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Sarah the Sailor Shares Stories

Photo courtesy SEA

Hello from Samana Bay! I'm Sarah Aili Farquhar, a student on a two-month voyage as part of the Sea Education Association semester-at-sea program. Our ship, the SSV Corwith Cramer is anchored in the bay until tomorrow, when we will be heading north towards Silver Bank. The twenty-five college students on the Cramer boarded the ship in Key West on the eleventh of February, and made good time to Samana.We first went north through the Straits of Florida, then swung in close to the shore of Florida above Miami to collect sediments for a student project.In addition to sail power, the Cramer was also helped in a northerly direction by the Gulf Stream, which moves at roughly four knots.

After a few days of sailing roughly parallel to the Florida coast we turned east and headed out into the royal blue waters of the Sargasso Sea. We were helped along by a cold front, which passed us and brought strong northwesterly winds, which made for fast travel, some squally weather and at times twelve-foot seas. The ship was heeled over at an angle of roughly thirty or so degrees for about four days -- only the tables, which are weighted and move to keep food and drinks from spilling, stayed horizontal. Along the way the 25 college students on Corwith Cramer, who come from colleges all over the country, were adjusting to life on board while also learning how to sail the ship and use the scientific equipment on board.

Students have been divided into three watches. These watches last seven hours during the day and four during the night. Watches rotate 24 hours a day, and therefore sleep schedules do not revolve around whether it is day or night. Food is fabulous on the ship, and is prepared by both the ship's steward and a student who is that day's assistant steward. Each student is assigned a bunk space, about six feet long by three feet wide, which is his or her only personal space on the ship.

Photo courtesy SEA

On trip to Samana Bay, our first port call, was not a direct cruise. About six hours of every day were spent 'hove to.' This means that the ship is not sailing forward, but stopped, in this case for science. Sediment samples were collected with a Shipek grab, which is lowered quickly to the bottom of the ocean and grabs a bucketful of sediment upon impact. Neuston tows were taken at noon and midnight, during which a net is dragged over the side of the boat along and just under the surface of the ocean (this is called the Neuston layer). Water samples were also collected at several sites. Depending on the purpose of collection, these samples were tested for dissolved oxygen content, nutrient content, and chlorophyll content.

We were in the Southern Sargasso on the morning of our eighth day out (February 19) when two whales were sighted off the port (left) bow. These whales were estimated to be between twenty and thirty feet long by the students who observed them (unfortunately I was sleeping).The third mate identified the whales as humpbacks by looking at their dorsal fins. They stayed alongside the Cramer for about ten minutes before swimming further away. They, like us, were headed in a southerly direction.

We sailed into Samana Bay on the sunny morning of February 21, passing red-brown cliffs and waves breaking against the black rock of headlands covered with the green outlines of coconut palms. Three or more whales were observed from a distance of one mile off the port bow at around eleven AM. These whales were spouting. Closer by on the starboard (right) side, three whales were also observed at a distance of a half-mile, swimming southeast into the bay and spouting also. We could not determine the species of either of these two groups of whales (but it seems likely that they were humpbacks).

Tomorrow, the 25th of February, we pull up our anchors and head north out of Samana Bay to Silver Bank. With us for the past few weeks, and until we leave Silver Bank, is Carlos Michilin, the Head of Environmental Disasters in the government of the Dominican Republic. It is required that a representative of the Dominican government be on board ships traveling in the D.R.'s protected marine sanctuaries, such as Silver Bank. Carlos has shared with students a wealth of information about the Dominican Republic, the whales which migrate to Silver Bank, Samana Bay, and other areas further to the south, and the threats these whales face from hunters and boat traffic in breeding areas. I look forward to sending you information on the whales that we see at Silver Bank. We are all extremely excited for the next few days - we will probably arrive sometime around the 28th or 29th and anchor overnight at the bank.
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A Bit of a Biography from Sarah
My name is Sarah Aili Farquhar, and Marlborough, Connecticut is my hometown. Before boarding the ship in Key West I was living and studying at SEA's base of operations in Woods Hole, MA. This is the second semester of my sophomore year at Mount Holyoke College in Massachussets, where I have been studying literature, geology, Spanish, art, Russian, rock climbing, and have been an active part of the Outing Club. This past summer I interned as a park ranger in Washington, and love hiking, writing, climbing, biking, and many other things. I have two parents, two younger brothers, great friends and relatives, two dogs, two cats, a bird, and some fish. My brother also has a hamster. In the future I plan to work in a career which allows me to be outside as much as possible, and still have time to write.

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