Staci DeSchryver: A Whale of a Time, August 8, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Staci DeSchryver

Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 26 – August 12, 2011 

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Location: Barnabas Trough  56 deg 54.05N, 152 deg 38.100W 
Heading: 252 at 2.4 kts
Date: August 8, 2011

Weather Data From the Bridge
Dry Bulb Temp:  11.0 deg C
Wet Bulb Temp: 10.0 deg C
Pressure:  1020 mb and steady
Cloud cover:  Mostly Cloudy, Altostratus
Wind:  16 kts at 271 deg
Station model 08.09

Science and Technology Log

One of the most important abilities the NOAA Corps officers should master is the capability of navigating the ship.  Today, I got a brief tour of the all of the neat gadgets on the bridge that keep us “headed” in the right direction!

The tour started off with me playing the “What if?” game.  Poor guys.  It went a little something like this:

ENS Rodziewicz:  This machine tells us our current heading.

Landlubber DeSchryver:  What if that thing breaks?  Then what?

ENS Rodziewicz:  Well, then we use this machine over here.

Landlubber Deschryver:  And if that breaks?

ENS Rodziewicz:  (sighs)  We use this alternate machine.

Landlubber DeSchryver:  And if that breaks?

ENS Rodziewicz:  Well,  this would be our last stop if we were in a real pinch.  He points to the magnetic compass.

Landlubber DeSchryver:  And what do you do if that breaks?

I realized my gaffe as it was flying out of my mouth.

He politely informed me that compasses don’t break.   I knew that.  I just didn’t remember it right that second…

Thankfully, he didn’t hold it over my head too long as the tour continued.  As it turns out, much of the tour went in the same manner.  The Oscar Dyson’s bridge can also be called the Department of Redundancy Department.  There are multiple back-up systems to combat malfunctions on all counts.  They even have a hand-held crank phone on the bridge in case things really head south.  The bridge has the following instruments/gadgets:

  • Two Radars to detect oncoming traffic/small islands
  • One computer screen to list, by name and give speed/direction of said oncoming traffic
  • Two computers for plotting course – one of them has “layering” capabilities to include depth, traffic, heading, and the ability to program the ship to steer itself
  • Speaking of steering – there are at least 4 separate places for the “driver” to “drive  the ship.”
  • Two compasses
  • A radio, hand-crank phone, and backup generator power supply for all items in the event of a cataclysmic failure.
  • A superior selection of hard candies for bridge visitor/users perusal.

After the tour, I was a little cross-eyed at all of the instrumentation and its capabilities.  I’ve also evaluated and concluded that the Oscar Dyson would be a great place to hole up in the event of an apocalypse, as she is truly ready for anything.

At the end of the day, I really enjoyed looking at the multi-colored information recorders, but what I really wanted to know was “How did the old school guys get the job done?  You know, drive the ship with maps and compasses?”

nav tools
Here are some handy tools for navigation!

As it turns out, there are many factions of Old School sailing.  The oldest group had nothing more than a map, a compass, a sextant, and the stars or the sun to get the job done.  But we’ve been using GPS for quite some time now, so some would consider a single GPS system with satellite passes that would “ping” the ship twice a day as Old School.  It was a nice reminder that we certainly live in a different age!

One of the neat tricks I learned to do tonight was how to calculate the true wind speed.  If you aren’t familiar with true wind speed and direction, here’s a brief tutorial:

It’s time to think in terms of relativity.  Everything on Earth is relative to something else.  Think about the last time you got into a car and sat in the passenger seat.  Relative to the car, the passengers in the car don’t appear to be moving.  BUT…to an observer on the street outside of the car, both the driver and the passenger are moving – in a given direction with a given speed.  (To get technical, they are moving with velocity only – recall that velocity is speed with direction.)  Now, let’s picture riding in the back seat of a car.  The passengers in the front don’t appear to be moving.  If the driver accelerates past another moving car, the car that is getting passed appears to be moving backward.  Some people blame their eyes playing a trick on them.  They shouldn’t.  Relative to your position in the moving car, they are moving backward.  To viewers watching the cars move while standing on the street, both cars are moving forward.  Tricky.

Now, let’s think about this with a ship.  If a ship is trying to calculate the wind speed while it’s moving, it’s not going to get a good reading.  Why not?  The boat effectively creates its own wind as it’s zooming through the ocean.  It can also give a false direction because the ship is not necessarily cruising along in the same direction of the wind.  How do we solve the problem?

Tonight, I learned how to use a Maneuvering Board to calculate the true wind speed and direction.  A maneuvering board is like a fancy piece of circular graph paper that can do so much more than regular graph paper can.  If graph paper is the cat’s meow, the Maneuvering Board is the lion’s roar.    By drawing the vectors of the ship and the relative wind, the true wind can be calculated on the board.

maneuvering board
This board is useful to sailors becuase it can be used for many calculations - wind speed and direction, charting around stationary objects, and charting around other ocean traffic are some good examples.

