Cara Nelson: A Harbor in a Tempest, September 21, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Cara Nelson

Aboard USFWS R/V Tiglax

September 11-25, 2019


Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska – currently sheltering in Kodiak harbor

Date: September 21, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Time: 12:20
Latitude: 57º47.214’ N
Longitude: 152º24.150’ E
Wind: Southwest 20 knots
Air Temperature: 12.8ºC (55ºF)
Air Pressure: 990 millibars
Clear skies


Science and Technology Log

As we sit in the shelter of Kodiak harbor, I thought I would dedicate this blog to the R/V Tiglax and her crew.  Careers in oceanographic research would not be possible without the support of research vessels and their crew.  R/V Tiglax is a 121-foot long U.S. Fish and Wildlife vessel that was commissioned in 1987.  Her primary mission is to support scientific research in the Alaska Maritime Wildlife Refuge in the Aleutian chain and she was designed and built to accommodate this mission. 

R/V Tiglax layout
The layout of R/V Tiglax. Image credit: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

R/V Tiglax has an amazing fuel capacity of 40,000 gallons which allows it be away at sea for long periods each summer without refueling.  Additionally, it has a water desalination system that can produce approximately 500 gallons of fresh water daily. The ship seems to have at least two of everything: 2 engines, 2 generators, 2 cranes, 2 zodiac skiffs, 2 freezers, 2 washing machines, 2 stationary bikes, 2 televisions, and at least 2 fresh baked goods every day! 

Below is brief photo tour of the interior of R/V Tiglax.

Tiglax hallway
Looking down the hallway from the main deck aft.
Tiglax mess
The mess, where we eat all our meals and spend our down time.
Tiglax galley
The galley, where our amazing meals are prepared, even during 12-foot seas!
laundry
Down in the hold, there are several staterooms, storage rooms, and the very important laundry and boot dryers.
stateroom
My stateroom. There are 4 beds total and a small desk, and I have the top bunk.
Tiglax hold
The hold, where the science crew stores a lot of gear during the trip.
Tiglax science lab
One of the two science labs onboard. Active research is done throughout the day here as samples come aboard.

Much of the summer, R/V Tiglax can be found transporting scientists to remote field camps in the Western Aleutians and then up into the Bering Sea to the island of St. Matthews.  The science the ship supports is diverse and includes seabird and marine mammal monitoring, volcanic research, invasive species management and archeological studies.  Although the crew does not participate in this research directly, they are a critical piece to its success. They are responsible not just for the transport but also for the logistics of getting the scientists from ship to shore at each of the remote sites and assisting with the setup of equipment.

Since 2005, R/V Tiglax has been supporting the oceanographic research on the Seward line and for the past two years the ship has been contracted by the LTER project for $11,376 per day to complete the spring and fall cruises.  Again, the crew plays an integral part in this ocean research.  All of cranes and winches aboard the ship that are used for the water sampling gear and nets are operated by the crew.  Additionally, the captain and first mate navigate the ship to and from sampling sites and manage the vessel amid the changing seas during sampling sessions.  Their knowledge of the ship, currents, weather and tides is imperative in making decisions with the chief scientists as to travel, scheduling, and sampling.

Captain John
Captain John navigating the ship from the wheelhouse.

R/V Tiglax has a crew of six: a captain, first mate, two deckhands, an engineer and a cook.  For some, being a crew member is a long-time career choice. For others, it is a job to gain skills and experience and serves as more of a stepping stone to the future. 

John Farris began his career aboard R/V Tiglax nineteen years ago as a deckhand and has moved his way up to captain, a position he has held for the past four years. He works closely with Russ Hopcroft, the chief scientist, to assure the success of the mission.  John is warm and welcoming to the science crew and genuinely concerned about each member’s well-being during the cruise.  Safety is his number one priority and John closely monitors not only the ship but also the science work each day.

crew meeting
Captain John meets with the science team prior to deploying the CTD rosette.

Dan Puterbaugh is the first mate who has been a member of the crew for the past two years.  Dan has thirty-years’ experience working on ships in a variety of capacities and has a wealth of knowledge of the oceans. He pilots the ship from 10 pm – 6 am and helps oversee the science team on the night shift.  Dan greets each day with a smile and his passion for being out at sea and supporting the science research that goes on is truly evident. 

