Friday, February 12, 2010

Corwith Cramer C-226C, Part 2

6 FEB: Each day students are assigned to the deck or to the lab (or to help with dishes). Of course, science deployments occur throughout each day. Always a neuston tow at noon and at midnight. My focus, though, has always been the deck. As a student in the lab, I remember being in the lab when the call came from deck that hands were needed. I remember turning my head toward the hatch, feeling like a dog, who has just realized his owner is putting on his running shoes. I will always love sail handling, plotting our course, and navigating with with celestial bodies.

Dawn watch in the lab this morning, but I was free to do as I pleased as students were working on their science presentations and my services as a sign language interpreter were not needed. I spent the whole four hours organizing my celestial navigation progressions and outlines and getting ready for the approaching morning nautical twilight (when the sun is 12 degrees below the horizon). This is a time when it is light enough to see the horizon, but still dark enough to see the bright navigational stars. When the twilight came, just before turning over to C watch for the morning watch, I got angles of Vega, Mars and the moon. It will forever amaze me that one can figure out one's position from three celestial bodies!

8 FEB: Spent the afternoon on Garden Key exploring Fort Jefferson, interpreting classes on the history and natural history of the Civil War era fort. We all went snorkeling after class, though it was "worse than pole." "Pole" was our first real Crazy Horse snorkeling endeavor and therefore our reference: it had clear water, but nothing to look at except sea grass, tiny lobsters and a pole in the water. Needless to say it was good to stretch the legs on the island and give the arms a bit of exercise with some butterfly strokes in the ocean.

9 FEB: Underway again. Dawn watch again this morning. Got my celestial sights (this morning from Vega, Altair, Antares and the crescent moon.)in and worked out what is really required to get the latitude and longitude from the heavens:

1 instrument error measured
3 angles measured
3 times recorded and converted to universal time
27 tabes entered to get 36 numbers
30 arithmetic exercises
9 lines drawn on a plotting sheet
7 latitude or longitude distance measurements

Naturally, it is quite satisfying to have a position that is within a mile of the actual position when checked with the GPS!

A cold front came through during the evening watch when we had the deck. The winds had been light and variable but we knew from the VHF radio that the front was going to hit very soon. It took all of a few minutes for the winds to jump to over 30 knots. We were out on the bowsprit furling the jib in the darkness as it really hit and the rain started to fall, first as a few little drops, and then a downpour the clear sky above us was overcome by a cover of clouds as though someone was pulling them over us like a blanket. It was quite exciting to be out on the bowsprit, with a job to do, in the strong wind and rain. I could hear the students' nervous excitement in their voices as we got the jib in nice and tidy-like. Afterwards, one of the students said, "That felt like war!" For students who have never been out to sea before, it is pretty intense to be suspended on a net above the black ocean, that with each wave threatens to reach up and soak them, furling a sail in the darkness by feel and cooperation as the temperature drops suddenly. Everyone was very focused and as I unclipped from the bowsprits safety wire with my windward side soaking wet, I was very happy. I love moments like that. And the students will never forget it.

10 FEB: Back at Key West. Our watch brought the ship in under 30 knots. Overall, it was a wonderful sail and interpreting on a sailboat for a wonderful student, named Shanna, was really a great experience. I was assigned to wherever she was assigned and was there to interpret the deck lectures and wherever else I could help with the communication - on deck at night wearing a red headlight to illuminate my face and hands, while trying disturb anyone's night vision. It was great that I was very familiar with the Cramer and how the ship is run. I certainly have a long way to go in terms of my interpreting skills and I was grateful for Shanna's patience, positive attitude and good natured feedback. I was also grateful when, after I misspelled "chlorophyll" and "phytoplankton" for the millionth tim, she was not annoyed but said it was, "endearing." She certainly taught me a lot. And hopefully she learned a little bit from me and the rest of the crew of the Cramer.

12 FEB: Back at Mystic now. Finally here and in bed by 0300 and though I wanted to sleep a long normal length sleep, I was awake at 0715. Oh well, lots to do. I certainly miss my bunk though. Like a little cave of wondrous sleep. It is strange to walk through the hall of the Mystic staff house without leaning first towards one wall and then towards the other in coordination with the ships rolls back and forth as she cuts through the water. There is always a satisfaction when that skill comes back. To walk through a passage way in complete balance in a heavy sea...Already I miss the sense of accomplishment that comes with one day out at sea. And of course I always miss the team, and being part of a crew on a mission. It's what I live for.

Soon to head home and get ready for the NOLS semester course which I will start briefing for in about a week. Just found out I'll be working the first section (back country skiing) with Rob Lloyd of Crazy Horse and now Fishers Hornpipe lore! Needless to say our students are going to have fun as we cavort around the backcountry together.

I will miss these Williams-Mystic students and faculty, who have become my shipmates. They are wonderful and they are lucky to be in such a wonderful program. To finish with a quote, from Oliver Wendell Holmes that I have had in the front cover of my journal since the summer sailing Downeast with Outward Bound:

"I find the greatest thing in the world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving. To reach the p[rot of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind, and sometimes against it, but we sail, and not drift, nor live at anchor."


  1. Loving it Ben. I am completely living vicariously through you. I would love to be in your position, experiencing all your adventures!!

  2. Thanks for sharing the link, but argg it seems to be offline... Does anybody have a mirror or another source? Please answer to my post if you do!

    I would appreciate if someone here at could repost it.