly feel the change in environment.
With only five more days until we reach Oahu, six-to-eight-foot swells have become a nearly constant sea state, and during the day we can now work below comfortably (without sweating).  The number of laptops in use around the ship has also been increasing steadily as we prepare for our final presentations, and watches have felt different besides just the colder temperatures.  With student JWOs and JLOs (Junior Watch Officers and Junior Lab Officers) giving the orders, we're taking on more responsibility as crewmembers.  "Kylie has the deck!" is both the scariest and most empowering phrase I've heard throughout this entire trip.  Today during class, one of our Conservation Friday talks focused on reflecting about our Stanford@SEA experiences and thinking about what we'll take away from our research and trip.
While the sea state is changing around us, the state of the Seamans is also changing.  The end is near.

Homeward bound,

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Coming to you live from 8˚ 43.4’ N x 158˚ 34.1’ W

“So I was right yesterday, you are our first JWO (Junior Watch Officer).”
I was groggy and still half asleep, and it took me awhile to register what Scott, my mate, had said. “Cool beans.”

“As Junior Watch Officer you assume the responsibilities for organizing the watch and carry out my orders under the watchful eye of your mate. The planning and execution of watch activities are under your immediate supervision. Understand that you directly communicate with me for your instructions.” These were the instructions from our captain, and I was about to find out whether I was ready.

For our dedicated blog followers, today was the start of the Junior Watch Officer phase on the Robert C. Seamans. Prior to today, a member of the watch was appointed as the shadow to follow the watch or lab officer. The shadow phase was intended to prepare us for the responsibility of running the watch as the JWO or JLO (Junior Lab Officer).

‘A’ watch started our morning watch at 0700, relieving ‘C’ watch from duty. I was going to be the JWO for the first half of our watch, and I was brought up to speed on the vessel and its status. We were motor sailing under the four lower sails, with force 5 winds and six foot swells coming from the Northeast. There were no squalls in sight, and it looked like it was going to be a nice, breezy day. The main goal of our watch was a science station deployment at 1000. Before we got to that though, I had a number of things on my to do list that had to get done before we were going to heave to on a port tack for the science station. I reported our weather, plotted a GPS fix on the charts, organized a deck wash, used a sextant to shoot the sun to obtain a line of position, sent watch members to help out with dishwashing in the galley, and completed many other items that are all part of our daily routine on the RCS. All this time, I was also organizing my watch to complete hourly boat checks, hourly weather observations and half hourly engine checks. There was a lot to accomplish, and with good coordination between the deck and science watches, we managed to get everything done with time to spare.

At 0945, we prepared to heave to. We squared the braces, brought the stays’l travellers to their port stoppers and informed the crew that we were about to tack. I reduced the throttle on the main engine to 1000 RPM to slow us down, and told the helmsman to turn the helm 15˚ to the right to initiate a turn through the wind. When we reached a beam reach, the helmsman brought the rudder back to midships and I brought the engine to idle. We were now hove to on a port tack. It was time to drop some science on the Pacific! Kylie, the second JWO of the day was about to take over and run the deployments, so I went below to the doghouse to log the events of the morning before turning it over to her.

Having the responsibility of JWO was a little nerve-wracking. My mate was there to ensure that nothing disastrous occurred, but as the captain said, I was directly in charge of ensuring that watch activities were carried out. After we were relieved from watch though, I was thinking about the amount of responsibility that the JWO has. I realized that it actually was not anything special. On this little ship that has become our world, we are all responsible for each other. Being the JWO technically puts you in a position of extra responsibility, but everyone else has just as large a role to play. I know I could not have done my job without the help of my watch mates.

Throughout this amazing journey, we have had to rely on each other daily.
When others are keeping you safe while you are asleep at night, or cooking your food, or helping you collect data, or even catching you when you stumble during a bad roll, you really start to appreciate everyone. Before starting this quarter, I knew two of the people who I am on this ship with.
Now, I cannot remember a time when I did not call these people my friends, let alone remember a time when I did not even know them. The students, the professors, the scientists, the crew; we are all a part of this world, and we are all intricately intertwined on this sea-faring voyage. Out here, we have each other’s backs, and I’ve never felt more support or love from a group of people in my life. From countless watches together, to late night talking sessions, I have learned some weird and wonderful things about these folks. But all these experiences have brought us closer, and I am honored to call these people my friends and shipmates.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015


If there is one thing for certain that I have learned from Stanford at Sea, it is that you have never truly experienced the vivacity of color until you have sailed the open ocean. While there are a plethora of events that I will never forget or cease to cherish from this incredible five-week voyage, my experience with colors will remain one of the dearest to me.

Alicia sits in the rigging
The first time that I had ever seen the color blue was the first time I was truly out at Open Ocean. Never had I seen something so vibrant, electric, and piercing as the Pacific Ocean fifty nautical miles out from shore. The water here had escaped the tainted grays and blacks of urban living, and was free to pulsate with a profound, living blue. From it, a salty breeze whipped playfully around the stern of the ship, as I saw white as bright as snow form frothy foam at the tips of waves that broke here.
The first time that I had ever seen the color green was the first time I had spotted the lush landscape of an island. The hills of Tahiti were gentle giants, a lulling slope blanketed by a vivacious green. Green so deliciously bright that when I closed my eyes, the resonance of the color remained a phantom of my vision. Green so memorable that I doubt I can continue to accept any other green as true.

The first time that I had ever seen the color red was after a five hour battle with a one hundred and fifty pound tuna. As the gorgeous, silver streaked, deep blue beast was hauled aboard the ship, red poured out of its lesion like wine out of a silver goblet. This red was so profound that I thought of my own mortality as I watched it gently pool around the luminous creature. Perhaps a sterling trophy to some fishermen, but an orb of color for me.

The first time that I had ever seen the color gold was the thick, buttery yellow that spread across the crisp, pale sky as the sun dipped, hot onto the horizon. This gold seem to drip, broiling and shimmery, onto the abysmal, rolling sea, spreading out like a carpet woven with shimmering thread. The gold was so dazzling it seemed to seep into my skin, and warm my breeze-cooled veins. I welcomed this soothing warmth despite the climate of the tropics.