Dan Puterbaugh, first mate
Dan keeping watch in the wheel house.

The two deckhands aboard the ship are Dave and Jen.  Dave works the day shift with John and has been a crew member for the past 6 years.  He shares the challenges of working the night shift versus the day shift on the ship and is happy to have worked his way up to his current position on the crew.  Dave describes the sheer beauty of the Aleutians and the seabirds and marine mammals that inhabit them and how appreciative he is to experience this during his work.

Jen works on the night shift and joined the crew just this season.  She is one of the most interesting and eclectic individuals I have ever met.  Although she is new to the ship, she is not green and can maneuver a crane or a winch with precision and style.  Jen’s spirit and energy helped get us through the long hours of the night shift.  She enjoys combining her passion for science with her love of the ocean and will spend her winter crewing aboard a tall ship for the Woods Hole Semester at Sea program.  Whatever Jen’s future holds, it is assured to be tied to the sea. 

Jen, deckhand
Jen getting time at the wheel.

Andy, the ship’s engineer, began with his time aboard R/V Tiglax eleven years ago.  He, like others before him, started out as a deckhand and worked his way up in the ranks.  He spent time in the Navy doing propulsion work, so this experience serves him well in maintaining the mechanics of the Tiglax.  Although Andy is a bit more elusive, he is always right there when things needed repair.  He helped us get through several winch issues, a broken hydraulic line on the crane and a downed freezer and refrigerator in the galley. 

Last, but most importantly, is Morgan, the chef aboard R/V Tiglax.  Morgan has been with the ship for six years, and continues to wow the crew and scientists alike with her amazing meals.  Morgan attended culinary school in Denver before joining the ship as a relief cook her first summer.  When asked about how she manages to cook during high seas she says it took some getting used to at first but she quickly learned to manage.  Morgan’s talents are apparent in her daily fresh sourdough breads and home-made desserts.  Despite being out to sea for long periods of time, she maintains variety in each meal and does her best to infuse fresh ingredients wherever possible.  Morgan will spend her winter furthering her culinary training in Portland before returning for another season with the ship.

Morgan's puff pastries
Morgan’s puff pastries with homemade raspberry rhubarb sauce. They disappear so fast I couldn’t even photograph a full pan.


Personal Log

As is the theme for this September cruise, we once again were chased ashore by our fourth gale. On Thursday night, just after starting our night shift we were shut down by the building wind and waves and made a 16-hour harrowing transit from the Seward line to shelter in Kodiak harbor and reevaluate as the weather.   Although we were not happy to be missing more sampling, everyone was appreciative for the time to get cell reception and step foot on solid land.

We arrived in Kodiak harbor at 5pm on Friday night and had the fortune of docking at the state ferry dock.  After eating dinner aboard, we all ventured off into town. My dock rock continued as all of Kodiak seemed to be moving up and down and side to side.  All the crew and scientists ended up in same spot and enjoyed socializing together on our down time.  We returned to the ship and all appreciated a night of sleep that didn’t involve almost rolling out of the bed with each swell. 

Cara on ladder
Climbing off the ship can be challenging when the tides are low.

This morning we awoke to blue skies and strong winds.  Unfortunately, the night crew caved in at 3am and slept for a few hours.  Having a day off from work makes it easy to slip back to the normal schedule and working tonight might be difficult.  We await the afternoon forecast to see if we can head out to sample the Kodiak line before another gale blows in on Monday.  One thing that I have learned this trip is that successful oceanographic research requires a delicate dance with Mother Nature.

Did You Know?

R/V Tiglax often travels up to 20,000 nautical miles in one season!  A nautical mile is equal to 1.15 land measured miles and is based on the circumference of the earth.  One nautical mile is equal to one minute of latitude and is useful for charting and navigating.

Cindy Byers: Working at Sea, May 9, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cindy Byers
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
Longitude:133° 35.6
Sea Wave Height: 0
Wind Speed: 3 knots
Wind Direction: Variable
Visibility:10 Nautical miles
Air Temperature: 15° C
Sky: 90% cloud cover

Me on boat in Endicott Fjord, Dawes Glacier

Dawes Glacier In Endicott Fjord

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

IMG_9071 Terry

Terry at the Helm

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.

