August 6-7: The Legend of the Rubber Chicken
Yesterday morning, I woke up early per usual and headed out to the van. The mood was quiet and tired, and nearly everyone in the van seemed barely awake. Yesterday’s Jason dives were at the PN1A Slope Base site, and tasks included replacing the Platform Interface Assembly and Science Pod on another Shallow Profiler mooring at 200 meters below the surface, recovering a SEA3 Cube biological experiment, and replacing some instruments around a junction box by one of the two anchors holding the shallow profiler in place.
When Jason reached the shallow profiler, its EOM cable cage was covered in crinoids and brittle stars. The brittle stars writhed and the crinoids swayed in the current and Jason’s grip as it held onto the cage and switched out the cable. It was a gorgeous sight, and we watched Jason haul more animals up with the PIA as it switched out parts of the profiler.
Today we learned that the brittle stars, like other animals that we’d found before, smelled terrible if brought onboard! We were set on the task of cleaning the profiler, and after it had sat out on deck for a day, it had become putrid. Worse yet, we discovered that inside the metal tubing of the profiler a good handful of squat lobsters had decided to make their homes, died from decompression, and began to rot inside. However, after scrubbing the profilers down, the awful smell had retreated and the goo coating the top of the science pod was rinsed away. We also saw a Mola today. By the time I left the van to look at it, the fish was far enough away that I could only really see its flat body and the occasional fin.
However, the star of the show arrived the morning of August 6th, at the tired and goofy time of 3:50am. I had just arrived to the van, and Jason had just been recovered and was preparing for another dive while two other students and I were chatting with the Jason crew. We talked about music, science, and work or school when one crew member asked:
“So, I heard there was a chicken. What’s up with that?”
That’s right, that chicken. He was referring to the glow-in-the dark rubber chicken mentioned in my August 2nd blog post, the one we passed around when we were seasick and apparently another student had submerged in water to see if it would float. We described it to him, and how we sometime wanted the chicken to go down. At this news, the Jason crew perked up considerably.
“Wait a minute, you’re telling us that we could have a rubber chicken on there right now?”
There was a muttering of “I suppose so” from the students, and we realized that watching a rubber chicken descend into the murky depths for two hours was much more fun than watching the undervator (a large platform Jason carries underneath it to hold cargo) go down bare. And thus, the legendary radio call was made by one of the Jason crew.
“Deck crew, is there time to strap a glow-in-the-dark rubber chicken to the undervator?”
There was a long pause from the other side, then…
We sent a student down to grab the chicken, and a mad rush ensued to find and attac the chicken securely to the undervator before it was time for Jason to be deployed. Once the science team had found the chicken, it took three engineers crowding around the undervator, chicken in hand, before it was securely zip-tied to the bin’s rail, in perfect view of the Jason undercarriage camera. It was beautiful.
As the chicken began to descend into the aphotic zone, the Jason crew turned off the lights. Unfortunately, the chicken either didn’t glow, or Jason’s undercarriage camera couldn’t pick up on it. However, the crew used their best documentary lighting skills to position a spotlight on the chicken, backlighting it with one of the manipulator arm lights. Thus, for two glorious hours, the chicken was in front and center stage. As much as we do plenty of serious science on VISIONS, we have our silly moments too.
I am going to miss being on the Thompson. I feel as if I just got my sea legs only in time for me to leave. I used to struggle even walking around the ship, and now I can climb stairs and put on my boots with ease even in rolling waves. Seasickness is a thing of the past, and I’m even evening out my sleep schedule a little.
I’ve heard of “dock rock” and landsickness, and I am worried I’ll experience it, but hopefully I’ll be in the car during that time and not able to fall onto anything. I’ve also heard to never close my eyes in the first land shower.
Being back will be different, and as much as I’ll enjoy my own bed I’ll think about laying in a berth, be it through reminiscence or the consistent rocking I’ll feel that first night on solid ground.
