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Benson ’23 Sails the High SEAs


Emily Benson ’23 spent the fall semester with the Sea Education Association (SEA) program studying coral reef ecology. She sailed aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer through the Caribbean, beginning and ending in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. Here’s what she had to say about the experience.

Describe your experience at sea. What did an average day look like?

On the Cramer, our tall ship, we were divided into three watch groups — A, B, and C — for four watch rotations — dawn watch, morning watch, afternoon watch, and evening watch. We’d rotate through each period, so we had six hours on deck and 12 hours after to relax. For example, if B Watch (my watch!) was on deck for dawn watch, we woke up at 0100 to steer the ship at the helm, be on lookout at the bow, do hourly boat checks, set/strike the sails as needed, or help out in the lab. Dawn watch was over at 0700, and we debriefed the next group on what we’d done before handing the reins over. Usually, we ate breakfast after and headed to bed.

At 1430, our classes began! This was the only time of the day when everyone was awake at the same time. There was a navigation report, where we let everyone know how much we traveled in 24 hours, a science report from the lab, and then time to work on our research projects, which usually meant analyzing the data we collected from our snorkel sessions before sailing. At around 1600, B Watch members went back to bed to prepare for the evening watch shift at 1900, when we took over until 0100. The next day we would have afternoon watch, and the day after we’d have morning watch.

Emily Benson '23

Hometown: Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

High School: Roy C. Ketcham High School

Major: Environmental Studies

Campus Clubs and Activities: Volleyball Club, Fencing Club, Tour Guide

read about other students’ research interests
What interested you about SEA Semester? How did you end up in the location where you were studying?

I’m not a boat person, and I’d never gone sailing before, so this was a new experience for me. I figured that it would be good for me to get out of my comfort zone and do something out there. I got in touch with a friend of a friend who had done it before, and she gave me a lot of information (and reassurance!) about what the program was like.

How do you plan to carry the insights gained from the program to the rest of your time at Hamilton? Has this shaped your post-grad plans at all?

One of the most important lessons I learned was how integral community is to not just ship life, but everyday life. Almost all of our work consisted of group projects, and we were rarely given a task on deck that only one person could do. I’m a pretty independent person, so this was a bit tough in the beginning, but I now understand the value of teamwork. That’s something I’ll take with me to my next few semesters at Hamilton as well as my post-college life. This program has definitely opened more doors for me. I had always been interested in doing marine research, but it feels much more like a possibility now that I have experience in the field. I’m also considering going back to SEA for a semester post-grad to work as a deckhand!

What advice would you give to students interested in the program?

This was probably one of the best experiences I have ever had, if not the best. You have your highest highs and your lowest lows while here, and you learn so much about yourself and the world around you. My advice would be to trust your gut if it’s telling you to apply, and while you’re there try to take it in as much as you can. The time is going to fly, and soon you’ll be back home missing everything!

About Sea Education Association (SEA)

Sea Education Association is an internationally recognized leader in undergraduate, gap year, and high school ocean education. For 50 years and more than one million nautical miles sailed, SEA has educated students about the world’s oceans through its Boston University accredited study abroad program. SEA is based on Cape Cod in Woods Hole, Mass., and has two research vessels: the SSV Corwith Cramer, operating in the Atlantic Ocean, and the SSV Robert C. Seamans, operating in the Pacific.

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