Two students from Macalester—Molly Stark-Ragsdale ’17  and Hoai-Nam Bui ’17—took part this spring in a Sea Education Association (SEA) Semester of environmental studies at sea. They traveled for two months in the South Pacific from Auckland to Wellington and back, exploring the unique environmental and complex cultural influences that have shaped these islands. They also visited marine and coastal protected areas and various ports of call along the way. Below are brief accounts of their daily activities.

We Execute a Sierra Charlie

by Hoai-Nam Bui ’17 (McLean, Virginia)

February 22, 2016, “A” Watch

Despite some bouts of seasickness, it was smooth sailing all through the night. To quote our captain, she moved “like a bar of soap slipping across your bathroom floor.” At 1030 hours we deployed the CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) for the first time, and collected a lot of salps. According to my Mac classmate Molly Stark Ragsdale, salps stand for “snacking and lunching on plankton sludge.” While that may be true, salps are also hermaphroditic tubular shaped gelatinous organisms, which can exist as a single polyp or in a colony. A current research project is looking into whether salps vertically migrate in the water column from day to night.

At 1200 hours our calculated rhumb line was determined to be about 108 nautical miles, which means we have traveled 140 nautical miles in a straight line from noon yesterday to noon today. Watch groups and schedules have also been running more smoothly, with everyone literally learning the ropes.

We arrived in the majestic Whangaroa Harbor on the northern coast of Northland, New Zealand, at about 1430 today. Steward and second assistant scientist Sarah Fuller and her trusty sidekick Tim Dooley, from Grinnell College, made some wonderful meals, keeping seasickness in mind. They also hit us with some stellar pizza, following the flawless execution of what is called a “Sierra Charlie.”

For all you landlubbers, a Sierra Charlie is one of the most critical components of any successful voyage. It’s what some would call a classic “dip in the water,” except you do it by jumping from the bowsprit of a 134-foot brigantine (two-masted sailing vessel). We played games, did mid-air animal impressions, and took part in some gentle peer pressure to get everyone into the water.

We’re finishing the day with some smooth guitar tunes and hanging out on the science deck.

P.S. Hi Mom. I’m sunburned, but so is everyone else.

Class on the Bowsprit

by Molly Stark-Ragsdale ’17 (Missoula, Montana)

February 23, 2016, “C” Watch

Breakfast this morning was as it always is: way beyond one’s expectations for breakfast aboard a ship. As usual, we had a feast: breakfast burritos with eggs, beans, cheese, bacon, avocado, salsa, and sprouts, followed by a mid-morning snack of banana bread.

We set sail at 0830 with all hands on deck. This means everyone contributing to raising the sails, not just those on watch. We’ve all gotten much more efficient and knowledgeable about sail handling, which made getting underway pretty smooth this morning.

Today we sailed away from land until it was barely visible, in order to take water samples for analysis. C Watch had class with Jeff Wescott, assistant professor of anthropology, at 1000. To change things up and make things more exciting, as Jeff likes to do, class was moved to the bowsprit (the spar extending from the boat’s prow). Justin Gregory, a reporter from Radio New Zealand who is joining us for this leg, came out to listen in. You could say it was the most dynamic class any of us have ever had. It’s surprising how well you can pay attention and participate while also feeling like your body is about to get catapulted into the water. But never fear, readers: We were all harnessed in.

After class, Alex Salesin from the University of Virginia and Johanna Bail from Whitman College and I stayed out on the bow and pretended to be pirates. Along with hearing the two of the perform impressive renditions of songs from The Phantom of the Opera, we made up a song to the tune of “My Favorite Things” about our trip so far. The song is as follows:

Bobby C. Seamans and dolphins that swim
Chilling on bowsprits and eating good din
Sunshine and coastlines that turn green in spring
These are a few of our favorite things.

Hauling on halyards and easing on down hauls
Waking at 1 a.m. when dawn watch calls
Mimicking animals as we jump in
These are a few of our favorite things.

Towing on neustons and counting the salps
Telling Ben how many salps that we found
Tying the reef knot and not falling in
These are a few of my favorite things.

When we’re seasick
When the the ship rolls
When we’re feeling bad
We simply remember our favorite things, and the we don’t feel so bad.

Though lacking in rhythm, we thought our lyrics summed up our voyage thus far pretty well.

The afternoon was filled with looking at fish eggs and other little critters under the microscope, as well as calculating the alkalinity and pH of the 11 water samples we took this morning. The day ended with more amazing food, including some scrumptious chocolate coconut oat bars improvised by Hoai-Nam Bui ’17. The evening also included some post-dinner competition: Everyone stands with his or her feet in one place in the salon and cannot move, and the winner is the person who can stay the longest in the same place while the boat launches us from side to side.

The end of a another successful day. Tomorrow we head to Russell, where we’ll be touching land for the first time in four days.

May 30 2016

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