I am by no means a sailor, but life on VISIONS has been very dear to me. The epic, funny, serious, smelly, mind-boggling, tired and even seasick moments are ones that I will hold close for the rest of my life, and the busy life at sea has felt grounding despite the fact that we’re floating so far away from land.
August 5: Busy Days at Sea
Today the van was lively, and I stumbled late into the dark room this morning to be met by what I later learned was “90’s greatest hits” playing as Jason descended into the depths. I soon realized “90’s greatest hits” included everything from Wonderwall to a sped up remix of Total Eclipse of the Heart to Sir Mix a Lot to Nirvana. I sat down at the camera station and blearily jammed out with the scientists as I grabbed the occasional TIFF of the ctenophores drifting through the water on the way down.
As the node was unplugged, we were met with a variety of animals at the seafloor of Slope Base, including a fish dubbed “Mister Ugly” by the team and some curious crabs that had decided PN1B was a crab house. PN1B was in fact not a crab house, and its new residents were quickly aware of this when Jason latched onto the junction box they were crawling on and began to lift it. The crabs hung on to the box as it rose over a thousand meters up, and were deposited into the sea again after being hauled onto the ship.
Smoke has begun to mix with the fog as we get closer to land, and the sun looked like an orange ball when it rose in the morning. I hope things aren’t too smoky back on land, but if we can see the smoke out to sea, it probably won’t be clear on land.
The albatrosses are back, and the one I spotted hanging out behind the ship today had a pink band on its right ankle. It flew around a bit, but mostly sat in the water just behind the Jason van. When the junction box was retrieved, it was covered in tiny scallops as well!
We did an engine room tour today as well, and while the ship rocked during the tour, it was fascinating to see the water-maker, engines, electrical buses, and motors powering us forward. We also learned that the diesel and water was stored throughout the body of the ship, in tanks anywhere from bow to stern.
The CTD went down again this evening, this time for a deep cast with the foam cups. They were much smaller than I expected, and the big marker lines became deep, detailed color. Time seems to pass so quickly, and I think I’ll miss the ship when we get home to Seattle from Leg 1.
August 4: Substrate and Sea Cubes
Today has been mostly transit from Axial Base to the Primary Node PN1B, so I’ve been focusing on my project. Originally, I wanted to study organisms colonizing the instruments in Axial Caldera. Despite not visiting the Caldera this cruise, I’m learning vital information for my project nonetheless. For example, I now know what a sea anemone smells like after marinating for a day on deck, and why it’s best to document organisms before they decompress…
Before we left, I staffed the camera log for the last Jason dive as a backup, and watched the ROV replace a low voltage junction box (LV03A) on the seafloor 2600 meters deep at Axial Base. The seafloor was covered in a thick layer of muddy silt, and was rich with life thriving in the muck. Sea pigs snuffled along, brittle stars basked in the filth, and flytrap anemones perched along the sections of cable that weren’t buried. Occasionally a jelly would drift by, and we even saw a nudibranch floundering its way through the water. However, the animals had a rude awakening when Jason landed, stirring up a cloud of silt as it touched down, and the undercarriage camera showed brittle stars squirming away from its bright lights and motors.
Then began the process of unplugging and plugging in the correct “oily” cables to the junction boxes. Sometimes, Jason had to dig in the muck to uncover cable, stirring up cloud after cloud of sediment; the stuff even came out in a puff from the plugs when Jason unplugged the node installed in 2014. In the end the team’s persistence paid off, and after a long 2600 meter transit to the surface the instruments had been replaced and Jason was ready for recovery.
Jason also recovered a SEA Cube, something I wasn’t aware of, but am currently looking into. Each SEA3 is a small cube that fits in Jason’s bio-box, and it has a mesh wall and a variety of sediments inside for organisms to grow on.
The scientist using them first deployed the cubes for her doctoral thesis as a methods for studying benthic geology and micropaleontology, but she is currently using them to study the process of foraminifera (sponge) colonization and an anomaly in foraminifera distribution in relation to low oxygen tolerance with a focus on Axial Base, Slope Base, and Hydrate Ridge. This fascinated me, since I also planned to study colonization of epifauna on different substrates, and I look forward to seeing the next cube recoveries.
