16 September 2023
It’s crazy to think that in less than 48 hours I will be back with land in sight. I didn’t realize how quickly life onboard the Thompson would become normal. There are definitely still some moments of nausea and exhaustion, but the thought of another few weeks on board doesn’t seem as bad as I expected.
As our cruise rushes toward its’ end, I think that it’ll be the little moments that I remember most. Creating lassos at 2 am. Sparks of bioluminescent plankton flying out from behind the back deck. Using a flush cutter for a nail clipper. Viewing the Milky Way in person for the first time in my life as the ship rocked gently beneath me. There’s just so much: sunsets and sunrises, the rolling waves, the spray of the ocean on my face up on the 02 deck, laughing with the other students over the most ridiculous things, kneeling in a puddle of seawater as bleach ran through tubes in my hand, shivering in the Jason van as we watched a spider wave to us from its home of hydrothermal vents. And, most fond to my heart, the scalloped potatoes we had one day for dinner. I’m only partially kidding—those were really good potatoes. I don’t even want to know how much cream there was in there; all I know is that they made me smile with every bite. (Shout out to the amazing galley crew!)
Of course, the cruise is anywhere but over. Even considering the day or so of transit necessary to return back to Newport, that leaves almost a full other day to pack in missions and tasks. As I remind myself often, this is a ship active for 24 hours, and people are always grinding to the metal. I’ve heard we’ll even get a little adventure going back into port, in the form of 12-15 foot swells. I can’t wait!
Perhaps I’ll come back to these blogs in a few months and remember all the highs and the lows. I’m interested to see how VISIONS will affect me long-term, because I can already see how this trip has impacted and broadened my worldview. Even though I am working toward a civil engineering degree, the oceanic lifestyle has started to appeal to me in a way I didn’t understand before. I’m glad that degrees aren’t cut and dry… maybe there’s a way to mix the two?
Future me, if you’re reading this, do something you love, that you feel proud about, and that helps others. Also I hope you have started a Roth IRA (thank you Garrett for the great advice)! I will be waiting.
14-15 September 2023
This is the knot end of the knot saga! (I apologize for the pun—we’ve been out at sea for a while.) For background, my shift yesterday morning was put on hold due to technical issues with Jason and its instruments. There was a meeting between the Jason team and Chief Scientist Katie to confer about next steps, considering the short time frame and the number of remaining tasks. They eventually decided to cut the time at Axial short, fix Jason during the 18-hour transit, and focus on working on the Deep Profiler dock back at the Oregon Offshore site.
While we were waiting for their decision, Andrew challenged us to learn some basic knots. He had actually downloaded a 600-page pdf of the Ashley book of knots to the cruise’s shared server, and, with that for reference, gave out two lists (beginner & intermediate) for us to learn. Thus, continued adventures of learning or fully mastering: the bowline, the reef knot, the clove hitch, the alpine butterfly, the Carrick bend, and the rolling hitch. There were also some further escapades with Carrick mats, thief knots and lassos, fueled by a bit of 2 am hysteria.
This new hobby has actually been coming in handy to fill time because of recent schedule changes. We arrived at Offshore this morning during my shift around 0100, and the cable work was finished smoothly within a few hours.
In the middle of the dive, the van crew members were discussing what to do for the rest of the three days in the cruise, considering that there weren’t that many tasks left at the Offshore site. The only other option would be to turn around and go back to Axial, but considering that it was an 18-hour steam, sounded very unlikely. I assumed that we’d figure that out later in the day and left them to their conversation when the shift changed, but when I woke up later at 1000, I felt the ship rocking much more than usual. And there it was, on the Board of Lies: “Transit to Axial.” In total, we will have a day and a half extra of transiting—plenty of time to work on blogs, knots, puzzles, and solitaire.
At this point, any deck work or science work I can help out with, I leap on. The last full CTD for the cruise was completed today, and I helped Julie record all information as she titrated the oxygen samples.