While I have seen many gorgeous colors on this trip, my favorite by far is the colors of hands as they haul, ease, make fast, make ready, and coil the lines of our egg-shell white sails. These colors range from a gradient of golden brown to sun-kissed ivory. I love these colors not only because of their physical appearance, but what they signify.  We have come so far in our journey aboard the Robert C. Seamans, sweating, singing, and working under the sizzling sun of the equatorial Pacific. Not only does color help preserve the myriad of memories I have made, but it serves as an indication of time, an indication of commitment, and an indication of how far we have progressed as sailors.
Perhaps the most memorable color will be radiating red of the Morning Watch sunburn. On the RCS, earning a freckle is like earning your stripes.

A little more freckled

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Busy Time

It’s Tuesday, June 2nd, and in a week we will be approaching Honolulu. It’s been quite a journey aboard the Robert C. Seamans, and it’s hard to believe that our time together will soon come to an end. The thing about being on a ship for five weeks is that it’s enough time to really get into a routine, and our lives have been filled with personalized wake-ups, hauling on lines, snorkeling in remote places, and walking with a wide stance to accommodate the motion of a rolling ship.

It’s a very busy time. Students are collecting their last few samples, analyzing their data, and preparing for final presentations and papers. Sometimes it seems like we’re spending more time with our spreadsheets than with our pillows. But even though our hours of sleep per day are diminishing, the big picture is finally coming together – taking a very close look at the mountains of data we’ve been accumulating over this entire trip and trying to draw some conclusions about this understudied and very intriguing portion of the ocean.

Since Fanning Island was our last port stop before we end the journey in Honolulu, we are now on the longest open ocean leg of the trip – 10 days at sea, which are filled with lots of sailing, science, and weather. This is the most wind and swells we’ve seen all trip, and I was certainly reminded of this when I was on lookout last night and got completely doused by a wave that came over the bow and into the ship. Not to worry though – I was smiling the whole time. In addition, the ship has been heeling about 30 degrees to the left for the past day, which makes all of us look very funny as we’re walking, leaning sideways in order to stay upright. A few of us are trying to stage a protest against the law of gravity.

As we approach American waters, we are starting to encounter a bit more traffic, although there are still days when we don’t see anyone. One of the most interesting interactions we’ve had with another vessel occurred yesterday, when during Dawn Watch Erica spotted a small sailing ship off our port bow. Kevin, our Watch Officer, made contact with the vessel and talked to the captain, whose name was Yoda, and in his words, had a “very large crew of one”. We were very excited to hear more about this guy, and crowded around the radio as Kevin asked him questions. We learned that Yoda was sailing by himself for six months from Honolulu to Brisbane, Australia, with many stops in between. Yoda was from Israel and gave us some good information about the weather ahead – some more wind, but not too much rain. You really meet some fascinating people out here on the high seas.

Tomorrow, we are beginning a new “phase” of our academic journey on the Seamans: JWO, or Junior Watch Officer, phase. During our time on the ship, we’ve been working under our Watch Officers Scott, Ryan, and Kevin, and our Assistant Scientists Maya, Laura, and Kelsey. As we have become more and more familiar with ship operations, we’ve been given more responsibility, and have been in a “Shadow” phase for the past two weeks. During the Shadow phase, we followed our Watch Officers and Assistant Scientists around, taking note of how they communicate with the Captain and other leadership, how they make decisions, and what regular responsibilities they have during watch. In JWO Phase, we will be the ones in charge of making sure that everything gets done on deck and in the lab. It’s a lot of responsibility, but it’s so exciting to think that it’s only been a month since we started and we’re now ready to take this big step in leadership.

Overall, things are running smoothly on the Robert C. Seamans, and even though we’re all buckling down on our projects, we’re also becoming quite sentimental in this last week on the ship. Living on board has truly become a way of life for us, and it’s hard to believe that we’ll soon be back on terra firma, with tall buildings, cell phones, cars, and fresh fruit all around us. For now, we’re maximizing every minute, squeezing everything we can out of this truly unique experience.

Fair thee well,

Monday, June 1, 2015

A Pinprick of Green

A local fisherman paddles out past the forereef on Fanning
We are anchored off of Fanning, about a cable’s length from shore, between what the chart calls Danger Point and an old shipwreck. We had our first real squalls of the trip last night, signaling our introduction to the ITCZ, but the wind and swells are now gentle and the clouds are beginning to break.

Fanning is our last port stop before the end of our journey in Hawaii. In some ways, it feels unfathomable that this could be the case, but in other ways we feel as if we’ve been at sea forever. There’s so much more to be done, but so much has already happened.

We’ve progressed since our first port stop at Rangiroa: as sailors, as a community and as a research vessel. We’ve traveled over 1700 nautical miles, crossed the equator and deployed science gear at 28 distinct sites. Setting and striking sails is no longer a mysterious process—we know our halyards from our braces, brailles, outhauls, inhalls, downhalls, jiggers, and topping lifts. We’ve shared so many stories, songs, and sunsets with our shipmates that’s it’s hard to remember a time when we didn’t know each other or a day that didn’t end with a spectacular show.

The start of a typical snorkel mission
It has been a busy time. A day might start with an 0600 wakeup for 0620 breakfast, morning watch from 0700 to 1300, lunch, class from 1500 to 1700, some sail-handling until 1730, dinner at 1800, a quick nap, and then midwatch from 2300 to 0300 to start the next day. There’s always something going on, whether it’s readying a neuston tow on the science deck, adjusting the sail plan, looking through data, checking on the equipment in the forward machinery space, editing photos, fixing our position from the stars, writing in the journal that nearly all of us are keeping or preparing a discussion for Conservation Friday.

