Not many college students know how to manage a complex rigging system, navigate by the stars alone or judge distance through dead reckoning. Few have spent as much time on board a sailing ship as has Eva Hayes, 20, of Gardiner.
The Northeastern University sophomore, and New Paltz Central High School alumna, spent six weeks sailing on a tall ship from Key West to Roatan, Honduras and back on a study abroad research expedition through the Sea Education Association.
Hayes, an energetic young brunette, might not come across as an able-bodied sailor, but there are some strong clues. She sprinkles nautical terms — which most people use as half-forgotten metaphors — literally and fluently. Dolphins and whales aren’t conceptual to her — they’re real animals she’s seen in the wild. Even in early April, she already has the kind of tan and sun-lightened hair that only comes from hours on the open sea.
“We were four weeks on the water without land in sight, practically. And then we had a four-day port stop, and then we headed up to Key West,” she said. “It was pretty intense.”
For the first six weeks of the semester, which were on shore, Hayes got to know the dozen other students and 16 researchers, crew members and deckhands she’d be sailing with. They were bound together by the pursuit of oceanography and maritime sciences. She’s come to think of many of them as lifelong friends.
“It’s a really close group. With the students, we were all together on shore. We all live in the same houses. We become really close really fast,” she said. “You kind of just feel like you’ve known them forever. You work together and eat together every day. We lucked out with a really great group.”
Originally from California, Hayes moved with her family to the Hudson Valley in the early 2000’s. Part of her love of the ocean, and her thoughtfulness about the environment, comes for her childhood near the Pacific. While she had considered a degree in biology, she went to Northeastern with a mind to major in International Affairs.
Her experience in the Caribbean has changed that — she’s now an Environmental Science double major with an automatic Marine Science minor. She’d like to combine her two fields of study into a focus on international marine policy.
Each of the students in the SEA Semester had to come up with their own research project. Hayes studied the deep chlorophyll maximum levels in the ocean. But the students also saw a lot of pollution from macro- and micro-plastic waste.
“Off the coast of Jamaica, we actually caught a shoe in one of our tow — an actual plastic shoe,” she said. “We would see five-gallon buckets go by, or just trash.”
Hayes had some advice for local high schoolers looking to get involved in the sciences — get started early and find hands-on experiences.
“It was the best experience of my life. I highly recommend it. It really does give you hands-on experience in science,” she said. “Even if I was a science major from the beginning, I wouldn’t have done this type of intensive lab work right away — until I was a senior.”