(Please begin at the bottom of the page to follow our adventures from the beginning)
I really should start keeping track of how many times people not only ask me “What do you do out there?!” but how common it is to have it followed up by some quippy comment like “Do you have scurvy yet?” or “How many people have had to walk the plank?” I can’t lie, we are definitely rationing the fresh fruit, but the salad bar is holding on strong. I have never been on a boat for more than 10 days, and this is going to be 49. Seven weeks of constant motion, of constant science, of constant ocean. I really didn’t know what to expect about how my life would drastically change for that time period…
So what is it really like? Well, it’s kind of like a happy, low security prison (we get one 15-minute phone call a week) or like living in a really small town where you greet the same faces every morning. Some days are very busy, filled with logging data on watch in the main lab, assembling and releasing OBS, deploying the streamer and source for active seismic, and other prep on deck. The science going on here is ever changing, with a constant influx of a truly monumental amount of data. Everyone wants to be involved when something new is taking place, and it is easy to fill the day when there are physical tasks going on. However, as we settle into the active source seismic process, there is often much more downtime to fill. Learning the routine of a boat that is operating 24 hours a day certainly involves learning how to balance that work with something else.
For mental relaxation and fun there is plenty available for entertainment. There is a small theater with ample movies, as well as a server with films or TV shows to watch in your cabin. On the first night before leaving port we watched The Life Aquatic, a classic Wes Anderson film perfect for priming us with expectations for this voyage. Now that we are underway, a lot of people have a TV show they are binge watching with the hours to kill they wouldn’t have back at home to power through season after season of Shameless or Grey’s Anatomy (two currently battling examples). Later at night you can often hear boisterous card games and conversations going on in the mess hall. There are few times when many peoples’ shifts overlap, and a large game of cards seems to be like a consistent means to celebrating those times.
Getting out of the windowless seismic lab and outside is also necessary when there are no jobs to do that force you out on the deck. To that end, we have each started to find our favorite places on the boat to sit. Getting a little sun, enjoying the sea breeze, listening to the airguns, looking for whales, and reading a book that isn’t some data processing manual are definitely peaceful ways to get outside. However, after the first week, finishing the only book I brought, I quickly realized I should have brought more. Thankfully, people are willing to share and there is a small library with an assortment of books.
Many of us also try to make time for a visit to the ship’s gym every other day or so, which is in a container on deck. This is one of the best ship gyms I have seen, with an elliptical, rowing machine, treadmill, stationary bike, and an assortment of weights. The motion of the boat, especially when we are caught in a period of increased side to side rolling, makes using the gym quite the sweaty adventure. Never before have I had a treadmill come with such a good view as well as a warning about using it. I personally try to make going to the gym a daily staple, pretending that I’m getting in my daily bike commute and after work run that I would be used to at home. It helps to balance all the good food that I have little willpower to avoid, and the challenge of running completely hands free on the treadmill provides a goal yet to be achieved.
Finally, holidays and birthdays do not go unnoticed on the ship either. Halloween was full of as much candy as any other year, though only one person dressed up (the head PSO Cassi was Princess Leia). Everyone did get involved decorating the lab with paper pumpkins and skulls, and we are phasing into a new round of decorations for Thanksgiving later this month. The crew and science party are making photo collages of their loved ones to post on the wall in the lab, a chance for people to feel especially thankful of their family, their animals, and their significant others. We have also had a few birthdays to celebrate, which provide opportunities to embrace working with what you got, using found decorations like the Spongebob Squarepants birthday banner and having the kitchen make a cake with fake candles made of toothpicks. Having people from so many different countries, birthday signs in English, Arabic, German, Russian, and Spanish were hung to surprise Kathy at her midnight watch, along with a seismic reflection birthday card. Welcoming Jan to his very early shift with “Happy Birthday” on the monitors as well as a bowlful of his favorite chocolate ice cream. We might be a little nerdy about how we do it, but I’d say we really know how to enjoy our time at sea and weeks are passing by more smoothly than I ever expected.
– Emma Myers, November 2016