17 Apr 2016

Aboard the Bobbie C

From Spectrum, 12:15 pm on 17 April 2016

By Justin Gregory

Spectrum producer Justin Gregory spent one week aboard a tall ship, sailing from Auckland to the Bay of Islands in the company of 22 American college students.

Since the early 1970s, the Sea Education Association (SEA), based in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, has been offering SEA Semester: a semester at sea for undergraduate American college students.

The fully-accredited environmental studies programme, which brings a group of students to New Zealand, aims to increase awareness of human impact on the ocean by exposing students directly to it.

The two-masted brigantine Robert C. Seamans, affectionately known as the Bobbie C, is one of two ships operated by SEA, and the 22 young students on board the 41m training vessel come from colleges across the United States.

They come from a range of academic and social backgrounds, including a budding neuroscientist and two trainee school teachers, as well as several with a strong environmental focus.

Before travelling to New Zealand to begin the voyage, the students complete six weeks of classroom study at SEA’s Woods Hole headquarters, where they cover nautical science, maritime history, anthropology and ocean science.

The programme, called 'SEA Semester: The Global Ocean', brings them to New Zealand and treats the entire country as a practical laboratory for experimentation, observation and learning.

With an emphasis on teamwork, leadership and character development, the programme is five weeks of hard sailing along the eastern coast of New Zealand with stops in the Bay of Islands, Wellington, Dunedin and Christchurch.

Once onboard the Robert C. Seamans, the students are divided into three watches and operate on six hours on and 12 hours off roster, as both deck crew and inside the two laboratories.

Under the supervision of professional sailors, they receive practical instruction in sailing the ship and are guided through their experiments by the science team in the lab.

In their down time, the students eat, sleep, have class, do homework, clean the ship and get to grips with their new life as sailors and scientists.