I took two quarters of chemistry last year, but seeing the direct application of our studies made all the theory come alive. We definitely didn’t have the floor rocking as we tried to do titrations, that’s for sure! I also got to help out with prepping the pump for the hydrothermal vent sampling we are going to do once we arrive at Axial. They ended up having to replace the whole pump because the old one wasn’t flowing correctly. Once the new one was in place, we cleared the tubes with a 10% bleach mixture to make sure that any sea life residue was gone, and then pumped through milliQ so that the bleach didn’t kill the sea life we wanted to keep down at the vents. Like the deck work I got to do a few days ago, it was a welcome change of pace from our transit life. We still have one more steam ahead of us once we finish our work, but that’s something for future me to figure out!
13 September 2023
My brain is full of knots.
Mainly the bowline, but there’s a few others with hitches and turns thrown in the mix. It started yesterday when Andrew showed a few of us how to tie a bowline, one of the strongest knots out there. The story to remember the order of the loops is that the “rabbit” (the end of the loop) goes up the hole, around the tree, and back down the hole. At first I couldn’t figure out where to grab to tighten the knot correctly, but got it after another walk-through (or two) and lots of practice. It’s quite fun, and a useful skill to practice that keeps your hands occupied. Of course, Andrew also knew how to make a quick bowline by some crazy flippy magic that is still a mystery to me, even after a lot of thinking and attempting. So that sent me down another rabbit hole (pun unintended) of other ways to tie bowlines.
I ended up asking one of the ABs (able bodied seamen), Brian, if he knew the special trick, and he ended up showing me a different but still quicker way involving a slip knot of sorts. I didn’t know there were so many ways to tie the same knot! The most interesting part is how his version of the knot is pulled, because the knot doesn’t look like a bowline until you tug one end the right way and it flips over into the recognizable shape. He also gave me a quick lesson on hitches (essentially the basic knot you start with to tie your shoe), knife knots (knots that become almost impossible to untie and need to be cut) and uses for the different knots. Apparently the most common knots he uses are the bowline and one with a round turn and two half-hitches. The bowline is stronger, but the other one is easier to access and untie. He says that often he’ll secure something down with a bowline on one end and the round turn and two half-hitches on the other. He also showed me a clove hitch, which is apparently good at securing lateral loads but can sometimes get too tight if pulled the wrong way.
It was an enjoyable lesson and I was grateful he let me distract him for a few moments! Hopefully my knot skills will continue to improve over the rest of our journey.
On that note, it’s hard to believe right now, but we are at the halfway point in the cruise. Time has seemed to trickle through my fingers, especially with my adjusted two-part sleeping schedule and the business of this Leg. I cannot wait to get back on shore, but at the same time I’ve gotten used to life on the boat and the excitement that accompanies it. It’ll be odd adjusting to land life again.
12 September 2023
Wow, what a gift it is to be well rested. There was no shift this morning because we were in the middle of an 18-hour transit to Axial Seamount, so I got one of the longest stretches of uninterrupted sleep I’ve had since we left shore. It makes me appreciate how much I can take rest for granted, and how many jobs limit that freedom. It’s necessary, because boats can’t be left unattended, patients in hospitals need to be cared for, and security guards need to protect what’s secured, among others, but doesn’t mean it’s not a sacrifice. Thank you, night shift workers!
This is the last new region we’re checking out, though there are different sections within this Seamount’s summit, such as ASHES, the International District, and the caldera. We have less time than expected here because of the issues with the cables back at the Oregon Offshore Deep Profiler Mooring. Two days are budgeted for fixing that, so a lot of scheduled science work is being shifted around or even cancelled.
It has been interesting with a Leg more focused on the technical maintenance of the Array than the science, but I wouldn’t say I mind too much. Being on this Leg opens up more opportunities for getting to know all the inner workings.
Today, actually, APL engineers Nick and Garrett gave us a rundown of the Deep Profiler vehicle. The new one had been successfully deployed, but the old one had to be cleaned off before sending it back to the lab to be fixed, and they thought it would be a good opportunity for the students to help out with. We got to put on hard hats because we were out on the deck, and then they did a walk-through of the vehicle. Overall, I was surprised by how simple it was. I’m not as well versed in mechanical engineering, so a few of the more technical details escaped me, but there was a lot of thought put behind the charging, buoyancy, and control of the vehicle. It amazes me how plastic, titanium, and circuitry can be combined into a working instrument that can shift to face the current, take readings of salinity and chlorophyll, among other things, and upload data to shore. And all of it is done underwater! Of course, just because it works underwater it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t need a good scrubbing once it’s on deck.