Along the way, we’ve visited some pretty spectacular places. I’m struggling to articulate what it’s like to come to the places we’ve been—there’s so much to say about each island, but it’s hard to describe somewhere unlike any place you’ve ever been. With that in mind, I’ll try my best to convey what it feels like.

If I had to pick a single adjective to describe these islands, I’d choose “improbable.” These are places that most people will never know the name of, let alone visit or see. If you threw a dart at a chart of the Pacific Ocean, you’d never hit Rangiroa, Caroline, Malden, Christmas or Fanning. The highest point of each island is often whatever tree grows the tallest. This means that even as you approach them, the islands are so low that if you didn’t already know where they were, you might not notice them until you were right on top of them.

But here we are, anchored next to a pinprick of green amidst the endless blue. How strange and wonderful that is! Looking out at Fanning, one feels as if transported to an elaborate movie set. The thickness of palm trees, the breaking waves… it’s picturesque to the point that you feel as if you’re looking at a watercolor painted by someone who’s only ever heard fanciful descriptions of islands.

Like all of our port stops so far, Fanning is a coral atoll, a ring of coral growth around an ancient volcano. It’s a low island with a large lagoon connected to the ocean by one big channel and a few smaller ones. Underwater, the island drops off very quickly, sloping far more steeply than any terrestrial mountain. Water rips in and out of the lagoon through the main channel, knurling the surface and creating standing waves. Large waves curl and break along the island, exploding into spray wherever the coral reaches close to the surface. The beach is picturesque from afar, but it’s very thin and actually comprised of unfriendly large coral hunks. Like Caroline, Fanning is densely carpeted with vegetation. Much of it is coconut trees, left over from the days when Fanning was used for copra production. It’s a layered appearance, blue sky over a strip of green, white beach and bright blue water.

Fanning is inhabited, though only sparsely: fewer than 4000 people, according to a local resident. In the village, there are no stores and no cars. This is, by far, the most remote inhabited island that we’ve visited. Unlike Christmas and Rangiroa, there is no airport to the outside world and no hotels designed to accommodate foreigners. There are customs officials, however. I guess some things are universal.

The coral on the part of the forereef that we visited was the largest I’ve seen, though it seems like a storm has come through recently because many of the tabletop corals are toppled or broken into pieces. The fish swim about, hiding in the coral spaces. Here, we’ve seen parrotfish, Picasso triggerfish, surgeonfish, snappers, jacks, and wrasse. From the ship, we’ve caught a small yellowfin tuna, a skipjack tuna, a trevally, and a wahoo.

A colorful Pacific sunset from the pier at Rangiroa
And that’s Fanning.

 Soon we will once more be surrounded by the vast Pacific, but for now, the world is much smaller, confined to this little ring of coral.

Happy week nine!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

*49.4'N, 159*48.3'W

Tabuaeran (Fanning Island) is shaped like a lima bean and the Robert C. Seamans was positioned yesterday morning along the southwest shore, right at the cinch of its belly. Here, a passage connects the open ocean to the lagoon within. Those of us who signed up to go ashore on the morning run put on our land clothes and loaded up into "The Defender"-the inflatable rescue boat that serves as a shuttle while we're at anchor.

The waves rushing in through the pass as we made our approach were incredible. We were surfing 4 foot waves in our boat and racing to stay in front of them as they broke behind us. Although a bit nerve-racking, our cockson, Scott, brought us safely to the pier on the southeast side of the passage and we all climbed happily onto land.

A group of children was hanging out on the pier when we arrived and we quickly got to work practicing the little bit of Gilbertese we've picked up since arriving in Kiribati. The most important word: mauri. To move beyond hello, however, I was glad to have a list of useful phrases that Tata, a girl my age who I'd met on Kiritimati, had written out for me.

Antai aram?

The tallest girl of the group stepped forward and told us her name was Mary.

Irana am ririki?

Eleven! She said. Then quickly told us the ages of the younger children around her as well. The night before, some of us had been marveling at the fact that from Bermuda to California, we all speak English because of a small island off the coast of Europe. Here we were on an even tinier island in the equatorial Pacific once again reminded of the far-reaching influence of what for many of us is our mother tongue.

We ambled on past the pier, peeling off into smaller groups as we all found different footpaths to follow. We saw no cars on Tabueran; only bicycles and a couple of motorcycles. We also noticed that the many fishermen of the island were in hand-carved canoes rather than motorized boats. This made a lot of sense as our engineer Josh began to inquire after gasoline to replenish the stock we keep on board for the Defender and the rescue boat.

He found that there was no spare gasoline on the island because they hadn't received supplies from the capital in at over four months and they didn't know when the next supply ship would arrive. Tabuaeran is certainly less dependent on outside supplies than Kiritimati and our own RCS.

The people here receive much more rain than the islands just 2 degrees south of them and they have large water collection tanks positioned under several buildings to attest to this fact. The lush vegetation also makes this change in climate quite obvious.  Taro, bananas, and breadfruit grow all around in addition to a wide array of non- fruit-bearing trees (on Kiritimati I saw mostly palms).
As we crisscrossed the peninsula where most of Tabuaeran's people live, we saw many different houses each with a pig or two tied to a tree out front. I also saw cats for the first time on this trip and several dogs. We eventually came to the church on the open ocean side of the peninsula. The church is the largest building on the island and it was in this area that we saw the most people; many people gathered together in the open-air public structures that surround the church, taking refuge from the sun. On Kiritimati I had seen similar structures and a man told me that most of the church's congregation chooses to sleep in these community buildings rather than in their own houses. Right there next to the beach, it did seem like the coolest spot to spend the day.

We spent some time combing the coral rubble beach, trailed by a group of curious kids who giggled at our attempts at Gilbertese but happily played hide-and-seek (no translation required). Then we made our way back to the lagoon side of the peninsula. There, Alicia, Doug, and Erica went for a dip and met some nice people and we found Hannah who had been exploring by herself. She and I walked a little further along the lagoon side, enjoying the sight of the calm, turquoise water and white sand, so different from the powerful, dark blue waves and coral rubble of the other side. Too soon, however, we had to turn back for our 11:30 pick-up.

