Victoria Cavanaugh: Questions & Answers with the Ship’s Crew, April 22, 2018


NOAA Teacher at Sea
Victoria Cavanaugh
Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
April 16-27, 2018

MissionSoutheast Alaska Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska

Date: April 22, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 48° 25.012′ N
Longitude: 122° 44.039′ W
Sea Wave Height: 1-3 feet
Wind Speed: 10-20 knots
Wind Direction: NE
Visibility: 14.1 km
Air Temperature: 14oC  
Sky:  Scattered Clouds

Science and Technology Log

As NOAA Ship Fairweather began its northward journey through the Inward Passage, I took advantage of a few days at sea to conduct interviews with crew from each of the various departments onboard: deck crew, engineers, officers, stewards, and survey technicians.  Through the interview process I realized just how much goes in to making Fairweather  successful.  Two themes arose again and again in conversations: First, the crew of the Fairweather loves what they do — the crew’s commitment and passion for being at sea was unanimous. . .and contagious.  Second, Fairweather is family.

Enjoy the five interviews below, the first of which is with a Edward Devotion School alum. . .


An Interview with AB Carl Coonce, Fairweather Deck Crew & Devotion School Alum (1971-1974)

AB Carl Coonce at the Helm

AB Carl Coonce at the Helm

Carl on bridge

AB Carl Coonce & Devotion School Alum on Fairweather’s Bridge

Q: What is your role aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather?

A: I’m an able-bodied seaman or AB. My permanent job is to take care of the ship. Some duties include maintaining the ship’s cleanliness, ensuring the security of the vessel, and steering the ship.

Q: Why is your work important?

A: Without AB’s, the ship can’t be driven. AB’s also maintain the security of the ship and watch out for the safety of the ship’s personnel. AB’s work on the upkeep of the ship’s inside and outside condition, checking to prevent rust and other damage. The AB’s ready the equipment for different missions and load and unload equipment, too. Finally, the AB’s help with the officers’ work, with surveying, and with engineering.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about your work?

A: I love being at sea. I love being able to see different sunrises and sunsets every day. I see things most people only see on TV or in pictures. For example, I’ve seen two rainbows cross before at sea. Sometimes rainbows are so close when you are at sea that you can almost reach out and touch them. Every day at sea is a new adventure.

Q: Where do you do most of your work?

A: I mostly work as a helmsman (driver) up on the bridge (which is like the front seat of the car/ship). A helmsman is the person who drives the ship. A helmsman keeps watch, looking for any potential dangers such as things floating in the water, other ships, and certain parts of land (such as sand bridges). Another important part of my job is to understand how to read maps and use all of the radar and other navigational equipment up on the bridge.

Q: What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?

A: Sleep!

Q: When did you know you wanted to pursue an ocean career?

A: I always wanted to come to sea because my father was a sailor. I took a different route for a long time, but about 15 years ago I started my ocean career. I guess it was in my blood. It was hard to get started because I knew nothing about ships and what was required in the beginning. I went online and researched shipping companies and sent my resume out to a few hundred companies. I received a call from NOAA and began my sea career in Woods Hole, Massachusetts on a fishing vessel, NOAA Ship Albatross. By the way, Albatross is actually where the NOAA Teachers at Sea Program started.

Q: What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?

A: I didn’t expect to be around the same people 24/7. You are always with the people with whom you work and your boss. Eventually, though, it becomes like a family.

Q: How do you help wider audiences to understand and appreciate NOAA science?

A: I would tell other people that NOAA is a wonderful job for people interested in going to sea. When you start off, you can go out to sea for a few weeks at a time. With NOAA, you have a chance to see and do things that you don’t get to do on commercial boats. You also are able to see new parts of the country. I’ve seen the east and west cost. The benefits are outstanding. Aside from traveling, I also have three months of vacation each year, something I would probably not have with a desk job, even after many years.

Q: How did you become interested in communicating about science?

A: When I was on the east coast, I was on NOAA Ship Henry Bigelow out of Newport, Rhode Island. A group of scientists came onboard, and we sailed up by Newfoundland. We sent a special net nearly three miles down into the ocean. The most memorable thing was catching a fish that was about 2.5 feet long, incredibly white, paper thin, and had bright red fins. The scientists told me that this fish only lives two miles down. Experiences like this are once in a lifetime. That was one of the most exciting and memorable trips I’ve had with NOAA.

Q: What advice would you give a young person exploring ocean or science career options?

