August 15, 2006
Hooray! The ship passed inspection today and was given the go-ahead to set off for the open sea. The gangway was removed to the shore, the mooring lines were released and at last the ALBATROSS IV was on her way heading south past Martha's Vineyard and then east towards the Atlantic Ocean. As soon as were underway, everyone onboard had to take part in a mandatory emergency drill. This involved practicing three types of emergency procedures.
"Man overboard" was the first procedure. Needless to say no one on board actually fell or jumped in. Instead a neon orange life ring was tossed over the side of the ship. Then everyone on board had to rush out on to the fantail (the rear deck of the ship) and start scanning the ocean on all sides to see if we could spot the ring. When someone spotted it they had to stand and point so as not to loose sight of it. This emergency scenario proved more difficult to carry out than I had expected. Even though there were no breaking waves there was a noticeable swell. This made it hard to keep the ring in sight as it bobbed along with the vertical movements of ocean. The ship was traveling forward at 10-12 knots when the ring was thrown overboard, and the drifting ring was soon left quite a distance behind. However, eventually it was successfully retrieved by two members of the crew who set out in the ship's dinghy. One of the ship's officers told me that had the sea been rough and a person fallen in without a life vest, or at night, it is far from certain that they would be found and rescued in time, before drowning or freezing to death.
The next emergency drill involved practice procedures for a fire on board the ship. For the scientists this meant congregating in the wet lab at the rear of the ship, with our lifejackets and Gumby survival suits, ready for a possible order to evacuate the ship. Meanwhile two members of the ship's crew donned full fire fighting gear and brought the fire hoses to the area of the ship where the imaginary fire had broken out.
Our third and final drill was practicing the order to abandon ship. Each person on board had to gather at one of four pre-assigned areas of the rear deck where the crew would have lifeboats waiting for us. We had to have our life jackets and Gumby survival suits with us and to be clothed in a long-sleeved shirt, long pants and a cap, garments that would provide some protection from exposure and help to prevent hypothermia in open lifeboats. The best hypothermia protection though is provided by the Gumby survival suit. These are one piece, bulky orange neoprene suites designed to keep you dry and warm and floating at the ocean surface until help arrives. They are one size fits all, and as I am small it was fairly easy for to get into and zipper up all the way to my chin to make a water tight seal. For larger people it can be quite a challenge to squeeze into these suits.
Dinner hour on the ALBATROSS IV was from 5 to 6 pm. The two cooks, Jerome Nelson and Karl Cooncee, provided an excellent dinner of soup, salad, a choice of main course and a dessert. Unfortunately, by the early evening I started to experience a bout of sea sickness and wished that I had not eaten quite so well at dinner time. During that first evening Karen, Barbara and Carly also succumbed to sea sickness, so we were a decidedly unhappy group clinging to the rails of the rear deck, and lurching from side to side as the ship bounced over the swells. The only one of us first timers who did not throw up was Alexa, who claimed to have inherited good nautical genes from both her parents.