Hopkins Grammar School
The Class of 1965
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Corwith "Corey" Cramer did some amazing things after he left Hopkins, sailing the seven seas, getting written up in the National Geographic, and founding the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
Mr. Cramer's story after Hopkins is very much the story of the Sea Education Association. What follows below is that story as told by Lucy Coan Helfrich of the SEA. It was published in the journal Spritsail, Volume 8, No. 2, pp. 2-21, 1994. It is reprinted here, slightly modified and abridged, with the permission of the Sea Education Association. Mr. Cramer died of cancer in 1983, and one of SEA's sailing vessels is now named for him.
It is something of an honor for at least one of us, John Mordes, who knew him for a year as a demanding, imperfect, but inspiring teacher, to be able to remember him and to recount his story to our class. It is also a pleasure to report on the influence he had on other in our class, notably John Braman. Here is the story.
The First Sailing Ship, Westward
Problems in the Early Years
Sea Semester as Established in Boston
The Move to Woods Hole
Early Science at SEA
Credit, Credibility, and Change
by Lucy Coan Helfrich
Abridged for the Hopkins Class of 1965 Web Site by John P. Mordes, M.D.
Presented with the permission of the Sea Education Association, Inc. and the author to whom we express our thanks.
The Sea Education Association, Inc. (SEA) is a non-profit educational organization that offers multi-disciplinary ( programs in ocean studies both ashore and at sea on its sailing research vessels Westward and Corwith Cramer.
Corwith "Cory" Cramer was a lifelong educator and yachtsman who, from a very young age, was captivated by the magic of the oceans. Educated by his mother during the Depression aboard the family yacht, Cramer spent his adolescent years sailing with his parents between the West Indies and Nova Scotia. Those times were filled with adventure and excitement and left a lasting impression on him. In a 1981 interview, Cramer recounted his experiences that led to the creation of SEA. After graduating from Yale University in 1949, he embarked on his first deep sea sailing. "I went down to Jamaica and joined an Englishman named Bobby Somerset on the 45-foot cutter Iolaire, and sailed with him to Europe," he explained. "Bobby was known throughout the world as one of -the great seamen of all time."
He began ocean racing and joined the crew of Myth of Malham which won the Fastnet Race in 1949, a sailing event which to Cramer rivaled the excitement of winning the Kentucky Derby in horse racing. Shortly afterwards, while visiting relatives in Ireland, Cramer happened upon a square-rigger in Cork harbor. He rowed out to see her and climbed aboard Passat, one of the last of the famous grain ships with 4,000 tons of grain in her hold. Having been fascinated by Alan Villiers' accounts of these magnificent vessels, Cramer charmed his way on board the tall ship and sailed to Liverpool on Passat's final passage.
From the decks of Passat, Cramer returned to the States and took a job as a research assistant with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), joining Atlantis, one of the last working U.S. sailing research vessels. The scientific team on board was conducting geological survey work on the mid-Atlantic Ridge. "They learned I could navigate," said Cramer, "so when one of the mates departed without much warning, I took his place." Thus ended his short stint in science.
Cramer briefly left sailing and came ashore in the summer of 1950, when he took up newspaper reporting in Baltimore until the Korean War broke out. Skirting an assignment to the Air Corps' electronics technician school, he obtained a commission in the Coast Guard, where he spent the next four years. He was first assigned to a search and rescue cutter as a junior officer, and subsequently became commanding officer. During this time he added considerable polish to his skills as a seaman.
After the Coast Guard, Cramer pondered how to combine a career with his love of the sea. Teaching was the answer, with three months vacation every summer. Between 1954 and 1970, Cory worked at several private schools [including Hopkins Grammar School in New Haven, CT, ed.]. He rose through the educational ranks, from third grade teacher to history department chairman to headmaster at the Key School, a boys' preparatory school in Annapolis, earning a Master's degree in Maritime History at the University of Pennsylvania and serving as a Fellow at Yale. During the academic year, Cramer pursued the "life of the mind" and in the summers pursued ocean racing, navigating Carleton Mitchell's famous Finisterre to an unprecedented, and as yet unmatched, three victories in the Newport to Bermuda Race.
