30 January 2010


I am a big, hungry dude, and as such was worried about the provisions. My odd hours of work and 12 hour shift only compounded my fears. Thankfully, though, I have not left the galley hungry after a meal, and there are always leftovers and snacks available off hours.

Breakfasts are easily my favorite, mainly due to timing; I work midnight to noon, and breakfast isn’t until 730. I obviously snack on the leftovers, yogurts, and self-made sandwiches available, but am still very ready for the eggs, potatoes, bacon, sausage, oatmeal, and pancakes/waffles/French toast when it is served at 730. A collection of pineapple, grapes, grapefruit, mango, apples, oranges, melon etc, also presents itself at breakfast. My favorite morning so far saw an excellent huevos rancheros; I consumed four of these egg/bean/tortilla combinations.

My shift continues rather quickly after breakfast, and comes to a stop at lunchtime. This timing allows me to enter a food coma before passing out for the “night.” A standard lunch includes a various sandwich style--French dip, grilled cheese, warm turkey wraps, or even hot dogs, sloppy joes, hamburgers-- and a starch of some kind including stuffed potatoes skins, mac and cheese, or potato/pasta salad. If we are lucky, fish is available either in stick form, or freshly caught the previous day by a shipmate. A navy bean, chicken noodle, or minestrone soup or perhaps even crab bisque often compliments the sandwich of the day. Also, the salad bar makes its first appearance, with an impressive selection still after three weeks at sea.

Dinner is interesting. I have personally made it a point to wake up for dinner, a goal that I share with none of my fellow night-shifters. I have yet to be disappointed. While the salad bar is always present, there is no general theme for dinner, as the cooks simply show off their prowess. Standard examples include a delicious stir fry, chicken in various forms, and lasagna. Some of the more adventurous dishes exhibit themselves at dinner, for example pork tenderloins, lamb chops, scallops, and steak night on Sundays. Desserts are common in the evening, with cakes, ├ęclairs, bread puddings, or chocolate everything tempting us until late into the night.

Things I have learned:

-Be adventurous with your early AM meal; for example, a potato salad sandwich or Cheerios in your yogurt.

-With the work on a ship, you daily earn without receiving a cold beer. A beer that on the glass collects tiny, shiny droplets as you wait for the head to settle down before the first sip. A beer that as you gulp it down leaves white, foamy rings opposite where you drank from. A crisp, hopsy IPA, that’s smooth going down and tasty beyond belief. The boat, however, is dry.

-A ships cookbook, while I’ve been told by the cooks exists only in their minds, is perhaps the best cookbook to own. You waist nothing as you turn the extra chicken into a pasta salad, mix the steak into the scrambled eggs, or the leftover, homemade bread into a bread budding.

24 January 2010


The idea of this cruise is to repeat P6, a transect last measured in 2003. We are moving East along the 32° 30” parallel, dropping a CTD in the water every 30 nautical miles. CTD stands for Conductivity (read: salinity), Temperature, and Depth, the three most important values it measures. My job is to control this $1 million plus instrument as it travels to the sea floor and back up.

Because of the collaboration between so many institutions in this project (including Scripps, WHOI and UW, my three top choice grad schools), there are various other instruments attached; flourometer measures bio-content, ADCP measures minute current iterations, O2 measures O2, and a transmisometer (spelling) measures the Chromophoric Dissolved Organic Matter (biology related, I think).

Also on this huge package we drop in the water are 36 Niskin Bottles, which are rigged to “trip” and collect water when I press a button. We trap water from various depths, bring it to the surface, and various groups will sample it for different quantities or values; to give you a list, Freon, Helium, Oxygen, Dissolved Inorganic Carbon, Dissolved Organic Carbon, various Carbon Isotopes, Tritium, Nutrients, Alkalinity, Bacteria, PH, CDOM, POC, and D15. Once the package is up, I get to play “sample cop” where I control who samples from what bottle, a power which quickly went to my head.

To sum up, we are traveling across the Pacific at about 12 mph, stopping every three hours for a four hour cast. We’re on day 19 of about 38 days, half way there.

Things I learned:

--How to sample from Niskin Bottles.

--The world’s tritium supply was created as we were conducting nuclear weapons testing, and is used to this day to follow water types, a proxy for sediment dating, among other things.

--Radio etiquette (i.e. “Roger”, “Over and Out”, “Breaker Breaker, one…nine”, etc.)

17 January 2010

Sam, Why are you on a Boat in the South Pacific?

Good question, but really good series of questions.

Why is there a boat?

There has been an ongoing, international effort to create a single catalog about the World’s Oceans since the early 1990s. This is part of a research endeavor known as CLIVAR which was created in order to study CLImate VARiability and Predictability.