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Terry at the helm

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.

Jeff

Jeff in the launch during bottom sampling

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.

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Niko in his office

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.

Personal Log

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.

eagle on ice

Eagle on Ice

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Life Jackets and Float Coats

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Kayaks on board

Bear

Here is a Brown Bear that was along the shoreline today

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Launches leaving for a day of surveying

Launch

A Launch

Marsha Lenz: Calibrating and Acclimating, June 11, 2017

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Marsha Lenz

Aboard NOAA ship Oscar Dyson

June 8 – 28, 2017

Mission: MACE Pollock Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: June 11, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 54 38.9 N

Longitude: 161 39.2 W

Time: 0800

Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles

Wind Direction: 185 T

Wind Speed: 9 Knots

Sea Wave Height: 3-4 foot swell

Barometric Pressure: 1003.4 Millibars

Sea Water Temperature: 7.4°C

Air Temperature: 7.0°C

Science and Technology Log

The equipment has been calibrated and we are off again. We set out Friday afternoon (June 9) and have left the calm of Kalsin Bay. The swell is a bit bigger now and the boat now is rolling a bit more. I am still getting used to walking from one place to another holding onto the railings and finding myself taking twice an many steps to get someplace. From the time we left Kalsin Bay, it should take us 2.5 days to get to the Islands of Four Mountains. From there we will be conducting acoustic surveys on transect lines all the way back towards Kodiak.

DY1706 leg 1 transects

A map of the transects where the surveys will be conducted. Our starting point is the Islands of Four Mountains.

There are 31 crew members on the ship right now. As I mentioned before, they all play a different role. The NOAA corps officers work primarily on the Bridge. They are of making sure that the ship goes where it needs to go and that it is done in a safe manner. The Engineering staff is in charge of making sure that everything works.   They oversee the operation of engines, pumps, propeller shafts, electronic equipment, and auxiliary equipment. The Stewards have a very important task of keeping us happy and fed and making sure that we don’t get “hangry”. The role of Survey is to assist the scientists, and make sure that everything is prepared to do the surveys. The Electronic Technician (ET) is in charge of making sure that everything works when it comes to electronics. When I first came aboard, I gave him my devices so that he could hook them up to the ship’s wireless Internet system. The Deck crew’s responsibility is to safely deploy the fishing nets and scientific collection equipment to make sure all of the operations on the ship are running smoothly. Finally, the Scientists are in charge of collecting the data and coming up with reports to summarize what they have collected. The Observers are here to help the scientists collect biological data from the catch. And, on this leg of the research, there is me. I am here to learn, help whenever possible, and get my hands dirty!

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Every morning, the Operations Officer sends out a Plan of the Day to the crew.

 I have been enjoying getting to know the NOAA Corps, the additional crew, and the scientists. On this cruise, I will be assisting the scientists as they collect their data. The science team consists of 5 members. Additionally, the two observers and survey crew will be assisting with the surveys. The scientists have a wide range of experience, but most of them are Fisheries Biologists.

We will be working in shifts of 12 hours. I will be working from 4 am to 4 pm every day. We have slowly been acclimating ourselves to the new sleep schedule. This is a bit of a problem though as it is light for so long. The sun rises just after 6 am and sets just after 11 pm. It makes it a bit challenging to think about being tired when it is still light out.

During the 12 hours that we have off, there is some down time. Obviously, some of that time we will be sleeping. The quarters are very tight and everything has to be stored so that once we hit rough waters things don’t get tossed around everywhere. Each stateroom has a double bunk. I will not be sharing my room, so I am very lucky to have a room to myself. Most people share a room and have opposite shifts, making it essential to be quiet when entering and exiting during times that one is off-shift to avoid waking one’s roommate.

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Safety is a very important part of the operation of this vessel. During the fist 24 hours, we had a series of safety drills within 24 hours of leaving the port. Everyone on board has a role to play should an emergency happen. Signs are posted all over the ship. The most eventful drill was one where we had to don our immersion suits. The suits are designed to keep one warm AND afloat should we become more familiar with the waters surrounding us.

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An Immersion Suit is designed to keep one warm in frigid waters.

