Postcard from Abroad: Audra DeLaney

BGSU student earns valuable experience in maritime studies program

Attributes of public relations include engaging with others and building relationships. Being a member of a maritime studies program in a seaport town also requires engaging with others and building relationships, especially when circumnavigating Puerto Rico in 10 days with people you just met.

My name is Audra DeLaney and I am a third-year public relations major and political science minor at Bowling Green State University. I found out about the Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies Program from Assistant Professor Amanda Cook and am the first BGSU student to participate in the program. I plan to use my major and minor to pursue a career in public affairs. Through participating in this program, I hope to gain a greater understanding of the history of the United States coasts as well as the policies that affect each one.

The mission of the Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies Program, based at Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut, and a program of Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, is to educate undergraduate students in a semester-long academic investigation of the sea that is accompanied by travel throughout the United States and original research opportunities. A highlight of the program is beginning the semester aboard a tall ship either in Lake Erie or the Caribbean Sea.

After a week of orientation at Mystic Seaport, my shipmates, professors and I woke up early on Sunday, January 28, boarded a bus and got on a direct flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to sail in the Caribbean Sea.

Once safely in San Juan, we boarded a bus and headed to a commercial shipping port where our vessel, SSV Corwith Cramer, and crew were docked. As we stepped off the bus, we put our cell phones into a dry bag that the captain kept with him until we left the ship to fly back to Connecticut. I embraced the disconnect from the outside world and believe it enriched the experience. Once aboard the Cramer, we started another round of orientation. It consisted of learning new names for ordinary items, like that the bathroom on a ship is called a head. We also learned emergency procedures, how to secure a line or "make it fast" and what knots to tie in which places.

The seas were rough our first few days aboard, so our professors made the decision to take us off the ship on Tuesday, January 30, to explore Old San Juan and El Morro, a historic fort near the entrance to San Juan Harbor. I could not stop thinking about the hurricanes that had devastated Puerto Rico months earlier. We spoke about the many places on the island that are still without power. Earlier that day, one of the professional crew members told us that the cruise ship docked next to us was being used to house FEMA workers who were spending their days helping those on the island in any way they could.

Following our return, we were told that we would leave port the following morning. At 0700 (7 a.m.) on Wednesday, January 31, we set out to sea.

I was sea sick our first two days on open water, which was frustrating because I wanted to be able to help my shipmates perform our watch tasks. Being on watch meant that we were steering the ship, setting and striking sails, cleaning dishes and checking the generator and/or engine to make sure were in working order.

Saturday, February 3, was my shipmate Mac's birthday. That day we had our first swim call in Sun Bay in Vieques, Puerto Rico. We headed inland to go to the beach for a few hours. Over the next few days, we cycled through our watches and fought off seasickness. On Tuesday, February 6, we once again anchored in San Juan Harbor, which signaled to us that our time on the Cramer was coming to a close. We cleaned the ship from top to bottom that day. I was in the galley with our photographer, Jesse, and my watch officer, Rebecca, cleaning every surface with white vinegar. After we finished cleaning we got ready for dinner and our swizzle, an end-of-cruise party.

Katie and Tom, two of my shipmates, were in charge of making sure the swizzle went smoothly. I performed in a reenactment of Act 1 Scene 1 of "The Tempest." We laughed through the entire performance. The swizzle lasted close to two hours and once it was over many of us hung out on the quarterdeck until our anchor watch assignments for the night were given out.

The next day was bittersweet. I was ready to head back to Connecticut but was going to miss the crew of the Cramer. We cleaned the ship a little more, as well as our bunks, and then it was time to leave. I hugged almost every crewmember, shook our captain's hand and headed for the bus to the airport.

As I sat on the bus looking at San Juan flying past me, I thought about how I would never have an experience quite like my experience aboard the Cramer ever again. It was full of fun, challenge, excitement, education and hard work.

We got our cell phones back in the lobby of the airport and the first thing I did was message my friends and family. We flew from San Juan to Orlando and from Orlando to Rhode Island. My housemates and I were back in our house, Johnston House, just after midnight on Thursday, February 8.

It was an honor to visit the island of Puerto Rico and feel the strength the island and its people possess. I am thankful to have had this experience and am excited to see what is up next for me in the Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies Program.