I would have gladly stayed the whole day on land but once back on the ship, we learned that our gasoline shortage would make further recreational trips to shore impossible so the few of us that were lucky enough to be on that morning boat were extremely grateful to have had the chance to set foot on this beautiful island even for a short while.

The rest of the day was still spent happily. Snorkeling and swimming right off the side of the science deck at an anchorage point further north on the island. The 2 knot current made us feel like we were in an endless lap pool as we swam just to stay in place and took on the challenge of swimming at a full sprint from the ladder on the side of the boat to the anchor chain at the bow.

This morning, one final trip was made to clear the ship and its crew through customs and also to share some writing materials, books, and soccer balls with the 38-student primary school. We were all happy we could share things both useful and fun with the children who had greeted us so warmly. They sang four songs of thanks for the four representatives of our ship-Heidi, Nick, Ryan, and Francisco (weird to call my dad by his first name)-and immediately broke out into a spontaneous soccer game.

As we all gathered on the quarterdeck afterward hear this story and to reflect on our time here, one thing I was thinking about that I shared with the group is that often times when people like us come to a place like Tabuaeran, where life is organized differently than it is back home-taro plots instead of supermarkets, hand-carved canoes instead of cars-we often talk about how it's like "going back in time." And it's just not true.

Although these traditions of agriculture and fishing are in fact very old-tens of thousands of years perhaps-this way of life is just as much a part of the modern world as ours. In fact, they live a day ahead of the rest of us. As I write this, we have officially left Kiribati and just gone back in time.

It is once again May 31, 2015 and we're on our way back to the U.S.

Until next time,


Last Day in the Line Islands

The Seamans off Fanning Island, from a drone
I am enjoying my second leisurely Sunday in two days, as we have been on- Kiribas time, a day ahead of our time- and because we're leaving today for Honolulu- we're setting our clocks back - so theoretically we're getting two Sundays! One yesterday (Kiribati Sunday) and ours today (US time). 

Sunday in Fanning Island was spectacular. We were greeted by stormy weather upon arrival early in the weekend-the skies have now opened up to hot sun and tropical clouds.

Our time this past week has been spent in Xmas Island (3 days) - a place that enabled some exploration on shore runs, and for mission and rec projects- some enjoyable fishy reefs and Fanning Island (2 nights and 2.5 day. At the channel and shore we were greeted by rolling breakers that have hampered our ability to snorkel close to shore.  But we explored a new anchorage at this site- and have enjoyed two snorkel missions and a few lucky students and staff were able to get inshore to see this remarkable village.

Here a lush island with about 4 villages of about 3500  inhabitants is sitting in the tropics on the edge of a spectacular lagoon - they are harvesting seaweed, eating fish from the sea- and the reefs are in better shape then our last visit. With people we lose the sharks- and thus our snorkels are without apex predators.

The RCS is preparing for our leg home- uphill to Honolulu. The winds are still light and the temperatures are high.  Today we brought a collection of gifts, books and funding for the primary school at fanning after the teacher recognized us and we had a great greeting after two years of being here. We plan to head north this afternoon and once in deep waters- do some station work for students studying the physical and biological oceanography of the equatorial  north counter-current region to better understand the oxygen minimum zone that is ever present here.

Students are working on their data analyses and preparing for writing their papers while moving up in the leadership roles both on the deck and science side of the watches. The fishing continues to be incredible with Dr. Francisco Chavez helping to keep the good luck going- he captured a prize jack estimated over 30 lbs, and the fishing team fed the boat again after capturing a large wahoo and another yellowfin and skipjack in the productive waters around Fanning Island.  All is well and spirits are high aboard the RCS! But its nice to think we're headed home to the USA!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Of Sweat and Sweating: How to Survive and Thrive Aboard the Robert C. Seamans

Sierra in the water at Millineum Atoll working
 (photo by R. Dunbar)
1. Think of sleep as optional.
“Sleep” is really such an overrated luxury. People can survive just fine on two naps a day, right? And don’t think that you need it just because you’ve been awake for 22 hours and on your feet for five and a half hours, or because you’re running to strike a sail you set a couple hours ago and you keep dozing off while collecting pH samples. This is all character-building.
2. Embrace sweating.
Sweating has two meanings on a tall ship. One is sweating a line, which means pulling extra inches out of a line (rope) that has nearly been pulled as tight as it can go. Doing it well can require about three people. Embrace it. Love it. The other kind of sweating is more familiar to people ashore, except that the variety here is the kind that pours into your eyes and nose while checking the engine. It’s the kind that comes back five minutes after a shower, that clings tenderly to your back and shoulders no matter what time of the day or night you wake up. After all, the lowest temperature of the entire trip has been in the low 80s so far, in the dead of night.
3. Shower every day.
This one is related to #2, and seems pretty straightforward. But it’s easy to skip a day, especially when trying to maximize your naptime. Don’t do it. One day you’re getting a whole 15 minutes extra sleep, and the next day you’re yanking on the clumped, salty knot of your hair as you attempt to brush it. And it’s easier on the other 36 people you live with if everyone tries to follow this rule.
4. Sing.
There’s no better time than 4AM when you’re on lookout to discover your long hidden talent of belting out songs from the sixties. Or when you’re surrounded by about ten people playing ukuleles, guitars, harmonicas, trumpets, violins, and drums as the sun sets. Or really any time at all. If singing isn’t your cup of tea, try humming. It goes a long way towards keeping you entertained and relaxed.
5. Find private time.
Climb the mast and watch the sun rising. Write in your journal on the headrig, the netting at the bow of the ship, while some flying fish zoom by underneath you. Take thirty seconds to lean over the rail at night (clipped in of course), and watch how the bioluminescence in the boat’s bow-wave looks like the Milky Way has been poured into the sea. You’re never really alone aboard the Seaman’s, but taking some alone time will keep you excited and ready for each new day.