Gradually, the idea of a school ship began to germinate. Cramer had been immensely impressed by two men who had created school ships: Warwick Tompkins, who sailed a vessel called Wanderbird in the 1920s and '30s, taking people on board every summer and sailing to Europe and back, and Irving Johnson, who served as mate with Tompkins, and subsequently undertook a similar venture. "Irving went farther - he went around the world with his boats. First a wooden schooner, then a steel one, both called Yankee, both very similar to Westward. He sailed around the world on these two ships seven times, taking young people, and I knew many of the people who had gone with him; it was a wonderfu1 experience."
Cramer was by that time an experienced teacher, educational administrator and seaman. He had settled in Lake Forest, Illinois, serving as the Director of Admissions and Director of College Placement at Lake Forest Academy, But after nearly 20 years in traditional academia, he was becoming disillusioned with the staleness of the classroom environment and the increasing unrest among his students. It was the late '60s - momentum toward alternative lifestyles and alternative education heightened the interest in launching an alternative school. Increasing public awareness of the oceans made seagoing education an attractive option. Cramer felt that he had leamed some of life's most valuable lessons on boats at sea - lessons of leaming by doing, of discipline, responsibility and leadership, of challenge and growth. He was convinced that the best way to learn about the ocean, and about oneself, was to venture out to sea. Moreover, Cramer had developed an extensive network of friends and acquaintances in the yachting world. These men would eventually provide him a wealth of support and expertise.
On an evening in 1969, Cramer and his friend Edward "Sandy' MacArthur conceived the American Sailing Education Association, as SEA was first named. They incorporated in 1971 in Lake Forest, Illinois. Cramer and MacArthur formed a partnership, though MacArthur supplied most of the money to get things off the ground. Born into an insurance and real estate fortune, and a businessman in his own right, MacArthur was looking for a "noble" venture to which he could make a significant contribution. The two men had sailed and raced together, and were neighbors in Lake Forest. Cramer called their original plan "a captain's paradise." As the official name implied, the organization's concept was to operate a deep-sea sail training ship that would serve an association of educational institutions that could not individually afford a deep-sea vessel. "We didn't want to teach people how to sail," said Cramer. "What we wanted to do was to take them to sea so they would learn to love the sea."
Luckily, Cramer was as pragmatic as he was visionary. For this new venture was rife with risks. It required an enormous financial investment. It meant giving up the security of a schoolmaster's position, including a salary and a home which he shared with his wife and children. Cramer knew from the beginning that he had to develop an entire organization, complete with a Board of Trustees, governing bylaws, and a non-profit status from the IRS. He also knew that the early financial support would come from his friends; he had to make sure that their gifts of faith would be rewarded by clear direction and tangible progress.
The first major challenge was to find a ship. Others who had gone before had ended unsuccessfully, or in tragedy. Cramer was convinced it was because they hadn't known ships, or had the wrong ships. Sandy MacArthur and his son traveled to Singapore and the Far East, to the Mediterranean, to the Caribbean, to the Baltic - all over the world - without finding a suitable vessel. In the meantime, Irving Johnson recommended Drayton Cochran's vessel Westward, which was then owned by the Oceanic Foundation in Hawaii. She was a replica of his Yankee, Johnson said, and the best to be found. Westward was a 125-foot, steel-hulled schooner, built in Germany in 1961; Cochran had commissioned her as a private yacht for around-the-world service. Her lines were modeled after to those of the North Sea pilot schooners, seaworthy vessels designed to heave to in often rough seas to await incoming cargo vessels. Westward was perfect for SEA, but she was not for sale. Within a few months, however, her owners began filing for bankruptcy, and accepted SEA's offer to buy her for $90,000 in July of 1971.
Next came the problem of filling the vessel. Cramer became a publicist overnight, approaching dozens of organizations: the Boy Scouts, the Naval Sea Cadets, Mystic Seaport, and others who provided young people with coastal work but were unable to offer deep-sea experience. When this idea was met with enthusiasm but no money, Cramer tried other marketing approaches, such as a semester program for prep school seniors. Though the schools, this time, could not guarantee expenses, it seemed possible that interested students, with supportive parents, could come up with the necessary tuition.
