Tall ship on the high seas
SEA1 (pronounced Ss Eeee A, not cee), is a small, private, non-profit
oceanographic school in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. SEA offers high
and college-level multidisciplinary courses that combine oceanography, nautical
science and maritime studies. A typical SEA program involves onshore
study at the SEA Madden Center campus in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, followed by a migration to
the ships where the coursework continues with hands-on oceanography as well as
assuming all aspects of operating the SSV Robert C. Seamans, or
SSV Corwith Cramer, SEA's
two sailing schooners. College programs last a full semester and are
accepted for academic credit at most schools. High school2, and
are shorter and run during the summer.
The call of the sea
I first learned about SEA whilst sitting under a 300-foot tall redwood on Palomar
Mountain, California. I had just opened an envelope from SEA that
contained general information about their program. The packet
arrived, like the cool whisper of immutable fate. My wayward wife emailed me
a week earlier, from the oceanographic research ship JOIDES Resolution working
off Barbados, with an interesting request:
"I read about an Academic Dean job that sounds really cool and I was
wundrin if you'd be a darling and send them a request for more info. Thx,
AA PS. They have schooners!"
I read this with some fear and loathing since we'd just built a new house,
had our kids plugged in to the local school system and my consulting business
was doing nicely. But the fact of the matter is that I'm basically a slave
to my lovely spouse's desires. So off went a tepid, but dutiful, email to admin@SEA.edu.
Besides, "They have schooners!"
That all brings us back to the beginning of the story where I was marveling
at the large format glossy SEA promotional literature in front of me. And,
boy do they ever have schooners! Two beautiful ships, schooner rigged, mebbe 50 meters long.
Two tall ships, Westward & Cramer, adorn the SEA catalog cover sprouting great clouds of sail and slicing through a sparkling ocean with a bone in
their teeth. I love boats and sailing, and looking at those ships is an
almost visceral turn on.
So, you might say that my first impression was positive. On digging a
little deeper I found another pleasant surprise, both of the ships were equipped
for some fairly sophisticated oceanographic work. Doing oceanographic
science at sea is great fun, even off the steel deck of a tubby old research
vessel. Doing your science onboard a graceful sailing ship is elite.
To make a long story a little bit shorter, my wife applied for the Dean's
job, and a year later I found myself living and working on Cape Cod, immersed,
head to toe, in this marvelous organization. I'm now one of their biggest
fans, in addition to having the pleasure of serving as their
webmaster and occasional deckhand.
If I've kept your interest this far, I'd like to explain why I think they are
One of the most positive developments in American education in the last
quarter century has been an increasing recognition of the importance of the
world’s oceans to seemingly every aspect of our lives — whether we
live on, near, or at great distances from the shore. We are at the same time
acutely aware of the limits of our knowledge of the oceans, and alternately
humbled and inspired by the challenge that our current age of DISCOVERY
presents to us.
SEA brings something different to the quest for understanding of the
ocean’s still-mysterious workings. Our programs are designed to develop in
students a talent — we hope even a PASSION — for the application of
scientific thinking and method to the marine environment. The experience is
enriched when the students connect their investigations to the traditions of maritime culture in which we all participate, sometimes knowingly, more often
not. Add to this the enduring challenge of individual and community endeavor
aboard a tall ship, and you have the recipe for one of the most interesting,
demanding, and rewarding academic experiences available to any student,
Our mission is to increase and deepen the sum of our UNDERSTANDING,
which is necessary; to foster humility, which the sea teaches us so well; and
to effect the changes that new understandings oblige us to make.
Please join us. The age of discovery is alive.
- John Bullard, President, SEA
A completely unique experience
To be blunt, participating in the twelve week undergraduate-level SEA Semester
program is one of the absolutely coolest things you could ever do as a
student. And I can prove it.
As a SEA Semester student, you'll arrive in the famous oceanographic
community of Woods Hole, Massachusetts and move in to SEA's coed residence halls
on the Madden Campus. Woods Hole, and the contiguous town of Falmouth, are
radiant little examples of New England community. Saltbox and
shingle-style bungalows mix with stately victorian mansions, all framed by the
waters of Vineyard Sound and Buzzards Bay. You'll get to know your
classmates pretty quickly because somebody's got to organize gathering up the
components for dinner. SEA tries to simulate the living conditions you'll
find once you get on the ships, so right from the start you share
everything. Well, not everything, but you know...
In all likelihood, you'll make friends pretty quickly because the students
who come to SEA are pretty much self-selecting for cool. There's another
classroom-at-sea program called Semester At Sea, that specializes in binge
drinking in foreign ports. That's not SEA. If you get as far as
applying for one of SEA's programs, you'll already be aware that this place is
for real. The coursework is as hard as anything else you have had to date,
unless you're from MIT or something (pobrecito cabron!). It's doable, but
nontrivial, and you'll get all the support you could ask for. It also
means that you are at least nominally interested in the following things, how
the world's oceans work, hands-on oceanography, the history, practice and
culture of the sea, and learning to run a tall ship.
For the next six weeks, you'll spend your days in class, or doing
your afternoons pounding the books, and your evenings howling at the moon.
You are encouraged to bring a musical instrument if you play one, and
spontaneous combustion is the rule rather than the exception.
Six weeks later, you have finals, snap a group photo and boogie off to meet
your ship. Depending on the program you are in, you'll either board the Cramer in the Atlantic, or the
Seamans in the Pacific. Typical port calls
are Catalina Island, La Paz, Mexico, Costa Rica, Tahiti and Hawaii for Seamans ,
or Woods Hole, Maine, Nova Scotia, Barbados, Cuba and the Caribbean for
Cramer. After a night at anchor to get your sea legs, you're sailing.
You're also be doing oceanographic science, cooking, cleaning, navigating, climbing the mast, and laying on
your back in the bow net with a friend,
Just playing my guitar,
lying underneath the stars
and thankin the Lord for my fingers...
- Paul Simon
By the end of it, you'll be a "Schoonerman," (even if you started
out as a grrrl). You'll also be an SEA alumnus, which for many people, means
having some friends that you'll stay in touch with for the rest of your life.
It's so much fun that some students never leave, they just keep working on the
schooners as deckhands, then mates and working towards their professional captain's license. This is discouraged
for obvious reasons, but guaranteed you'll get a permanent love of the sea, and
the confidence that comes of doing some really hard, almost dangerous, stuff
under adverse circumstances. Hey, sailing a 50 meter tall ship is a real
accomplishment, and by the end of the semester, you and your classmates will be
running the whole damned thing. How cool is that?
SEA is expensive, and they can only handle about a hundred students a
semester. The tuition and expenses for SEA cost about the same amount as a
semester at a private college. This is a lot of money, but I don't think
any apology is appropriate. No one is getting rich at this (non-profit)
institution. The programs they put on are inherently costly, and we want SEA to
stay healthy financially. There is some limited financial aid
SEA is also getting more selective in the admission process. They
typically receive more applications than they have berths for on the ships, so
you'll want to write a really good essay, and have a decent set of grades when
SEA is a limited resource, in many senses, and a precious one. If their
program is a possibility for you, I'd encourage you to take a long look at their
website, and contact them for more information. Now.
Fair winds and following seas!
For more information
1 The SEA website: http://www.sea.edu
2 SEA Programs for
High School Students: http://www.sea.edu/sea2000/admission2000/highschoolstudents.htm
3 SEA Programs for Teachers: http://www.sea.edu/sea2000/admission2000/teachers.htm
4 The SSV Westward has been retired and replaced by the Robert C. Seamans. Seamans was designed and built as a state of the art research vessel as well as a beautiful and fast sailing ship.