November 21, 2007
61° 43' S, 60° 33' W
Last night we had some rough waves as we were working on deck. As we were setting up one of the last CPIES deployment, a huge waved crashed over the side of the ship, dousing me over my head with water that was below the freezing point of freshwater. As I looked around to make sure everyone was still there, a thought rushed through my cold head, "what in world am I doing here??"
I don't think we were ever really in danger; after all, the way this boat is designed is to ride low in the water - this makes it very stable for an ice-breaker. But because of that design, whenever we ride over a large well, the bow (front) rides up high, meaning the back deck takes on some water. A moment later, as we crest the wave, the stern (back) goes up, and all the water runs off the deck.
But it certainly made me pause to think about the power of the ocean and how you develop an intense respect for the sea when you are in the middle of it!
Despite our closest call yet with the fury of the ocean, I've been thinking about how much the technology of our age has made ocean-going voyages relatively safe and comfortable. Go back 100 years or so; imagine the sailors of days gone by crossing through the Drake Passage on heavy seas.
We have contact with advanced satellite data and weather forecasting. We know with some accuracy when a storm will hit. We know what kind of seas to expect. If the seas and weather are expected to be too rough, the ship's crew can move the boat out of harm's way. It is unlikely for the crew to be truly surprised at much that the wind and waves will throw at us.
Sailors of an older time didn't have the understanding of weather or the information needed to predict much about what the weather was going to throw at them. When a storm hit, they were inevitably caught by surprise. Dealing with waves crashing over the ship was a common occurrence.
After my watch was over, I was able to go inside into a heated ship, take off my wet clothes and take a hot shower. After throwing my wet clothes in the washing machine in the laundry room, I went to bed in my own cabin, on a soft mattress with warm bedding.
After getting drenched in the icy waves, sailors of the past would likely have been subject to a cold, wet night in a hammock. If they were lucky the ship would have a coal- or wood-burning stove to keep them warm. I can't imagine what it must have smelled like as dirty smelly sailors tried to sleep in the damp hold of a ship.
For every meal, we have a great selection of hot dishes, plus fresh salad and fruit. To top that off, we have excellent desserts. Plus, there's always plenty of juice, soda and coffee. In between meals, there's always plenty of snacks to partake of. It's easy to take such excellent cooking and fresh food for granted, and forget that it was not always this way.
Finally, it's quite a blessing to have the kind of communication with home that we do have. Email and phone are accessible to all of us on board. Although it's not the constant and instant communication we may be used to back home, it's really much more than I expected. Imagine traveling for several years on a ship that had no communication with the outside world, and where you had no way of getting news to or from your family.
The world of sea travel has certainly come a long way!