Bill Lindquist: Life at Sea, May 6, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Lindquist
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
May 6-16, 2013

Mission: Hydrographic surveys between Ketchikan and Petersburg, Alaska
Date: May 6, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge

Clear skies
10.5 C (51 F)
Wind: 4 knots out of the south

Science and Technology Log

Navigational Science

My iPhone will pinpoint my location on a highway map and lay out a course to get me wherever I need to go. Navigating by canoe from lake to lake within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) requires a map, compass, and discerning eye. The tools of navigation on board an ocean-going vessel requires far more than a phone or a map and compass, yet similarities do exist. As a guest on the bridge, I had the chance to witness the team effort put in to safely get us where we needed to be. Like canoeing, navigation begins with a map, compass, and a good plan.

Charting a track

Charting a track

A path (track) is drawn on the nautical charts with waypoints identifying track adjustments to be made. Compass headings to get from one waypoint to the next are written in.  Progress along this track is regularly noted on the chart. While paper and pencil keeps the track grounded and secure, the primary navigation on the Rainier is electronic. Digital charts created by earlier surveyors are displayed along with our location pinpointed by GPS data accessed through high power receivers atop the ship – difficult at times in these remote portions of SE Alaska surrounded by the mountains. The track penciled on paper is plotted digitally and the journey begins. The Conn officer reads the map and calls out to the helmsman the heading to take.

At the helm

At the helm

The helmsman repeats it to assure it was heard correctly and turns the ship’s wheel to the new heading noting it with a dry erase marker on a small whiteboard on the helm station. The ship’s heading is indicated by an overhead digital compass display and held steady until the next waypoint is reached. Safe navigation requires a smoothly running team. The Conn officer and helmsman continue back and forth making any necessary adjustments while a third keeps a close eye on the radar. Another scans ahead with binoculars to note any floating debris to avoid.

Keeping a sharp eye ahead

Keeping a sharp eye ahead

Depth is continuously monitored along with notations of tide and currents. Weather conditions are recorded. All operations are carefully coordinated and monitored by the assigned Officer on the Deck.

Complicating navigation in this part of Alaska is the difference between the geographic north pole and magnetic north pole. Our compasses align with magnetic north – a different place from geographic north or “true north”. All charts and maps reference true north. Failure to account for this difference leads to getting lost. In Minnesota true north and geographic north are so close the difference is seldom noticed. In this area of Alaska the difference between true north and where a compass points is approximately 17 degrees. Fortunately, the ships gyrocompasses automatically account for this difference and report headings aligned with the true north of the charts.

A majestic view off the bow

A majestic view off the bow

Following our plan, we made it today from Ketchikan to Burroughs Bay in Behm Canal. Our work plan called for anchoring in the bay and getting to work in the morning. To anchor my canoe I simply throw out a small anchor attached to a rope and am set. Successfully anchoring the Rainier required the joint work of many. Within much of the bay the waters far enough from shore were too deep to gain a sufficient hold to keep the ship in position. With the ship’s Commander in charge, we maneuvered within the bay carefully monitoring the depths to identify a suitable location finally finding a shelf that appeared would work. The drop anchor command was given and 16+ fathoms (one fathom equals 6 feet) of chain held within the confines of the ship for six months quickly reeled out raising clouds of dust. It held.

Dropping anchor

Dropping anchor

Personal Log

Life at sea

There is a palpable pulse to the floating community that must exist to live and work together on a ship at sea. The quarters are close with minimal space to roam. The ongoing work lies amidst the everyday tasks of living causing leisure time to mix with work time. The functions of the ship go on 24 hours a day. On the ship Rainier, distinct, but united groups work side by side: NOAA Corps officers, survey technicians, the maritime crew, stewards, the ship’s engineers, and the occasional Teacher at Sea. To successfully collect the terabytes of data going into the making of new and revised nautical charts, all members of the ship’s personnel must work as a cohesive whole.

