Lost and Found

April 8, 2024

Author: Sam Ruemmler, A Watch, Roger Williams University



Ship's Log

Friday, 5 April 2024

Noon Position (Lat and Long): 42°25.542’ S x 169°41.143’ W
Ship Heading (degrees): 100.6° True
Ship Speed (knots): 5.1
Taffrail Log (nm): 859.1
Weather / Wind / Sail Plan (from 1300 Watch Change): 14.6°C, cloudy, wind from SSW blowing 15 knots, sailing under the fore stays’l, main stays’l, jib, and tops’l
Description of location: Southern South Pacific Subtropical Gyre

Coming to sea has meant giving up many of the luxuries of life, in
particular sleep, showering, and personal space. We’ve also lost our
connection to our lives back home, and while it’s easy to lament all that
we’ve left behind it would be nearly impossible not to mention all the
things that we’ve found here. Over the past few days I’ve been keeping track
of things that cross my mind often and have narrowed it down to a short list
of things that I’ve lost and found. While I know I can’t speak for everyone,
I think there’s a good chance many of us are missing and appreciating some
of the same things, so hopefully this can give you a partial window into the
minds of most of the students.

What I’ve Lost

-              Electronic connections: This is the most obvious one that
comes to mind and it’s a big one. There are some downsides for sure, like
not being able to keep in touch with people and not being able to register
for classes or housing for next semester (thanks a million Sydney). But are
those really downsides? It’s out of my control so now I don’t have to think
about it, and there’s no reason to check my phone because I don’t have any
texts to miss. There’s no reason to check all my classes online to make sure
I haven’t missed an assignment, there’s no need to worry about keeping my
phone charged, and there’s plenty of time to actually live my life when I’m
not doom scrolling on Instagram.

-              Straight hair: My hair is only neat and orderly every third
day when I take a shower. As soon as I step on deck the wind makes it very
clear it has other plans. I’ve given up on trying to comb it and just given
in to having a tangled mess on my head. At least now I don’t have to fix my
bedhead in the morning or avoid wearing hats so they don’t mess up my hair.

-              Music: Oh boy this is a big one. If you know me in the
slightest, you’ll know how connected I am to the music I listen to and how
much I love going to concerts. I’m missing it big time. We aren’t allowed to
listen to music on the ship since we have to be constantly vigilant of our
surroundings, which include listening for changes in sounds that could
indicate something is wrong. This means that the only music we can have is
what we can produce ourselves, from bad singing at lookout when you can only
remember half the words to a song to a handful of people in the galley
belting out the chorus to Chicken Fried because the chorus is the only part
we know. Thankfully, we have some talented musicians on board, so sometimes
music is violin and guitar up on the quarter deck at sunset with the wind on
your face and not a care in the world. I’m also eagerly awaiting the day I
get to Tahiti so I can check what artists have announced tours and fill my
summer with concert dates. (Maybe if people at home want to buy some as
advance Christmas/birthday presents I won’t have to worry about it hint hint
wink wink). Anyway, I’m looking forward to field day, the only time we’re
allowed to listen to recorded music. Unfortunately, Spotify is acting up so
I only have access to about 1500 of my songs. Oh well, beggars can’t be

-              Space: The Robert C. Seamans is 41 meters long. We have 38
crew and students, so I’ll leave it to your imagination to think about how
much space we have. Things are stored on every square inch of this ship; all
the seats in the salon have food under them, there’s a science hold in the
fo’c’sle under my bunk, and there’s fruits and vegetables in hammocks up on
deck. This means we need to get creative with how we store our own
belongings, which is why my duffel bag lives under my pillow, my backpack
lives in the crack between my mattress and the wall, and some of my clothes
live not just in the drawers, but in the space under the drawers that you
can only get to if you take the drawer out.

-              Track of time: Time works in strange ways here. We do 4
watches every 3 days that last 6 hours with 12 hours off, so sleeping occurs
at any time it can, and the sun is no longer a requirement for being awake.
It also doesn’t help that we just repeated the same day twice and can
arbitrarily decide when we actually want to observe time zones. Who’s going
to tell us otherwise? Somehow it feels like I’ve been here forever but at
the same time as if I just arrived yesterday. In reality, we got to New
Zealand 11 days ago, we’ve been sailing for 8 days, and we’ve just started
our third full watch rotation.

