Life at Sea – Day 30

05 Dec 2011
2215 UTC

Alright, it’s official. We’ve hit the 30-day mark of living in the middle of the open ocean… and we’re all dying to return to life on land!!!

Even many of my Navy friends have said that they have never been out to sea for so long without at least some breaks in port, and the crew on this ship has similarly acknowledged the unusual length of this trip. Our ship has become a floating sociology experiment. It should be no surprise that living in close quarters with people of widely differing personalities can result in some interesting situations. Add to that the isolation of the environment and the length of time, and you get the workings of a sitcom combined with a reality TV show; think “The Office – R/V Revelle Edition.”

We’re all ready to return to our native habitat. I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to walk on pavement, stroll through the grass, and experience all the simple pleasures of life on land. Trees… the oh so wonderful trees! How awesome it must be to see the color green again – and not on a radar screen. I am going to be such a tree hugger – literally – on our first day back in civilization. While the tourists in Phuket, Thailand are flocking to the beaches for the day, I will be perfectly content staring at the land.

I am also looking forward to a bed that (1) isn’t moving, (2) is big enough so that I can roll over without falling off, and (3) does not require me to crawl in order to avoid hitting my head on the ceiling. Faucets with water that does not spontaneously sway back and forth would be nice, and being able to go for a run without seeing the same scenery repeat itself every 15 seconds would be cool too.

I was recently told that I look pale. I suppose that’s what happens when you work the night shift on a ship, with your only exposure to the sun being at sunrise or sunset. I’ve learned to see the world through a radar screen. I know the sun is rising or setting because of a “sun spike,” an interference signature. I know what direction the ship is moving based on the relative movement of radar echoes of surrounding storms. I tell time by the large digital UTC clock by the porthole and the non-alcoholic ginger beer that is served onboard every Sunday evening as a weekly treat.

Food and supplies are beginning to dwindle. As of last week, we have no more fresh fruits or vegetables. We have been relegated to freezer food for the remainder of the voyage. One of the chefs came by my radar control room earlier tonight to ask about what I wanted to eat tomorrow, because she was out of ideas. Some of the scientists have had cravings for simple things like potato chips, and the handful of bags of Lays seaweed-flavored chips (yes, there is such a thing apparently) have flown off the snack cabinet.

Thankfully, we departed our station several days ago, and we are currently traveling east, stopping occasionally for the oceanography teams to deploy CTDs (Conductivity, Temperature, and Density sensors) that sample the ocean to depths of 1,200 meters. It’s amazing to think that over 4.5 kilometers of water exists below me as I type this. We’ve been running a sonar that collects sea floor measurements and contributes to the database that Google Earth uses for ocean topography. According to the sonar, we sailed passed an underwater mountain a couple days ago.

On Nov 30, the other DYNAMO research ship, R/V Mirai from Japan, sailed past us approximately half a degree to the west. They stopped for several hours to perform radar inter-comparison, and I was designated as the contact person to negotiate radar scans with the other ship. I suppose that as a representative of the United States during the dialogue with the Japanese vessel, I temporarily stepped foot into the realm of international “scientific diplomacy.”

Finally, the vast majority of our science team has been busy in recent days with certain age-old maritime traditions that have been passed down for centuries. My Navy and Marine Corps friends would likely sympathize with what I’m referring to. For those of you who have crossed the equator at sea…

“HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A SAILOR???”

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