I have been blessed with a warm reception from each of these groups. The ship’s Commander and an Ensign welcomed me at the airport ferry and escorted me to the ship. The Ensign helped begin to unravel the labyrinth of passageways that eventually brought me to my state room. A conversation with my roommate gave me a glimpse into the role of the NOAA Corps. A crewman caught me in my roaming and offered a guided tour of the bridge and small boats. I was given an introduction to the personal side of life at sea by another over coffee. Yet another provided an extensive introduction to the complexities of modern navigation found on the bridge.  An engineer provided a close up tour into the bowels of the engine room.  These expressions of welcome were offered freely. It was evident that each of these people are proud members of this Rainier community, living and working side-by-side on a daily basis. Life at sea isn’t for the partially committed. Each of these people give up extended months at a time away from their loved ones in their commitment to this task. I was struck by a conversation with the engineer shared over breakfast. After a break from sea life, he found he had to return to sea to satisfy the salt water coursing in his blood.

I made it. I am officially a teacher at sea. Life is good.

Bill Lindquist: Eager for the Journey, April 24, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Lindquist
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
May 6-16, 2013

Mission: Hydrographic surveys between Ketchikan and Petersburg, Alaska
Date: April 24, 2013

Pre-cruise Log

I am absolutely thrilled at this truly unique opportunity to join a team of scientists aboard NOAA’s research vessel Rainier conducting hydrographic surveys through the Teacher at Sea program.

I am a teacher and have been for the last 34 years. It is a great career. My students have changed over time from my own fifth grade classroom in rural Minnesota, to a science specialist at Crossroads Elementary in the urban core of Saint Paul, to teaching graduate pre-service students at Hamline University. The unifying weave in my teaching fabric has been the creation of learning environments supportive of a collaborative, student-centered, community of learners. Woven into that professional cloth are the fibers of guiding high school kids on canoe trips into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, escorting my elementary students to a residential environmental learning center (Audubon Center of the North Woods), contributing authentic scientific data through GLOBE, visiting community schools in Ghana, flying our sixth grade students’ investigation in a microgravity environment through NASA’s Reduced Gravity Flight program, softening the reluctance of pre-service students to see themselves as teachers of science – exciting them to engage their students in the kind of science learning that strikes at the core of what makes us human, and all the myriad interactions with hundreds of young people as we have shared together in the joy of learning.

Something that has eluded me during my career has been the kind of extended immersion into the doing of science that I expect from this program. I applied six years ago without success. Being gifted this time with this Teacher at Sea opportunity is a realization of a multiple long-held visions, including:

  • Immersion into the doing of science. I am excited to be able to share with my students the first hand experience of being in the scientist role in the practice of doing science in the field – in a more real and felt way than the doing of science we experience in an elementary science lab.
  • Being at sea. I feel at home in a canoe and grew up with a love of being on the water. Seems the Rainier is bigger than my 16.5’ Old Town Penobscot. Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, but a far, far way from the vast expanse of the ocean. With the increasing need to understand the vital impact the oceans play in the global climate systems directly impacting the day-to-day life on the Minnesota prairie, I am excited to bring home first hand experience.
  • Exploring Alaska – the grandeur of the Ketchikan Gateway is spectacularly breathtaking. I have little desire for a tourist cruise – seeing Alaska (albeit a small part) through the eyes of a researcher is thrilling. Though our focus will be viewing the bottom of the ocean – I will be deliberate in taking the time to look up to capture the grandeur of the surrounding landscape. I once had a fascinating conversation with Dan Barry, NASA astronaut, as we prepared for our reduced gravity flight. He told of many astronauts so intently focused on their work during a space walk that, once home, were unable to describe the incredible view impeded only by the visor of their space helmet. In response, he scripted into his program specific commands to look out and “make a memory”. I have little doubt I will not need a reminder to look up from the sonar data collections screen to make memories while cruising through the Gateway. I have my camera ready and fully expect my pictures to run beyond 1000.

I look forward to sharing this grand adventure. Specifically, I hope to share the story with my current class at Hamline. The semester ends while I am at sea, so facilitation of learning will happen while I am on board. They have patiently lived the experience of my acceptance as an alternate while anxiously waiting word of a cruise, to the excitement of successfully being placed aboard the Rainier. I will be working with a former colleague at Crossroads Elementary in Saint Paul, MN to vicariously take her class on an exploration of the ocean bottom off the coast of Alaska. I also hope to share the journey with my grandson, Logan’s class at Westwood Elementary in Traverse City, MI.

In a short week and a bit (May 4) I fly out of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul airport to begin this grand adventure. I can’t wait.

My family

So thankful for all the support of a loving family

Reduced Gravity

Had a chance to fly our sixth graders’ experiment in a reduced gravity environment

In love with the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

In love with the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness