21 August 2023
My time aboard the Thompson did not go exactly as I anticipated, but as everyone around me kept saying, work at sea is unpredictable and requires lots of flexibility!
As a children’s book author and illustrator, I joined VISIONS’23 with the hope of learning more about the research conducted onboard, as well as life at sea. I’ve always been fascinated by the ocean (and the people who work there), and I would like to write a book with a theme of oceanography one day. I was excited to draw, paint, help out on deck (I bought steel-toed boots!), perform shifts in the Jason control van, learn from everyone around me, and basically soak in the entire experience.
Since the departure date of the Thompson was delayed, that gave me some extra time to explore the ship and do some paintings of Newport. We were given a tour of the engine rooms, which was fascinating. Since I write for kids (and, let’s face it, I have the mindset of a 12-year old), I paid special attention to things kids might find interesting. For example, the heads (toilets) on ships are vacuum-powered and use special biodegradeable toilet paper to prevent clogging. I also heard a few sewage-related horror stories that I will probably keep out of a book for children!
We got to see the reverse osmosis machines that make all of the water onboard (up to 3000 gallons a day!). Further tour stops included the bridge, library (filled with books, puzzles, and games), and of course the galley. The 12-year old in me was impressed with the wide array of candy bars available 24-7. I was hoping to ask for a tour of the galley at some point to see the inner workings, but it was finally time for the Thompson to depart. And that is where my troubles began…
We were all told to take ample precautions against seasickness, and I began taking medication as soon as we were onboard. I was curious, but not especially worried, as I had worked on a cruise ship in my 20s and hadn’t really been affected. I was not prepared for what was in store for me!
Approximately 20 minutes after we left Newport, during our safety drill, it hit me. Again, the 12 year old in me could appreciate that the lab was well-stocked with large Home Depot buckets that everyone called "Happy Buckets". I was not quite prepared at that time to appreciate the fact that someone had written, "Let it all out! :)" on the bottom in Sharpie.
I was very sick that first day, and so were many others (so I heard). By the next morning I was feeling a little better and managed my first Jason shift from noon-4 pm, where I learned how to use the video logging system. However, I’m afraid I wasn’t able to absorb much of what I was learning because I started to feel queasy again. Over the next few days, I managed one other shift, but spent most of my time resting in my cabin and trying different seasickness medications.
By Saturday, I was starting to get concerned. The ship’s medic came to see me several times, and everyone on board was very kind and supportive. Folks in the galley offered to make me smoothies, students offered me ginger candies, and my roommate (and also Co-Chief Scientist) Wendi kept me supplied with food and help when I needed it. However, I wasn’t able to get enough calories in me, and by Sunday the First Mate (also the medical officer) decided I needed to go back to shore.
I hadn’t expected to learn about the medical facilities onboard, but they were interesting! Todd, the First Mate, was able to check my vitals with an instrument that cost as much as a Toyota Corolla (I may have the make of the car wrong- I was a little out of it by that point!). He coordinated with a doctor on land to confirm his findings at sea. Then, he worked with Deb and the science team to figure out a plan to get me back to shore.
As the other blog posts have mentioned, the weather was not favorable at all for Jason dives. I was not happy about that, but I was relieved that no work would be interrupted to make the approximately 3-hour transit back to Newport. Even though, as everyone kept telling me, people are more important than the science, and they would always take priority.
When we were close to land at Newport, I came upstairs (with kind escorts and farewells from folks on board), and Wendi and I donned life jackets and wrapped our belongings in trash bags, and boarded the orange small boat to go back to shore! I was feeling present enough to realize this was actually a very interesting experience, and I’m really curious to see the photos taken from the ship!
As Todd and everyone predicted, the minute I stepped on land I felt better. I’ve been following everyone’s advice on returning to land, like moving slowly and carefully replacing fluids and calories. Wendi is here on land with me to make sure I recover safely as we wait for the Thompson’s return on Wednesday.
Not quite the journey I was imagining, but I still learned so much! As an author I am always focused on trying to create stories with humanity and empathy, and I was so, so touched by all the kindness shown to me, and I felt very well-cared for. As Wendi told me, at sea, you’re kind of on a little floating island, and everyone takes care of one another.
I’ve left the Thompson with such warm feelings toward everyone on board. I’ve gained so much respect for the women and men who work on the seas in all capacities. It was amazing to see folks working on Jason or hauling heavy ropes while we were bouncing around on the waves.
I’m also especially appreciative of the work the UW VISIONS efforts and Regional Cabled Array are doing to bring access to the ocean to folks who can’t experience it themselves. I’ll be watching the live feed and reading the blog entries for the rest of my research- I can’t say I’ll be joining another cruise anytime soon, so thank goodness for OOI!
(Images: watercolors created onboard the Thompson, in happier days)