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(Time) Zoning Out

Latitude=22 N Longitude=175.5 W Course=284o Speed=18.4 kt Temp=26 C (79 F)

As we sail west from Hawaii, Colorado slips further and further away. One of the unexpected ways this is becoming clear to me is that on many evenings, we are told to set our clocks back one hour.

Our clocks are now 5 hours behind those at home. Of course, we always do this when we travel but the difference between jet lag and “ship lag” is that this is so gradual it’s hard to even notice! Sunrises and sunsets proceed apace, and the gradual disconnect between ship’s events and the forwarded email from home shows that we are in fact many thousands of miles away from when we started.

The biggest shift will occur tonight, when we shift not just clocks but calendars as we cross the International Date Line. Our ship is just crawling across the tropical Pacific at under 20 mph, but the distance really accumulates – this evening we will no longer be in the western hemisphere. Oddly, we will instantaneously pass from Wednesday to Friday.

Thursday Jan 16 simply does not (and will never) exist for us on board!

Many students and faculty have been asking me what the hell is happening on Jan 16. And of course the answer is *nothing* because that day will just never occur. It’s weird that everybody else will have a whole day that we don’t, but we make up for it by having a LOT of days with 25 hours!

I have been teaching with my trusty inflate-a-globe, which is very helpful for demonstrating time zones and the International Date Line.

Crawling so slowly across longitudes brings home the arbitrary nature of clocks and calendars. Time marches forward for everyone, everywhere. The Earth spins on its axis, the Sun rises and sets, and the stars wheel overhead as always. But countries and ship’s Captains decree changes in clocks and calendars for reasons that are essentially political.

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