August 25, 2006
All of us on the 3:00 a.m. shift (Jerry, Don, Karen and I) looked groggy and bleary-eyed this morning when we emerged well before dawn to start work. From 4:30 a.m. until 8:00 a.m. we were all involved in a flurry of activity with bongo nets, grab samples and Niskin bottles as we reached three sampling sites in rapid succession. There was barely time to eat breakfast or indeed lunch, as the sampling sites came at us fast and furious throughout the day. I had been warned that things would get hectic once we were over Georges Bank and it certainly was proving true. Georges Bank is a shallow area of ocean off the coast of Maine, where sandbanks rise up almost to the surface in some places. Decades ago it used to be a very productive fishing area, particularly for cod, but nowadays large areas of it have been closed off due to over fishing. The cod stocks have yet to recover, although other species like haddock are increasing in number.
After more than two weeks at sea, the daily cycle of activity on the ship has become routine. Work arrives in spurts when a sampling station is reached. On some days there can be more than twenty miles between sites, and we have several hours of free time. This makes up for days like today where the sites were closely spaced and we had almost no free time. Meals provide a regular and predictable focal point for all of us on board. Lunch and dinner time are when we usually get the chance to mingle and chat with people on the opposite shift. There are in fact three different shift regimes in operation on this leg of the cruise. The scientists are working from 3:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and vice versa; the crew is also working twelve hour shifts, but theirs start and finish at 11:30 a.m. and 11:30 p.m.; and the ships officers work for four hours at a time on the bridge with eight hour gaps in between when get to perform other on board duties as well as sleep. The ship is in constant operation, 24 hours of the day.
When we are not working or sleeping, what do we do? Well one thing I did today was my laundry as there is a washer and drier downstairs in the winch room. This is about the only chore we have to take care of ourselves since grocery shopping, cooking, washing up, cleaning are all done by the crew. In this respect life is a lot easier on ship than on land, where for most of us household chores occupy a sizeable chunk of time. Karen and I also spend time each day keeping up with our journal entries, as the ARMADA Project and the NOAA Teacher at Sea program both require participants to keep a record of their experiences at sea.
There are several TVs on the ship that can pick up over a hundred different stations via a satellite link. There are also loads of movies on 8 mm tape (a format that prevents anyone from accidentally walking off with their favorite one!). Getting adequate exercise on the ship can be a problem, though there is a small exercise room tucked away at the top off the ship. I do miss being able to go for a walk or a swim, my preferred forms of exercise on land. Even though there is water all around us there is not a drop to swim in! The ship's rules about swimming are very strict. No one is allowed to jump into the ocean however hot the weather, as this could create needless hazards.