"Everybody thought it was a wonderful idea, a great means for teaching people all kinds of things - history, science, math, physics, about themselves," said Cramer, "but nobody could guarantee us any money. We had bought the boat, and were looking to keep her going. I went down to Washington to talk with the Coast Guard about how this boat was going to be operated; I was well aware that there were regulations. They told me there was no way we could run Westward as a school ship because the rules aren't realistic. They said, 'Try oceanography.' I had been to sea on Atlantis, and knew what oceanography was, so I wrote up a description of our proposed at-sea curriculum. It was called 'ocean apprenticeship.' It consisted of all the usual ocean stuff plus what we now call nautical science. We were going to teach navigation, as a part of oceanography, and they accepted it. And so we were able to sail."
That summer, Westward was brought from Hawaii to Seattle. In the fall, Cramer and MacArthur sailed her without any students down the coast from Seattle to San Francisco, to Santa Barbara, the coastal suburbs of Los Angeles, and on to San Diego. "Without students," reported Cramer, "the mission was to wave the flag and beat the drum. We got good articles, national articles. I was no publicity person; I had never done it in my life. But if you make enough noise, people pay attention to you. The Associated Press picked us up and put us on rheir weekly Sunday supplement. It was a unique and exciting idea to people, and we were the only ones doing it. Fortunately, we got enough attention to fill the boat, and so on New Year's Day, 1972, fifteen high school and college students arrived in San Diego to get on the ship."
The first group of apprentices came from nine states and ranged in age from 17 to 24; three were young women. Westward was staffed by a captain, two mates, an engineer who also stood deck watches, a full-time doctor, a cook and an oceanographer. The President of the Board, Dr. George Nichols, and the publisher of SAIL Magazine, Bernard Goldhirsch, also sailed during a portion of the trip. All 24 bunks were filled. Their voyage was a fascinating one. Westward and her students sailed from San Diego, down the coast of Mexico, offshore, stopping at some of the remote islands off the Mexican coast, to the Galapagos and Cocos Islands and then through the Panama Canal, ending in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The last leg was a hard trek, 1,000 miles straight upwind into the Trades. The students disembarked after nine weeks, having had the adventure of a lifetime.
The second cruise on Westward was nearly canceled. Only six students had signed up by the scheduled day of departure. Fortunately, Cramer made the necessary contacts with friends who hurriedly assembled additional students, but this sort of scramble occurred frequently in the early trips. The program did not attract enough "apprentices" to make what was basically a sail training and character-building program viable. Academic credit was the answer, but this took several years to secure.
The early education program, equivalent to an entire semester at sea, was unplanned and unstructured. Staffing was a problem; the crew were not teachers, and many had no idea how to teach nor what should constitute the shipboard educational goals. Cramer, who sailed periodically as captain, was often at odds with both the students and the crew. After "spinning back and forth between the ship and the office," it soon became apparent that he couldn't run the program and run the ship. The science conducted offshore was pure data collection, directed by the visiting researcher on board, with very little input or understanding by the rest of the ship's company, and often of questionable educational value.
"The staff were unaccustomed to being schoolmasters," explained Cramer. They were mainly sailors, and we had developed no real system - we were just learning by doing. The kids were quite disappointed. They had an extraordinary trip, but they had the feeling that they weren't being taught very much, or very well. And I don't blame them. On the other hand, they probably learned just as much. We just weren't organized, and they were used to highly organized educational experiences. Here they were getting [education] in a disorganized, but highly effective way."
On top of these difficulties, SEA also ran into problems with the Coast Guard. Westward's status as an oceanographic research vessel was tenuous at best. Her motley crew - bearded, bare-chested sailors and "hippie-looking" students-came under immediate scrutiny by many a regional Coast Guard commander when she put into domestic ports. Evidence that oceanographic research was being conducted was scarce; there was no sampling equipment on board save a few plankton nets. On several occasions, the Coast Guard came close to shutting down the whole operation.
And inevitably, there were financial problems. Within months of the formation of their partnership, Cramer and MacArthur disagreed on how SEA would be organized, so MacArthur withdrew his critical and sizeable investment. Cramer and his newly formed board scrambled to gather the necessary funds, and the chairman, Dr. Nichols, assumed the debt for the purchase of Westward. In addition, the ongoing struggle for students was a constant burden. Cramer and members of the board were fund raising constantly, not only for scholarship money, but also just to keep things going. The light at the end of the tunnel seemed very far away indeed.
