Go to Sea with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute's SEA Semester

Go to Sea with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute's SEA Semester

Does the sea call to you? Even if you've never considered a career in ocean science, you might benefit from the SEA semester offered by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Have a look...
By Earl Hunsinger

The lure of the sea―for centuries it has called out to men, beckoning them, drawing them away from home and hearth, with the promise of adventure, romance, and mysteries revealed.

Some have gone seeking their fortune. Others for the sheer thrill of pitting their mortal strength against the fury and might of the wild and unpredictable ocean. Many have been running away from something. For others, salt water was in their blood, with generations never considering a different life. Although some have desired to unlock the mysteries of the sea itself, few have treated her with disrespect and lived to tell the tale.

Whatever their reason for going to sea, the ocean herself and her exotic ports of call have always had the power to conjure up within us a sense of mystery and adventure.

At the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, they know how strong the pull of the sea can be. After all, they feel it themselves. Since 1971, they have been helping college students, both men and women, respond to this call. It was in that year that a program appropriately called SEA (sea education association) was founded. Its goal was to allow students the opportunity to study the ocean from a multitude of academic perspectives. Uniquely, this opportunity is available to students with a variety of educational goals, or who are still undecided about their educational and career goals. They even offer high school and adult education courses. Another thing that makes the SEA program unique is the use of traditional sailing vessels. After six weeks of classroom education, the students set sail aboard a 135-foot sailing ship, spending another six weeks either in the Atlantic/Caribbean or in the Pacific ocean.

The classroom instruction gives an overview of the chemistry, biology, physics, and geology of the oceans. Each student also designs their own research project that they carry with them when they go to sea. They also learn something about the history and culture of mariners. While at sea, the students acquire hands-on experience handling sail, navigating, and making sure that all the equipment stays in good working order. They also take turns standing watch.

Each of the ships used by the school flies a United States flag, and is inspected and certified by the United States Coast Guard as a Sailing School Vessel (SSV). This means that it meets, and usually exceeds, stringent safety standards. Of course, these are more than just sailing ships. They are fully equipped floating oceanographic laboratories. In fact, SEA's newest vessel is the most sophisticated oceanographic research/sailing school vessel ever built in the United States. In addition to sailing to the deep ocean for research, the students visit exotic ports, like Tahiti, the Marquesas, Lunenburg, and Bequia.

The potential for personal growth offered by this program makes it an exciting opportunity. And who knows, after spending six weeks at sea, maybe you will find that you have salt water in your blood after all. When you consider that over 70 percent of the world is covered by water, and that only a small fraction of the world's oceans have been explored, it should be obvious that ocean research is an interesting and challenging field. As SEA's website says "For more than 30 years, SEA students have been conducting research, collecting data, and contributing to what we know about the world's oceans, but that wealth of knowledge is just a fraction of what remains to be discovered. We invite students to join us and experience first-hand the excitement, challenges, and rewards of our work."