Interviews: Third Mate
Seamans, who sails as third mate on Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
vessels, took a solo 15,000-nautical-mile journey in the Atlantic
Ocean last year on a 21-foot sailboat. He celebrated his 26th birthday
How did you become interested in sailing and the sea?
I grew up north of Boston, in Beverly, Massachusetts, and
I sailed with my grandfather, father, plus my two brothers and two
sisters. I think my mom liked it because it got us all out of the
house. I liked it because it was a sport that I could always learn
from and improve. I enjoyed the technical aspects, like being able
to change the shape of a sail.
How did that lead to a career of sailing on research vessels?
By my senior year in high school, I still had not found a college
I wanted to attend, but then a friend invited me to visit Maine
Maritime Academy. It clicked, so I took an interview and sent in
my application. It was the only college I applied to, and it worked
|Adam rejoices in Salvadore, Brazil, at
the end of the race portion of his sailing trip. The eight-month
voyage took nearly three years of preparation.
How is a maritime academy different than a regular
It’s set up a lot like a ship, with a hierarchy and
ranking system. As a freshman I was mopping floors and the upperclassmen
were in charge. I was taking a lot of navigation courses, but also
humanities and math, so I came out with a Bachelor of Science degree
as well as a third mate license in May 2000.
Had you heard of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
when you graduated?
I knew of it, and I knew I wanted to work for WHOI, but I also wanted
to try different things. So I went to work on a chemical carrier.
It was exhausting work, 12-hour days of unloading and loading chemicals.
I was there for three months, traveling between New Jersey and Texas,
and as soon as I got off the ship I gave WHOI a call. I got an offer
to work as an ordinary seaman on the Knorr. After a few
months I was offered the opportunity to sail on my third mate’s
What are the primary responsibilities of the third mate on Atlantis?
I’m responsible for the 8 a.m. to noon navigation and
science operations watch. I’m also the safety officer. I have
to make sure that all required emergency and safety gear are routinely
tested and inspected. I also stand watch from 8 p.m. to midnight,
during which time I position the ship for the scientists’
Why did you decide to do a sailing race in the Atlantic
I wanted to do a long-distance ocean race, and I wanted to
push my sailing abilities. I learned about a race called the Mini
Transat while at the Maine Maritime Academy. It’s a race with
two legs. The first sails from France to the Canary Islands for
1,200 nautical miles. The second legs sails from the Canary Islands
to Brazil for 3,300 nautical miles. All the boats were 21 feet long,
and all the racers sailed solo.
What was your route, including the race routes?
To get to the start, I wanted to sail from South Carolina to France
because I figured it would be a good way to practice for the Mini
Transat. But then my mast broke and I had to stop in Bermuda to
get that fixed. When I pulled into the dock at Bermuda, I heard
on the radio that there was a ship called Atlantis coming
in. I thought, ‘no way that’s the Atlantis
I know.’ But sure enough, it was the WHOI ship. Some of the
scientists and crew helped to get my mast fixed by lending me tools
and support. I even joined them for a party. From there I sailed
with a friend to the Azores and on to Spain. I did the Mini Transat
race, and then sailed from Brazil then to the French island Guadeloupe,
then to the Bahamas to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. If you include the
race qualifier I did from Maine to South Carolina, the total was
about 15,000 nautical miles. Basically I was at sea from May to
December of 2003.
You spent so many days and weeks alone at sea. What was
There were only a few times when I really wanted someone with
me, to share a sunset or a particular moment, like when I had a
good spinnaker set. Otherwise I was fine with just sailing. I did
keep written and video logs, where I filmed myself talking about
high or low points experienced on the trip.
What lessons did you learn?
I learned a lot of respect for the elements. During this type of racing, it’s
safety first, speed second. I was solo racing, and in charge of my own safety.
The ocean sure didn’t care about what happened to me.
What was your hairiest moment in the race?
When I put the spinnaker up and got caught in a lot of wind.
The wind just blew up, and I had to hang on and ride it out for
like six hours. There was a lot of damage to boats in the racing
fleet that day.
Rolling your boat in the middle of the night and losing
your mast, and then having to sail 300 miles to Bermuda without
a mast… that wasn’t the hairiest moment?
Strangely enough, since it happened so fast, it wasn’t
that bad. I’d say that losing my mast was my most frustrating
moment. And my most discouraging moment was losing the mast again
off Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, about 20 miles from the end of the
trip. I learned that there was a failure in the standing rigging.
What’s next for you, after we end this expedition?
I’m getting ready to sell my sailboat this summer. It’s
a racing boat, not a leisure craft, so it doesn’t make sense
for me to keep it. Then I’m heading out on Knorr
in the beginning of July for research in Newfoundland and in the
North Atlantic. The racing was everything I had hoped for…
now I just want to take it easy.
-By Amy E. Nevala