July 12, 2008
I decided today to break from my normal daily journals and to let you in on how it feels to be part of something special here on the Healy on a few levels. First of all this is a military ship run by military personnel. After being here a week and interacting with both the scientists and the Coast Guard, I have learned a lot about the lives of each respectfully.
The Coast Guard personnel are a great bunch of men and women ranging from late teenage years to near retirement. They come from all over the country but I got get a sense they are mostly from the Midwest, South, and Central U.S. I have no real proof of that other than a feeling. They have great stories to tell and generally love what they do. I am very thankful for these men and women for they have dedicated their lives to their country.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the United States Coast Guard Cutter Healy, I, John Karavias, ARMADA teacher, your guest, thank you for all that you do.
We civilians take many things for granted. First of all, these men and women only have Internet contact with their loved ones at speeds of normal dial up. While the scientists are on board, use up the limited bandwidth and slow the connection even more. They do not have cell phones to check in on their loved ones and they cannot hear the warm sounds of their voices.
I don't know how they do it. The second night I was aboard my wife fell asleep and she didn't e-mail me and I wanted to speak to her. I motioned for the spot on my belt where my phone usually is and well, it hit me. Except for an emergency, I am not going to hear her voice. I guess in that regard, I hope I don't hear her voice. I am doing this for a month. The Coast Guard does this for months or even years!
The ship has some oddities in my opinion. The first meal I had was in the mess and I noticed there were large lights over my head. Turns out that table doubles as an operating table. When I was eating with my hat on by accident, I was asked nicely to remove it to respect those who have lost their lives on tables like the one I was eating on. I was flawed and humbled by my own ignorance.
Walking around the Healy I feel like I am in a movie opening and closing four water tight doors to get to the mess or holding on to dear life going down steps that are steep as hell. Normal rise and run don't apply on ships. There are hums, clicks, clangs, clunks and all sorts of sounds all the time. We are in fog quite often so the foghorn is on automatic keeping all of us up at night. Night is relative here. I guess we get four hours of night. Some of the smells are easy like diesel or cigarette/cigar smoke but then there are other smells that I can't quite describe. It is amazing that on a 420-foot boat, smells are localized.
The bathrooms (heads) are tiny and when one hits the flush plunger, hold your ears because those toilets suck that stuff down without conviction. We had a day when we could not flush for an hour or two. There are over 150 people on board. Use your imagination. Showering is an adventure. The stainless steel stall is 3 feet square. There are some very big boys in this ship. I feel for them.
I just barely fit in my bed (rack) and the mattress is plastic. I feel like I am back at football camp. Switching sides in your sleep inevitably wakes up one of your two roommates.
There is a great gift shop and the folks running it are great. I purchased hats, t-shirts, a sweatshirt, and an authentic Healy Zippo. Every other night I get a triple espresso. Since I did not bring an I-Pod or any music with me, I stop in just to listen to some tunes.
The scientists have been very warm to me. Everybody is on a first name basis. I can only assume they are all PhD's but nobody is giving their resumes. Everybody works around the clock and is always joking around. This eclectic group has logged an obscene amount of frequent flyer miles in their lives. Most have told me that it is tough on their families though. I knew that from day one.
Some of the scientists are actually jealous of me. I have the luxury of working with everybody and learning the basics of what they are doing. Unfortunately since the schedule is so demanding, the scientists do not get to do more than talk about what the others are doing. I actually become part of their team for a few days at a time.
Ah! The Bering Sea all around us. Dare I end this entry without paying homage to the Queen of the North. I have seen her good side and know all to well what she is capable of. I will not speak ill of her for I need her to grant my new friends and I safe passage for a few more weeks. May she keep her reputation, but not on Healy's watch.