June 16, 2009
I woke up this morning around 8 a.m., climbed down from the top bunk, got dressed, took my computer to the lounge, and began to work on editing some of the photos that I have taken. The Internet connection here is slow and I have been unable thus far to send any back home. I am going to try to resend them later today with a reduced file size. I hope that will help.
About 11 a.m. I got a ride into town and set out on foot to explore the island. I made my way over the "bridge to the other side" to the city of Unalaska and back stopping by the Alaskan Ship Supply Company to get some Xtra-Tuff steel-toe waterproof boots (at Pat's recommendation) and a coffee mug with a much wider base for use on the ship. I also bought a package of Jolly Ranchers to soothe my sweet tooth over the next four weeks. I had previously purchased some last week but had to leave them behind so as not to exceed the 50lb limit on my duffle bag. I like the watermelon and green flavors the best and don't mind the cherry but I despise anything grape flavored. I hope Pat likes grape. That would work out well.
The leave time was set at 21:00 this evening but all crew had to be back on the ship by 20:00. Much to the delight of the science party, this gave us enough time to partake in the Grand Aleutian's Wednesday night seafood buffet starting at 6 p.m. $35 for all you can eat sushi, crab legs, shrimp, mahi mahi, halibut, ahi tuna, and more. After dinner we called a cab and made it back to the ship 10 minutes before the posted deadline.
The science crew mustered in the main lab for the safety meeting at 20:15. This is where we will assemble in the case of an emergency. Here the captain, first mate, third mate, and the marine tech explained all of the safety protocols for the ship. Our instructions are quite simple, if any alarm were to sound we immediately head to our rooms, grab our PFD (personal flotation device) and our immersion suits, and head to the main lab for a head count. The immersion suit, or gumby suit as it is better known, is a person's best chance of survival should they have to abandon ship. As the captain put it, "Those who live are the ones with the suits on. Those who die are the ones that don't have them on." Everyone then had to don their suits in under the required time of two minutes. It is not the easiest thing in the world to put on but is actually much harder to take off. It is designed to insulate the body from the frigid waters of the sea and provide buoyancy so that the person does not needlessly expend energy trying to stay afloat. You simply sit back, relax, and wait for somebody to come get you. Sounds simple enough.
After the safety meeting concluded, the science crew stayed to begin planning out the next four weeks. Teams of scientists were introduced and the "Board of Lies" explained. The "Board of Lies" is the whiteboard in the main lab that gives the upcoming schedule or plan. It posts the weather outlook for the next five days as well as the castings that will be occurring at the next station. As David Shull, the chief scientist for the TN250 cruise put it, "it is always going to be wrong, but hopefully it will be close to right." Science in the field never quite goes as planned. Weather and equipment problems wreak havoc with planned activities and as another scientist put it, "the board is up so that we know what plan we're deviating from."
The board was already wrong. The posted leave time of 21:00 had already past and we were still tethered to the pier. One of the ship's crew members had yet to make it Dutch Harbor but we were informed he was in the air and should be arriving in Dutch shortly. I guess I was pretty fortunate in my travels here. Most people were significantly delayed and some have yet to receive their luggage. The missing crew member arrived and we pushed off at around 22:30.
I went up to towards the bow on the second deck and watched the mountains of Unalaska pass by. As we slowly left the safe confines of the harbor, the swells began to grow and soon we were pitching and rolling. I had taken my first daily dose of Bonine, an over-the-counter anti-motion sickness medication, with dinner as a precaution. This will be my first time at sea since I spent my last "cruise" completely locked in the Arctic ice. I plan to take the Bonine daily for at least the first week as I become adjusted to life at sea continuing if needed. If that proves to be too mild, I had a prescription of Scopolamine waiting for me back in my stateroom. It was now 00:30 in the morning and it was just getting dark enough to inhibit pictures so I headed back inside.
We were scheduled to arrive at the first station at around 01:00. Our first line of sampling will take us along the island chain northwest towards the Aleutian Peninsula. This area of the Bering Sea is important for juvenile and larval fish so there will be a lot of net tows occurring over the next 24 hours. Thankfully Pat informed me that we were not interested in this little part of the world so I could count on a good night's sleep tonight. Tomorrow I would have to start to adjust my sleeping schedule because our sampling time puts us on the midnight to noon shift. Our sampling does not necessarily have to be done at this time but the schedule is constructed around some of the other deployments, which do have to occur at very specific times of the day. For example, the casting of the bongo nets for krill has to be done when it is as dark as possible. This is the best time to sample for them because this is when the krill migrate towards the surface from the depths below. Another group studying phytoplankton has to do their measurements shortly after dawn so as not to sample specimens that have been overstimulated by light. The rest of the casts simply fill in the gaps around these time-specific measurements which puts us at roughly 2am.
I hope I am able to sleep well with all of the motion otherwise it is going to be long four weeks.