NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
April 29 – May 13
Mission: Southeast Alaska Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska
Date: May 9, 2018
Weather from the Bridge
Latitude: 57° 43.2 N
Sea Wave Height: 0
Wind Speed: 3 knots
Wind Direction: Variable
Visibility:10 Nautical miles
Air Temperature: 15° C
Sky: 90% cloud cover
Science and Technology Log
When I reflect on the personalities of the people living and working on NOAA Ship Fairweather, two words come to mind: challenge and adventure. They are also people that are self-confident, friendly, they see great purpose, and take great pride in their work. Life is not always easy on board a ship. People are often very far from family and away from many of the comforts of home. But for this group, it seems that they are willing to give up those hardships for being at sea. Below are some interviews I did with personnel on the ship.
Terry – Deck Crew
Terry is part of what is called the deck crew. He reported to me that his duties include standing bridge watch, which means looking out from the bridge to warn the bridge crew of any obstacles or dangers ahead of them. On this trip those hazards have been fishing vessels, and gear, and whales. He also will be at the helm, which means steering the ship as directed by a bridge officer. Other bridge duties include monitoring the radio and radar when the ship is anchored. He said that like everyone on the bridge, he needs to be aware of where the ship is at all times. He is part of the Deck Department so he does maintenance such as keeping things greased, painted and clean. The deck department also keeps the ships interior clean, except for the galley and the mess
What got you interested in the sea?
When I was eight, I moved from Michigan to Florida and I fell in love with the sea. I used to run up and down the beach.
I liked Jimmy Buffett, “A Pirate Turns Forty,” and I liked reading adventure books by Jack London. When I was 13, I also read Moby Dick and The Odyssey. I read The Odyssey every year, I love that book. I really like the lore of the sea and the freedom of being at sea. I like the idea of going to exotic places.
When were you first in a boat in the ocean?
When I was 10 years old I went on a day cruise from Tampa, Florida. It was a dive boat that was used to take tourists out. I loved it, if I could get on a boat, I would go. I tried to build a skiff, but it took on water.
When did you first work on the ocean?
I went to sea when I was 24 years old. In my first job I worked bringing supplies to oil rigs. I found an ad for the job and they said no experience was needed. I wanted to be a captain, I wanted to travel and see the world. I watched a lot of Indiana Jones. I wanted to be an adventurer. When oil prices went down I was out of a job, but in 2000 I worked for another oil company.
What other jobs have you had?
After 9/11, I joined the Military Sealift Command, which is a civilian part of the Navy. They bring food, fuel, and supplies to Navy ships [he was in the Mediterranean Sea.] Military ships do not fuel in ports where they could get attacked.
In 2013 I had a wife and two kids and so I did different jobs, not at sea.
When did you first start to work for NOAA?
In 2016 I was hired by NOAA on NOAA Ship Fairweather. This boat and NOAA Ship Rainier are where people start. I started as an Ordinary Seaman. Now I am Able Seaman. To move up I needed to take a course in survival training and fire training. I did this in Louisiana at a community college, it took two weeks. I also needed six months of experience on a NOAA vessel.
What is your favorite part of the job?
I like being at the helm and steering the ship. I like going to different places and seeing different things. I like that the ship has extra functions to keep up moral up. I even did a comedy show twice. It is like your own community. It is great being part of a team and accomplishing a goal.
What is the hardest part of the job?
The hardest thing is being away from home. For every 9 months away, I am home for a few months, that is spread out over a year. The season is 7-8 months.
What do you think it takes to be on a ship away from your family?
Everyone has to be a team player. You need to really get along with others. People need to be confident and you need to show respect to each other. You live in very tight quarters. Nobody has a job that is small, everybody’s job needs to be done.
Jeff – NOAA Corps Junior Officer
I grew up in Juno, Alaska and went to college there. I got a Bachelor’s degree in math, I never thought I would be interested in math. I started out with an art major then went to geology, then biology, then math. I liked that I learned a new set of rules during the day and then got to apply them to problems that I could solve. It took me six years to get my degree. I paid for it myself by working and I was living in a sailboat in the harbor.