Between Westward's West Coast publicity cruise and the launching of W-l, her first academic cruise, much had occurred from a business standpoint. Cramer had registered Westward with the Coast Guard as an oceanographic research vessel. He had lined up an oceanographer to sail on the first trip, a man working with the Smithsonian Institution named Eric Abranson. (Cramer commented, rather naively, "We paid the Smithsonian to pay Abranson. That gave us credibility.") Cramer had enlisted his brother-in-law, Dick Hawkins, as his right-hand man and eventually gave him the title of Associate Director. He had formed a board of trustees headed by Dr. George Nichols, a teaching physician with the Harvard Medical School and the grandson of J. P. Morgan. Cramer recruited his influential friends and acquaintances, many of whom were prominent sailors, to serve on the Board: Waldo Johnston, director of Mystic Seaport, Dr. Gifford Pinchot, a we11-known doctor and cruising yachtsman, Peter Willauer, head of the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School, and Peter Stanford, director of the South Street Seaport in New York City. Encouraged and aided by the trustees and some new friends of SFA, especially Davis Taylor, publisher of The Boston Globe, the organization moved its headquarters from Lake Forest to downtown Boston, a "saltier" location, and set up shop in the Globe's Old Comer Bookstore at 3 School Street.
SEA's move proved fortuitous. In Boston, a college town and a sailing town, the prospects for financial and educational support were greater there than in Lake Forest. Early in 1973, SEA encountered Dr. George Fulton, a tenured professor and the Chairman of the Biology Department at Boston University. By no means a sailor, Fulton nonetheless grasped immediately the educational value of using a ship to learn about the ocean. He also realized that the seagoing experience offered by SEA could be heightened considerably by first preparing students ashore in the classroom. His idea was to create a shore component, including the theoretical elements of marine science and navigation, plus a course in the literature and history of the sea, that students could then apply in practice once they boarded Westward and cast off her dock lines. Cramer and the SEA board thought it was a marvelous plan, and Fulton proceeded to rally key faculty members from BU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, including the dean, Dr. Warren Ilchman, behind this novel program.
The resulting Sea Semester, as it was called, held its first session in the winter of 1974 using BU faculty and classrooms ashore. Three courses made up the six-week Shore Component: Introduction to Marine Science, Introduction to Nautical Science, and Man and the Sea; a six- to seven-week Ocean Apprenticeship on Westward followed. For the first time, students participating in SEA's programs were assured a full semester's credit from Boston University. This credit arrangement continues today. Fulton himself taught the first shore course in oceanography.
SEA had found its key to financial survival: parents were willing to pay the equivalent of a college semester's tuition when their sons and daughters returned not only with tales of adventure on the high seas and signs of maturity, but also with a full semester's credit.
However, by the end of 1974, finances nearly toppled SEA again. Cory Cramer and George Nichols, who headed the board, came to an irreconcilable difference in the philosophy behind Sea Semester. Nichols wanted the educational program to focus on research; Cramer insisted that SEA's program be a broad, multidisciplinary study of the oceans, with a research component. This dispute became heated to the point where neither Nichols nor Cramer would concede to a compromise. The board settled the issue by siding with Cramer's philosophy, and Nichols promptly resigned from the chairmanship and withdrew his funding of the note on Westward. Trustee Jack Merrill, another well-known yachtsman, saved the day and personally assumed the debt for the ship. Merrill soon was elected the new chairman and recently joked that he had "bought his way to the top."
This controversy and settlement were central to SEA's official name change in 1974 to the Sea Education Association. The board felt that the new name reflected "more properly the objectives and programs of an organization that educated people about the sea through classroom study, shipboard apprenticeship and research." The board decided to move SEA's headquarters again, this time to Woods Hole.
Though Westward was seldom in port, Woods Hole was perhaps the port she most frequented. It was an easier and more practical New England stop than Boston; dock space was accessible and much less expensive. Several scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), when they became familiar with the ship and her mission, donated castoff or obsolete sampling equipment they no longer used. Richard "Dick" Edwards, with whom Cramer had sailed on Athntis, was WHOI's Marine Superintendent. He and his colleagues were eager to help Westward's crew with all kinds of ship and equipment repairs.
