Riah Buchanan’s Blog

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July 3, 2018:

The Van

My first shift manning the van was from 4-8 pm, and then again 4-8 am. Four hours on, eight hours off. The van is a small room where the pilots steer the underwater robot Jason as he goes about various tasks. On my first shift Jason took a domestic turn and cleaned some of the equipment with a scrubber brush, which looked to be of the standard variety. Cleaning underwater, and by a robot, is a bit different. He moves slowly but does not know his own strength, he is guided and kept in check by the pilots and in this case watched by a tiny squid and a large jellyfish. The van is dark and quiet except for the pilots measured tones; they sit silhouetted by a wall of screens showing a strange world 1500 meters deep.

Once over the initial seasickness, I found the boat to be a great place to sleep. It is necessary to warn people not to sleep in the common areas, because they certainly would not be able to help it otherwise. Sometimes standing up can be a challenge, but laying down is a lot easier than on land. I’m reminded of my Aunt Ruth’s waterbed, which sloshed its way through the 80s and 90s. You may feel sloshy, but unlike the waterbed, the sound inside of the boat is not oceanic. There is constant white noise, which takes on different qualities depending on the room. The curtains around the bunks create dark nooks even in daytime; an alarm clock is vital as one loses the normal rhythms of sleep and awake.

It would be much louder on the boat if everything were not perfectly secured. The various hooks, lines, clasps, chains, cubbies, bungees and locks are placed carefully and systematically. Many of the tables and chairs are connected to the floor. If a giant hand came and turned the boat upside down, probably not much would shift. Which might be similar to what happens when there are large waves. Chef Richard said there have been times when the waves go over the bridge, and the boat rises up 60 ft only to slam down into the valley of the wave. Almost everyone, scientist and crew alike, go inside when this happens and trust the ship and the captain (and the satellites!) to get through the storm.

July 2, 2018
We have been transiting from Newport OR out to Axial Seamount, a few hundred miles offshore.  Immediately as we left port I began to feel my stomach turn and rise. Katie B, a very capable scientist, who does a great job explaining things, was telling me how to run the camera on Jason. It wasn’t very complicated, as my duties are limited until I gain more experience, but I could not understand a word of it. The features of her face seemed to float away from where they were usually anchored. I looked around and others on the ship also seemed to now consist of eyes, nose, and mouth, instead of a harmonized face. I went to bed.

Leaving the top bunk 16 hrs later, I was much refreshed and happy to see everyone’s faces clearly delineated. I went to the galley, definitely my favorite place on the ship. There was a bowl of donuts, plain cake, powdered sugar, and chocolate. The chef, Richard, is very personable, and seems to know just what to feed us. He works very hard and yet has a nuanced approach, showing me the proper way to eat a lychee on the first day. He said they would likely be getting dragon fruit, which would be spiky, and also some very hairy and very large fruits of which I forget the name.

The First Mate also has a lot to offer. All the new people attended a safety meeting led by a Restech yesterday. On the ship people are often referred to by their membership in one of two groups, scientists or crew. The First Mate explained that in the early days of research vessels, the salty Navy dogs and the hippie scientists did not always see eye to eye. The Restech position was born to bridge the gap between the two groups. These days, there seems to be a great deal of respect and understanding between the groups as they work towards similar goals. All are linked by a love for the sea, which literally and figuratively propels them forward.