Editor’s note: Nicole Trennholm is a scientist on the Ocean Research Project and is currently aboard the Japan-bound Sakura. She is periodically sending updates from sea:
“Hey lady, wake up! It’s noon and the sun is strong and winds are still squirrelly…it is time for your watch!” the Skipper shouts with a goofy grin while poking you.
The time has come to be diligent, your conscience confirms. The boat is yours: take charge, it’s time to let the other guy get some rest. You notice your muscles have cramped as you pull yourself upright and out of your bunk. You think back to your previous watch, and how sleepy you were when looking out for squally powerful and wind stealing rain clouds. You still have anxiety for having had to call out the sleeping Skipper from his bunk to help you get back on course after an accidental jibe – where the boom accidentally swings violently to the other side as the wind gusts from the opposite direction – and a second time to lend a hand in reducing sail as the wind picked up when a suspect dark cloud passed closer than expected.
Yet it is these experiences that develop the able sailor. A little after sunrise you plotted the daily 24-hour position on the passage chart. You are traveling west onboard the sailing research yacht Sakura bound for Japan and have cruised into the Eastern Hemisphere. You are well into the Pacific Ocean, looking out for dangers to navigation and assessing the risk of vessels on a collision course, easy to manage on a day like this and considering a ship has not been spotted in well over a week.
It’s hour one of four; your ship’s log is your companion and official record so you routinely mark it up to watch for red flags such as: quick changes in barometric pressure, unexpected developments in the weather and sea state, erratic navigation details and peculiarities in the state of the ship’s systems. Staying sheltered, cool and hydrated is critical so you keep inside the cabin, out of the sun. You are able to fill any downtime with easily interrupted activities like reading, all while keeping an eye on the ship’s ability to steer its designated course. You are busy surviving. Your focus and commitment for those four hours is to safely run the ship, guard the lives on it and be prepared to brief the relief watch person on the current conditions.
I am currently aboard the Sakura bound for Japan. I am a scientist on the Ocean Research Project (ORP) team and am aspiring to become an able sailor. I utilize and practice STEM tools not only as a sailor but also to plan and conduct the ORP’s continent-to-continent Plastic Pollution Survey, the impetus for our passage which began April 25 out of San Francisco. We are collecting plastic pollution samples all the way across and both in and outside of gyre systems (large areas of circulatory current where plastic assembles) to better understand its ocean-wide effect on the marine environment.
Would you voluntarily enter into this trying environment, challenging your STEM skill set while developing another in sailing, a skill set our modern first world culture does not stress as part of your development? Sailing teaches the endurance and patience necessary to develop your survival sense by providing an ever-changing classroom and demanding an adaptive, solution-minded pupil. Sailing requires survival sense, a vanishing primal human capacity and a combination of mental, emotional and physical strength.
To negotiate your obstacles while navigating, handle a catastrophic event onboard or even continuously maintain satisfactory conditions of your shipmates and ship systems requires great discipline and composure. To experience an eventless watch is unlikely and to uphold order indefinitely aboard a sailing passage is an ongoing battle but through the accretion of experiences you will undoubtedly develop your survival sense. You already have the tools STEM disciplines have equipped you with which may prove to be your greatest assets when aspiring to become an able sailor.