SEA's board recognized at once that Woods Hole was an ideal home for the organization and its Sea Semester program, and a perfect locus of support for Westward. The fledgling oceanographic program was struggling for recognition, for students to fill its six sessions a year, and for acknowledgment by the Coast Guard that Westward was indeed worthy of her status as a research vessel. Woods Hole's prominence as a world-renowned scientific community could do wonders for the reputation and growth of SEA's program. The community had an excellent marine science library, and other research- and sea-oriented attractions: the Oceanographic and the National Marine Fisheries Service (both with active research vessels), the MBL, a branch of the U.S. Geological Survey, the vessels of the Coast Guard, the local fishing fleet and the ferries to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, in addition to the extensive yachting activities in Buzzards Bay and Vineyard Sound. Different from urban Boston, already thick with academic institutions, Woods Hole was perfect for drawing students seeking an alternative education program and eager to learn about the sea.
SEA made the move in 1975. For about a year, SEA used classrooms at the MBL's Lillie building, and students resided in the MBL dormitories. That summer, with space at a premium in Woods Hole, SEA conducted the Shore Component of its summer Sea Semester at the Shoals Marine Laboratory on Appledore Island in the Isles of Shoals, off the coast of New Hampshire. Run jointly by Cornell University and the University of New Hampshire, the Shoals Lab offered intensive, undergraduate-level, summer courses in coastal biology in a remote island setting. Sharing SEA's philosophy that scientific learning can be enhanced by hands-on practice, this early collaboration was fitting.
Back in Woods Hole that fall, SEA soon settled into the basement of Fisher House, the parish hall of the Church of the Messiah on Church Street. The rented space accommodated a classroom, a small lab, and two office areas that at first housed ten staff and faculty. It was within easy walking distance to Woods Hole village and the MBL Library. Students could choose between living in the MBL dorms or renting a room for a modest weekly sum in one of several local residences. In every facet of living and studying ashore, the students were encouraged to work together to begin fostering the cooperative spirit so vital to the success of the Sea Component. The arrangement, in all regards, worked well.
By then the shipboard program had been formalized ) with the creation of handbooks for seagoing staff. This early documentation of "the SEA way" provided the much-needed structure to the students' educational experience on board Westward. "Through the Coast Guard," Cramer reported, "I had learned that ships could be run in a formal, departmentalized way, because the Coast Guard and the Navy run ships so that the crew can change and the ship keeps going. That was important to me, because the only way we can run Westward is to have her so that people can come and go but she goes on. When we first started with Westward, I was resented as a militarist because I insisted on this system. But I knew it was the only way it could work."
In SEA's first three years, Westward sailed trans-Atlantic every year. The cruise tracks were largely determined by scientific research, and the research was provided by outsiders, not by SEA's own staff. These "outsiders" included some excellent and well-known researchers: Harold "Doc" Edgerton from MIT; Lavett Smith from the American Museum of Natural History; and Holger Jannasch from WHOI. Byron Morris from the Bermuda Biological Station, with research interests in Sargassum weed, launched SEA on 23 years of data collection. John Apel from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) involved Westward's crew and students in studies of internal waves. (Apel went on to head the Marine Science School at Johns Hopkins University.) Arthur Humes from the Boston University Marine Program (BUMP) became a valuable long-term advisor to SEA, and Val Worthington, a senior scientist at WHOI, played a prominent role on SEA's Scientific Advisory Board.
"In the beginning, the students helped in the research by throwing stuff overboard and pulling it back in, that's about all," said Cramer. "Our original motive for doing scientific research was to meet Coast Guard regulations, but very quickly we found that it was a wonderful way to coordinate with the nautical. By the end of the very first trip we were convinced that the two should go together, and we felt we should upgrade it."
But progress was slow. Publicly - outwardly - Cramer championed the scientific mission of Westwind, and exhorted the educational value of learning to conduct oceanographic research while handling the challenge of sailing and navigating the ship. Inwardly, however, and despite his personal experiences and ties, he seethed about the Coast Guard, continually frustrated by the regulations for research vessels. (His file on the Coast Guard was labeled "Public Enemy No. l.") He had a dilemma on his hands: To run an oceanographic program or no program at all. His preference for the nautical and experiential over the scientific was clear, but he realized that science was the key to the perpetuation of Sea Semester, and ultimately the future of SEA. Nonetheless, he supported only the minimum scientific requirements necessary to satisfy the powers above. As a result, SEA's science limped along on limited resources and scrounged equipment, much of which was very old, some even obsolete. Westward's first hydrographic winch, constructed for Atlantis, was donated by WHOI, complete with 20,000 feet of wire. (This winch was in operation on Westward until early 1990.)
