Laura Guertin: Life on the Thomas Jefferson, September 11, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Laura Guertin
Onboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
September 2 – September 19, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic Ocean
Date: September 11, 2014
Location of ship: 41o 20.698′ N, 72o 05.432′ W (docked at US Coast Guard Station at Fort Trumbull State Park, CT)

During the first week of classes, one of my students said, “I’d like to learn about life on a ship.” Now that I have been on the ship for 11 days, let’s see if I can attempt to capture “life on a ship” in this post.

Science and Technology Log

First Aid on the Thomas Jefferson
The bag on the door of the First Aid station has handy items, such as meclizine (motion sickness medication!)

I don’t know if there is a “science” to living and working on a ship. During this leg of the cruise, we have 35 people on board – a captive (or captured?) audience that has to function professionally and socially. You learned in my second post that the NOAA ships have NOAA Corps Officers and wage mariners on board, supplemented with occasional scientists and guests such as myself. Everyone on board the Thomas Jefferson falls in to one of the following categories: wardroom (NOAA Corps Officers), engineering officers, engineering and deck crew, steward department, electronic technician, survey technician, and scientists/guests. Several people are also trained as medical technicians, and everyone is certified in First Aid and CPR. The shifts that people work vary, from 4 hours on to 8 hours off for watch, to working all day or spending all evening processing hydrographic data collected earlier that day. When we are “at sea,” we are working every day of the week – no weekends off. Needless to say, there is always work to be done on the ship!

Each day, we follow a Plan of the Day (POD) that is distributed the prior afternoon. Below is the POD from Sunday, September 7.

0000 Ship anchored at Gardiners Bay
0600 Start M/E
0700 Haul anchor
0730 Safety briefing HSL 3101
0800 Deploy HSL 3101
~0900 Docking stations
~0915 Moored in New London, CT
1230 All hands meeting – Mess Deck
~1400 Depart New London, CT
~1600 Ship anchored Gardiners Bay
1730 Recover HSL 3101
2400 Ship anchored Gardiners Bay

We never have this detailed of a schedule more than 24 hours in advance – and even during the day, the schedule may change. This is very different for me. I come from a world where in August, I have to make out a syllabus that has every lecture topic and every assignment through December. Not knowing what the ship is doing more than a day in advance is certainly a different way of keeping a schedule, but appropriate for how a ship operates.

Personal Log

Time to address the topics I know my students are most interested in – eating and sleeping!

There are three people on board dedicated to providing our meals (we don’t cook for ourselves on the ship). Breakfast is served from 0700 to 0800, lunch is from 1130 to 1230, and dinner starts at 1630 (notice all times are reported on 24 hour clock, otherwise referred to as military time). If you cannot get to a meal because you are on watch or will be sleeping, you can request that a plate be put together and stored in the refrigerator for you to grab and heat up later. Those going out on the launch for the day can also get a lunch packed to bring out with them during their surveying. Breakfast always includes eggs any way you want them, pancakes, sausage/bacon, cereal, fresh fruit, and the occasional special foods like biscuits and gravy. Lunch ranges from grilled cheese and tomato to corn dogs (burger and taco days seem to be a group favorite), with soup and a salad bar every day. Dinner has had a wide range of options, from roasted duck to lamb chops, to roast beef to curry chicken. There are always vegetarian options, such as eggplant parmesan and vegetable lo mein. Desserts are provided every day, as well as snacks ranging from the healthy to the unhealthy. And did I mention the never-ending supply of ice cream bars and half-gallons available 24/7? There’s even a vending machine on board for soda and snack foods.

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For sleeping arrangements, most people on board share a stateroom. Think of a stateroom as a dorm room – it has bunk beds, a closet and dresser for each person. The room also has a sink, a small refrigerator for food, and a TV connected to DirecTV. Each room shares a bathroom with the room next to it, which has only a toilet and shower. Fortunately, with everyone working at different times, showering has not been a problem (except for standing up in it when the ship is moving!). For privacy while you are sleeping, there is a thick curtain that you can pull across your bed. The curtain does an excellent job keeping the light out of your sleeping area, but if you are one that likes to read in bed at night, each bunk also has a reading light and outlet. Besides sleeping and going in to grab warmer clothing when the wind kicks up and/or the temperature drops when we are on the water, I have spent very little time in my room. I’m sharing the stateroom with ENS Diane Perry, who has been an excellent mentor and friend during my time here.

