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Sea Semester, Part 1: A Student’s Life on Land

January 20, 2012

For those who may not be familiar with the program, Sea Semester is a study abroad program for college and high school students that allows them to partner their studies of the ocean with personal experiences sailing out at sea. During an intensive 12-week period, students spend 6 weeks on shore at the SEA (Sea Education Association) campus in Woods Hole, MA, and another 6 weeks aboard one of their two vessels, the Corwith Cramer or the Robert C. Seamans. You can learn more about their various programs at www.sea.edu.

From the very moment I learned about SEA I knew that it was something I wanted to be a part of. Since I already feel so passionate about living in harmony with our oceans I really wanted to take this opportunity to make more personal connections that I could build off of for furthering my possibly ocean-related future career, or to just learn more about something I really love! Learning to sail and navigate, as well as the college credits I’m receiving are major bonuses!

Today marked the end of my third week here on campus. The amount of information that has already been crammed into my brain is unbelievable. In our first week here the professors and captain made it clear that this was not going to be easy. The three classes I’m taking here are Oceanography, Nautical Science and Maritime Studies. In oceanography we are going to cover the basics of physical, chemical, geological and biological oceanography. My professor, Dr. Rhian Waller, has never taught at SEA before but she usually teaches at University of Maine and does lots of research at Darling Marine Laboratories. We had a guest lecture from Susan Humphris, a researcher from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, who came to talk to us about her research with ocean trenches, hydrothermal vents and the Mid Atlantic Ridge.

For our final Oceanography we have to develop our own research projects, and my group has chosen to collect plastic debris data while we are aboard the Cramer. Specifically we intend to collect surface samples with a Neuston net, as well as samples from the water column by towing a Tucker trawl upwards. More details later as my partners and I further develop our research proposal!

In Nautical Science we’ve been practicing our navigation skills with pilot charts—plotting courses, taking bearings and such. Now we’ve moved on to celestial navigation, or navigation by the sun, stars, planets and moon. I don’t know where else I would have received the opportunity to learn this material, and I’m entirely grateful for this chance because celestial nav is entirely too cool! Sure, it might be a lot of work and the homework we must do is painfully monotonus but who knows when this information could come in handy! The captain of our voyage teaches that class—Captain Jason Quilter, or Captain, or Jason, or to us students he’s known as Cappy J.

Maritime Studies is a more humanities focused class. We are specifically focusing on the maritime history of the Caribbean and the Americas, which is where our cruise track is taking us when we ship off in February. We’ve read the log of Columbus’ first voyage, and a piece of writing from John Smith, historical documents from the West Indies, and today we were lectured on the history of the Chiquita bananas and some of the issues connected with plantations in the Caribbean and in Central America. Our professor is Dr. Mary Malloy, who sings us sea chanties in class and knows an overwhelming amount of information about maritime history between New England and the Northwestern Native Americans.

My crazy workload and lack of a car have kept me back from exploring much of the surrounding Woods Hole community. Racing Beach, which is a lovely 10 minute walk from here, is one of the only places I’ve been able to venture off to in my free time on weekend mornings. I’ve begun debris collecting along there everytime I go down, and Saturday I found a practically new iPod touch. On Jan 7th we had a class field trip to New Bedford where we walked around town and saw the whaling museum there where there was a reading of Moby Dick taking place in honor of the anniversary of the day that Herman Melville set sail from New Bedford. There’s lots of rich maritime history in New Bedford, so it was cool to apply some of the information from class to our excursions there. This past Tuesday a few of my fellow classmates and I got to see Alvin, the deep-sea submersible. The aluminum sphere, which is the main body of Alvin was all we saw because it is currently being refitted with new technology so it may travel as deep as 6000 ft. to study the ocean floor.

So, in 27 days we will depart from Key West, FL and sail up the Gulf Stream on the Eastern coast of Florida, through the Bahamas, out into the Sargasso Sea, then south to the Dominican Republic, around to Jamaica, and finally around Cuba and back to Key West, Florida… And that is where the real adventure will begin!

Out and about in Woods Hole! This is one of my classmates sitting near the WHOI docks.

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