As executive director, Cramer wielded considerable control An intelligent and committed educator, he was also a tight-fisted and controlling administrator. Fortunately, he was a good judge of character. Many excellent scientists, mariners and teachers came to SEA and became committed to its unique style of education. During those early years, however, with low salaries, inadequate teaching tools and little moral support, staff and faculty turnover was rapid and burnout was high.
After moving to Woods Hole in 1975, SEA began attracting permanent faculty members who would teach on shore and then accompany the students to sea on Westward. With equal teaching time ashore and at sea, the Sea Semester program offered a more balanced and desirable employment situation than the earlier, entirely seagoing program. This arrangement lured a number of outstanding educators. The first three "deans, Edward Monahan, John "Stubby" Rankin, and Donald Drost, though brief in their tenure, all contributed to the new program. The curriculum was defined and developed with contributions from many early instructors: Henry Oenthe, James Hain, Arthur Gaines on the scientific side, and Richard Farrell, Jonathan Lucas, Charles Rose, and John Metcalf on the nautical side, to name just a few.
The move to Woods Hole strengthened SEA and gave support to Sea Semester's academic focus on oceanography. In the fall of 1975, the ship's first scientific laboratory was added above decks. Her capacity was later increased to 35 by the addition of several bunks, with room for 24 students, ten professional crew and scientists, and a visiting scholar. After several years of sailing trans-Atlantic, Westward established an annual cruise track in the western North Atlantic, Sargasso and Caribbean Seas and Gulf of Mexico. She typically ventured as far north as Labrador in the summer months and as far south as Venezuela during the winter. Sailing through the same waters every year, Westward's scientists and students were able to develop a repetitive sampling program, which was useful in seeing changes in ocean characteristics over a period of time.
Slowly, Sea Semester's reputation grew, as did the list of colleges and universities that awarded credit to their students who participated. Through the efforts of the staff scientists, progress in SEA's science inched along. Among their successes were the compilation and periodic publication of scientific data collected on board Westward. Beginning in the 1970s and continuing sporadically through the early '90s, several works were published, primarily distribution studies conducted during numerous consecutive cruises. Examples of published research were investigations of spiny lobster larvae, pelagic Sargassum weed, various species of zo÷plankton, floating pollutants such as tar and plastic, and geologic studies of carbonate islands in the Bahamas.
The program's curriculum evolved to require that each student complete an independent research project in some aspect of oceanography. Students undertook background research ashore in Woods Hole, and then gathered data by collecting samples at sea. By the end of the Sea Component, each student would present his or her findings to the ship's company and write up the results in a formal research paper. This was the first time most of the students had pursued the scientific process from start to finish. Today, SEA's hands-on research opportunities are among the few available at the undergraduate level.
As early as the second full year of SEA's operation, additional ships were discussed, and the idea of expanding the organization and its programs was established as a long-term goal. By the completion of SEA's first decade in 1981, with enrollment full to capacity, the board of trustees was convinced that the demand for Sea Semester would continue to grow. The board decided to design and construct a second ship that would provide added capacity for more students and expanded programs. Along with a new ship, SEA would need to ensure an increase in numbers and depth among the staff and faculty. The shore facilities would have to expand to accommodate twice the number of students and a larger staff. As soon as die new ship became operational, Westward would need to be extensively refitted to ensure 20 more years of service. Finally, the development of an endowment was deemed critical to provide additional scholarships and future financial support to SEA's operations.
In the fall of 1981, Cramer resigned from the directorship of SEA. The year before, he had successfully battled a bout with cancer. With an excellent prognosis, he took on some new challenges toward the achievement of significant long-range goals. Freed from the day-to-day responsibilities of running the organization, he focused the next several months on paving the groundwork for a major, several-million-dollar expansion campaign that would eventually raise the funds to build a new ship. Having been frustrated by the Coast Guard's restrictions on the educational program at sea, he began working with that body to create a new class of ship, called the Sailing School Vessel. While setting tougher standards for shipboard staffing and safety, new regulations would allow SEA (and other organizations) to be more flexible in designing seagoing curricula, including teaching Nautical Science at sea for academic credit, Due in large part to Cramer's efforts, the Sailing School Vessels Act survived the lengthy, difficult legislative process, and was signed into law in 1983.
