Last month I dispelled the myth that Williams-Mystic students live on a boat. This week I am going to show you the wonderful thing that started the rumor: the offshore voyage.

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Each Williams-Mystic class takes a 10-day trip on the Corwith Cramer at the beginning of the semester. The trip has two purposes: first, to learn about boats, about living on boats, about all the words associated with boats, and how to navigate and eat and sleep and wash and go to the bathroom on boats; and second, to get to know your classmates. Students arrive in Mystic, CT and within a week they are off on a boat.

As you see in the picture above, students steer the boat. Students are divided into three “watches,” which alternate running everything about the boat. Below is a picture of a typical watch. Very observant and informed people will notice that this watch contains a current Williams student, a recent alum, and a 1980s alum:

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Students actually steer the boat almost 24 hours a day, except for an hour or two in the afternoon when there is class. “Class?” you ask, “on a boat?” Yes. We learn about weather by predicting it (see below), about the laws of the ocean, about the animals (visible and invisible) in the ocean around us, about poetry about the sea, and so on.


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A crucial component of the trip is the science component. Students are divided into three “watches,” each associated with a mate and a scientist. Half of the watch steers the boat and changes the sails, and the other half does science. So 24 hours a day, there is science being done. Below you see, from left to right, two Williams students, the scientist on their watch, and our oceanography professor in the back.

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The Cramer has a big roll of metal wire and a big thing with bottles. You lower the thing with bottles to the bottom of the ocean with the big roll of wire, and then you can sample water from various depths. In the next picture you see the bottles just going over the side on the wire.

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The culmination of all the science work is a poster session, held on the boat while the boat is moving on one of the last days. Students pair up and each present a part of the science data — temperature at the surface, temperature of the deep water in the bottles, plankton, etc. — with a poster and a two-page paper, plus all the relevant graphs. My partner and I were the only ones who agreed to be in the picture with our poster, so here we are:

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So, that’s the science part that the science half of the watch does. The other half of the watch does all of the boat stuff, including steering, documenting the weather, wind and wave strength direction, changing the sails, and checking the boat hourly to make sure everything (engine, fridge and freezer temperature, lifeboats, safety lights, water in the cooler, etc.) is the way it should be. The really difficult part is learning the names and locations of the 70 or so “lines” and “sheets” (i.e., ropes) that all connect to various sails in various ways to various things. The almost-as-difficult part is pulling hard enough to get what you want to happen to happen. Here is a watch all pulling together:

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We also learn how to navigate by the stars and with sextants. It’s hard to take a picture of the stars, but here’s a picture of us using sextants:

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Of course, it’s not all hard science and pulling on ropes; there was a lot of fun, too. Here is one whole house jumping off the bowsprit (the pole that sticks off the front of the boat) into water 300 meters deep:

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I guess that’s enough. You get the idea. If you’re very interested, I wrote all about the trip right when I got back, so you can read that for more commentary and different pictures.

To close, here is a picture of the scientist on my watch, in case you didn’t get enough in her first two appearances in this post, for Mike E:

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Photo credits: Lisa Gilbert, Libby Miles, Hilary Palevsky, and me.

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