New May 18 post

Hi everyone,

I just received a wonderful blog post from Meghan Shea, dated May 18 ("Karoraina and Kudos"). For some reason the attachment didn't come through first time around. I back-dated it May 18 so it will make sense to someone who is reading through the blogs later - but I didn't want it to get missed!

Best wishes,


Monday, May 25, 2015

Diving Deep Into Another World

Students and crew sport new haircuts in honor of their
equator crossing
At noon on May 24th, the Robert C. Seamans crossed the equator from the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern Hemisphere. As I observed some ceremonial hair-cutting by many members of our group, I thought about the human-created boundaries in the ocean – the equator, Exclusive Economic Zones, Marine Protected Areas, fishing zones – and how they are all defined at sea level. As these boundaries are now, they assume that if you took a square mile of the ocean’s surface and looked at all the space below that square, stretching to the bottom of the ocean, it would all look the same. As we have been learning in class, this is absolutely not true, and the ocean is a dynamic system with many vertical boundaries, migrations, stratifications, and communities.

One of the big reasons why we are so surface-centric when it comes to marine policy is the simple fact that humans live on land, not in the ocean. Although we can swim, we have a natural fear of the open ocean, and the many perils and predators associated with it. Very few people have ever been 500 feet below the surface, much less 7km down in the deepest parts of the ocean. We understand the surface of the moon better than we understand the ocean, which makes up 70% of the planet we call home. Especially in the regions of the ocean where light does not penetrate, there are amazing creatures beyond our wildest imaginations, just waiting to be discovered.

A neat thing about being on the Robert C. Seamans is that we are getting to do so much of our own discovery, in places where not many people go, and not many people know very much about. On board, every student is working on a research project, and through mine I’m exploring the topography and ecosystems of the deep ocean. I am studying seamounts, or underwater mountains, many of which are comparable in size to the Rockies in my home state of Colorado. Since we didn’t bring a submarine with us and no one on board can hold their breath for long enough, we have been finding seamounts using a system called CHIRP, which sends little “chirps” of sound beneath the boat, and listens for the sound to bounce off the ocean floor and back to the boat. Since we know roughly how fast sound travels in water, and we can time how long it takes for the sound to return, we can figure out the depth of the ocean floor right beneath us. Finding these seamounts has been a really exciting journey for me, and I have felt like a detective throughout the entire process, getting a small glimpse into another world.

As technology and culture shift more towards ocean exploration, we will keep discovering new things about the deep ocean – what it looks like, what’s there, and how we can protect it – and yet there will always be more to learn. We are so lucky to be on board the Seamans with so many opportunities to find out all we can about this amazing environment, and share it with the world.

- Emma Hutchinson

Sunday, May 24, 2015

At 9' south of the equator and Neptune is calling....

Tomorrow we're anchoring in Kiritimati, or Christmas Island. We are also halfway done at this point! This is a celebratory mock-poem I wrote for the occasion, based on "Twas the night before Christmas."

Twas the night before Kiritimati*
And all through the ship
All of the students
Were loosing their grip.

Their laundry was flung
By the bowsprit to air
They were smelly and tired with knots in their hair.

Some of them sweated all cramped in their beds 
As visions of ice cream cones 
Danced in their heads.

Others stood watch and watched the flag flap 
As the captain lay down for a very brief nap.

As two shooting stars went by in a flash 
I passed the forestays'l, 
then heard a small splash.

I went to the rail and peered at the swell 
When what to my wondering eyes did appear 
But a little old tuna, without any fear.

Its tail was strong, its scales on fleek 
And to my surprise, it started to speak:
"Yo Barb! And Pamela! A Watch! And Kels!
C Watch, B Watch, and everyone else!
Although you are tired and potentially sick of each other,
 And miss your pet dog, or boyfriend, or mother, 
And smell worse than mung 
And want a long shower, 
And haven't had private time for even an hour, 
Remember how lucky you are to be here,
And that the end is soon drawing near.
So treasure each moment, each callous and bruise 
And the respite from internet, cell phones, and booze."

The tuna swam off into the west,
And left behind it the great RCS*.

*Robert C Seamans


Friday, May 22, 2015

The Mystery of Malden Island

The Seamansjust off Malden Island, from a Phantom drone
The Stanford@SEA 2015 class has arrived at Malden Island a relatively desolate coral island that is fringed by a reef. As we learned in our maritime studies class from Professor Mary Malloy the European discovery was by Captain Lord Byron on the HMS Blond on the 29th of July in 1825 and one wonders what the crew and the Captain saw. The reef here now is in unusually poor condition with much dead coral and small areas with 35% coral cover. I saw one spur with 100% but it was a rare find.  

In the mid 50s and early 60s this island was used for nuclear testing by the UK and USA and while it is now on shore a protected wildlife sanctuary on shore under the Kiribati government it is clear something is amiss. The reef was throughout most of the shallow areas impacted greatly-with poor coral cover- virtually a dead reef- but in deeper portions of the spurs it came alive again.  Although fish diversity in some areas was high- the overall impression is a place either impacted by the environmental factors of equatorial environment or large waves, or potentially damaged by mankind. Maybe nuclear testing left an impact we just don't know.  

While our first approach suggested it was not very sharky- a mystery is evident here too. We have sighted many larger grey reef sharks and some healthy white tips- perhaps year class 3 or so- they seem thin compared to the plump sharks we saw down at Caroline atoll. Surprisingly there are few pups in the areas we've visited thus far- one year olds are missing of the Grey reef year class thus far (note we may find them all tomorrow) and very few white tips or black tips. The Lagoon is inaccessible so perhaps nursery areas are not prevalent and the Grey reefs dominate. So overall its just one year class of grey reef shark all in the 5-6 ft class. 

So  in this uninhabited place we see a reef in decline- and odd year classes of sharks, turf covered reef and surgeon fish abounding. I will say the parrot fish and snappers, while often few in numbers, are among the largest we've seen but live coral cover is limited to small regions of the reef.  We'll continue exploring today- and hopefully find a region of Malden that is a bit more lively- project time has been ample for our snorkeling teams and both the fish biomass team and coral teams have been obtaining new transects.