Remember, the ship has a speed and a direction – its total motion is a vector quantity.  Wind also has a speed and a direction – its total movement is ALSO a vector quantity.  I’m sure as you read you can hear the vector demon whispering in your ear, prophesizing about what is to come…time to resolve vectors…time to resolve vectors…Just give in.  There’s no use fighting it, mostly because vectors are super-awesome.

In order to calculate the true wind speed, both the relative speed and direction of the wind and the true direction and speed of the ship must be taken into account.  Once those two vector quantities are added (or subtracted, depending on the motion of the ship and the wind) the true wind speed and direction can be calculated.

But we only have to do that if all of the instrumentation catastrophically fails on the bridge.  A lot of the people on the bridge will complete a maneuvering board on occasion, just to stay fresh.  Otherwise, you just read the screen.

Personal Log

WHALES!!!  WHALES EVERYWHERE!!!  Tonight as we were moving between transects, we were invited to join a humpback whale party.  I was on my way up to the bridge to see what sorts of shenanigans were going on when someone informed me that the bridge was the place to be because there was a whale.  Well, when I got to the bridge, it was NOT a whale.


There were at least 15.  It started off as two or three spouts in the distance.  Then came the tail flukes slowly and playfully slapping the water.  They were everywhere!  As if that weren’t a beautiful enough show, they began to breach – exploding out of the water and returning via a graceful dive.  We must have seen 8 to 10 breaches.  I don’t know if any one whale breached more than once, but it felt like just as one re-entered the water, someone was shouting “Breach!” in a completely different direction. Two swam within about 50 feet of the Dyson, and we had to change our course briefly for one particular whale who was fancying our transect line as a place to play.  We stayed up on the bridge for about an hour, just watching them have a good old time in the sea.  I’ve never seen anything like it, but I hope to see it again soon.  I got some on video, but my plan is to wait until I’m home to upload videos to my blog because it takes up a lot of internet to upload videos at sea.  It was an incredible and powerful sight.  Scientists still can’t completely confirm why they breach, in particular why humpback whales breach, but I’m not going to ask questions as long as they keep doing it!  What a trip!

In other news, I’ve been combatting seasickness quite handily (I hope I haven’t spoken too soon! Uh oh!) by using a transdermal ear patch.  I tried using  some other anti-seasick meds, and they worked just fine, but they made my brain feel foggy – not a good state to be in while assessing fish stocks!  Finally I just gave up and went to the patch.  I didn’t want to overload my body with medication, but it’s critical that I remain alert while at sea.  It is also critical that I do not hang halfway over the side-rails for extended periods of time.  After all, I still don’t have my sea legs.

AK Sun
I've been working hard, but when my view from the chem lab looks like this, I would call it hardly workin'. Gorgeous!

Up on the bridge, one of the NOAA Corps Officers asked me how long I had been wearing my patch.  I told him I was going on hour 48.  He told me I ought to take it off because my pupils were wildly dilated, which is a side effect of this particular medication.   Admittedly, I kind of blew the advice off, because even if my pupils are big, at least I’m not feeding fish.  A reasonable trade off in the grand scheme of things, in my meek opinion.

Then I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror.  Have you ever seen the cartoon classic feature film Who Framed Roger Rabbit?  Yeah.  I look like one of those bad-guy Toontown  weasels after he gets hit on the head with a frying pan.  Both of my pupils are large, but one (the one that shares the same side as the ear patch) is considerably larger.  In case you are having a hard time picturing this, I have converted this image into a “dilated emoticon face” to give you a reasonable  representation of my eyes:  o_O    <– me.   So, I’m currently at an impasse.  I was told that after three or so days at sea, it’s not necessary to continue medication because your body adjusts to everything constantly moving.  I don’t know how I feel about that.  I also don’t know how I feel about looking like a crazy cartoon weasel for the next five days.   So, with that being said, I think I may resolve the issue by cutting the patch in half and reducing the medication amount.  It is my hypothesis that my pupils may return to regular, well matched sizes at that juncture.  It is also my hypothesis that I will remain an able-bodied sea girl in doing so.  I guess we’ll see what happens.

Trivia Question:  Where was the Oscar Dyson built?  In what year was she launched?

*Answer:  She was built in Mississippi, and launched in 2005.

One Reply to “Staci DeSchryver: A Whale of a Time, August 8, 2011”

  1. Dear love,

    I am at work with current nursing professionals and the idea of cutting a transdermal patch in half may be a bad idea. For one what if all of the medicine is on that side and you don’t succeed at reducing the dose. Be a crazy cartoon weasle or just trust the NOAA people and take it off. I’d rather you puke than have screwy cartoon eyes for unknown periods of time.
    Side note: LOVE YOU! This blog is amazing 😀 Keep up the good work! Tell marshmallow that Jersey shore is poo!

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