Melissa Barker: Navigation and People of the Oregon II, July 2, 2017

P1030109NOAA Teacher at Sea

Melissa Barker

Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II

June 22-July 6

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 2, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 28 37.91 N

Longitude: 89 19.41 W

Air temp: 30.5 C

Water temp: 31.7 C

Wind direction: 340 degrees

Wind speed: 4 knots

Wave height: 0 meters

Sky: partly cloudy


Science and Technology Log

Point plotted on electronic chart. We are the little green boat icon on the screen.

I spent some time on the bridge with LT Reni Rydlewicz learning about how the ship is navigated. The officers and crew are reliant on technology to navigate the Oregon II from station to station. There are many obstacles here off the coast of Louisiana that must be avoided including rigs, oil field traffic, shipping boats and shrimpers. The radar, electronic charts and weather screen are vital to successfully navigating the Gulf. The first step in navigation is using the electronic chart to plot a line to the station.


Radar is critical to navigation in a busy Gulf


We keep at least one mile away from any rigs or other obstacles. The officer on duty will check the radar and then visually confirm what they see out on the water. They may also radio any nearby vessels to discuss their routes and make sure we can safely pass.




Melissa at the helm being instructed by LT Rydlewicz



Next, the officer will turn the helm to the proper heading using degrees, like on a compass.  Zero degrees is due north. Once on the proper heading, we will go to the way point of the set track-line monitoring for obstructions and vessels along the way.




Plotting our location on the chart


About every thirty minutes to one hour, the officer will drop a fixed position on the paper chart to track our progress based on our latitude and longitude.

Wind direction indicator







You can see us sitting on the south edge of the storm cell on the weather screen




Another vital piece of technology is the WXWorks weather screen that shows weather patterns and lightning strikes.






Currently, the water is calm and we are cruising to a station near the mouth of the Mississippi River. The image below shows the route we have taken thus far as we zig zag our way from station to station.

You can see our route as of 7/1/17 marked in blue. The Oregon II is the little green boat on the map.

The pitch and RPM’s can be adjusted to change the speed of the ship. The Oregon II has two engines, but we usually operate on one to save wear and tear and to have a backup engine just in case. Our average cruising speed is about 8 knots. With both engines, we can cruise at 10-11 knots.

When conducting a CTD, the officer often uses one of the side stations to control the speed and rudder so they can see what is happening with the CTD instrument. They must keep the ship as still as possible, which can be challenging in some conditions. Before the trawl is lowered into the water, the officers must plot a course making sure they can trawl continuously for about 1.5 miles at 2.5-3 knots within 5 miles radius of the station. The bridge, deck crew and FPC are in radio communication when setting the trawl. At night, the bridge operates with red screens and lights so the officers can keep their night vision. There is also video feed that shows the bow and stern decks and engine room to keep an eye on folks when they are out doing their work.

I can only imagine how overwhelming it must have been for ENS Parrish, when she started on the Oregon II in December, trying to learn how to use all the technology that helps her and the other officers navigate the ship as well as actually learning how the ship moves in the water.


Interviews with the People of the Oregon II

I’ve spent some time talking with people who work on the ship from the different departments trying to understand their jobs and their desire to work at sea. I have posted three interviews here and will post more in the next blog.


ENS Chelsea Parrish

ENS Chelsea Parrish holding a cobia

Chelsea is a Junior Officer learning to stand her own watch on the bridge. She reported to the Oregon II in December and needs to have at least 120 hours at sea, become proficient navigating the ship and have the Commanding Officer’s blessing to become an Officer Of the Deck. In addition to learning the details of navigation and fishing operations, she also is the Environmental Compliance Officer, completes chart corrections weekly and heads up social media for the ship. You can learn more about the NOAA Corps here.

What did you do before working for NOAA?

I earned my masters in marine science and then applied to the NOAA Corps. The training for NOAA Corps is nineteen weeks, seventeen of which are spent at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT training and taking classes.

ENS Chelsea Parrish in her Service Dress Blues. (photo credit: Chelsea Parrish)

Why did you join the NOAA Corps?

I heard about it in graduate school and it sounded like a great way to serve my country and help scientists do their work. I consider the NOAA Corps a hidden gem because not that many people know about it. We are stewards of our oceans and atmosphere by contributing to oceanographic, hydrographic and fisheries science. I will spend two years at sea and then three years on land and continue that rotation. We even have a song, check it out here.

Tell me about one challenging aspect of your job?

The balance between work and personal life can be a challenge on the ship, but I’m finding a routine and sticking to it.

What do you enjoy most about working on the Oregon II?

I love watching the sun rise and set over the ocean each day and the mystery of what we will find in the ocean each day.

What advice or words of wisdom do you have for my students?

Be adaptable and take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. Don’t be afraid to go against the norm and follow your passion.


Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols

In Chris’ role as Lead Fisherman, he is second in charge of on the deck crew and leader of the night watch. He operates the cranes and is responsible for fishing operations on the ship. He also stands a look out watch on the bridge. His other responsibilities involve mending fishing nets and handling the sharks (especially during the shark survey). Chris has many certifications that give him additional responsibility such as being a surface rescue swimmer, NOAA working diver and one of the MPIC’s (medical person on duty).

What did you do before working for NOAA?

Lead Fisherman Chris Nelson

I was a charter fishing boat captain, an able body seaman with the Merchant Marines and had a navigation job with the Navy.

Why work for NOAA?

My specialty is big game fish, so I was initially attracted to the NOAA shark surveys. I’ve been at sea since 1986 and am always up for another adventure.

Tell me about one challenging aspect of your job?

I have a lot of additional duties besides being a Lead Fisherman. The upkeep of all of my certifications takes a significant amount of time.

What do you enjoy most about working on the Oregon II?

The camaraderie of the people. We have a great steady group of people and our repeat ports are nice places to visit. I really enjoy working with the scientists and the fish too.

What advice or words of wisdom do you have for my students?

Embrace adventure. I was inspired by early on by reading adventure stories like Tom Sawyer. Work has taken me all around the world. And definitely take those math courses, especially algebra and calculus. I use math every day in my work.


Chief Steward Valerie McCaskill

For two years Valerie has been the Chief Steward who keeps everyone on the ship well fed. She and her assistant, Arlene, attempt to satisfy 30 different appetites three times per day.

Valerie’s welcoming smile

What did you do before working for NOAA?

I worked oil industry first in food service, but wanted to work for NOAA. I have a small catering business and like to experiment with food.

Why work for NOAA?

I love running a kitchen without the unreliable schedule and endless hours of land based restaurants.

One of the amazing meals from the galley

Tell me about one challenging aspect of your job?

Trying to please everyone is a big task. It can also be challenging to meet people’s dietary restrictions with the limitations of the kitchen.

What do you enjoy most about working on the Oregon II?

I enjoy the people. Even if the boat is rocking and people are tired, I try to being comfort through food.

What advice or words of wisdom do you have for my students?

Never let fear of failure stop you.




Personal Log

Chart of the turn I made

A few days ago, we were on weather hold and I went up to the bridge to see what was going on. I was starting to feel a little sick from all the movement. Being in the bridge, where I could see the horizon, helped sooth my stomach and distract me from the motion. We were running “weather patterns”, which means that we are running a course for the best ride possible while waiting for the weather system to pass. Then we can go back to the station we need to sample. Reni let me turn the ship which was a pretty cool experience. She directed me to turn the helm to 40 degrees to the port side, then as we started to turn, she had me easy back to 30, 20, 10 and finally back to zero to complete our 180 degree turn back towards the station.

Yesterday between trawls, David, Sarah and I went up to the forward most part on the bow. We peered over the railing to see four bottlenose dolphins playing on the bow wake. It was incredible to see them so close. As they were swimming at 7-8 knots right alongside the ship, they rotated position allowing each to take a turn coming to the surface for air. It was similar to bikers rotating in a peloton to stay out of the wind. Once I’m back on shore, I’ll post some video, but here is a still shot for you.

Bottlenose dolphins riding the bow wake
Standing at the forward most part of the bow
Looking back from the bow to the bridge
View from the flying bridge


I’ve been waking up a few hours before my shift starts to work on my blogs and get a little exercise. I never know what the weather is like when I wake up because I sleep on the lower deck. Technically I sleep under water and hear the water slapping the side of the ship as I’m drifting off to sleep. This morning I decided to go to the flying bridge, which is at the top of the ship, to do a little workout. The sea was glass-like and the visibility was over 10 nautical miles. I decided it was the perfect location for some yoga. I enjoyed the extra challenge of holding poses on the moving ship.




Did You Know?

The northern two-thirds of the continental US and part of Canada drains into the Gulf of Mexico. These rivers bring accumulated runoff from cities, suburbs, rural areas, agriculture and industry and have the potential to influence the health of the Gulf.  (source:

Rivers that drain into the Gulf of Mexico (photo credit:

Dawson Sixth Grade Queries

Are you going to see sharks? (Gemma, Sylvia, Mae, Finn)

We have caught two small sharpnose sharks so far on this cruise. The Oregon II does a shark survey in the late summer where they focus on catching sharks.

How long does the whole process of catching fish take? (Sam)

Once we come upon the station, they set the trawl for 30 minutes. Depending on how deep we are sampling, it might take 10-20 minutes to bring the net back in.

What classes or skills would you have to master to become a marine biologist? (Rowan, Ava, Julia) 

I asked this question to a room full of students studying some sort of marine biology or science and here is what they said…

It depends on your area of interest, but reading and writing skills are critical. It would be helpful to take courses in biology, chemistry, comparative physiology and anatomy, biological and ecological systems and applied math like calculus and statistics. In David’s program at University of Miami, he had to choose a concentration like biology, physics, or chemistry with his marine science degree.