A: Don’t take the sea for granted. There is a mystery for the sea. We know more about the moon than we do about the oceans. There is so much to learn at sea. Even after fifteen years at sea, there is so much more to learn about the ocean. It is never the same. There is always something new to see. I’m still amazed by some of the things I’ve seen at sea, even if I’ve seen them over and over again. For example, hearing the sound of the glaciers hitting the water is unforgettable. Seeing the different colors of the ocean, you realize there is so much more than green and blue. Once you think you’ve learned it all, the ocean changes again on you.

Q: What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?

A: I’d probably be back in Boston working as a chef. I went to school for culinary arts, but I think I’d be miserable if I wasn’t at sea.

Q: Do you have an outside hobby?

A: When I’m home, I like to work in my backyard. I like to work on my garden. I also like to work out.

Q: What is your favorite memory as a student at the Edward Devotion School?

A: I loved growing up in Brookline. It was a wonderful town to grow up in. I really feel now that being a kid at Devotion School was one of the happiest parts of my life. There is so much history at the Devotion School. Even after having traveled all around the country with NOAA, I love going back home to Boston and Brookline. Boston and Brookline are my favorite places. I still keep in touch with five of my friends from school in Brookline. We’ve been hanging out together for over thirty years. My friendships from grade school and later at Brookline High are still tremendously important to me today.


An Interview with HST Bekah Gossett, Fairweather Hydrographic Survey Technician

HST Bekah Gossett

HST Bekah Gossett

IMG_20180422_134940

The View from the Plot Room

Bekah's sheet on Yakutat Bay project

One of HST Gosset’s Projects from Last Season: Notice the Green Plot Lines and Surrounding Glaciers

A Finished Sheet from Last Season

A Finished Sheet from Last Season: Notice the Contrasting Depths (69 fathoms on a Previous Chart v. 94 fathoms Based on Sonar Data)

Comparing Updated Charts with a Historic One

Comparing Updated Charts with an Outdated One (Green Represents Data Matched, Blue/Red Show One Data Set is Deeper/Shallower than the Other)

Q: What is your role aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather?

A: My role on the ship is to acquire and process data that gives us information about the depth of the seafloor.

Q: Why is your work (or research) important?

A: This work is important because it contributes to updating and creating charts (maps) that are navigationally significant for US mariners to keep them safe and to support them economically. And, it’s cool!

Q: What do you enjoy the most about your work?

A: I really like working on the small boats (the launches) and working in Alaskan waters is great. It is a really open and good learning environment for this field of work. I have learned a whole lot in just a year and a half. This goes beyond hydrography. I’ve learned a lot about others and myself and about working with people.

Q: Where do you do most of your work?

A: I do most of my work in the plot room and on the launches. During the field season, we’re on the launches almost every day. The plot room is the data processing room where there are lots of computers. It is adjacent to the bridge, the central and most important location on the ship.

Q: What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?

A: A computer!

Q: If you could invent any tool to make your work more efficient and cost were no object, what would it be and why?

A: I would create something with lidar (lasers) or a super sonar. Lidar is used on planes or drones to scan and provide data back. Lidar on launches would help us get data quicker.

Q: When did you know you wanted to pursue an ocean career?

A: I studied art in school, but then I switched to science. I’ve always liked ocean sciences. I decided to pursue an ocean career when I was 19.

Q: What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?

A: I run the ship store, which is never something I expected to be doing. The ship stores sells snacks, candy, soda, and ship swag for the crew to keep morale high.

Q: How do you help wider audiences to understand and appreciate NOAA science?

A: I usually explain the ship’s mission as updating and correcting nautical charts. Sometimes we have different projects. Last year, for example, we were searching for a ship that sunk in Alaska in February 2017. We found it!

Q: How did you become interested in communicating about science?

A: When I was in college studying geology, I realized exactly how important it is to communicate science, because there is a lot of knowledge there that we can all learn from and use.

Q: What advice would you give a young person exploring ocean or science career options?

A: There are a lot of different things one can do. There are many different degrees from engineering, to environmental science, to biology. You can study ocean science, but you don’t have to. Any science can be applied in the ocean. It is not just science. You can learn about many different careers in oceans. Engineers and deck crew are great fields to pursue. You could also be a steward and travel a lot.

Q: What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?

A: I would probably be working for an environmental agency, but I would probably not be very happy. I might be at home with my dog.

Q: Do you have an outside hobby?

A: I like to paint. I also have a ukulele. I also love to read.


