Welcome to Stories at SEA
Tune in to Stories at SEA to join students and crew from Sea Education Association who completed a 4,700 mile voyage, sailing from San Diego, CA to French Polynesia while conducting oceanographic research onboard.
Nora Jackson, host and producer of Stories at SEA, spoke to students underway about daily life on the ship, research projects, and why it’s meaningful to be studying the ocean.
Episode 6: Coming Back to the Quarterdeck from Wherever You Were
Welcome back to Stories at SEA! We have reached our final week both onboard the Seamans and with the podcast. The sixth week was filled with wonderful memories being on Bora Bora, anchoring in Moorea and competing in inter-watch Olympics, and our end of the voyage talent show affectionately called, Swizzle. At the same time, the end of the voyage meant facing the rest of the world, coming back to reality and responsibilities, like school work and job searches: things that were miraculously absent during the voyage. When else in our lives do we get six weeks to boil life down to engaging with people through music and conversation, do science, go sailing, and work as a team?
Part of what was difficult about interviewing people was asking open-ended questions, not trying to get people to say the same thing so I could have a nice collection of themes for each episode. I really tried to just focus on generating honest answers. Which is why, when multiple students mentioned seeing stars as a highlight of the trip, it was even more special because whether they knew it or not, Rikki, Paloma, and Maggie (among others) had a shared admiration for the night sky. And the stars were marvelous; plus we had had the rare privilege of seeing the night sky shift over the course of our voyage. From the northern hemisphere to below the equator, we had seen constellations rise, take center stage, and set as we traveled south. Seeing the stars was definitely one of my highlights too.
We heard from our last three groups about some of the final stages of their research projects, and a common theme from them was needing to switch tracks, to varying degrees, as they wrapped up their work. Paloma Cestar, who worked with Emily Rogers and Aster Van Dyke, had to think about their project in a new light when it was clear that we weren’t collecting a lot of microplastics. And while that’s definitely a great thing for the ocean, it did mean the group had to switch tracks. Emily also contended with coding in R while feeling seasick and Aster had technology problems, so again, the takeaway is work as well as you can with what you have. Olivia Chiota worked with Lexi Valachovic, and they looked at phytoplankton size distributions. They ended up focusing more on the effects of nutrients rather than salinity after observing that there wasn’t much of a salinity shift over the course of the voyage. Finally, Calvin Lucido and Parker Rehmus share their work on carbon in surface waters in different areas of the ocean including gyres and upwelling zones. Parker talks about the feeling of relief after finishing the project and being able to focus on sailing and island adventures.
I remember the feeling of opening my eyes after Jordan Eckstein, the senior assistant scientist onboard, had finished the meditation portion of her lesson and thinking, I’ve got to get a copy of that for the podcast (I thought other, more meditative, thoughts too). Interlaced with excerpts of students talking about why it’s meaningful to study the ocean and Lexi Valachovic’s memorable night on the bow, the meditation is supposed to give you a sense of place on the ship. If the goal of the podcast was to take you on the journey with us, the goal of the meditation was to remind you of what a wealth of experiences we shared on the Robert C. Seamans. I love the line, “coming back to the quarterdeck from wherever you were,” because it reminds me of how my memories of the voyage are rooted in place, on the quarterdeck, in the main salon, on the cabin tops, on the Robert C. Seamans. A 134-foot brigantine that was our entire world for 6 weeks.
Making this podcast was a bit like re-living the trip. I re-read my journal, and all of the blog posts multiple times, looked at photos, and listened to over seven hours of recorded audio. I set out to create a podcast of the 305 voyage for prospective students to learn more about SEA Semester voyages, and I hope I accomplished that. I also hope, for the 305 class, that you are able to come back to the stories captured here and relive, in your own way, the voyage too.
As always thanks for listening and fair winds! Many thanks to Keeghan Ryan, Calvin Lucido, Diego Fernandez, Kris Riddle, Matt Birhle, Micah Strike, Paloma Cestar, Rikki Held, Maggie Grant, Emily Rogers, Aster Van Dyke, Olivia Chiota, Lexi Valachovic, Parker Rehmus, Henry Hua, and Katie Power for sitting down to chat with me for this episode. Thanks also to Jordan Eckstein for sharing a copy of the sense of place exercise, to the entire crew of the Robert C. Seamans for letting me take time each day to interview in the aft cabin, and to Dr. Sarah Kingston for her photograph that was the inspiration for the podcast cover art.