32 Things to Know Before Going to Sea

October 25, 2019

Olivia DeWitt, B Watch, University of Denver

Student on Seamans
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Student on Seamans

Ship's Log

Current Position
19° 08.18’ S x 176° 35.59’ E

Ship’s Heading & Speed
215°, 6.6 kt

Overcast all day but beautiful nonetheless

Souls on Board

As the sun sets on day 32 of our voyage, I thought it was time to share some things I've learned (32 to be exact) while at sea that would be important information to anyone, oceanically inclined or otherwise.

1. Always wear sunscreen. This is actually the title of my favorite writing piece in this style but I believe it is of great importance here too. No matter how good your chaco tan is getting and no matter how much you want to come back and be more glowing than your friends abroad in other countries, just wear sunscreen. We have a gallon sized bottle of it for a reason.

2. There will always be more Earl Grey Tea. When its 0200 and the wind is howling and you're freezing and all you want is to be in your bunk, tea becomes the closest thing and despite constantly running out of Earl Grey, there is always extra stowed somewhere. You just have to know the right place to look (or ask Sabrina).

3. Don't eat all your M&Ms in the first week at sea. M&M withdrawal is a real thing and it is not fun. There are Cadbury Dairy milk bars in Fiji. If you know me, you know that I consider this to be a very important piece of information. But while Dairy milk bars are great, a handful of fresh M&Ms just hits different.

4. Saltines taste objectively better at 0400. I don't care if you usually think they taste like cardboard or if they're totally stale. There is nothing as good as saltines in the middle of dawn watch.

5. Chacos can produce a smell unlike anything previously recorded in science and beyond. I don't understand how a rubber sole and synthetic straps can create such an olfactory assault. Currently fielding suggestions for how to alleviate this problem.

6. If you can find a laundromat in port, use it. Eliza and I walked up a steep hill with gigantic bags of clothes and I don't think I've been that winded in months but it was all worth it once we saw the green sign saying "electric laundry". I think I almost cried when we got our clothes back all clean, dry, and warm.

7. Foulies can actually be a very stylish addition to an at-sea wardrobe. Whoever said looking like the lighthouse keeper was not a good look was sorely mistaken.

8. Keep your feet dry. There's nothing quite like boat feet and having them wet all the time gets pretty gross. Dry socks can go a long way and one day of foot coverage won't be too much of a hit on the chaco tan.

9. Drink. Water. It's so important to be hydrated because you can't do your best and feel your best if you are dehydrated. Everyone always says this but its true and always worth repeating because you can't be too hydrated here.

10. Shower as often as its your day to do so. We all smell bad and we don't notice because if everyone around you stinks, you might not realize you smell just as bad. So, anything to help this dynamic is absolutely necessary.

11. Make friends with the NASA scientist. Some of the best conversations I've had and some of the funniest memories were with Dan. I also learned a lot about science as a whole. Also its pretty cool to say that I set out drone targets on Earth's newest land mass with a NASA scientist.

12. Learn how to manage your sleep schedule. It's really easy to sleep all day or stay up way too late and not sleep enough but a good sleep schedule is what makes you ready for your watch but also allows you to have free time to do some very cool stuff.

13. Sextants are very confusing at first. There is a special way to hold it, special combinations of shades you have to use, calibrations to take into account - it gets to be a lot. But once you know how to use it it's pretty cool to be able to navigate just using celestial bodies. But whatever you do, don't look at the sun through the green half. Look at the sun through the purple half so as to not burn your eyes (an important tip learned the hard way by Dan).

14. Go aloft. The first time I went up the rigging I was a lot more nervous than I thought I'd be. The second time though, it got a bit easier and no matter how scary it is on the way up the view is amazing.

15. Leave the main salon forward door open if at all possible. The breeze is amazing and the main salon quickly turns into a sauna if the door is kept closed for too long.

16. Get to breakfast five minutes early so you can steal the leftovers of midnight snack. It's always cookies and it's always good.

17. Having class on a ship isn't always easy, especially when there are whales breaching a few hundred feet away. All attention goes directly to the whales and does not return to class for at least 20 minutes. We'll call it scientific observation though and then its ok.

18. Talk to everyone you can in the port stops. Some of the best and most meaningful conversations I've had so far happened when I least expected. And, even if the conversation isn't informing your research, there's no end to the interesting anecdotes and cultural knowledge that can be gained from a quick chat.

19. On a similar note, use time to your advantage in the port stops. There is so much to do and it can feel overwhelming but it's really easy to sit down for coffee and then realize you have no time left to go on adventures. Who knows, you could find yourself in mid-air on a rope swing at a natural pool in Fiji.

20. But, it's good to just sit and relax when you need to. It's a hard balance to reach between doing cool things and relaxing during free time but both are important.

21. Make friends with the steward. You never know when hanging out in the galley might result in getting to lick cake batter off a spatula or being one of the lucky few to taste test the garlic bread for dinner. Also, if you're lucky enough to have a steward as spectacular as Sabrina (if that's even possible), the galley will be somewhere on the ship where you can go and know that you'll have a good laugh or see some interesting dancing. Shoutout to Sabrina for being so awesome, this voyage wouldn't be the same without her and the best parts of my days are usually when I'm in the galley.

22. Getting data connectivity isn't as fulfilling as it seems like it will be. At sea its easy sometimes to feel like you just wish you could check instagram or see what fun stuff your friends are up to but getting into port and having data just isn't that great. I mean it's nice to reconnect with people, but you realize how much life happens without it and how much more present you are without it. At the end of the day, moderation is the key. Instagram just isn't as cool as the world around you.

23. In port, it's so nice to hear the voices or see the faces of the people you love, but it's ok to not talk to them too much. They support you and want you to have great time so if that means you only call them once, that's ok. Call your parents at least once though.

24. There will never be a time when dolphins aren't cool to see in the wild. This morning, my watch was on duty when three pan tropical spotted dolphins started swimming with us up at the bow. They stayed there for at least fifteen minutes just jumping out of the water and swimming back and forth and it was beyond amazing.

25. Even though sleep is important, sometimes it's well worth it to stay up a little later to chat with friends because it usually results in tears from laughing so hard and occasionally results in water coming out of Sabrina's nose.

26. Those late night laugh sessions definitely make up for not always working out or getting your crunches in every day because I always go to bed with my stomach a little sore from laughing so hard it hurts. Plus it's a lot more fun than a regular ab workout.

27. Some of the most spectacular things happen when you least expect. It could be a dawn watch where you get to see the International Space Station pass overhead, or it could be seeing the sun rise while still being able to look at the stars. Or it could be a random Tuesday night where you end up spending two hours talking about sail theory and knot tying.

28. Take the time you have free to learn everything you possibly can from the people around you. There is so much knowledge on board and tapping into it can make all the difference in being able to handle sails or know what's going on at any given moment. I know the extra minutes here and there and the cool books I've found in the library are helloing me to feel comfortable and confident in what I do and it feels really good when one of the mates gives me a job or trusts me with a responsibility because they can see the work I've put into the learning going on here.

29. It's ok to not have every day be the best day. A lot of us have talked about how getting to embark on such a unique and special semester abroad makes it feel like every day has to be the best yet, but it's important to remember that that's not the case. from seasickness to homesickness everyone has things that make them feel down and that is ok. We just have to make sure we're here for our shipmates if they need us and here for ourselves to remember that we're only human.

30. Ship, shipmates, self. One of the key facets of life on board is the idea of ship, shipmates, and self. It's not a list or a ranking, it's just the three things that need to be kept in mind at all times and the three things you are responsible for keeping healthy, safe, and happy as best you can. We have a duty to the ship to keep it running and keep her in ship shape. We have a duty to our shipmates to help when it's needed but also whenever we can and to be a part of the support system we all rely on. Finally, we have a duty to ourselves to stay in ship shape because we can't keep the ship and our shipmates running if we aren't taking care of ourselves.

31. Be present. As Ferris Bueller said, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around every once in a while, you could miss it." This time sails by so fast. I feel like yesterday I was seeing the ship for the first time and now we've just left a port for the last time. It's so easy to want to take pictures of everything and to think about the what's for dinner tomorrow or what we're doing in class today, but it's the small moments that make this experience what it is. If we're not present, we don?t even see those. It's pretty crazy to think that in just ten days we will be getting off the Seamans for the last time, and the only way to make sure those ten days don't feel like one is to be present for all the small things going on around you. Sadly it's the best things that seem to go by the fastest so it is especially important to be present here.

32. This is the adventure of a lifetime. I remember finding out I was nominated to this program during winter quarter of last year. I cried when I found out because I was so happy. This has truly been the best time of my life and while I'm sad that it is soon coming to a close, I know I'll take these lessons with me for the rest of my life and I know that this voyage has changed my outlook and changed me. I know my time here isn't done and I'm counting down the days until I can get back onboard as a sailing intern. But until then, all I can do is feel thankful for the many things I've learned while aboard and the amazing people and experiences I've been so lucky to encounter. And trust me on the M&Ms.

I know this post was a long one, but it felt right to do as many lessons as days aboard. Anything less would have just been an arbitrary number and therefore meaningless. So, thanks for reading. To all my people, I love you to the moon and back and as much as all the stars. Can't wait to see you soon!!

From somewhere where all I can see around me is sea and sky, signing off. Love Liv

- Olivia DeWitt, B Watch best watch, University of Denver

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