An Interview with EU Tommy Meissner, Fairweather Engineer

EU Tommy Meissner

EU Tommy Meissner Hard at Work in Fairweather’s Boat Shop

EU Tommy Meissner in Navy

First Assignment: In the Navy, Onboard the USS Forrestal, The World’s First Supercarrier at 1,060 Feet Long in 1990

 

IMG_20180422_195404

EU Tommy Meissner: An Engineer & His Electric Guitar

Q: What is your role aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather?

A: I’m a utility engineer. I stand watch on the main engines and  check all of the propulsion equipment. I do maintenance on the small boats. I work on air conditioning, refrigeration, heating, etc. I am jack-of-all-trades.

Q: Why is your work (or research) important?

A: There is always something too hot or too cold, something leaking or blocked. There is always too much of something or not enough of something else. That is really the challenge of the job.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about your work?

A: The travel aspect is the best thing about my job. I can go anywhere in the world I want to go, whenever I want to go. The oil field in Mexico is opening back up, and so now there is lots of work available.

From a work aspect, it is challenging to understand why a piece of equipment isn’t working. Fixing the engines. . .or anything really. . . is all about following a process, working methodically. It feels good to be able to fix the boat and keep it in the water.

Q: Where do you do most of your work?

A: I do most of my work in the boat shop on the small boats on E-Deck. That’s where all the maintenance is performed while the launches are in the davits (the machines that put the boats in the water). When underway, I spend eight hours a day in the machine room, but when in port I work mostly in the boat shop. Eight hours a day, four hours a watch. In addition to the two watches, I usually do at least two hours of overtime a day. During a watch, I walk around, checking all the machines, pumps, generators, boilers, air conditioners, fridge, freezer, etc.

Q:  What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?

A: The first thing I always grab is a pipe wrench. It is always good to have one nearby. A pipe wrench is a tool that we use to take apart plumbing and to loosen and tighten any connections. I am pretty well known on this boat for unclogging restrooms and showers.

Q:  If you could invent any tool to make your work more efficient and cost were no object, what would it be and why?

A: I would want a third hand! There is always a time when you need another person. It would be helpful to have one more hand to do work more efficiently. There are lots of times when I can’t reach or need that extra hand.

Q: When did you know you wanted to pursue an ocean career?

A: I’ve been sailing since 1990. I joined the Navy in 1989. All my life I’ve liked being around boats and on the water. Even though I lived around the water when I was little, I never had the opportunity to go to sea, so it was something I dreamed about for when I was older. Living in Fort Lauderdale, I saw the Navy come through and watched all the ships. I thought it would be cool.

Q: What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?

A: I had no idea where I would be going when I joined NOAA. Before I said yes to the job, they gave me the choice to go on the Fairweather or the Rainier. Initially, I wondered about Alaska. Nome, Alaska is as far away from home for me as Dubai. I had never been so far west.  Alaska has been great, though.

Q: How do you help wider audiences to understand and appreciate NOAA science?

A: Everyone I talk to doesn’t seem to know what NOAA is. NOAA has various missions, mapping the bottom of the ocean, studying coral reefs, fish ecology (understanding how many tuna are in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico and what species of fish are on the reef off  North Carolina). I don’t think people know enough about NOAA.

Q: What recommendations do you have for a young person interested in pursuing an ocean career?

A: I would study oceanography and math and science if you want to go to sea.  Decide what type of career you would like; there are so many options at sea.

Q: What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?

A: If I wasn’t working for NOAA, I would go back to South Carolina and work in building or construction. I prefer NOAA!

Q: Do you have an outside hobby?

I play guitar and teach guitar. I was always a metal head.


An Interview with 2C Carrie Mortell, Fairweather Steward

2C Carrie Mortell

2C Carrie Mortell Serving a Delicious Meal in Fairweather’s Galley

Q: What is your role aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather?

A: I work in the galley (kitchen), which is very, very busy. It is kind of like the heart of the ship.   We work to feed everyone, make sure everything is kept clean, etc. There is a lot to do! We work twelve hours everyday. Many people think the galley is just cooking, but there is a lot more to the galley such as keeping track of massive amounts of stores (supplies), keeping everything fresh, and more.

Q: Why is your work (or research) important?

A: Keeping the mess deck (dining area) clean and keeping people happy and healthy with good meals is key. We boost morale. People look forward to sitting down and having a good meal at sea. We try to take peoples’ requests and keep the crew satisfied.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about your work?

