It had been about eight years since my last ocean research cruise. I remember it fondly: February in the Gulf of Alaska. After several years of "riding a desk" in Washington, DC, I was starting to wonder if I was becoming a land-lubber, losing my saltiness. So, at a GLOBEC meeting last year I made the comment that it was a sin to have a program manager who never went to sea. Ron Schlitz of NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center took up my challenge and asked me to stand a CTD watch on his January cruise out of Woods Hole aboard R/V OCEANUS. "It'll be a physics cruise." he said. "You won't have to get your hands all gooey or stare into a microscope on a rolling ship." My stomach gets queasy even thinking about that. I lobbied for a late spring or summer cruise but was destined to prove my mettle on Georges Bank in the winter.
Upon arrival at Woods Hole, I was surprised to see the ENDEAVOR tied up across the dock and ALBATROSS still docked at NOAA. Both ships were supposed to be out on Georges Bank already. Hmmm. We awoke on Friday morning to high winds, freezing temperatures, and a threatening sky. OCEANUS, too, delayed her departure.
I am happy to say we accomplished our objectives despite terrible weather. The ship arrived at the working area on Georges Bank on Monday morning and immediately began mooring deployments. Two moorings were deployed on Monday, two on Tuesday, and then the forecast for Thursday arrived. Gale Warnings. This would mean a rush to complete the deployments before bad weather set in. Wednesday's activities began at about 0600. Bill Strahle, his crew, and the ship's crew worked like maniacs until 2230 that night to get as much work done as possible before the storm set in. They deployed an amazing four moorings. Phew! And they were up again at 0600 on Thursday for the final mooring deployment. They were very lucky. It was the calmest seas of the week and the mooring was deployed without a hitch. I finished my CTD watch at noon and hit the rack.
When I awoke at about 1400, the ship was pitching and rolling. Rats! I really needed a shower. It is amazing what a person will endure for a shower with the ship going one way, the shower water going another, and myself going yet another. After several encounters with the freezing-cold shower walls and a near-miss with the toilet, I bagged it, dressed, and staggered up to the oceanography lab only to learn that our gale warnings had been upgraded to storm warnings and we were headed home.
My tallest tale of high adventure at sea is from our return journey during which we had 30-40 kts of wind across the deck with combined seas and swell reaching 20 ft. The ship is only 170 ft long. Have you ever noticed that no matter which way a ship is headed, it is always in the trough? We were taking some impressive rolls (30 degrees routinely and 35+ occasionally). It was impossible to sleep so I wedged myself into a corner of the bridge and hung-on. It was like riding a bucking bronco. Yeeha!
All-in-all, it was wonderful to get out on a research cruise again. Would I do it again? YES! Eventually. My comfy D.C. office is piled even higher with paperwork but I approach it with renewed enthusiasm. Many thanks to Ron Schlitz, Bill Strahle, my fellow scientists, and the Captain and crew of the OCEANUS.