Next came the CTD and Niskin rosette cast, which I helped out with as well. We ended up doing two casts after the bottles had been cocked incorrectly the first time and didn’t close when fired, but the second cast returned a bounty of water from 220 meters deep all the way to the surface.
This time, I remembered my rain boots and stayed dry. We all took turns firing the bottles and filling sample containers for dissolved oxygen, dissolved inorganic carbon, nutrients, salinity, and chlorophyll once the rosette was retrieved.
In transit, we saw whales and driftwood as we got closer to the Cascadia Margin, and the albatrosses were replaced by smaller seabirds. Someone saw some By-The-Wind-Sailors, but I was asleep during the sighting. However, we were whale-watching on deck this afternoon and saw a massive humpback whale breach completely out of the water. Everyone hollered in excitement at the sight of the massive animal and the resulting spray, even folks who had been on the Thompson for years.
Like much of the things I’ve experienced here on VISIONS, it’s something I never thought I would see outside of photos or nature documentaries.
August 3 — Blue water and Birds
As it turns out, it wasn’t just the Dramamine making me tired, it had just been a long day. After going directly from lunch to bed at noon after my second shift, I’ve begun to fall into a rhythm. I go to bed around noon, sleep until the evening, spend the evening working in the lab or watching Jason in the van, going back to bed for a nap, and getting up again for my shift very early in the morning. It’s not something I’m used to, but it works, and having done the math I know I’m still getting enough sleep. Things are better now that I have a routine and shifts in the van.
I learned to run the cameras in the Jason van this morning. It was quite the learning curve, and it took a while to figure out what each camera was labeled as, and which to turn on during what part of the dive. But, I eventually got pretty confident running the cameras. My favorite part was easily the TIFF grabber, because I was essentially allowed to take as many photos as I wanted of whatever I wanted in addition to crucial parts of the dive.
Being at in the van during a Jason dive was an experience like nothing I’d ever had before. The water was so blue, and full of more life than I could’ve ever expected. Even in transit as Jason dove to the site, what looked like hundreds of small transparent invertebrates drifted past the cameras. Little worms squiggled by, the occasional jelly would be blown around by Jason’s motors, and plenty of pyrosomes would float by, the organs of each little tunicate shining in Jason’s lights. There were a few things I could identify, even more that I could only guess the phylum of, and a vast majority that I knew nothing about besides the fact they were alive. It was beautiful, ethereal, so much that it looked fake, like something from a Ghibli movie or a Dungeons and Dragons world. But it was real, and I was there, and I still can’t believe how lucky I was to be there.
In the wee hours of the morning, I learned that a little bird came aboard the ship, and it was in a box waiting for sunrise. As the sky lightened, we released it out back of the Jason van and it flew away. We watched it until it disappeared into the distance.
When I had entered the van at the beginning of my shift, it was clear and warm, but when I left, a heavy fog had settled over the sea, blowing a cool mist over the deck. Huge gull-like birds floated in the water and lurked around the ship in sun or in fog, which I later learned were albatrosses. I never thought I would be able to see one in the wild, much less while I was still a teenager. It’s things like the plankton and the albatrosses that ground me when I’m overwhelmed and tired, and show me how wonderful being out on the ocean can be.
Ready for PN1B…
Yesterday, we decorated foam cups with sharpies to send them to the bottom of the ocean so that they become shrunk under pressure. I drew a squid, and all us students on the leg decided to decorate a foam ball together.
We gathered on deck before those of us on the early shift went to bed, and spotted at least seven massive whales in the strait, probably humpbacks. Earlier, I’d also seen a pod of Dall’s porpoises riding our bow, but they swam off before I could point them out properly.
