Marian Wagner: Out at Sea, August 16, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marian Wagner
Aboard R/V Savannah
August 16 — 26, 2011

Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean (Off the Georgia and Florida Coasts)
Date: Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge (the bridge is the wheelhouse, where the controls of the ship are)
E winds 15-20 knots
(1.15 statute miles = 1 nautical mile)
Sea depth at 4:30pm was 17.4 meters (getting deeper by about1 meter per mile out)
Seas 3-4 feet (measure of the height of the back of the waves)

Science and Technology Log

Marian's on deck, ready to work

The Research Vessel Savannah departed around 1:00pm from its port at Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, 25 minutes outside Savannah, Georgia.  There are 9 members of a science team including me, and 6 crew members, for a total of 15 people onboard.  In the morning, we loaded the research equipment and supplies (8 traps, ice bins, bait, buckets, research cameras that we mount on the traps, water, lots of sunscreen, etc.).  Richard Huguley, ship engineer, led many of us on a tour of the engine room before it was roaring and heated up. A few fascinating facts about the engine room are below!

Richard tours us through the engine room before it's too hot!

We set out of port on the Skidaway River, to the Wilmington River, and out to Wassaw Sound, an estuary where fresh water meets its fate, the Atlantic Ocean. Just as the boat was beginning to rock from the rougher seas of the open ocean, Michael Richter, the first mate and safety officer of the ship, called a safety meeting, which included what to do in case of emergencies such as a fire onboard, man overboard, abandon ship, as well as general safety rules to keep us safe on a daily basis (e.g. how to open doors so you don’t break a finger, gear to wear during work on the deck).  Someone had to model how to get into the “Gumby suit”, a survival wetsuit that will protect from hypothermia, jellies, and sharks should we have to abandon ship immediately.  Well of course I had to be the one to try out the Gumby suit!

In my survival suit, the "Gumby suit"

Finally, we were told a muster drill would occur soon.  Later on, just as I was exiting the head (toilet), the general alarm sounded and a “man overboard” drill was conducted.  See below to learn how to respond to a man overboard emergency.

After the safety demonstration, discussion, and modeling of Gumby suit, our chief scientist, Warren Mitchell, reinforced the meaning of the safety talk by saying, “Safety is most important. Our scientific data is not worth compromising our safety for.”

The focus of this NOAA Fisheries cruise is to survey the population of commercially-important species to inform stock assessments.  Christina Schobernd explained the mission another way: “We study how many fish there are, where they are, and get information so we can tell fisheries how many fish to catch so that the fish populations are sustained (or, so that they don’t run out of fish).”  We will be taking samples of fish that swim into our traps, observing and recording their abundance (how many) and location.  Some of the fish will be taken into the lab for further study. It is critically important to monitor the populations of these fish to avoid over-fishing of these waters.

Each day out at sea starting 8/17 to 8/25, we will drop 6 traps per round of sampling, and as we process the fish we catch, we’ll drop another round. We do this for a total of 4 rounds per day, or a total of 24 samples per day, if all goes as planned. I am working the noon-midnight shift with a team of three other scientists: David Berrane, Katie Rowe, and Stephen Long.

Personal Log

I love the life of living in a boat!  Everything is compact, space is limited, and efficiency is the key.  The ship is actually far more outfitted than I expected: with a light and power plug at my bedside, air conditioning in my stateroom, running (not pumping) water in the head, a state-of-the-art-for-boats kitchen with walk-in fridge and hooded stove!

Moving in to my stateroom

It took us many hours to travel to where we were to begin dropping the traps so, besides preparations, we did not have a lot of work to do the first day.  This was advantageous to give me a chance to transition into life at sea, especially with the ship rocking in a  “wash-machine” like motion, I spent the first afternoon and evening getting sick, or as we like to say out here at sea, more elegantly: “Getting my sea legs”.  Read more below about why seasickness is so common.  Although it is very unpleasant to get seasick, it was comforting to know many of us were in the same boat.  Many of those who travel at sea on a frequent basis were sick last night too.

This morning on our second day out, I am feeling fully recovered from seasickness, and I have spent the morning eating delicious banana pecan waffles and enjoying conversations with fellow scientists and crew.  The sea is very calm this morning too so that helps.  In less than an hour from now, I’ll be on my first 12-hour shift!  I am learning so much from this experience and am embracing every moment!

Some of the scientists and crew I am working with!

Fun facts about the engine room

Fact #1: We use laser light to detect temperatures of instruments in the engine room to make sure they are not overheating and all running smoothly.

Fact #2: How can we keep the water that runs our air-conditioning cool? To run the ship’s air conditioners, it takes 1.5 gallons of fresh water per minute.  With 25 air-conditioning units on board, that is a lot of water!  With a limited amount of weight and space available on ship, we couldn’t possibly keep enough new fresh water to ensure we have cool water entering the system.  So how do we do it?  We have a closed system, so the same water cycles through over and over again, and we use a heat exchanger mechanism to keep it cool as it starts a new cycle. What could we use that is cool that we have an unlimited supply of?   Salt water!  The heated fresh water runs in the bottom of the heat exchanger machine, and comes out the top. Cool salt water runs in a countercurrent direction: in the top and out the bottom.  As the cool salt water passes by the heated fresh water, the heat transfers from the fresh water to the salt water, cooling the fresh water, heating the salt water before it is disposed of back into the ocean. Because the salt water is so abundant, it can run in an open system, where it is continuously fed anew into the pipes as it is continuously running out of pipes at the other end.

How to respond to a man overboard emergency

If the person was witnessed going overboard, the witness should:

  1. Call out for assistance and throw a life ring buoy into the water (best if it has a strobe light). Pass the word to the Bridge by any means possible.
  2. Wait about one minute and throw a second life ring buoy into the water to create a visual range to aid in the search effort.
  3. Keep the victim under surveillance if at all possible, but do not delay passing the word to the Bridge.

Unwitnessed Man Overboard

Until proven otherwise, when a crewmember is unaccounted for, it will be presumed that the individual has been lost overboard.  The time of the casualty will be unknown.  The ship’s navigation record will be crucial for search planning, as will the hourly weather observations entered into the Weather Log.

Why seasickness is so common

Most people feel some level of illness or discomfort when they first go to sea. Seasickness is a result of a conflict in the inner ear (where the human balance mechanism resides) caused by the erratic motion of the ship through water.  Inside the cabin of a rocking boat, for example, the inner ear detects changes in linear and angular acceleration as the body moves with the boat. But since the cabin moves with the passenger, the eyes register a relatively stable scene. Agitated by this perceptual incongruity, the brain responds with a cascade of stress-related hormones that can ultimately lead to nausea and vomiting. Its effect can be magnified by strong smells (like diesel fumes or fish). It usually occurs in the first 12-24 hours after sailing, and dissipates when the body becomes acclimated to the ship’s motion. Rarely does anyone stay ill beyond the first couple days at sea, regardless of sea state.  Don’t be embarrassed or discouraged!  If you get sick, chances are that others are sick too!  No one—fishermen, ship’s officers, scientists—is immune to seasickness.

Tips of the day:

Tip 1: Dehydration comes quick. Drink lots of water.

Tip 2: Give one hand for the boat. (As I walk up and down the stairs, I always have a hand on the rail.)

2 Replies to “Marian Wagner: Out at Sea, August 16, 2011”

  1. Marian,
    Air conditioning, running water in the head and a walk-in fridge? What sea-going luxuries! The photos are wonderful, and I’m so envious (even though I know that it will be hard & tiring work!). I’m certain that it will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Looking forward to the next installment of the blog…


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