NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
August 6 – 23, 2018
Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, northwest Alaska
Date: August 17, 2018
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude 64 42.8 N
Longitude – 171 16.8 W
Air temperature: 6.2 C
Dry bulb 6.2 C
Wet bulb 6.1 C
Visibility: 0 Nautical Miles
Wind speed: 26 knots
Wind direction: east
Barometer: 1000.4 millibars
Cloud Height: 0 K feet
Waves: 4 feet
Sunrise: 6:33 am
Sunset: 11:45 pm
I was asked yesterday by one of my students what life is like aboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather? So I thought I would dedicate this entry to address this and some of the other commonly asked questions from my students.
Life on board the ship is best described as a working village and everyone on board has many specific jobs to ensure the success of its mission; check my “Meet the Crew” blog. The ship operates in a twenty four hour schedule with the officers rotating shifts and responsibilities. When the ship is collecting ocean floor data, the hydrographers will work rotating shifts 24 hours a day. With so much happening at once on a working research vessel, prevention of incidents is priority which leads to the ship’s success. A safety department head meeting is held daily by the XO (executive officer of the ship) to review any safety issues.
During times when the weather is not conducive for data collection, special training sessions are held. For instance, a few days ago, the officers conducted man over board drills. Here, NOAA Officers practice navigating the ship and coordinating with deck hands to successfully rescue the victim; in this case it’s the ship’s mascot, “Oscar.”
(Fun fact: at sea, ships use signal flags to communicate messages back and forth [obviously, this was more prevalent before the advent of radio]. For example: the “A” or “Alpha” flag means divers are working under the surface; the “B” or “Bravo” flag means I am taking on dangerous cargo [i.e. fueling]; and the “O” flag means I have a man overboard. The phonetic name for “O” is, you guessed it, “Oscar” … hence the name. You can read about other messages here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_maritime_signal_flags).
Precision and speed is the goal and it is not easy when the officer is maneuvering 1,591 tons of steel; the best time was 6:24. This takes a lot skill, practice and the ability to communicate effectively to the many crew members on the bridge, stern (back of boat), and the breezeways on both port and starboard sides of the ship. Navigating the ship becomes even more challenging when fog rolls in as the officers rely on their navigation instruments. Training can also come in the form of good entertainment. With expired rescue flares and smoke grenades, the whole crew practiced firing flares and activating the smoke canisters. These devices are used to send distress signals in the event of a major ship emergency. I had the opportunity of firing one of the flares !
What are the working conditions like on board?
At sea, the working environment constantly changes due to the weather and the current state of the seas. Being flexible and adaptive is important and jobs and tasks for the day often change Yesterday, we experienced the first rough day at sea with wave heights close to ten feet. Walking up a flight of stairs takes a bit more dexterity and getting used to. At times the floor beneath will become not trustworthy, and the walls become your support in preventing accidents.
Where do you sleep?
Each crew member is assigned a stateroom and some are shared quarters. Each stateroom has the comforts from home a bed, desk, head (bathroom & shower) sink and a port hole (window) in most cases. The most challenging component of sleeping is sunlight, it does not set until 11:30 pm. No worries, the “port holes” have a metal plate that can be lowered. It is definitely interesting looking through the window when the seas are rough and watching the waves spin by. Seabirds will occasionally fly by late at night and I wonder why are they so far out to sea ?
Generally, when sharing a stateroom, roommates will have different working shifts.
Meals are served in the galley and it is amazing! It is prepared daily by our Chief Steward Tyrone; he worked for the Navy for 20 years and comes with a lot of skills and talents ! When asking the crew what they enjoy the most on board the ship, a lot of them mention the great food and not having to cook.
Are there any activities?
Keeping in good physical shape aboard any vessel out at sea is important. The Fairweather has a gym that can be used 24 hours a day. The gym has treadmills, elliptical, weights and a stair climber.
There is the lounge where movies are shown in the evening. Interestingly, the seats glide with the motions of the waves. Meetings are also held here daily, mostly safety briefings.
What are the working hours like?
During any cruise with NOAA, there is always things that come up that were not planned, staff and schedules are adjusted accordingly. On this leg of the trip during our transit back to Kodiak Island, we stopped by Nome, Alaska, to pick up a scientist from NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab PMEL office. One of their research buoys separated from its mooring and went adrift in the Bering Sea (it drifted over 100 miles before we were able to catch up to it. The Fairweather was dispatched to collect and store the buoy aboard, after which it will eventually be returned to PMEL’s lab in Seattle Washington.
The place with the most noise is definitely the engine room. Here, two sixteen piston engines built by General Motors powers the ship; the same engine power in one train engine ! It is extremely difficult to navigate in the engine room as there is so many valves, pipes, pumps, switches and wires. Did I mention that it is very warm in the room; according to the chief engineer, Tommy, to maintain a healthy engine is to ensure that the engine is constantly warm even during times when the ship is docked.
Until next time, happy sailing !