Shelley Gordon: Life on Board R/V Fulmar, July 23, 2019


NOAA Teacher at Sea

Shelley Gordon

Aboard R/V Fulmar

July 19-27, 2019


Mission:  Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies Survey (ACCESS)

Geographic Area of Cruise:  Pacific Ocean, Northern and Central California Coast

Date:  July 23, 2019

Weather Data: Wind – NW 19-23 knots, gust ~30 knots, wind wave ~7′, swell SSW 1′ at 16 seconds; Partly sunny, with patchy fog early

R/V Fulmar
R/V Fulmar refueling at Spud Point marina in Bodega Bay.

During this week, I am living aboard R/V Fulmar.  The “research vessel” is a 67-foot catamaran (meaning it has two parallel hulls) with an aluminum hull.  This boat was specifically designed to support research projects in the three National Marine Sanctuaries along the central and northern California coast, and was first put in the water in 2007.  Normally, the Fulmar is based out of Monterey Bay harbor in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.  However, this week she is being put to work on an ACCESS cruise in the two sanctuaries a little farther to the north, Cordell Bank and Greater Farallones.  

Fishing trawlers at Spud Point marina
Fishing trawlers at Spud Point marina.

Each evening, after a full day of collecting samples, the Fulmar motors back into the harbor for the night.  We are working out of two harbors on this cruise, Sausalito and Bodega Bay.  The vibe in each harbor is quite different.  Sausalito is full of private pleasure yachts, small sailboats, and live aboard boats/houseboats.  Spud Point marina in Bodega Bay is much more of a working marina.  The majority of the boats are large fishing trawlers.  It is currently salmon fishing season, and the boats that are working bring back their daily catch to the marina so that it can be transported to market.

The Fulmar is operated by two crew members on this cruise.  Clyde Terrell is the captain and Rayon Carruthers is the first mate.  In addition to the crew there have been 6-7 scientists on board, and myself.  Jan Roletto is a scientist from Greater Farallones, Kirsten Lindquist and Dru Devlin work at the Greater Farallones Association, and from Cordell Bank we have Dani Lipski and Rachel Pound.  Jaime Jahncke is lead Principal Investigator on ACCESS and works at Point Blue Conservation Scientist.  Kate Davis, currently a post-doc at the University of South Carolina, also joined the first half of the trip.

The boat has 5 main areas.  The “bridge” contains the digital and physical equipment that the crew uses to steer the ship.  There are several computers that display radar signals and a GPS map.  In the main cabin there are bunks for sleeping, a marine head (bathroom) with a toilet, sink, and shower, a fully-equipped kitchen, and a lab/work area.  The back deck is where most of the equipment for sample collecting is stored and put to use when samples are being collected.  On the top deck there are life rafts and safety equipment, as well as an additional steering wheel.  This is also where the team sits to make observations as we move along the transects.  Finally, there are two engine rooms underneath the main cabin.

Shelley in immersion suit
Me, putting on the immersion suit. Photo: Jan Roletto

Safety on the boat is obviously very important.  Before we went the first day, I received a full safety briefing and I got to practice donning an immersion suit, which we would need to wear in the case of an emergency where we might need to evacuate the ship and be exposed to cold water for a prolonged period of time.  The immersion suit is like a full-footed, full-fingered, and hooded wetsuit.  The goal is to be able to get into the immersion suit in less than two minutes, which was actually a little more difficult than I expected given that once you have the full-fingered gloves on it is difficult to effectively use your hands to finish zipping up the suit.  Anyone working on the back deck collecting samples is required to wear a life jacket or float coat and a hard hat. 

The daily activities on the boat vary depending on your role.  In general, we have been leaving the marina between 6:30-7:00am and there has typically been a 1-2 hour transit to the first data collection station.  During that time the team is generally relaxing, preparing for the day, or employing their personal strategy to combat seasickness (napping, lying down, or sitting in the fresh air on the top deck).  I’ve been fortunate to feel pretty good on this trip and haven’t struggled with seasickness.  Once data collection begins, my role on the back deck has been a series of action and waiting.  Since we are using heavy tools to collect data at significant depths, we use a crane and cable to hoist the equipment in and out of the water.  The winch that unwinds and winds the cable can lower or lift the equipment at a rate of ~20 m/min.  For the most part while the equipment is away from the boat we are waiting, and at times we have lowered data collection tools beyond 200m, which means a travel time of ~20 minutes, down and back.

Jaime and Kirsten
Jaime Jahncke and Kirsten Lindquist recording observations along ACCESS transect 3N.

However, today we actually did observation-only lines, so I had a lot of time to relax and observe.  The weather also turned a little bit today.  We had pretty dense fog in the morning, and more wind and rougher seas than on previous days.  But, near the end of the day, as we reached Drake’s Bay in Point Reyes National Seashore, the fog suddenly cleared and Point Reyes provided some protection from the wind.  The marine life seemed to appreciate the sun and wind protection as well as there was a large group of feeding seabirds and humpback whales right off the point.  We ended the day on a pleasant, sunny ride along the coast and underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, docking for the night in Sausalito.


Did You Know?

Humpback whales are migratory.  The population we are able to see here migrate annually from their breeding grounds off the coast of Mexico.  They come each summer to enjoy the nutrient rich waters of the California coast.  Humpback whales thrive here due to upwelling of nutrients from the deep ocean, which helps supports their favorite food – krill!  Humpback whales feed all summer on krill, copepods, and small fish so that they can store up energy to migrate back down to the warmer tropical waters for the winter breeding season.  I hope they get their fill while they’re here since they won’t eat much until they return, next summer.

humpback whale tail.
A humpback whale tail. Photo: Dru Devlin

One response to “Shelley Gordon: Life on Board R/V Fulmar, July 23, 2019

  1. Shelley

    This is so cool! Thanks for sharing your journey 🙂
    That humpback whale photo is fantastic, did you all just see that one whale or were there more? A few years ago during the month of July I saw at least 4 whales at Miramar Beach near Half moon Bay. We could even paddle close to them, it was one of the most invigorating experiences ever!

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