August 30, 2006
The past two days there has been a drastic change in the weather. Gone are the clear blue skies, warm temperatures and sparkling, sun-dappled, azure-blue seas. Gone too are the magnificent shades of orange, pink and red that filled the horizon at sunrise and sunset. Now the landscape is devoid of color. Everything is murky and grey. A haze of low-lying stratus clouds has blocked out the sun and blurred the distinction between the darker steel grey water and the lighter grey shades of the sky. Rain showers persisted all day and last night the wind picked up, churning the ocean surface into waves that rocked the ship once again. As I lay in bed last night I drifted off to sleep carried along by the rollercoaster-like twists, turns and bumps as the ship careened through the turbulent water.
The deterioration in the weather was reflected in the mood on board. We had been out at sea for over two weeks and the end of the cruise was in sight (only twelve more sampling sites remained) so it was understandable that we are all rather weary and ready to trade the high seas for solid ground. There was talk that we may even get back to Woods Hole a day or two ahead of schedule, which would be great as we all wanted to get home early for the Labor Day weekend.
My last morning on the ship was tough. The seasickness I had experienced at the outset of the cruise returned with a vengeance during the night, such that I could barely sit up during the early hours of my shift. However, gradually the seas abated, until by the time we were in sight of the Massachusetts coast there was hardly a ripple. Our last sampling station was in the middle of Cape Cod Bay, and then we headed back to Woods Hole by way of a shortcut provided by the Cape Cod Canal. This last leg of the journey was delightful; people biking and walking on the canal-side path waved at us as the ALBATROSS steamed past and I stood out by the bridge with the sun in my face and the breeze in my hair, appreciating anew the familiar sites of land. I never knew I would miss trees, houses, buildings and roads so much.
We had traveled a total of 3,230 miles at sea, a distance equivalent to crossing all the way from one side of the Atlantic to the other. What had I learned from these miles of ocean going research? I had certainly gained an insight into what it takes to gather data at sea - the unsocial shift schedule, the repetitive tasks involved in gathering and processing the data and the unpredictability of winds and waves that robbed me of the security of an immoveable surface beneath my feet. I had also experienced the sense of camaraderie that developed among a disparate group of people in close quarters on a ship. We had to make our own fun -like organizing a wacky photo contest, building a sandcastle (actually a mud castle) and rising to the challenge of taking a bite from a jellyfish. I got to learn from the crew and officers about their jobs and lifestyle, and from the scientists about the persistence and energy required to deal with malfunctioning equipment under difficult conditions in order to gain precious samples from the ocean world.
Going to sea was certainly a unique and challenging experience for me. From now on I will always appreciate solid ground, and remain in awe at those who choose a life at sea. I am especially grateful though to Jerry Prezioso for his infinite patience in explaining all the science procedures to me and for remaining unflappable even when I managed to cause the bongo nets to crash onto the ocean floor (luckily they did not get damaged). I am also very appreciative of the sympathy and encouragement offered by Karl Coonce, the ship's cook, who saw me through some embarrassing episodes as I struggled with gaining my sea legs.