Paul Ritter: Sixteen Days… July 31, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Paul Ritter
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 16– August 1, 2013 

pisces team picture
Pisces team picture

Mission: Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey (SEFIS)
Geographical area of cruise: southeastern US Atlantic Ocean waters (continental shelf and shelf-break waters ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC to Port St. Lucie, FL)
Date: July 31, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge

8-01-13 ship data

Science, personal, Technology Log

Date: Wednesday July 31, 2013
One day before we leave but you would not know it on the ship.  We are business as usual.  Our team is somewhere off of the coast of Cape Canaveral, and we have three sets of traps to set before we can call it a day.  With NASA’s Cape Canaveral Space Center in the background, we began laying traps in a zigzag pattern over the top of an underwater rock formation that the acoustics lab found the night before.

Our day’s catch was much better than in days past due to the fact that we he had moved much closer to shore.  For some reason our leg of the expedition experienced an unusual upwelling of cold water upon the continental shelf where we were exploring.  Our temperatures for most of the trip ranged from 14 to 16 degrees Celsius. Once we traveled closer to shore our temperatures went up to around 19 degrees Celsius.  This change in location meant that the water on the ocean floor was warmer and warmer water means more reef fish that are hungry.  FISH ON.

Notably, something that stands out in my mind that has made the entire trip successful is the camaraderie of the acoustics, and the wet /dry lab teams.  You would not know by looking, that many of them had never met prior to this trip.  Arguably, these people are the best of the best in the marine biology industry, and none of them have egos. They are so fun to be around.  They are very much a family.  Every time someone enters either lab, a round of “HEY’S” is shouted out by the entire group, as if we had not seen each other in years.   It reminds me of the old television show Cheers, when Norm would walk in to the bar and everyone would yell his name “NORM”.  I loved that show.  Anyway, I would give almost anything to work, side by side, with these people the rest of my life.  I imagine that this group of scientist is exactly what all other researchers aspire to have.

At the end of the day, trap six, the last trap, was pulled and we finished with a haul of good ol’ Black Sea Bass.  You got to love it.  The time was 3:45 and it was time to pack it up and clean the labs.  As a team, we boxed all of the equipment up, we scrubbed everything from top to bottom, and did it with the same enthusiasm we had had the entire trip.  We got the word from James Walker, Chief Bosun on the Pisces, to get all of our gear ready to be put into cargo nets ASAP.  He informed us that we were scheduled to arrive at Mayport Naval Station for a 7:00 A.M. dock time.  It did not take long for all of us to amass the gear and ready it all for transport.

At some point after supper, which was crab legs, and rib eye steaks, Ryan Harris, the skilled fisherman, and I were walking the deck and realized that we were about to get wet from a storm.  Thinking quickly, we moved all of the non-waterproof materials inside the wet lab.  I told Ryan I would see him in the morning and headed to my stateroom.  For some reason I could not get to sleep.  I was exhausted but just could not shutdown.  Zach, my roommate, and I talked about going home and all of the things we were going to do when we got there, for around an hour and then called it a day.

The Pisces steamed through the night and we were right on time.  Grabbing a cup of coffee, I raced out to the ships observation deck so I could watch us come into the dock.  It was amazing.  The crew and the bridge worked flawlessly together to bring our ship, that we have called home for the last sixteen days, back dockside.  My hat goes off to them.  James directed everyone to get into their positions. A small rubber ball with a long lines attached was hurled by one of the men, who was on port bow of the ship, overboard and onto land.  Waiting on shore, several young Navy men caught the ball and pulled the rope onto land forming a tight rope between the ship and land that any member of the Wallenda family could walk.  As the onshore men placed the rope on the davit, the ship motored forward to use the rope to pull the ships aft to the dock.  Upon docking, the crew of the Pisces completed our landing by connecting the massive cables that were lifted by a crane on shore.  These cables allowed the ship to shut off her engines, that had been going nonstop for the last sixteen days, and run on shore power.  Ah quiet at last.  Just because we were tied to land, it did not mean that our jobs were over.

