John Clark,Headed Home Early, October 1, 2014


NOAA Teacher at Sea
John Clark
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 23 – October 4, 2013

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic
Date: October 1, 2013

Science and Technology  Log 

A few hours into our shift midnight we get the word we have been expecting for several days – government shutdown. Our mission will be cut a few days short. That reality means the Bigelow has 24 hours to return to its homeport of Newport,  R.I.  It takes us 10 hours and we dock around 1 in the afternoon. With our fisheries operations suddenly declared over comes clean-up time, and we spend the next 6 hours of our shift cleaning up the on‐board fish lab. It is a time consuming but important process. The lab needs to be spotless and “fish scent” free before we can call our work finished on this cruise.  The lab is literally solid stainless steel and every surface gets washed and suds downed so there is no residue remaining.

Eau de fishes
Fish scales hiding under a flap!

Our work is inspected by a member of the crew. If it were the military, the officer would have had white gloves on I believe, just like in the old movies, rolling his finger over a remote spot looking for the dust we missed. But this is a shining stainless steel fish lab so there are two simultaneous inspections going on at once – the one with the eyes and the one with the nose.  It takes us twice to pass the visual inspection as small collections of fish scales are spotted in a few out-of‐the way areas. It takes us one more pass to clear the smell inspection. Up and down the line we walk, we can all smell the faint lingering perfume of “eau de fishes,” but we are having trouble finding it. We keep following our noses and there it is. Hiding under a black rubber flap at the end of the fish sorting line we find a small collection of fish scales revealed  when the flap is removed for inspection.  With that little section cleaned up and sprayed down the lab is declared done! There is a smile of satisfaction from the team. It is that attention to detail that explains why the lab never smelled of fish when I first boarded the ship 10 days ago nor has it smelled of fish at any time during our voyage. There is a personal pride in leaving the lab in the same shape we found  it. Super clean, all gear and samples stowed, and ready for the next crew to come on board – whenever that turns out to be.

The abrupt and unexpected end to the cruise leaves me scrambling to change my travel plans. Like the ship, I have a limited amount of time to make it home on my government travel orders. The NOAA Teacher at Sea team goes above and beyond to rebook my flights and find me a room for the night.

Personal Log 

On the serendipitous side, the change in plans gives me a little time to see Newport, a town famous for its mansions and the Tennis Hall of Fame.  My first  stop is  the Tennis  Hall  of  Fame.  My father was a first class  tennis  player who invested many  hours  attempting to

teach his  son the game. Despite the passion in  our  home  for  the  great  sport  we  never  made it  to  the  Tennis  Hall  of  Fame in  Newport.  Today I get the  chance to fulfill that  bucket  list  goal. I still remember being court side as a young boy at The  Philadelphia Indoor Championships watching the likes of Charlie Pasarell, Arthur Ashe, and Pancho Gonzales playing on the canvas tennis court that was stretched out over the basketball arena. There was even a picture of the grass court lawn of the Germantown Cricket Club from its days a USTA championship venue before the move to Forest Hill, NY. I grew up playing on those tennis courts as my father belonged to that  club. Good memories.

Clark Log 4b

There was also a  “court tennis” court, the game believed to be the precursor  to outdoor  tennis. Court  tennis derived from playing a  tennis  type  game  inside a walled‐in  court yard.  Using  the  roof and  the  wall and the open side windows to beat your opponent is all part of the game. I played court tennis as a  young teen. It’s a very unique game that is only played in a few spots now. There are only 38 court tennis courts in the world and Newport has two of them. If you like tennis, give court tennis a go if  you ever get the  chance.

The tennis court

Thoughts of a leisurely stroll evolve into a brisk walk as I head toward the ultimate and most famous Newport mansion: The Breakers, the 100,000 plus square foot summer home of the Vanderbilt family. This house has to be toured to understand the conspicuous consumption as a  pastime of the then super rich. My 2000 square foot  home would fit entirely inside  the  grand  hall  of  the  Breakers.  In  fact you could stack my home three high and they would still be below the Breaker’s ceiling. A ceiling inspired by Paris, a billiard room with walls of solid marble overlooking the ocean, a floor of thousands of mosaic floor tiles all put  down by hand one by one, a stair case from Gone With the Wind, and 20 bathrooms to choose from all speak  to the wealth and pursuit of elegance enjoyed by  the Vanderbilt clan. It is a lifestyle of a bye–gone era often referred to as the “Gilded Age.” It is  an apt description.

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Clark Log 4g

After sightseeing, it’s off to the bus stop for my shuttle to the Newport Airport where I take off at dawn the next morning to head for  home. I’m  leaving  so  early that the complementary coffee isn’t out yet! After an uneventful flight comes the end to an amazing adventure. Nothing left now except laundry and memories. And lots of great ideas for lesson plans to work into my classes. Thank you NOAA Teacher at Sea Program for offering me the learning experience of a lifetime. I cannot wait to get back and share the experiences with my students.

Clark Log 4h