What brought you to a career in NOAA?
Previously I was a Sergeant in the Army for five years. I was searching for tide information for a fishing trip and was on a NOAA website, There I saw a recruiting video and decided to do that. It took a couple years to get into the NOAA Corps. I was first hired on a NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson as a General Vessel Assistant in the deck department. Then I found out I was accepted into the NOAA Corps. After my Officer Training in New London, Connecticut I was assigned to NOAA Ship Fairweather.
What is your role on the ship?
I am a Junior Officer. I am here to learn how to drive ships and learn the science of hydrography. I am learning how to become a professional mariner.
What are the best parts of your job?
Ever since the Army I enjoyed being part of a team. On the ship there is a lot of social interaction. It is a tight community of people that live and work together. We have all types of personalities.
I really like going out on a launch (the small boats used for surveying) and collecting data. We are in beautiful places and we get to eat our picnic lunches and listen to music and work together to figure out how to drive our lines and to collect the data we need.
I also like processing and organizing the data we get. Our project areas are divided up into acquisition areas and I work as a Sheet Manager for an area. So, I am responsible for taking the data that is cleaned up from the night processors (who clean up the data when it first comes in) and getting a map ready for the launches with areas that need more data collection and safety hazards marked. I keep track of what needs to be done and report those needs to my superiors.
What do you like to do on the ship when you aren’t working?
I like the VersaClimber. (This is in the gym. There is a ship contest going on to see who can climb highest!) I used to do some fishing. I also spend time communicating with my family.
What do you miss when you are at sea?
Mostly I miss my family. I also miss doing things like going for a walk to get coffee. Since the field season is all summer, I really miss going camping with my family.
What will you be doing for your next assignment with NOAA?
Assignments are two years on a ship and three years on land. Next, NOAA is sending me to graduate school for three years. So I will be working on a Master’s Degree in Ocean Engineering with an emphasis in Ocean Mapping.
Niko – Chief Engineer
I had a conversation with Niko one day because I was really interested in how the water on the ship was acquired and disposed of. I learned that and a little more!
I asked Niko what got him interested in being at sea. He told me that this family had a cabin on an island in the state of Washington. He loved driving the families small boat whenever he could. He would take it out for 8 hours a day. In Middle School and High School he did small engine repair. He took a lot of shop classes and was in a program called “First Robotics.” He thought he wanted to be a welder. His mom worked for the BP oil company and through that he learned about maritime school. He went to school at Cal Maritime, (The California State University Maritime Academy.) There he studied Marine Engineering Technology. He said it was hard. Of the 75 students that started in his class, only 14 graduated on time.
He told me that NOAA Ship Fairweather has engines from 1968, and they are due for a rebuild, They have 20,000 hours since the last rebuild in 2004, that is like running them 3 straight years..
Niko is the Chief Engineer. He has a department of nine engineers.
I asked him about the freshwater on the ship. He said the ship uses 600 gallons a day without the laundry and 2000 gallons a day if the laundry is in use. It takes 17,000 gallons of water to go for 10 days. The ship has freshwater tanks that are filled when they are in port, but the ship can produce freshwater from salt water. To do this the ship must be moving. It uses a method which evaporates the salt water so the freshwater is left behind. This costs one gallon of diesel to produce 9.7 gallons of freshwater. This costs is $0.30 a gallon for water. The sinks, showers, dishwasher and laundry all use freshwater. The toilets use saltwater.
I have learned an amazing amount about ocean mapping from my time on NOAA Ship Fairweather. I have also learned a lot about different NOAA careers and life on a ship. But like any good experience, it is always the people that make things great!
I have really enjoyed getting to meet all of the people of the ship. They have been so kind to take me in and show me their jobs and let me try out new things, like driving a ship and a launch!
We have also had fun kayaking, watching wildlife, and taking a walk on shore.