This morning I thought for a minute some sort of heavy box or drawer was slamming around in the ship as it rocked, then realized it was the sound of the waves thundering against the hull near my bunk as we steamed out of Cape Flattery. Sleeping on a ship is a new experience for me, and while I had slept the night at the fuel dock, sleeping with the waves is certainly different. Maybe in a few days I’ll be used to my mattress decompressing and squishing below my side as I’m falling asleep, but I am not used to it yet.
Staggering up and down the ladders is an experience unto itself, as I go between being practically lifted up the steps to being pushed down and having to hold tight to the rails over and over. I became seasick after spending some time in the main lab, but after a cup of ginger tea, some Dramamine, and some time on deck, I feel well again. A few other students felt sick as well, and we joked about passing around a glowing rubber chicken we had on board as a lucky charm to cure ourselves. Maybe this is why sailors are supposedly so superstitious…
It’s strange getting up at 3:30am and being on an early morning watch, because despite having been awake and busy for some time, it’s only 9 in the morning. Going out on deck early with another student was interesting, and after braving pitch darkness save for the stars and 20 knot winds blowing spray, I settled for the garage near the wet lab as a place to wait for my Dramamine to kick in. Now there’s no sight of land, only waves upon waves as far as the eye can see.
I showered and went to bed around noon after my watch, the combination of the Dramamine and the early morning having tired me out, and woke up in the evening to the sound of the bow thrusters churning to keep the ship in place during the CTD cast.
I got up, and watched the remainder of the cast in the computer lab, then put my Niskin training to use collecting samples from the bottles. Since we’re pretty far out to sea, daylight is disorienting, since it feels like we’re in a different timezone from sunrise to sunset despite still using PST.
Tomorrow is my first camera shift on Jason, and I’m both nervous and excited to sit at the van station for the first time.
August 1, A Pirate Ship and an ROV
Today we learned about the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Jason from its crew, and went over our duties for watches—my two watches will be from 4:00 a.m. to noon, starting tomorrow. I’ll be staffing the camera log and providing meal relief. One section of the van’s wall is occupied by a large bank of computer equipment covered in cords and blinking lights, accessible by a sliding glass door. The largest wall is covered in massive glowing monitors covered in video feeds and navigation displays, with seats for the pilot, navigator, and science crew member. Behind them, the seats and monitors for students working on watch, and behind that, some cushioned seats for any other viewers. It felt like something out of a sci-fi film. Looking around the Jason van was amazing and intimidating at the same time, and I still can’t believe I’ll be working there on watch soon.
We also spent this morning tying down equipment in the lab and in our berths, because things could go flying with the rocking of the ship as we head out to sea.
I’m writing this blog from my laptop, which is literally tied to the table with line. I hope my knots were correct, and that my laptop will be safe from any waves we encounter. Seasickness is a common topic of conversation, and I haven’t taken any medicine yet for it. So far, I feel fine, but I’m a little worried for when I go to bed this evening.
As much as we technically boarded the ship at the Marine Science Building (MSB) dock, I remember everything truly setting in once we got up on deck and started leaving through the locks.
The transit from the MSB dock to the fuel dock was quite the memorable send-off; partiers cheering and dancing from houseboats, bikers staring up at us as they whizzed past, a man standing bolt upright in a dinghy blowing a conch shell, people taking video from the bridge, a cameo of the Seafair Pirates, and the opportunity to talk with our families briefly and spot jumping salmon as we went through the Ballard Locks. It was certainly overwhelming, but in the best way possible.
Over and over, folks would cry from the shore or their boats:
“Where are you going?”
How does one quickly describe that our destination is Axial Seamount, an undersea volcano miles and miles out to sea? None of us could necessarily holler back “we’re going to Axial Seamount!” to wild partiers lounging on the decks of their yachts and expect “oh Axial, that old haunt!” back, so when they asked us we just said “Newport!” or, coyly, “the Ocean!”
As we pulled into the lock, a gorgeous sunset illuminated the Olympic Mountains to the West as the Seattle skyline shone brightly in the East. Having begun the long transit to Axial Seamount from Seattle, I can’t wait to see what more overwhelming, beautiful things the future of this expedition holds.