Author Archives: Laura Rea

JWO Phase, Endings.

Our final phase on the ship was called “JWO Phase.” This stood for “Junior Watch Officer.” In this phase, our staff watch officers stepped back and assigned one student to be the watch officer for the six hour watch. This meant taking orders from the captain, waking him up periodically with any weather or traffic changes, trimming sails, maintaining hourly boat checks and weather logs, and performing sail maneuvers according to what was needed for science deployments. Needless to say, it was pretty stressful. The staff was instructed to step back and let us screw things up, only stepping in when we were about to endanger the ship. I personally got to the point of almost breaking one of our sails before Sara, our first mate, stepped in. This was not uncommon for everyone’s JWO watch. It was a time of many, many mistakes, but also an incredible and intense learning experience. After messing up so often, towards the end of JWO phase, I felt confident that I could keep the ship safe and be able to maneuver it reasonably well. Not a small feat for a bunch of kids who’d never set foot on a boat before. It was a huge privilege to be able to take command of a ship and assume so much responsibility.

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The JWO tutu used to distinguish the JWO for the watch – filled with power and style.

JWO phase, however stressful, was still fleeting, like the rest of our voyage. Soon we found ourselves in Raiatea, being warmly welcomed by the community there who knew the Seamans and SEA well. Because of their incredible hospitality, we tried to repay it by letting the community come through a tour of our ship. I realized how much I had grown to love the ship as I was showing families around, trying to explain things in broken French and hand gestures. After taking care of the ship and having the ship take care of us for so long, there is a great emotional attachment to the ship that I had not expected to be so strong.

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Mama Seamans – in all her glory.

And the rest of the trip was a blur of sailing between the islands of French Polynesia, soaking in the last bit of sea we could. There were swim calls while we were at anchor, and adventures in a small sailing rig with just two sails. There was mustard on the quarterdeck, and silly limericks composed. There was a zooplankton showdown, and just like always, change was upon us all at once. Life seems to happen at two speeds: dead stop or full throttle.

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Dressed for their Sunday best – Third Mate Tristan Feldman, and Captain Jay Amster.

It didn’t take much time on land for so much to come rushing back, reminding us of the sanctuary that was our time at sea. On land, we have more material comforts, more stability, more space. But land is still a battlefield. At sea we had squalls and rolling waves where we fought to take sail in and huddled together from the rain. Here on land, we use our mental fortitude to battle the rest of life.

Goodbye, sea! The sea is full of hardships, but also full of sanctuary. I can only hope that our experience at sea has made us more equipped to tackle the rest of our land based lives. But here I am, back on land. And it’s not all bad. I have stuff to do, obligations to keep, dreams to live, and most importantly, people to see.

As always, change is a jarring, bitter, but exciting push forward into the future.

The Golden Dragon, Unicorn Poops, Holy Ninjas.

Throughout the voyage, there were plenty of fun shenanigans that happened. Aside from the work of running the ship, there were always small little things that happened daily which made the trip entertaining and memorable.

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Captain Jay Amster in all his glory.

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Laying aloft.

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Fin Whales!

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Tuna for dinner!

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Second Mate Patrick Finn – in his natural state with the baggywrinkle.

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Simon laying aloft.

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Hang out spot

Tuesday, April 12th happened twice for us. We crossed the international date line, a feat  sailors traditionally commemorate by getting a golden dragon tattooed on them. In honor of this tradition, the crew prepared a golden dragon surprise for us on the second Tuesday April 12th. Dressed in silly outfits, they had turned the ship into an obstacle course, making us complete sailing tasks to appease the golden dragon (our captain dressed in an orange HazMat suit). There was a penguin suit, a hotdog suit, bongo drums dressed in a bikini, a squid hat, among other impressive costuming. I was impressed at the commitment the crew had to the whole event, keeping in character the whole time, and it brought out the focus of not only sailing, but having fun while we did it.

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“Captain Baggywrinkle” – One of the numerous costumes that came out on Golden Dragon Day.

Each student gets a galley day, where they serve as the assistant steward. One of our students got incredibly excited about making rainbow cupcakes, calling them unicorn poops. He and our steward presented them to the class with a presentation on the elusive sea unicorn, filled with fun facts, and even a phylogenetic listing of the rare creature.

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Our amazing steward, Lauren, with yet another scrumptious creation.

When we set the mains’l, the largest sail on the ship, we have to call almost everyone on deck to help hoist it. After hauling it all the way up, it takes some riveting cheers to coordinate our pulls and keep energy levels high to get the last bit of tension in the sail. For this reason, the person at the front would think of creative cheers to keep everyone going. Among these were “Sailors by CHOICE!” or “Let’s go SAILING!” One time, Tae, a student from Thailand, was calling out cheers. His cheer was “When I say POLY, you say NESIA! POLY! NESIA!, POLY! NESIA!” However, because he had a bit of an accent, everyone on the halyard thought he was saying “When I say HOLY, you say NINJAS!” Ever since then, we could be heard setting the main to the cries of “HOLY! NINJAS! HOLY! NINJAS!”, much to the amusement of our captain.

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Haulin’ on the main halyard.

It was these little things that made our trip so enjoyable, and these stories became the ones we fondly recounted when we reminisced later on the trip.

Rolling Waves, Missing Land.

Right out of the Chatham Islands, we hit a lot of big waves. We’ve quickly had to learn how to wedge ourselves into our bunks so that we don’t fall out, and have not quite mastered how to move around without ricocheting off of walls, tables, or our shipmates. At night, we’ve learned to fall asleep with considerably more than a gentle rocking of the ocean – more like a bouncing that lifts our whole bodies off of the bed every few seconds. On deck, especially in rainy and slippery conditions, people are slip’n’sliding about, bowling down the deck to leeward, sweeping up their neighbors as they make their rapid journey to the other side of the boat. Down below, each roll is accompanied by clatters and clangs as everything in the galley shifts two inches. Although everything is secured away, it is alarmingly noisy as the entire galley reorganizes itself.

As for dining, our gimbaled tables are a miracle of modern science. The tables sit on a pivot with large counterweights underneath them, so they swing in time with the ship and keep food stationary. It’s a huge relief to be able to set something down and walk away from it without worrying about it becoming a projectile. The gimbaled tables, however, do not come without their risks. If the ship rolls too far, the table will run into the thighs of the people sitting at it, which stops its rotation and effectively launches food off the high side, into the faces of the terrified people seated across from you.

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Along with big waves comes, you guessed it, seasickness. Although I never threw up, seasickness was still a struggle for me, and really changed my outlook on the trip. It was hard to stay positive when I was feeling so bad all the time. It was this phase of the trip where I really began to miss land. Not only did I miss the stability of land, but I missed the escape it provided. I missed being able to walk away from things and get away from people. I missed grass, dirt, and trees. I missed space. But as with any trip, it was the lowest moments that defined the high ones. I didn’t know it at that time, but once I got over this low, the trip would become one of the most memorable experiences of my life. There were small things that made it worth it, like the stars or a full moon. The sunrise after dawn watch, or the privilege of not showering for days. These things slowly built up so that once my seasickness subsided, I was stoked on life and loving sailing for the remainder of the trip.