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Sailing and Science in the South Pacific and the Sargasso

May 26, 2015   |   by Joseph Blumberg   |   Dartmouth Now

Two Dartmouth students have been sailing the world’s oceans aboard tall ships, modern versions of 18th-century brigantines. [Engineering major] Christopher Dalldorf ’16 and Fredrik Eriksson ’16 enrolled in the Sea Education Association (SEA) Semester programs, which are based on SEA's home campus in Woods Hole, Mass. ...

The SSV Robert C. Seamans
The SSV Robert C. Seamans, the SEA vessel on which Christopher Dalldorf ’16 sailed. (Photo courtesy of Sea Education Association/SEA Semester)

... Dalldorf, from Greensboro, N.C., sailed on the Sailing School Vessel (SSV) Robert C. Seamans, a 134-foot brigantine, from Jan. 5 through March 19, 2015. He traveled from Auckland to Christchurch, New Zealand, stopping in the ports of Paihia, Wellington, and Dunedin along the way.

In his program, called The Global Ocean, he explored issues related to climate change, conservation, and sustainability of the world’s oceans, working toward a comprehensive, global evaluation of the human impact on the world’s oceans.

“In literal terms, I learned about oceanography, Maori culture, and maritime history, but perhaps the more useful thing I learned was adapting to a dynamic environment and operating successfully in small groups,” he says. “When you’re forced into a small group on a small ship for long periods of time and given lots of responsibilities (sail handling, steering, lookout, etc.) you learn quickly how to be both a good leader and a good follower.

Christopher Dalldorf '16
Christopher Dalldorf ’16 took to the ocean to study climate change. (Photo courtesy of Christopher Dalldorf ’16)

“You can imagine how six weeks on a sailboat in the South Pacific could give you a new perspective. When I was doing bow watch one dawn, I had this weird realization of how distant and isolated I was from everything but how I was still able to feel comfortable and at home. All I could see were stars, a few clouds, the moon, and the forestaysail flapping behind me, but I was content.”

When asked about the effect of the adventure on his ongoing academic studies, he says, “I always like to think that education has more to do with learning—how to learn—rather than just learning the information. Learning from pure experience (most of us had no prior sailing experience and basically had to just jump right in once we reached the boat) is definitely a different way to learn how to learn.”

Dalldorf is working toward a bachelor of engineering degree, with a focus on either computer engineering or biomedical engineering. “My hope for the future would be to work in some field of biotech where I get to use my interest in computers and biology in order to help people lead better lives,” he says.

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