Good evening family, friends, SEA faculty, and future SEA students,
I write to you from the main salon aboard Cramer. I’m sure many of you have read previous posts, so you know that we are headed East, struggling against the trade winds but nonetheless steadily chugging towards Martinique. This is Adelaide Gonzalez, of Bowdoin College, joined by my dear friend Natalie Rotondo, of the University of Rhode Island. We are two members of C watch, one of three watches that rotate around an 18-hour day, four-part cycle. Each day we stand watch for 6 hours, have 12 off and then stand the next 6.
This results in two-night watches in a row, followed by two-day watches, each beginning and ending alternately at 1 and 7 (AM/PM). As you can imagine, the constant change of sleep pattern poses individual challenges, but no one said sailing aboard a 134-foot brigantine for a month was going to be easy. Even so, Natalie and I have been largely lucky; we’ve avoided most sea sickness and recovered quickly from the infamous “boat bug” that wreaked havoc upon student and crew stomachs alike a week or two ago. In fact, I have no concept of when that really happened. Or anything for that matter. We boarded Cramer for the first time both yesterday and 3 weeks ago.
This afternoon, we all rolled up our sleeves and participated in field day, scrubbing every inch of Cramer with toothbrushes and washcloths for almost three hours, but it took almost 15 minutes, and also many days.
Time on Cramer tends to take on a different cadence. You wake when you are awoken, not when you are rested. You eat when the bell rings and your watch is called, not necessarily when you are hungry. You shower every three days, but you really could use one every two. This isn’t all to complain. As I said before, we did not expect to be comfortable here. I find myself glued to my watch, performing boat checks, recording weather, and mapping our location on the hour. We keep time here almost religiously for those reasons. What has come as a surprise has been a new timekeeper, one that emerged and glimmered above me on my first dawn watch, some manner of time ago. For Natalie and I, the stars have become a new way to orient ourselves and we spend our watches checking in with them and each other throughout the long nights. In this spirit, what follows is Natalie and my thoughts on star gazing aboard a tall ship.
Coming on to the vessel with little knowledge of the stars and a growing interest in them has proven to be the way we spend the moments we have on watch with even more learning opportunities and meaningful conversations.
Although slightly disoriented and with sleep still in our eyes, Addie and I always manage to excite ourselves with the hunt for the evening’s rising and falling constellations. With the insight of those more experienced with the constellations, we find ourselves learning more and more with every gaze up to the nights sky. For me, looking up to find navigational stars and their surrounding constellations provides a sense of peace and consistency in such a dynamic environment. In addition to that, knowing that if all else fails like GPS and other navigational technologies, we still have the tools and skill to find our way only using the stars. The difference between night watch and dawn watch and getting to see how the constellations shift are some of my favorite observations of the sky. It seems the stars never move at all are as still they could be, then after the rush of your watch is over and you come to the quarter deck after spending time in the galley, numerous boat checks, and setting and striking sails, you look up to see a whole new sky with new constellations each with stories just as interesting as the last. Although these stars serve as constants in our universe, the stories we tell over and over again come with ever changing anecdotes and interpretations.
I have never been one for nights. I was born at 7:30 on a spring morning and have been my mother’s early bird ever since. I did not expect to love, or even like, night watches while on board but I have come to cherish my nights awake. This evening, Natalie and I finished our afternoon watch at 7pm and watched as the sun sank and the brightest stars in the sky start to peak out above us. First came Capella, part of the Charioteer and a member of the celestial G, a string of navigational stars used for thousands of years to mark place and time for sailors. They shine brightest in the sky and arrive first each night. I have come to learn their names and cherish them. I stretched my eyes further upward and spotted Cassiopeia, the doomed queen upon her throne. Using her chair I found Polaris, the North Star, shining dimly off of the port quarter. The sky pivots around this point, the closest we have to true north. I know where I am now. I search for my favorite constellation, Taurus, the bull and my birth sign. I see the red giant, Al Deboran twinkle pink at its horn. The bull shines just above Orion’s bow, but the Great Hunter has not risen yet. He will soon rise in the East and summersault across the sky, his belt an easy marker of the celestial equator. Bellatrix and Beetlejuice perch by his head and Rigel shines at his foot. Castor and Pollocks, the Gemini twins will arrive later along with Procyon and Sirius, Canis Major, the brightest start in the sky. By the end of evening watch, Cassiopeia will set and the Big Dipper, Ursa Major will rise. The Great Bear is my dawn watch companion, as is Corvis the crow. This is all to say that I am often disoriented on Cramer. I struggle to sleep at odd hours and then find myself awoken with a soft voice “Addie, this is your wake up for dawn watch. You have twenty minutes to be above deck.” I usually forget to thank them and put my clothes on inside out or backwards and stumble to the quarter deck. But immediately, I look up. I am still asleep but I know where I am.
- E. Adelaide Gonzalez, C Watch, Bowdoin College; Natalie Rotondo, C Watch, University of Rhode Island
P.S. Hey Momma! I’m doing just fine. Some bumps and bruises along the way but nothing I can’t handle. I love and miss you, Papa, Sarah, and Bubs. I can’t wait to be home for the holidays with you all soon. Keep a Yeungling cold for me – Emi
P.S. Hey family! Everything is running smoothly here on the Craimer! I’m loving life on the open ocean but can’t wait to get back home and spend the rest of the holiday season with all of you and share all the amazing new stories I have about the stars! (The sea turtles here are amazing!) -Natalie