-              Last, but certainly not least, are my friends and family from
back home. It’s weird to be thrown into this experience with some people who
were total strangers a month ago, and it makes me miss the connections I’ve
built with people over the past few years. I miss having people around me
that know all the little details of my life, but of course it’s fun to
rebuild those connections with a whole new set of friends. I miss the family
meals we have (that’s not a shot at the stewards, they’re amazing), things
that we either don’t have ingredients, the tools, or the recipes for. As we
get to know each other and ask about favorite foods, I find myself craving
rouladen and spaetzle (because when am I not). I also miss my girlfriend
dearly. We’ve known each other for most of our lives and the last times I
wasn’t able to text her for this long it was because I didn’t have my first
phone yet. It gets rough, but ship life has a way of keeping my mind on
things like memorizing pin rails and hauling sails at 1 AM. I’ve only been
here a little while and I’m already thinking about counting down the days.

What I’ve Found

-              The best sleep ever: Melatonin be damned, there’s no better
way to fall asleep than being exhausted after a 6-hour watch. Flopping into
bed and being rocked to sleep like a big baby by Mother Earth while the
ocean sounds outside are produced organically, not played from a machine, is
the most soothing way to rest. Also, I’ve found that I tend to sleep better
on a starboard tack for some reason.

-              Independence from socks: This one probably isn’t as universal
as the others, but I think I’ve only worn socks once while on board. My
sandals are going to be used within an inch of their life by the time this
trip is over. I was inspired by Rocky, who told us that once temps reach
10°C, he might start considering putting socks on. This is the way. My feet
have been surprisingly warm, even in the rain and the wind. Who needs socks

-              Role models: Speaking of Rocky, we have been amazingly
blessed with a wonderful crew of talented mates, scientists, stewards, and
engineers. They are all incredibly smart and infinitely patient with our
millions of questions and are never annoyed when we need to run through
something one more time or forget to remind them that the galley mats are
still on deck (Sorry B Watch). Big thanks to Rocky and Nick for being
awesome watch officers and teaching me what I know.

-              Another boat!: I haven’t spotted much on lookout, but one
thing I did see was another vessel. At first, I thought I was imagining
something when there was a white blob coming over the horizon every time the
ship would go over a wave. It turned out to be a fishing boat about 8 miles
away, and over the course of several minutes I got to watch the classic
example of Earth’s curvature by watching more and more of the ship appear
over the horizon a little at a time.

-              A new appreciation for the power of the elements: I knew the
wind and the waves were powerful, but the extent of it never really set in
until I felt our 41-meter ship getting rolled around like a toy boat in a
bathtub. Last night a cold front came through and caused a huge wind shift.
Within a few minutes the wind went from 10 knots to gusts of over 30 blowing
rain sideways as A and B watch raced to strike the tops’l in the middle of
the night. I know that in the grand scheme of things this wasn’t that bad of
a squall, but it was the first one I was in and it was a wild ride that made
me feel completely at the mercy of the sea. Our timbers were literally
shivered; it turns out that phrase means to turn the yards on the fore mast
perpendicular to the wind, making them “shiver” back and forth.

-              A profound sense of wonder and awe: There is no way to
describe with words the feeling of looking around and knowing that you are
more than 800 nautical miles out to sea. Being on lookout and staring into
the emptiness of what lies in front of you can inspire a wide range of
emotions, usually all at once. Sometimes I need to turn around and look at
the boat behind just to remind myself that there is something solid to keep
me afloat in the vastness of the ocean. At one point in our journey, the
closest humans will be in the International Space Station passing over head.
The void in front of you can be frightening if you let it get to you, but it
can also feel very welcoming. The Pacific is somehow the loneliest place in
the world, and at the same time the place you feel you belong more than
anywhere else.

This is by no means an exclusive list; I could go on and on
about the tradeoffs of life at sea and normal life at home. I find it
strange to think that for some of the crew this is the norm and being on
land means giving up the freedom of the ocean and trading it for a busy,
overly connected life. Our first mate Rocky said a few days ago that this
ship is his home, and he merely goes on vacation to other places when he’s
not sailing. I don’t know if that could ever permanently be the life for me,
but I think the experience of being cut off in a faraway place is one that
everyone should strive to appreciate at least once in their life.

Notes to those back home:

-              To my family: I’m having the time of my life and I’m taking
tons of pictures! There’ll be plenty for me to show you when I get back, I
can’t wait to tell you all about it.

-              To my friends at school: I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to
shut up about this trip, it is so indescribably awesome, sorry in advance
for being insufferable when I see you again.

-              To Erin: I’m safe, I’m happy, and I’m missing you to pieces.
I’ve kept up with my journaling and I write (almost) every day, sometimes
twice a day. They say distance makes the heart grow fonder, which must be
true because I’m farther away from you than I’ve ever been, and I couldn’t
love you more.

Sam Ruemmler, A Watch, Roger Williams University

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