Hypotheses are numerous about what has occurred in this location and will surely be a point of discussion in the next few days.  The heat of the equatorial sun can be felt by all and efforts to remain covered up in this hot climate abound.

We once again flew the Phantom drone across the landscape and have some beautiful pictures from above to share with all of you from Malden- winds are light-and seas are warm!

Barbara Block 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Life at Sea

“I am assistant steward. Do not wake me up.”

I clipped the sign in front of my bunk before I went to sleep. Since coming aboard, alarm clocks have been abandoned by all crew members; we rely on our shipmates from the previous watch to wake us up on time for our duties. For the night, all my fellow C watchers were expected to report to deck or lab by 2:50 am for dawn watch turnover. I got to sleep in until 5:30 am because it was my turn to serve in the galley (folks ashore call it a kitchen) to help prepare the 6 meals for the 38 of us.

“If the sea status allows, we can make PadThai.”  Vicky, our wonderful steward, said. Although I had gotten used to the gimbled tables, I never realized that what we were able to cook was also affected by the sea. In so many aspects, life aboard is somehow different from that ashore. You yell out “knife coming across” whenever you take a knife to the cutting board; you secure bowls and tomatoes and everything that tends to roll easily when you hear “galley, we are gybing.” The rolling sea does bring challenges that we never had to think about ashore, both in daily routines like cooking and in bench operations like pipetting. Meanwhile with the mentorship, support and care from our captain and mates and faculty, we are not only taking better care of our personal safeties but also taking up more and more responsibilities to the operation of the ship day by day.

10 days ago, I still could not believe it as I held the helm in hand steering a 135 foot ship. Today, I was shadowing our 2nd Mate Scott and discussing when and how to heave to for a science station, and calling out the commands for striking the Jib sail. And yes, 10 days later, every one of  our classmates-21 students, will have the chance to serve as a Junior Watch Officer and report directly to the Captain. As Captain Pamela says, our learning has been exponential. From cooking to steering, from deploying the science Carousel to cleaning the heads (folks ashore call it a bathroom), each and all of us take up our own responsibilities to the ship, and the rotation watch system makes us feel comfortable doing any of the above, at any time needed in the 24 hours of a day. We choose to make the efforts because we love our Mama Robby C.; we chose to come aboard because we love the ocean. For us, the best reward for 6 hours’ hard work in the lab is a complete set of scientific data, and the best retreat for our sweats hauling away the sail lines at 5:00 am is the gorgeous sunrise that follows.

At the very moment, I am sitting above the doghouse, enjoying the surrounding big blue ocean. I would like to take some time to appreciate the innumerous efforts made by the professional crew and scientists. When all of our attention is drawn to learning the detailed techniques of making fast a line or filtering water samples for chlorophyll a measurement, it is them keeping track of the bigger picture of where we are heading to. And as we learn, it is their mentorship and encouragements that have got us so far, in terms of the learning process as well as the geographic position. Like magic, in the middle of nowhere, tomorrow we will find Malden Island.

A boobie just flew by.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Thoughts Between Islands

Today, we anchored off Caroline Island and resumed snorkeling operations. I must admit I was a bit grumpy today trying to get as many snorkeling spots as possible, but in the end, my efforts were not necessary. I loved the three snorkels I did today, but it was just too much.

Anyways, I want to take advantage of this blog space to write down some thoughts I’ve had after what has been a little more than a week at sea. It would be useless to explain the beauty of Caroline Island. It’s beauty simply cannot be expressed in words or even pictures and video. One must take the effort to get here to truly understand how magical this place is. It is definitely one of my favorite places in the world now.

My first thought pertains to unlocking the key to immortality. It’s been said that twenty year olds feel as if they are immortal. Even when they do get injured, they heal quickly and resume “dangerous” activities. I don’t believe this is the case for me. I fully understand my limits.

Besides having a love for the ocean, I have a love for whitewater kayaking and I have progressed to the point where there have been situations when I could have lost my life. And I know others who have not been so lucky. I love gaining extreme experiences, but I’ve also experienced enough to selectively choose my adventures wisely. That being said, I still do believe I am immortal-but in a much more roundabout away… Let me explain.

We’ve only been out at sea for nine days or so, but everyone agrees it feels as if we’ve been at sea for months or even years. It’s not that we’re not busy doing anything and time feels as if it’s passing by slowly because we’re bored. On the contrary, I’ve never worked as hard as this in my life. There have been days when I have worked 17 hour days for the ship-albeit voluntarily.
Being in class, on the other hand, is different. Sometimes, I think I just graduated elementary school last year. School via classrooms has blazed quickly and has often felt like a blur. From my experience, whenever I’m having adventures and pushing myself out of my comfort zone, time slows down. When I kayaked down the Grand Canyon, for example, I can clearly remember each of the 6 days and can even give an hour by hour synopsis of what I did in the canyon. So if we choose to keep having adventures, to keep expanding our horizons, and to keep having near-life experiences, perhaps we can feel as if we have lived forty lives in one life. To live and not to breathe is to die in tragedy.

So it seems like there’s only room for one mind-blowing idea for this blog post. Tonight, we will get underway for the next 4.5 days and head to Malden, another pristine, uninhabited island. I’m looking forward to having more adventures and becoming more immortal!

-Bryant Irawan 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Karoraina and Kudos

The view of Caroline Atoll from aloft
(Photo by Meghan Shea) 
It’s 20:18, the winds are force 3 from the East, and we’re motor sailing up from Caroline Atoll headed for Malden Island. Here in the library, I’m being lulled to sleep by a blissful combination of the delicious butternut squash soup I just consumed (thanks Vickie and Melanie!), the general exhaustion of just coming off of afternoon watch, and the gentle rocking of the Bobby C. Drowsiness aside, I’m still finding it almost impossible to process the surreal past several days we had anchored outside Caroline Atoll.