We sprayed the vehicle down with biodegradable cleaner and used sponges and brushes to get off as much of the gunk as we could, so it doesn’t stink up the lab when it returns.
After cleaning the Deep Profiler, we got to help secure its metal frame before transit. We took a ratchet and some straps and looped the frame to a solid wooden box. Talking to Garrett, he pointed out that most of being on the ship is cleaning things and securing things properly. Heavy equipment sliding around can be dangerous and expensive. He also mentioned that the best way to learn, however, is to just get hands-on and do it. Though we were inexperienced, he let us figure out a good way to secure the equipment down. Besides a few tips, and checking our work at the end, it was mostly up to us. I appreciated the gesture and the level of trust he placed in us. Being on deck with a hard hat on and getting hands-on with the equipment was a nice change of pace from the ROV van screens and my computer!
10-11 September 2023
Yesterday morning, I took over for the 2000-2400 shift in the middle of a dive to recover a beacon that had been dropped during the previous dive. There was a large amount of fish kicking up sediment, so visibility was very poor. That was very unfortunate because while they had already found the beacon by the time we arrived, they also needed to follow a cable on the seafloor, which was made much more difficult under the conditions.
The dive ended early, around 0200, so we were let off our shift early. However, I ended up staying up an extra hour interviewing Maleen for my project. I’ve decided to create a resource page for future VISION’s students before they go on the cruise. Part of that, hopefully, will be a project development guide, and for that section I want to follow the projects of the other Leg 4 students and show how their projects grew over time. I’d been interviewing each one about the initial stages of their project, the research they did before arriving on the ship, and how that has developed during the first few days on board.
Maleen is a slightly different case than the others, as he is a fourth-year geophysics PhD. student. He’s been working with a team on two projects at Axial Seamount and Axial Base. Interviewing him was probably one of the highlights of my day, because I learned so much about a completely different subject than I usually study. With just a whiteboard and his brain, he made plate tectonics, the transponder network his team created, and the Greens function make sense in a cohesive way despite my lack of familiarity. Definitely worth staying up late for!
Later that day, after a five hour nap, I had a nice, relaxing morning. I’m Catholic, so Sundays normally mean going to mass, but the nearest church was across a significant stretch of ocean and video streaming would’ve been too much for the wifi. So, instead, I sat on the 02 deck for an hour and got some peace in the middle of what has been a hectic cruise at times. I’m thankful that the weather has been so calm though—it’s already been an adjustment getting used to the rolling of the ship, and apparently these seas have been incredibly peaceful. Before I got on the ship I kind of discounted seasickness, but now that I’m on board I can see how much it can hit you.
This morning at 0200, the ship started transiting to Axial Base and I really started to feel the rolling of the ship. I ended up taking more Dramamine even though I thought I was fine after the first few days. Still, I had checked out some of Leg 3’s blogs, and reading their accounts of how all of the students were laid out because of the rough weather made me feel a bit more relieved. I have a lot of respect for them for enduring that!
Other highlights of yesterday included two tours, one of the bridge and one of the computer room, house-made (boat-made?) ice cream along with dinner, and k-pop in the control van on the dive for the night. Yes, you heard the last one right: k-pop, due to one student’s request. It was definitely a strange experience being in the pitch black box, surrounded by monitors of Jason traversing the seafloor, while girl groups singing in Korean about love and whatever else filled the room. There were quite a few laughs from both the Jason crew and the students sitting in the back at the absurdity of the situation. All in a day’s work on the Thompson!
9 September 2023
Early this morning I got a demonstration of Jason’s capabilities: detaching a mooring, streaming high quality data, and, unexpectedly, catching a fish! Admittedly it was more because of the fish’s poor decision to swim into the latch than Jason’s skill, but it was still an accomplishment.
