Final Reflections from SEA

March 30, 2020

Matthew Watowich, Carleton College

Photo taken weeks before social distancing norms were established.

Photo taken weeks before social distancing norms were established.

This is my fourth attempt at writing this blog post. The previous ones have been disrupted by distractions from the news, chaos from traveling home, and, most significantly, writer’s block as I attempt to cram the extent of the past twelve weeks into a mere 500-word summary. It’s been roughly a week since my departure from New Zealand. Two weeks from leaving the Robert C. Seamans in Wellington. This time has allowed ample distance for reflection, yet every time I’ve sat down in front of my laptop, my fingers freeze before my keys, unsure of what I should talk about. So much has changed over those last twelve weeks, both in terms of personal journey and global state, that it is hard to believe it’s only been 14-days since the last time I ‘hauled away’ on a line or referred to the floors as ‘soles.’

As I reflect upon the trip, I think back to a conversation I had with some of my fellow shipmates after leaving the ship. The six of us planned to go on a road trip through the South Island after our early departure, and one night, we had pulled into a campground in the Fiordlands National Park to rest/sleep in our van as it was getting dark. While eating our carrots, peanut butter, and a 1lb block of New Zealand ‘Tasty’ cheese, our frugal dinner for the night, we reminisced on our most memorable and hilarious times on the boat, sharing stories of furling the mainsail in the middle of the night, laughing about ‘donating our dinners to Poseidon’ in the midst of high swells, and recalling times getting battered by the wind and waves while on watch during our second gale. Our conversation then evolved into reflecting upon our biggest takeaways from the ship as we discussed the immense variety of lessons we had learned, ranging from how to tie a bowline to what does it mean to travel.

One lesson that has stuck with me tightly, one that circles back to the forefront of my mind each time I think about what I learned at SEA, is the importance of working for something bigger than oneself. Reinforced during both our time in Woods Hole and at sea, this lesson was summarized best in our final muster as a crew. As we were standing on the quarterdeck all together for the last time, likely forever, Elliot Rappaport, our captain, reflected on our program, our travels, and our crew. He spoke of the importance of a collective community in effectively sailing a vessel. He stated that no matter the strength, intelligence, or capability of an individual, one person by themselves cannot sail the Robert C. Seamans.
One person can ease a line, but without another person hauling, sails won’t be lifted, yards won’t rotate, and the ship won’t sail. It requires a combination of individual actions working together to achieve the dream of sailing.

This lesson regarding the importance of communal action is especially topical given the global state and the safety of the world populous in the face of SARS-COV-2, and it carries through in laying a framework for how to achieve large-scale change. We must do things not just for ourselves, but for our neighbors both near and far, and we must imagine the world as our crew and a better future as our destination. We must work and act in a way that shows care to those around us. We must take on individual responsibility and work together in achieving goals larger than ourselves. It will not be through the individual achievements that change will be made, but through the collective imaginations and actions of those working together towards a common goal that dreams are realized. Unpleasant weather may be encountered along the way, but it will only be through working collectively that we are able to overcome and ‘sail through’ the heavy winds and high waves to a better tomorrow.

- Matthew Watowich, Carleton College

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One Comment

  1. Jhon Vish April 11, 2023 at 16:56 - Reply

    Your blog post resonates with me on so many levels. I can understand the struggle of trying to put into words the magnitude of an experience that has shaped you in profound ways. It’s incredible how much can change in just a few weeks, both personally and globally.

    Your anecdotes from the ship are not only humorous but also a testament to the unique and challenging journey you’ve been on. It’s clear that you’ve gained valuable lessons and skills that go beyond just sailing, from tying a bowline to understanding the true meaning of travel. Thank you for sharing your reflections, and I look forward to reading more about your adventures

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