A: I love being at sea. I love to cook. I like to see people happy and satisfied. I always try to keep upbeat. We all have to live together, so it is important to keep morale up. We’re like a big family at sea.

Q: Where do you do most of your work?

A: I spend most of my day in the galley.   All of the stewards cook. We rotate every week. One week, one cook is in the galley, and then we switch into the scullery (where dishes are cleaned).

Q: What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?

A: My hands!

Q: If you could invent any tool to make your work more efficient and cost were no object, what would it be and why?

A: Another pair of arms to help cook. It is really, really busy in the galley!

Q: When did you know you wanted to pursue an ocean career?

A: Well, I used to commercial fish. I have always loved being on the ocean. I grew up around fishing people. When I was little, I always wanted to live in a lighthouse. I also like being able to go to different places. It is exciting to always get to travel when at sea. I loved the French Polynesian Islands, where I traveled with NOAA. I worked out of Hawaii for about eight years, so I spent a lot of time sailing around the Pacific, visiting Guam, Sonoma, the Marshall Islands, and crossing the equator several times.   On the East Coast, I enjoyed sailing Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. I also love Alaska, so sailing on Fairweather is great! Eventually, I want to move back to Alaska.

Q: What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?

A: I really love cooking, which is what I get to do everyday. I feel really passionate about my job. There isn’t anything I didn’t expect. You do have to really like what you do, though, at sea.

Q: How do you help wider audiences to understand and appreciate NOAA science?

A: All the ships do different missions. NOAA Ship Fairweather, for instance does mapping. Another NOAA ship I worked on put out buoys for tsunamis. NOAA helps keep oceans clean. NOAA also works with fisheries and brings many scientists out to sea to study the population of our oceans. NOAA even has gone on rescue missions for aircraft and other ships in distress.

Q: What advice would you give a young person exploring ocean or science career options?

A: First, you should love the sea. It is hard sometimes if you have a family. Sometimes you miss out on important events, but if you pick a ship in the right area, you can see your family more often. Sometimes, NOAA isn’t what people expect. It is really hard work, but I love it. There are lots of different departments and jobs on the ship though, so it is possible to find something you love.

Q: What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?

A: I definitely would be working in culinary arts somewhere.

Q: Do you have an outside hobby?

A: I love to write, paint, draw, crochet, and read. I’ve always dreamed of writing children’s books. I used to tell my children stories, especially scary ones which they loved.


An Interview with ENS Linda Junge, Fairweather Junior Officer

ENS Linda Junge on the Bridge

ENS Linda Junge on the Bridge

ENS Linda Junge

ENS Linda Junge Leading a Navigation Briefing, Explaining Fairweather’s Course for the Inside Passage

Q: What is your role aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather?

A: I’m a junior officer (JO).

Q: What’s the process for becoming a JO?

A: The process to apply to become a JO is much like applying to graduate school. You write essays, get three to five letters of recommendation, fill out the application, and have an interview. You need a BS in a field relating to NOAA’s mission, which can be pretty much any math or science field (geology, physics, calculus, engineering, biology, environmental sciences, etc.). Then you attend BOTC (Basic Officer Training Class), which is held at the Coast Guard Academy along with their officer candidate school. Another way to become a JO is to transfer in if you were formerly enlisted. BOTC for JO’s lasts five months, and we have lots of navigation classes.

Q: Why is your work (or research) important?

A: NOAA Ships have three main categories: oceanography, hydrography, and fisheries. The major job of JO’s on ships is driving, we’re like bus drivers for science. When we are underway, 50% of my work is navigation, driving the ship, and deck stuff. 30% is collateral duties, extra administrative things to make the ship run such as thinking about environmental compliance and working as a medical officer. 20% (which can fluctuate) is focused on hydrographic survey, driving small boats or helping with survey sheets, managing an area, collecting data, and being sure data is processed on time.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about your work?

A: I really enjoy knowing that I’m keeping people safe while they are sleeping. I really enjoy traveling. I really enjoy the sense of family that comes from living on a ship.

Q: Where do you do most of your work?

A: All of the navigation is done from the bridge. The rest of the work is desk work. Any ship needs lots of administrative work to make it run. It’s like a space ship, a hotel, a restaurant, a family. To make all of those things run you need cooks, plumbers, etc., you need a lots of admin. It is like a government-run hotel. There is lots of compliance to think about. It’s a JO’s job to make sure everything is done correctly and all is well taken care of because it is paid for and continues to be paid for by tax payers. Everyone who serves aboard a ship has documented time of when you have been on the ship, sea-service letters. A commercial ship may have human resources (HR), and yeomen (arranges paperwork for travel, keep everything supplied and running, stocked, etc.), pursers (who manage money and billable hours), but all of these tasks are done by JO’s on Fairweather.