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Personal Log

Many of you may be wondering about the food, and if I am getting enough of it. The answer is yes! The galley makes three meals a day and they make sure that we have a lot of options to choose from. There are always snacks around, including a salad bar, an espresso machine, and even ice cream! Meals times are at specific times, and they are a great opportunity to get to know other members on the ship.

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Lenette and Kimrie do a great job of feeding all 31 of us, for three meals a day.

Feeding 31 people, 3 meals a day, for 3 weeks is not easy task. Shopping and planning for feeding that many people is even harder. Remember, it is not an option to go to the store really quick because you forgot to bring the butter or eggs on board.   It requires detailed planning for many weeks before hand. Now, after the stewards have planned all of the shopping for the journey, they then have to get it all aboard (this trip’s shopping list came to ~$8,000). Sometimes a “fire line” is set up to carry the delivered food from the deck to the galley, but this time around, they used technology to help them by lowering the pallets of food through a hatch near the storage area with a crane.

Did You Know?

Did you know that (almost) all of the garbage created on the ship is incinerated while on board? That means that any garbage, except for aerosols, cans, and glass bottles are burned on the ship.

 New Terms/Phrases

Observer- Observers are professionally trained biological scientists gathering data first-hand on commercial fishing boats to support science, conservation, and management activities. The data they collect are used to monitor federal fisheries, assess fish populations, set fishing quotas, and inform management. Observers also support compliance with fishing and safety regulations.

Interview with Ethan Beyer

“Observer” 

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Ethan prepares vials for the otoliths that we will be collecting.

What is your position on the Oscar Dyson?

My position on the OD is a fisheries research biologist. This means that when catch is brought aboard, I will be responsible (along with others in the science crew) for collecting sex, length, weight, maturity, ovary, and otolith data.

Where did you go to school?

I went to school at Oregon State University where I completed my undergraduate degree in Natural Resources, with a specialization in Fish and Wildlife Conservation. Go Beavers!

What is the role of an observer and what do you enjoy most about your work?

My regular job is a Fisheries Observer for the North Pacific Ground fish and Halibut Observer Program. I work on commercial fishing vessels in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea collecting samples of what the vessel catches. This data is then used collectively with data from MACE/RACE to help manage fisheries. I would have to say that my favorite part of that job is seeing some of the interesting creatures that most people have never heard about or seen.

Have you had much experience at sea?

I have been a Fisheries Observer for the last 2 and half years after completing college. During the summer in my last three years of school I worked as a deckhand for a charter fishing company in Seward, Alaska.

How many months out of the year are you out at sea?

Over the course of the year, I average about 8 months deployed as an observer in Alaska. The program that I work for covers the small boat fleet that only requires having an observer for a fraction of their fishing trips. Roughly half of the 8 months deployed is actually spent at sea.

What are the most challenging aspects of being at sea so much? What is most rewarding?

The most challenging aspect of being at sea is being away from family and friends back at home. Another challenging aspect of the job is working alongside commercial fishing crews. Over the course of a 3-month deployment, observers in my program will average working on 5-10 boats. Each vessel and crew is unique, and the approach used in getting along with the crew, sampling, and adjusting to operations on a specific vessel is something that you learn to adapt to quickly.

The most rewarding part of the job for me is at the end of my assignment on a vessel, hearing the captain say that he thought I got along well with his crew, and that he would request to have me again when he gets another observer (even though, logistically, it would be unlikely, as we move from vessel to vessel and port to port frequently). Aside from collecting the required data from each vessel, it is important to be a positive, professional representative of the Observer Program, so that fishing crews don’t view observers as the enemy.

What is one of the most memorable experiences that you have had at sea?

As a fisheries observer, there are many things that we cannot share about our experiences at sea, due to conflicts of interest. However, the most memorable days at sea are usually the ones where the weather cooperates, there is a clear view of the beautiful scenery of coastal Alaska, and fishing is good. Every once in a while, it takes a storm at sea to remind yourself that the days of good weather are to be cherished.

What is your favorite marine creature?

My favorite marine creatures are whales. Many times while I am on a vessel, I have to refrain from showing my excitement when I see them, as they are typically associated with hampering the vessel’s fishing effort. Whales will often consume the catch of commercial longline fisherman.