Overall, the first night watch was a good blend of action and rest—I never felt too bored. I definitely felt a bit of sleepiness waking up at 11:30 pm, but by the time we got into the van and started working I had shaken it off. Flooding my eyes with bright light in my bunk and in the Main Lab did the trick.
For the first mission of this Leg, Jason needed to unplug the Deep Profiler mooring cable at the Oregon Offshore Site so it could be recovered. We also marked a buoy for recovery with a beacon for later (which was difficult because of all the anemones and other sea life encrusting the outside).
For most of the dive I was manning the Sealog, taking note of the major events and sights during the dive. The actual logging of the dive was less complicated than I expected given the amount of data thrown at us yesterday during the control van briefing—it was great having some more experienced people like Mitch and Andrew walk us through things to record as we went.
I am still getting used to the technical terms used but hope to get the hang of it soon. Near the end of the dive, Julie needed Maleen and Atticus to help with cocking the niskin bottles to prep for a CTD during the next shift, so I shifted over to manning the video. And I’m glad I did—we got to see a blue shark at the end! Apparently a few have been hanging out for a while in this offshore site. It was a great first dive, though I was incredibly grateful to crash once my shift was over at 0400.
Even though it was such a busy morning, however, life on a ship meant that I still had a full day ahead of me! I think I’m going to continue splitting my sleep into two chunks, ~2100-2330 and 0400-0740 (to get up for the amazing breakfast!!), with naps when I need it. I was a lot more awake today because I didn’t take any Dramamine, but we’ll see how this schedule works out over the next week and a half.
The rest of the day was more relaxed than the morning. Multiple crew members have mentioned that this Leg is a little different from the previous ones in that the main tasks for this leg are replacing/cleaning Deep Profiler moorings at three different sites. Because of the need to bring the floats at the top of the moorings up and clean them onboard, there are less science-related things and Jason dives than usual.
After everything had been recovered from the first site today (there was a second dive after ours that brought the buoy and the mooring vehicle up), cleaning commenced most of the day. We couldn’t help out with a lot of the deck work so didn’t have much to do during our watches, but at one point in the afternoon we were allowed to help scrape off the biofouling community that had built up on the float and an acoustic release. I regret not leaving to put on my composite-toed boots because my sneakers were splattered with quite a bit of sediment and anemone guts. It was still fun, however, and something to do! Definitely time to do some laundry though…
8 September 2023
And we’re off! We arrived in Newport yesterday afternoon, but because we had to wait for the evening high tide to depart, we had a full day to get accustomed to life on the ship. Part of that is COVID rapid testing, at least for the next few days—after Leg 2 apparently there were a few cases of COVID – the crew is being extra cautious. But, the rest of the day-to-day will be thankfully more novel, with shift watches every 12 hours, great food, and plenty of interesting people to talk to.
There are also a lot of little fun details because of the moving environment that I didn’t think about beforehand, like bungee cords that hold computers down so they don’t go flying and inch-high lips on almost all the tables and counters.
On that note, something I’ve found especially interesting about the ship is how hard it is to tell what time of day it is. With bright lighting everywhere and not many windows, the inside of the ship looks exactly the same at 2 am and 2 pm. I can see how that makes sense with operations running 24 hours a day onboard. Either way, that’ll be helpful for me because I’m assigned the 12-4 shift. I’m not exactly sure how my sleep schedule will work out when I’m up until 4 am, but at least I know my room will always be pitch black when I need it to be!
My shift group will actually be the first ones to see action tonight. Because the Thompson won’t make it to the first site until around 11:30 pm, the 8-12 shift is just hanging around. If everything goes to plan, Jason, the ROV, will have its first dive around 1 am, and we’ll get to monitor it from the control van, located in a renovated shipping container that streams all of the data and video Jason is picking up to us. I can’t wait to see what the shift will be like!
Luckily, it seems that the Dramamine I started taking yesterday is holding steady—besides a bit of tiredness, I seem to be adjusting well enough to the rocking of the ship. I have about two and a half hours before I need to check in for my shift, so I think I’m going to take a short nap and hope for the best!