By that time, Sea Semester was fairly well established and highly regarded, especially in the academic community of the eastern U.S. Its purpose was becoming more clearly articulated: To give liberal arts undergraduate students a theoretical and practical understanding of the sea in its broadest sense. The seagoing Ocean Apprenticeship had evolved into two separate laboratory courses: Practical Oceanography I and II, each worth four credits. The program was academically intensive, with a demanding workload ashore, and an intellectually and physically rigorous component at sea. Students who returned to campus after completing the program reported to their friends that, though it was not an easy elective, Sea Semester was an exciting, rewarding and even life-changing experience.
The students who came to SEA were exceptional. Cory Cramer described them as "an extraordinary lot of young people - highly self-motivated. They march to their own drums. They're not the followers, the sheep; they are the leaders." While in Woods Hole, the students benefited from their total immersion in studies of the ocean; their classroom learning was supplemented and made richer by a variety of activities and outings: field trips to area beaches, marshes and rocky shores; excursions to Mystic Seaport and the New Bedford whaling museum; access to local talks on a variety of scientific and maritime topics; and musical gatherings to enjoy sea chanteys and community folk dancing. All of these shore-based activities helped students to appreciate the many facets of the marine and maritime worlds and to prepare them intellectually and emotionally for their own sea voyage.
SFA's faculty grew to include six full-time instructors in oceanography, nautical science and maritime studies, and Westward went to sea with three scientists who led the students in their research endeavors and in maintaining a 24 hour scientific watch. During this period the core of committed faculty members, including Dean James Millinger, Captains Carl Chase, Paul DeOrsay, Wallace Stark and John Wigglesworth, and Staff Scientists Mary Farmer, Susan Humphris, Allan Stoner and Jude Wilber, worked to refine the Sea Semester curriculum and to foster all the conditions necessary for providing students not only an excellent education about the oceans and a rigorous marine science research experience, but also a unique learning adventure at sea on board Westward. In spite of the doubters who criticized SEA for conducting "1940's oceanography," there was growing enthusiasm on all fronts for SEA's scientific program. The involvement of researchers from WHOI, MBL and other local institutions contributed to this excitement. Many well-known scientists lectured in SEA's small classroom; others went to sea on Westward as visiting investigators. Gradually, this increased scientific input had an impact on fiscal policy; faculty salaries improved and more adequate scientific equipment was purchased.
In early 1982, 65 non-affiliated colleges and universities accepted a full semester's credit for Sea Semester through Boston University. By the end of that year, the number grew to 90. This success was largely due to Dean Millinger's numerous campus visits and his growing network with college faculty and administrators. In addition to Boston University, SEA had become affiliated with Cornell and Colgate Universities, the University of Pennsylvania, The College of Charleston, American University in Washington, DC, and Eckerd College in Florida. Sea Semester students from these schools received credit directly from their home institution, instead of receiving transfer credit from Boston University. (Today, SEA has nine academic affiliates.)
When Cramer left the post of Executive Director, Millinger stepped into the role of Acting Executive Director, and Susan Humphris took over as Acting Dean. After a year, Millinger returned to the dean's post and the helm of SEA was taken over by a new Executive Director, Rafe Parker. Parker, an Englishman, had a long background in experiential education programs through his work with Outward Bound both in the U.S. and abroad. When Parker joined the organization, Sea Semester was on solid ground, with a growing body of support, both academic and financial.
Cory Cramer's cancer returned and his health deteriorated rapidly. When he died in July, 1983, he knew that the stage was set for moving SEA into the future, and that all hands were working toward securing its permanence in the world of education. That September, SEA's Executive Committee unanimously voted to name the proposed new ship Corwith Cramer.
This ends Mr. Cramer's story, but if you would like to learn about the building of the ship named for him, the progress of SEA after his death, and the documentary sources, you may click here to go to the unabridged text of Ms. Helfrich's article.
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This page last updated April 13, 2006
Sources: John Mordes, Dick Hutchinson, Bob Schulz and the Sea Education Association.