Q: What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?

A: Red lights. At night, it is dark on the bridge. We can’t destroy our night-vision, so we use red lights, which are gentle on the eyes and don’t affect one’s night vision. It’s important to be able to see the charts as well as to maintain night vision while keeping watch.

Q: If you could invent any tool to make your work more efficient and cost were no object, what would it be and why?

A: I would hire someone to be the yeomen to make sure we never ran out of pens, always had travel vouchers, made sure copiers ran, and helped with all the other random jobs.

Q: When did you know you wanted to pursue an ocean career?

A: Before I did this, I was a fisheries observer. I was a biologist who went out to sea. I always loved standing on the bridge and hearing the stories. I loved not commuting, not having to go to the office. I loved casting out to sea, working hard, and then, pulling in, tying up, and feeling a huge sigh of relief that the crew worked hard and arrived safely back in port. It stuck with me, I enjoyed that, and I decided to pursue a career with NOAA.

Q: What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?

A: All the administrative stuff!

Q: How do you help wider audiences to understand and appreciate NOAA science?

A: NOAA is everywhere, and sometimes people don’t appreciate that. NOAA produces weather reports and regulates fisheries in Alaska, where I’m from. NOAA could do a better job of advertising to the public its many pursuits.

Q: What advice would you give a young person exploring ocean or science career options?

A: There are many cool internships on research vessels. The commercial sector will always take people looking for adventure. If you don’t make a career of it, that’s fine. At the worst, you learn something new about yourself while having a really cool experience. That is not such a bad thing.  I highly recommend giving an ocean job a try.

Q: What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?

A: I would probably be in grad school. I would study city planning.

Q: Do you have an outside hobby?

A: I like walking. I like being in the woods.


Personal Log

While most of the crew spends days working on the bridge (navigation), the plot room (data analysis), in the galley (preparing meals), or in the engine room/boat shop (keeping everything running smoothly), there are a lot of other areas on the ship that help make Fairweather feel more like home.  Below are some pictures of such key places:

The Ship's Gym

The Ship’s Gym Next to the Engine Room

Ship's Movie Theater

The Ship’s Movie Theater. Some Nights the Crew Gathers to Watch Films Together or Play Games.

Ship's library

The Ship’s Library – Lots of Science Fiction and Suspense!

Ship's Mailroom

The Ship’s Mailroom – Mail is Sent to Each Port; One of the Many Things to Look Forward to in a New Destination.

Conference room

The Ship’s Conference Room Where Navigation Briefings and Safety Meetings Are Held

The Ship's Laundry Room

The Ship’s Laundry Room

Ship's store

The Ship’s Store – Candy & Snacks – Treasures at Sea

The Ship's Store - Swag!

The Ship’s Store – Swag

Berth

A Berth (or Living Space) on the Ship Shared by Two Members of the Crew. Note the Bunk Beds & Curtains. The Crew Works Various Shifts 24/7.


Did You Know?

There is a lot of lingo aboard!  Here are some terms helpful to know for navigating a ship:

Aft: towards the back of the ship

Bow: the front of the ship

Bridge: the navigation or control room at the front/top part of the ship

Decka floor/level on a ship

Flying Bridge: the top-most deck of the ship that provides unobstructed views

Fantail: area towards the back of the ship

Galley: the ship’s kitchen

Hands: a popular way to refer to the crew or people working aboard the ship

Head: the bathroom on a ship

Helm: the “steering wheel” of the ship

Hull: the outside sides/bottom of the vessels

Mess: dining area on the ship

Scullery: where dishes are washed

Starboard: to the right of the ship

Stores:  the supplies kept in the hull that the crew will need while away at sea for a long time

Stern: the back of the boat

Port: to the left of the ship

Challenge Question #3: Devotion 7th Graders – Create a scale drawing of your ideal research or fishing vessel!  Be sure to include key areas, such as those shown above.  Remember that your crew will need space to eat, sleep, navigate, research, work, and relax. At a minimum, include the plan for at least one deck (or floor).  Include your scale factor, show conversions and calculations, and label each area using some of the vocabulary included above.  Needs some ideas?  Check out this link to NOAA’s Marine Vessels for some inspiration.

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