Off loading the scientific equipment aboard the Pisces.

We still had to move the cargo nets with all of our scientific equipment to land, and then the arduous task of loading it all into the team moving van.  The task of loading the van should have taken hours but the phrase “many hands make light work” was reaffirmed as the entire scientific party jumped in and made light work of the job.  Once complete, we all gathered, took our last pictures, hugged, and said our goodbyes.  And just like that, I jumped in a minivan with five of the ship’s crew and Matt Wilson, the team hydrographer.

Within 20 minutes we were at the airport and all headed to our gates.  My flight from Jacksonville was relatively easy, with no issues but when I arrived at O’Hare the same could not be said.  I think at last count my gate was moved at least 3 times before I made my way to gate G1.  Twenty minutes before flight time, I noticed that we had not boarded the plane yet.  The gate attendants were scurrying around like a mouse running from my cats, and then the ominous “ding” came over the speaker.  “Ahh ladies and gentlemen, we are sorry about the delay but we are experiencing some mechanical issues with plane”.  “We will try to keep you informed as to the progress and hopefully get you on to your final destination quickly”.  “Thank you for your understanding”.  After an hour or so, we finally got the direction that we were again moving to another gate.

As we were walking to our final exiting point, I started talking to a couple of the flight attendants and asked them what had happened.  Apparently, my original plane had taken a goose missile to one of the engines and it totally destroyed any chances that plane would fly again in the next several weeks.  As you could imagine, the attendants said it was quite a stressful situation.  I, for one, am very thankful that they changed my plane.  Finally, I boarded my new plane and made my way to my seat.  I could not wait to see my wife who was waiting for me at the airport.  As we taxied down the runway, the pilot came on the planes intercom and informed us that she was going to try to speed up our flight time a bit.  Speed up a bit?  I guess.  Our scheduled flight was to take 45 minutes to travel from Chicago O’Hare to Bloomington Regional Airport.  Our captain did it in 25 minutes flat.  Woo hoo.  I am going to American Airlines to request that she trains the entire fleet.  Just before landing, as if I could have scripted it, our plane flew over my hometown of Pontiac, Illinois.  It was then at that moment, that I knew I was home.  I could not wait to see my wife.  The plane landed and we rolled to the gate.  I don’t think it was 3 minutes and we were all off of the plane.  I hurried out the door, ran through the terminal, and there she was.  My wife was smiling and more beautiful than ever before.  I had missed her and my girls so much.

I will miss my new brothers and sisters of our scientific team and ship’s crew.  My students, family and friends are going to be amazed by all of the stories, pictures and videos. I am excited that all of them and others are going to be able to participate in reading the data from the real research we did on board.  I could not be more thankful to NOAA for my opportunity to live my childhood dream.  As I write these last sentences of my blog I am welling up with tears.  For sixteen days, in July of 2013, I aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces got to be a Marine Biologist, and ocean explorer.  I will never forget it.

Paul Ritter in front of the ‘Pisces’ sign

Did You Know?  

I took a lot of pictures on my trip and these are what I consider my top 20 photos.

Paul Ritter in a “gumby” suit
Playing Bean Bags on the Pisces
xbt launch
Warren Mitchell and Paul Ritter lock and load the XBT
Me…. and my Moray
Sea turtle off the port bow
Paul Ritter and Shark Sucker in the wet lab of the Pisces
Paul Ritter and a 24 lb. Red Snapper in the wet lab of the Pisces
Paul Ritter setting Traps on the Pisces
Paul Ritter getting to know a Blue Crab
Paul Ritter driving the Pisces
Sunset on the Pisces
Catch of the day.
Paul Ritter and Ryan Harris catching Bonito.
Paul Ritter with a Palm Warbler
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins
Nurse Shark caught on our Go Pro camera
Paul Ritter – Safety drill aboard the Pisces
Paul Ritter and some of the many Sea Stars.
Common Octopus
Paul Ritter catching a Barracuda aboard the Pisces.

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