Friday, January 17, 2014

3: Sailing the Hilo, Hawaii

Classes start. There are no weekends on Semester At Sea. There are only "A" Days and "B" Days. They occur one after another, every day that we are at sea. The first "A" day was on a Sunday. Gary has two classes back to back on the "A" Days, and one class on the "B" Days. 

Food is plentiful....3 times a day. There are evening snacks. There is a 24 hour cafe. There is a poolside grill. I am eating too much, exercising too little. The students seem to be taking advantage of the fitness equipment.

Internet is slow and not plentiful. It is an adjustment for everyone. But email seems to work, with a bit of a lag. With an added international roaming texting plan, we are actually able to text friends and family. Phone calls are pricey though. A $20 phone card gives you 13 minutes.

The view out of our our balcony is beautiful. The quality of light is constantly changing. The water is sometimes pearly gray, sometimes deep blue. In rough weather, we see whitecaps. Sunlight reflecting off the whitecaps gives an illusion of a diamond encrusted sea. The constant motion of the sea, sometimes calm, often roiling, always changing, makes it feel a huge organism that is allowing us to traverse its body.

We have not succumbed to sea-sickness. But the constant rolling of the ship is a complete surprise to me. It is impossible to walk in a straight line. We all weave back and forth as we walk...doing our best not to bump into others.

The days pass by one after another. As we approach our last day before landfall the excitement mounts. We are prepared with language bootcamp. We get an overview of the port, the art of Hawaii, the Hula, the unique spots, moving tectonic plates. We can't wait to get on land, make some calls, find an internet cafe...

First Sight of Land 
Around 7am, Friday, January 17, 2014, we sight land!

Sunrise over Hilo
Moon over Mauna Kea (the world's largest mountain if the mass below the ocean is included)
A Full Moon, Mauna Kea, and the Keck Observatory
Tonight we board the ship and sail to Honolulu. Tomorrow - Saturday, January 18, 2014, we start the long journey to Yokohama, Japan.

2: Sailing Ensenada, Mexico...

The next day, Thursday, January 9th, 2014, was full of Faculty and Staff orientation meetings. Unlike Gary, who was faculty, I had no responsibilities. The ship was hosting a TEDx event in the afternoon at 1pm and then a Parent Reception later that night at 7pm. I began to get familiar with the ship.

Glazer Lounge on Deck 7 where faculty, staff, families and Life Long Learners have a quiet place to work
View from Deck 5 Balcony - Port of San Diego
The thought of "sailing off" to Ensenada, Mexico that night was exciting. But I was also dreading how my body might react to the rolling and pitching of the ship. Gary, a two time veteran of Semester At Sea, expected to experience sea sickness during the first few days. As someone who gets car sick on Highway 17, I had absolutely no doubt that I would be miserable without some assistance. So I had prescription patches. I had ginger tablets. I was prepared! The instructions on the patch said "don't cut", but the ship's doctor said "definitely do cut in half or even quarters" especially if you are not a 200 pound 6 feet tall man. Luckily, we left at 11pm, and apparently, when lying down, the effects aren't too bad at all.

View from Deck 5 Balcony - Morning in Ensenada, Mexico
View from Deck 7 - Morning in Ensenada, Mexico
View from Deck 7 - Morning in Ensenada, Mexico
We woke to a different landscape - Ensenada, Mexico - industrial, quiet. All anticipation was for the 600 additional passengers - undergraduates and Life Long Learners - who would board the ship that morning. While I was in our cabin with the sliding glass door to the balcony open, I thought I heard Gary's voice. Looking out, there he was, in the midst of the boarding line, welcoming and chatting with every single student and Life Long Learner. I got out my telephoto lens...

The excitement of the new passengers ready to start an the voyage was infectious
The Pilot Ship accompanies us out of the Dock
After dinner that evening, in the twilight, we set off for Hawaii. It was Friday, January 10th, 2014. The crossing would take us a week. We would dock in Hilo, Hawaii at 8am, Friday, January 17, 2014.

The adventure was just beginning...

1: Semester At Sea...The Voyage Begins!

This voyage has been on our calendar for almost two years. But the day finally did arrive, way too soon. In San Diego, California, at 1pm on Wednesday, January 8, 2014, we boarded the MV Explorer, the ship that has been the home of Semester at Sea for the last ten years.

To say the ship is impressive would be an understatement. But I am equally, if not more impressed by the 200 or so constantly busy and always cheerful crew members who take care of the ship, as well as all of us - approximately 550 students, 30 faculty and 40 staff and all their families, and the 60 life long learners...

Monumental stairs in two locations connect the ship's 7 Decks
24 hour Cafe on Deck 6
View Across Deck 7 and down to Deck 6 just outside the smaller Dining Hall
Deck 7
Deck 7
Deck 5 Cabin - Home Sweet Home until May 2nd, 2014
We settle in and meet the other faculty and staff and family members. We are from institutions all over the United States. Many are repeat voyagers who have forged strong connections and with each other and have nothing but praise for the mission of ISE (Institute for Shipboard Education) and the defining experience Semester at Sea can be to all those fortunate enough to have the opportunity share the voyage.

We stay docked in San Diego tonight...don't have to worry about the possibility of the dreaded sea-sickness...yet...