Caroline Atoll (also known as Millennium Atoll or Karoraina) is widely considered one of the most pristine reefs on the planet, inhabited for only a short fraction of its history and visited by few explorers, entrepreneurs, and scientists. And from our two days snorkeling on the fore reef, the characterization seems accurate—from almost 100% coral cover to dozens of shark sightings on every snorkel to over 100 feet of visibility, Karoraina was the most spectacular underwater ecosystem that I have ever had the opportunity to explore.

Caroline Atoll, above and below water
(Photo by Meghan Shea)
But what does it mean to be pristine? In a world where humans have dramatically altered the atmosphere and the oceans, it seems silly to suggest that there might be places on this planet truly free of human impact. And what of the implications of the term—that nature is in some way tarnished by the mere presence of humans. What does that mean for our own short stay in this place?

If anything, the past several days have made me think about how extraordinarily lucky we are. It seems almost inconceivable that a large sailing vessel crewed in part by neophyte Stanford students could have made it to a remote coral atoll in the middle of the Pacific. We have seen a place on this planet that few have laid eyes on. We have snorkeled on reefs that even the most avid underwater explorers may never have a chance to visit.

So, I use these few words I have to the outside world to give thanks. To Captain Pamela, who against all odds found us a safe anchor on the steep slope of Karoraina so that every single person onboard could get in the water. To the entire crew of the Bobby C, who has kept us safe and challenged and fed (we love you, Vickie!). To the nation of Kiribati, for granting us passage through her waters. To everyone at SEA and Stanford who has contributed to making this experience possible. And to Caroline Atoll, for calm seas and manta rays and spectacular reefs and learning opportunities.

But more than that, we are standing on the shoulders of so many people who can’t be here with us—teachers, parents, siblings, friends, and mentors without whom we wouldn’t be on this adventure in the first place. I wish more than anything that I could share every moment of this voyage with all those who made it possible.

Sitting aloft yesterday and watching dolphins and sharks circle the ship as Caroline Atoll began to fade into the sunset, I couldn’t help laughing at how ridiculously surreal this whole journey has been. I am so humbled to be a member of this crew, a visitor to these places, and a student of this program.

Sending love and thanks and positive Pacific vibes,
-Meghan Shea

Caroline Atoll

A drone photo of the Seamans at Caroline Atoll
Stanford@SEA 259 has enjoyed a magical weekend at Caroline Atoll. The southern Line Islands are one of the last great coral reef systems that thrives oblivious of mankind. The entire ship's company was wowed by the site of a spectacular coral atoll rich with wildlife in abundance and corals as pristine as the Stanford Faculty and SEA staff have ever seen. The reef was alive with a high biodiversity of coral reef fish- and top predators swam about  our transects freely curious but not alarming. Large schools of colorful parrotfish, snappers as large as small tunas, and Bluefin crevally swam by in peace. Fish were curious not afraid of humans. The fish biomass and coral projects had excellent snorkeling conditions as the weather cooperated with little surf and gorgeous light breezes.  The entire ship's company went snorkeling to experience this once in a lifetime site. This was the place we dreamed about coming to- and as we head on to Malden we are feeling the delight of having been to a place equivalent in the oceans to Yosemite that few people ever get to experience. We have light breezes and fair winds as we head up to Malden continuing our journey.

The pictures are from our drone that has been excellently piloted by Jan
Witting- the shots we're getting will make a fine and dramatic video for future classes to see. Even in compressed formats you can appreciate the remarkable site of this spectacular fringing reef.

-Barbara Block

Chief Scientist of the Week otherwise known shipboard a the COW Stanford University

Caroline Atoll

Sea turtle photo by Heidi Hirsch
            As the constellations faded away among rose-tinged cumulus clouds this morning, we saw it. Caroline Atoll, Millennium Atoll, Karorina—whatever you call it, the tiny atoll is a top contender for being the most pristine and remote place on earth. I watched the ship approach it from halfway up the foremast, and could see several dense green strips of land embroidered by sand. It could have been a postcard for a tropical getaway—except there are no people on Caroline. On the open sea a gathering of more than a few seabirds at a time was a spectacle, but boobies, turns, frigatebirds, and others fly above Caroline Atoll by the hundreds.
            It took us several hours to anchor, because the sea floor drops off so steeply. We finally made a temporary anchorage close to the reef, and a group of students working on reef-related research projects were the first to enter the water. The reef here is a snorkeler’s paradise. The coral crackles a loud symphony below the surface, and covers almost every inch of the bottom. Sharks and fish are everywhere. A few later groups saw large yellowfin tuna, others saw turtles. Some fish and other animals we saw are larger than our smallest student. Even the professors were amazed. This reef makes Tahiti and Rangiroa look bland by comparison.
            Everybody on the ship got 30-50 minutes in the water, but the presence of one the world’s most isolated coral reefs is not enough to stop the day-to-day running of the ship. Most of us are at the point where can set and strike sails without a mate supervising. The togetherness of our 38-person universe coalesces more each day. If I don’t know a knot or seaman’s term, I can count on my fellow students to help me (B watch!) Phrases like “Haul away fisherman halyard” or “Get the pig blanket from the wet lab” make perfect sense to us by now. Everyone has acted as somebody’s alarm clock, everyone has squeegeed the sole (floor), everyone has become familiar with the engine room’s many gauges and valves, and everyone knows how to deploy a net 600 meters below the ocean’s surface. It has been five days since I’ve seen any sign of human life outside the ship, aside from occasional satellites at night. We count on each other because we have to, but also because we’re coming to trust each other and our own abilities more each day.

Hoping all is well back home,

-Sierra Garcia

Friday, May 15, 2015

Approaching Caroline Island

Ahoy, readers! We continue our journey through the South Pacific, and after a couple days of open ocean we are now expecting landfall in the next 3 hours. It’s been almost a week since we arrived in Rangiroa, and tomorrow morning we should be arriving at Caroline Island (or Karoraina in iKiribati). As you have probably gathered by now, the Mama Seamans is a very demanding ship and requires attentive hands at all hours of the day. I am writing this having just come off mid-watch, a 4-hour watch period between the hours of 11pm and 3am. It sounds brutal, and sometimes it is, but for the most part our sleep schedules have adjusted to life on a ship. You get your naps in whenever you can, so the actual time of watch ends up having little importance.