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When crew members get some down time, there are a range of activities to do – reading, watching TV, exercise, laundry, or just going outside on deck to enjoy the view and watch the beautiful sunsets in the evenings. Time on the internet is limited, and I have not seen anyone “surf the web” or spend time on social media on the two public computers in the lounge. The internet connectivity we have is primarily used by the hydrography lab so they can access current tide tables and other data needed for data gathering and processing (which is why the postings on this blog are rather choppy – when we get close enough to land for me to use my cell phone as an internet hub, I take advantage of the connection time!).

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I admire how hard everyone on this ship works, and I also enjoy how much they laugh! The ship’s lounge has been a popular place to gather for watching movies and football games, and everyone on the ship swaps stories with one another, from the NOAA Corps officers to the deck crew to the technicians. You might think that everyone would want to “get away” from each other and have some space and time to themselves at the end of the day, but instead, I see a close group of colleagues not only working but living together as a tight-knit group. I don’t know if this crew is quite ready to match the JOIDES Resolution Exp. 351 flash mob, but I bet they would be tough competitors!

In the end, what I thought would be most informative would be to ask the crew themselves about life at sea. I asked as many crew members as I could to provide me three words to describe life at sea. Below is the collection of words I received, listed in alphabetical order. The numbers next to the words indicate how many people said that particular word.

Adventure (3), astounding, beautiful, boring, busy (2), challenging (3), close, close-knit, coffee, communal, community, computers, dedication, desolation, draining, ever-changing (2), exciting (2), exigent, exhausting, experience, family, fatigue, food, fun (2), funhouse, goals, isolated, lonely, new, non-routine, relaxing (2), rewarding, sacrifice, self-gratifying, shipmates, skill, sleeping, standing, stressful, sunsets, travel, unique, watch, unpredictable

Other multi-word phrases people volunteered worth sharing include “strange sleeping habits,” “limited privacy,” “look out the window,” and “no bill collectors.”

That's me, getting ready for us to drop anchor in Gardiners Bay at sunset
That’s me, getting ready for us to drop anchor in Gardiners Bay at sunset.  I think you can see why “sunsets” made the list of “life at sea”! (photo taken by R. Bayliss)

OK GEOSC 040 students at Penn State Brandywine, here are just TWO QUESTIONS for this post! Please answer these questions online in ANGEL in the folder “Dr. G at Sea” in the link for Post #6. Note that you will see three empty response forms in ANGEL for Post #6. You only need to respond to these two questions.

  1. “Life at sea” is not part of the Ocean Literacy Principles. Please go back and read the full Ocean Literacy document, linked in ANGEL and on our course website. This front material that I did not print out and provide on paper gives more of a background about the principles and their purpose. Your question to answer… should “life at sea” be a part of the Ocean Literacy Principles? Why/why not?
  2. Whether you think “Life at Sea” should or should not be a principle, I would like you to write Ocean Literacy Principle #8 and call it “Life at Sea.”  Define what you would put in there for your subcategories and why.

Random Ship Fact!

I know I told my students in my Introduction to Oceanography course at the beginning of this semester that there was a new vocabulary they would be learning. Little did I know that there was an entire vocabulary I would be learning on the ship! I finally had to write down the terms so I could remember them and start using them correctly. For example, it is not a floor, it is a deck. It is not a hallway, it is a passage or passageway. The dining area is the mess deck, and a stairway is a ladderwell, or stairtower. A wall is a bulkhead, and a window is a porthole. And then there are the direction/location terms for the ship – port (left) and starboard (right), and the bow (forward) and stern (rear). And don’t confuse Deck 2 with Deck 02 – those are two different decks! The “main deck” is Deck 1, and the next deck up is Deck 01, then Deck 02, and then the bridge. Going down from Deck 1 is Deck 2 (with staterooms, where I am staying), and Deck 3 with the exercise room and laundry facilities. But this is just the first number you see on the door signs! There is an entire address system for the ship. My room is 2-25-1, which means it’s located on the second deck (one deck down from Deck 1), at frame 25 of the ship, on the starboard side.  The first number is the deck, the second number indicates which frame the space is at, and the third shows which side of the ship (1 = starboard, 2 = port, 0 = midship). Everything on the ship has an address, including rooms, offices, stairtowers, fire stations, first aid kits, smoke alarms, power panels, and lights.

Someone needs to write a dictionary for life on a ship!

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