One of the main facets of this project is periodic oceanic transects where along with temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen, countless other measurements take place. Various institutions piggyback on the transect (hiring vessels is expensive), and can measure anything from biological productivity to CFCs to sunlight intensity.

Why is it in the South Pacific?


The original plan for this vessel and this cruise was through the Indian Ocean perilously close, and even within the regions frequented by pirates. US Research Vessels are required to be unarmed, so our only defenses would be high powered hoses and thrown projectiles. While an amazing plot to a possible action/comedy, the plan was changed to the South Pacific.

Why are you on it?

There is a website where all the US Research Vessels have to catalogue their yearly plan. This last summer while interning at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, I noticed that the Chief Scientist of this particular cruise worked down the hall from me. In the same conversation where I introduced myself, she brought up the cruise and invited me along.

Here is the link to the 2010 Schedules.
They are constantly in need of young people for these vessels, so check it out. At the very least, they pay for flights and a few days at either end of the cruise.

14 January 2010

On a Rocking Ship, Small Steps are Necessary

The Boat, First thoughts

My shift is midnight to noon, but that would only be after the 3 day full steam transit to the first station. For now, I get to practice generally being at sea before the real work starts.

The boat is pretty swank as research vessels go, or so I’ve been regaled with comparisons. I do believe it is a good first cruise for me because of the size of the rooms and opportunities for wasting time. We have a full library, a full DVD library (I’ve noticed some repeats though), ping-pong and foosball tables, and reliable internet when the boat is facing the correct direction (southwards during transit is not the correct direction).

Each day will begin to be the exact same, except for the various movies I will have watch. The posts, therefore, will most likely be organized by theme-- for example meals, downtime, work time, and maybe even the science. I will eventually run out of the various possible writing topics, as I will eventually run out of things to do.

Things I’ve learned:

--In less navigable harbor entrances, the harbor-master drives large vessels out and then leaves via rope ladder once in deep water.

--Subtitles make me queasy. I’ve been lucky so far though.

--Small steps are the best to not get caught off balance, pun intended.

12 January 2010

Sharks are most Frightening when Swimming directly at You

Tahiti continued

The next day primarily circled around two more dives. The first was a shark dive, with dozens of 1-2m black-tip reef sharks circling around us. The largest was a 3m Lemon shark that really looked as though it could do some damage. The next was a wreck dive through an old wooden ship and a sea plane. There were tons of fish, and even a turtle appeared during our safety stop.

The night was mellower than previous, and mainly used as an opportunity to spend the remaining Francs we had accumulated.

We decided to go to the waterfalls our final morning, this time with prospects of swimming. While asking directions with a single word destination was difficult (“Uh… No Francais.”), we were able to find a bus which dropped us 5km short of the same waterfalls two days previous. Swimming was possible and spectacular, leaving only enough time to fail at changing our last few Francs in town before boarding and leaving Tahiti.

Things I’ve learned:

-The local legend of waterfalls always involves a beautiful girl, her angry father, and a gentleman caller.

-Sharks are not that bad when diving. Think about it, you are the same size as them, making tons of noise, and have bubbles everywhere. Though, sharks are frightening when swimming directly at you.

-Fish are conditioned to respond to divers waving food in little clouds. While I did not feed any, I could wave sand around to elicit the fish to come in closer. Keep the fingers in, though, while sharks are around.

-Working on a boat happens at all hours of the day and night, though this should have been obvious to me.

NOTE: I am having trouble posting pictures because of the unreliable internet on the boat. Stay tuned for some good ones though.

10 January 2010

The only Factory on Tahiti makes Beer

I saw three nights four days in Tahiti.
I flew out of LAX the evening of New Years sitting in emergency row seating aboard Air France. We touched down at 5am and after dropping the bags at the hotel (couldn’t check in), I explored Papeete with my soon-to-be British bunkmate who was on the same flight. We found others who would be aboard the ship with us and traveled the market; I got a pareo and of course a refrigerator magnet (I collect).

After a mid-morning tour of the Melville, beer was enjoyed; all US Vessels are strictly dry, so we needed to get our kicks in while still in port. This was the first of three nights that featured Hinano, the beer of Tahiti.
After a rain-filled night, five of us figured out a rental car with which to do some waterfalling. A beautiful coast road later and we found Les Tres Cascades, three huge waterfalls made even larger by the consistent rain. While swimming was too dangerous due to that rain, the hike was through gorgeous jungle terrain.

That afternoon saw the first of three dives I completed while in Tahiti. It was a good first dive to get me comfortable after my two year dive hiatus since Barbados. Partying ensued back in Papeete that night, this time with karaoke, dancing, and poorly-fitted, club-provided, close-toed shoes.
Things I’ve learned:
-Air France provides unlimited Baguettes and Wine.
-The only factory on Tahiti makes beer.
-Tahiti is beautiful, but damned expensive.