As I was sitting on bow lookout during this mid-watch, I was thinking about what I should write here. When you’re on lookout you’re pretty isolated from everyone else on the ship, unless people are handling sails near the bow. For the most part, people are either in the lab or near the stern of the boat while working. When I’m on lookout I always go through a cycle of thoughts in my head – it starts with “WOW” as I look around and appreciate where I am, then I get to thinking about life, and eventually I hit boredom when I realise I’ve run out of songs to sing to myself and don’t actually know the full words to any. So on this fine night, as I tried to entertain myself, I looked up at the night sky and was amazed. It was the clearest night I’d seen yet, not a cloud in sight and a waning moon. The stars were absolutely incredible and I saw more shooting stars then ever before in my life.

We had been doing a lot of science stations in the last couple of hours (more about our science deployments to come in future posts, I’m sure), which means the boat was hove to (not moving). This limits the responsibilities of the people on deck since we aren’t sailing during stations, and so Scott, our watch officer and 2nd Mate, was sharing his knowledge of the stars with us while we waited to get back underway. I’ve always had a very difficult time discerning constellations and have thus found astronomy to be very frustrating. But last night was like an epiphany – I finally could see the horse in Centaurus, or the tail of Scorpio. Most satisfying was the feeling when I went over to be lookout and as I looked up at the sky I could find the stars and constellations Scott had taught me on my own. I could find the big dipper, trace it up and arc to arcturus and then speed over to Spica. I could find Vega, the star we had been using to navigate by at night sometimes, and find the summer triangle she forms with two other bright stars whose names escape me. Not only is it satisfying to understand and recognize constellations, but also many of these are navigational stars and will come in handy when we start shooting them with sextants to obtain our geographic position (known as celestial navigation). It was a great feeling to look up and see an uninterrupted sky, horizon to horizon, filled with stars and planets, and appreciate the natural beauty of our universe. The most amazing things occur naturally, and on this voyage with just our patch of sea for company, I am really beginning to grasp how amazing Earth’s natural wonders are. Hopefully my astronomical knowledge will continue to grow in the next few weeks as the Seamans brings us across many more night skies!

-Isabella Badia-Bellinger

Thursday, May 14, 2015

One Week Out

Members of A and B watches stand on the quarterdeck in
anticipation of the beginning of the line chase.
After a week on the RCS we are less than 48 hours from our second port stop at Caroline Island. Even taking an amazing two days to explore Rangiroa and its lagoon, which Andreas described in his blog post several days ago, we've adjusted to the rhythm of the watch schedule and life aboard our floating home, lab and classroom. It feels to me like our time on shore was ages ago, much more than the 6 days and change since we left port in Papeete and much much more than two weeks ago we left our long days in the classroom looking out at Monterey Bay (more on that in a minute).
Shortly after leaving French Polynesian waters--Kiribati here we come--we reached an important moment. It was, in a way, a test of all our previous nautical science learning. Hours of toil on land, many pots of coffee brewed to make it to nautical science at 8am sharp in the beautiful (and very familiar by the end of our five weeks taking classes there) Agassiz building at Hopkins Marine Station, sunburns earned after pantomiming setting and striking sails with Canadian geese and harbor seals looking on skeptically, knots-successful and unsuccessful-tied and undone and long periods studying diagrams of our faithful Brigantine the RCS, had prepared us for what was-for me at least-one of the most exciting moments of our journey thus far: turning off the main engine. WE WERE SAILING BABY.

After three or so days of motor sailing, during which we used our main and fore stay sails for balance, setting the squares was thrilling. It was also good incentive to learn not only the positions of the lines along the rails, but also their purposes in preparation for some healthy competition during our daily class session. Class onboard the RCS includes announcements and reports from different places around the ship: engineering, weather, navigation, science as well as more variable activities. Today's was the much anticipated line chase. A, B and C watches competed against each other to correctly locate each line and return to tag the next member of their watch in the relay. I have to take a moment to brag about my own A watch team-sporting some pretty rad colored mustaches courtesy of our TA and teammate Heidi-coming in well ahead of the rest of the competition. Thanks to lots of guidance from our watch leaders Chief Mate Ryan and Third Assistant Scientist Laura we're getting quicker and more comfortable setting and striking sails (which is a good sign since we'll need to lots more of that in the next month before reaching Honolulu).

Our triumph during the line chase is just one example of the way our classroom learning on shore translates to our daily lives on the ship. Even though Monterey seems far away, and there are certain things, like how to tend a sheet or steer by the stars rather than the compass at the helm or stay upright as the ship rolls while we are hove to on science station, things absolutely make more sense having learned some background on shore.

Our geology, biology and navigational backgrounds continue to come in handy for our next task: the great seamount hunt. Our fellow crewmember Emma, who wrote our first blog post from shore, is working on a project examining the effects of seamounts on the surrounding pelagic environment using a number of different metrics. Our cruise track passes almost directly over a line of little-known and little-studied seamounts. As a result, pinpointing their exact, or near exact locations has meant a number of jibing and tacking maneuvers-allowing us to practice sail handling-as well as having a set of eyes glued to the CHIRP sonar system in the RCS lab, which provides information about the sea floor surface bathymetry.
We successfully located and sampled at one seamount late yesterday evening and will hopefully do the same at another in the next hour or so. There's a tangible camaraderie tying the whole crew together, which means we all get excited about each other's project, offer to pour each other's iced tea at lunch and take things to one another's bunks during the day. We all do our part to make the RCS "sail for science." I like to think of the RCS as a self-contained, wind-driven, productive (and sweaty) utopia-which isn't something I've been able to say about any of my other classes at Stanford.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for further updates on seamounts, Caroline and our small ship on the mighty Pacific.

Wishing you all fair winds,