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.