A Journey Into Contemplation

A student's reflections on a summer voyage at sea.

This summer, Amelia McCarthy ’19 embarked on a voyage aboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans. Part of a crew of oceanographic researchers, the geology major studied conditions in the South Pacific—and contemplated the sun, the sea, and the stars.  

As part of a Sea Education Association summer session, McCarthy and 23 shipmates set sail from American Samoa to the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA). 

Composed of eight islands, the area is one of the world’s largest UNESCO World Heritage sites and represents one of Earth’s last intact oceanic coral archipelago ecosystems. Working with experts from Sea Education Association, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the New England Aquarium, McCarthy and a crew of students from around the country conducted research on the state of the ocean to help PIPA management develop an effective conservation plan.

One week out, McCarthy wrote on the ship’s blog: 

We have now sailed for more than 24 hours under sail and wind alone, without the engine—which, as one of my shipmates rejoiced, means no more half-hour engine checks; we were even able to set the tops’l for a time. More sails will have to wait for a change in course or wind, no matter how eagerly we await more sails.

Sailing may mean fewer engine room checks, but our work has increased: between trimming sails and starting revisions for our papers from shore, we are settling into a routine with little time to spare.

While the Seamans bustles with activity at all times, the ocean around us is but sparsely populated—two vessels, two birds, and less than a liter of zooplankton compose the sum total of life we’ve seen since leaving the harbor of Pago Pago on Monday afternoon.

Truly, we are alone, in the most wondrous way, beneath the clear Milky Way and brilliant stars of night and the azure, cloud-dotted skies of day. You can almost imagine that we have slipped into a world without anyone else, here between the bluest seas and bluest skies of the tropical South Pacific.

Here, when we stand still for a moment, it almost seems that we could feel the awe of the earliest voyagers of these swells.

Record of a Voyage

Ship's Log: July 13, 2017

Current Position: 9° 05.6' S x 170° 02.6' W

Ship’s Heading & Speed: 355° PSC (per ship’s compass) at 5 knots.

Sail Plan: Sailing under single reefed main, mainstays’l, forestays’l, and jib.

Weather: Clear with scattered cumulus clouds and 32 degrees Celsius. Winds generally eastward and between 15 and 20 knots.