Life On The Ship
So how is life on the ship? Very different than on land! You are constantly rocking and you can easily lose track of what day of the week it is. Even the language used is different! If you want to go to your room and sleep in your bed, you’d say cabin and rack (or bunk). And for the bathroom you’d say head. If you want to go to the floor above, it’d be deck, not floor and you’d go up the ladder. If you want to go to the front (or bow) of the ship you’d tell someone to head forward, and aft for the opposite (towards the stern or back part of the ship). Left or right wouldn’t work either; you’d say port or starboard
side. And when it’s time to eat you go to the mess deck. The food is prepared in the galley (kitchen) by the stewards. And when your sweet tooth activates, you’ll be asking for gee-dunk (candy).
But how is the day to day? Well, it’ll depend on what shift you’re on and what your role on the ship is. For the crew, there are some that are on day shifts of 8 hrs. Officers as well as other crew members are on two shifts per day of four hours each. There are also watches at night that are 4hrs long, to have an extra set of eyes on the bridge (the control room), which are carried out by both officers and crew members. Breakfast is from 0700 to 0800, lunch from 1100 to 1200 and dinner from 1630 to 1530. The stewards always leave goodies around and there are always fun surprises in the reefer (the refrigerator).
Scientists are a whole different breed. They work around 8-12hrs a day, and their schedule will depend on what project they’re on. Some work on the dry lab (the room where all the computers, monitors and technical equipment is at, where no open containers are allowed), others on the wet lab where are equipment that goes into the sea is stored. It also has a stainless steel table and taps with salt and fresh running water in the case any specimens are brought onboard, on any specific mission.
There is constant activity around the ship: launching the ROV along the side, maintaining the ship, monitoring the sonar screens, making sure all in the engine room is running smoothly, analyzing the data collected…and many other tasks that may go unnoticed to the untrained eye but without them the mission would not be possible.
There are also signs used on the ship to communicate to other vessels around what we’re up to. For instance, when there is something in the water that may limit the ship’s movement, day shapes are raised on the mast (black oval diamond oval) letting them know that something is in the water and the ship has restricted maneuver ability (at night it would be vertical lights on the mast: red white red).
Safety is priority number one on the ship. Each week all officers, crew and visiting scientists, have two drills: fire onboard and abandon ship. The emergency bell rings and an announcement is heard over the loudspeaker letting all know what drill is taking place (we all were notified on our cabin doors where to proceed in the case of an emergency). If it’s the fire drill, all head to the aft deck and wait for instructions. Hope you weren’t
trying to sleep! Some of the crew suit up in firemen suits and head to the area where the drill fire was announced to be at. The water hoses are turned on to make sure they are working properly (and if the wind is at the correct angle, you get a refreshing sprinkle over you). Once the drill is over, everyone goes back to what they were previously doing.
If it’s an abandon ship drill, it’s a whole different story. All members on the ship need to head to their rooms, put on a life vest and carry their survival suits to the 0-1 deck. Once there, you take your lifejacket off, and don your suit and end up looking like a red Gumby. Quite an experience! Once the drill is over, you take the Gumby suit off (that’s actually how it’s colloquially called), place it back in your cabin, and back to work.
It’s not all work on the ship! For those that have the time and energy there’s an exercise room with all sorts of machines and there’s also a lounge with a couch, TV and hundreds of movies (lent by the US Navy). There’s also the steel “beach” up by the bridge, which I have discovered to be my favorite place on the ship. It’s a great place to look out for whales as well as to get some sun (vitamin D is a most to keep the moral high!), and I’ve found it a great place to visit when I’m feeling a bit seasick (looking at the horizon always helps!).
Some terms used around the ship (Thanks to the Executive Officer CM Don Pratt and to the Incoming Commanding Officer LCDR Holly Jablonski for helping me get this list together!):
Overhead – ceiling
Deck – floor
Bulkhead – wall
Ladder – stairs
Galley – kitchen
Mess deck – eating area
Steward – Cook
Reefer – refrigerator
Cabin – room
Rack – Bed
Head – bathroom
Bridge – control room
Muster – gather
Gee-dunk – candy
Port – left side of ship (when facing forward)
Starboard – right side of the ship (when facing forward)
Forward (direction) – front part of the ship (when facing forward)
Bow (part of ship) – front part of the ship
Aft (direction) – back part of the ship (when facing forward)
Stern (part of ship) – back part of the ship
Line – rope being used for a purpose (vs. rope on a spool…you buy rope and make it a line…unemployed line is rope)
The day we left Old San Juan we were cheered on by five dolphins. Today we had at least to humpback whales pass by the ship. We didn’t get to see their flukes out of the water but we did see several spouts. Crew members, officers and scientists alike got very excited to see this. During this time of year humpback whales navigate these waters, after mating and mothering their young calf before the head north to colder seas. They can be seen (or heard underwater) between Culebra and the main island of Puerto Rico. I’ve seen them from the air (on a flight from Culebra to Puerto Rico) and have also heard them underwater while carrying out fish assessments in the area. These encounters are simply magical!
To see the the Nancy Foster throughout the 2012 mapping mission, visit the NOAA ship tracker site and click on “Enter NOAA’s Ship Tracker link, then scroll down to “NF – Nancy Foster” in the box on the upper right of the screen to see where she is at any given time!
Be sure to visit this blog often for field updates, pictures and videos posted by members of the science team.