Staci DeSchryver: A Whale of a Time, August 8, 2001

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Staci DeSchryver

Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 26 – August 12, 2011 

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Location: Barnabas Trough  56 deg 54.05N, 152 deg 38.100W 
Heading: 252 at 2.4 kts
Date: August 8, 2011

Weather Data From the Bridge
Dry Bulb Temp:  11.0 deg C
Wet Bulb Temp: 10.0 deg C
Pressure:  1020 mb and steady
Cloud cover:  Mostly Cloudy, Altostratus
Wind:  16 kts at 271 deg
Station model 08.09

Science and Technology Log

One of the most important abilities the NOAA Corps officers should master is the capability of navigating the ship.  Today, I got a brief tour of the all of the neat gadgets on the bridge that keep us “headed” in the right direction!

The tour started off with me playing the “What if?” game.  Poor guys.  It went a little something like this:

ENS Rodziewicz:  This machine tells us our current heading.

Landlubber DeSchryver:  What if that thing breaks?  Then what?

ENS Rodziewicz:  Well, then we use this machine over here.

Landlubber Deschryver:  And if that breaks?

ENS Rodziewicz:  (sighs)  We use this alternate machine.

Landlubber DeSchryver:  And if that breaks?

ENS Rodziewicz:  Well,  this would be our last stop if we were in a real pinch.  He points to the magnetic compass.

Landlubber DeSchryver:  And what do you do if that breaks?

I realized my gaffe as it was flying out of my mouth.

He politely informed me that compasses don’t break.   I knew that.  I just didn’t remember it right that second…

Thankfully, he didn’t hold it over my head too long as the tour continued.  As it turns out, much of the tour went in the same manner.  The Oscar Dyson’s bridge can also be called the Department of Redundancy Department.  There are multiple back-up systems to combat malfunctions on all counts.  They even have a hand-held crank phone on the bridge in case things really head south.  The bridge has the following instruments/gadgets:

  • Two Radars to detect oncoming traffic/small islands
  • One computer screen to list, by name and give speed/direction of said oncoming traffic
  • Two computers for plotting course – one of them has “layering” capabilities to include depth, traffic, heading, and the ability to program the ship to steer itself
  • Speaking of steering – there are at least 4 separate places for the “driver” to “drive  the ship.”
  • Two compasses
  • A radio, hand-crank phone, and backup generator power supply for all items in the event of a cataclysmic failure.
  • A superior selection of hard candies for bridge visitor/users perusal.

After the tour, I was a little cross-eyed at all of the instrumentation and its capabilities.  I’ve also evaluated and concluded that the Oscar Dyson would be a great place to hole up in the event of an apocalypse, as she is truly ready for anything.

At the end of the day, I really enjoyed looking at the multi-colored information recorders, but what I really wanted to know was “How did the old school guys get the job done?  You know, drive the ship with maps and compasses?”

nav tools
Here are some handy tools for navigation!

As it turns out, there are many factions of Old School sailing.  The oldest group had nothing more than a map, a compass, a sextant, and the stars or the sun to get the job done.  But we’ve been using GPS for quite some time now, so some would consider a single GPS system with satellite passes that would “ping” the ship twice a day as Old School.  It was a nice reminder that we certainly live in a different age!

One of the neat tricks I learned to do tonight was how to calculate the true wind speed.  If you aren’t familiar with true wind speed and direction, here’s a brief tutorial:

It’s time to think in terms of relativity.  Everything on Earth is relative to something else.  Think about the last time you got into a car and sat in the passenger seat.  Relative to the car, the passengers in the car don’t appear to be moving.  BUT…to an observer on the street outside of the car, both the driver and the passenger are moving – in a given direction with a given speed.  (To get technical, they are moving with velocity only – recall that velocity is speed with direction.)  Now, let’s picture riding in the back seat of a car.  The passengers in the front don’t appear to be moving.  If the driver accelerates past another moving car, the car that is getting passed appears to be moving backward.  Some people blame their eyes playing a trick on them.  They shouldn’t.  Relative to your position in the moving car, they are moving backward.  To viewers watching the cars move while standing on the street, both cars are moving forward.  Tricky.

Now, let’s think about this with a ship.  If a ship is trying to calculate the wind speed while it’s moving, it’s not going to get a good reading.  Why not?  The boat effectively creates its own wind as it’s zooming through the ocean.  It can also give a false direction because the ship is not necessarily cruising along in the same direction of the wind.  How do we solve the problem?

Tonight, I learned how to use a Maneuvering Board to calculate the true wind speed and direction.  A maneuvering board is like a fancy piece of circular graph paper that can do so much more than regular graph paper can.  If graph paper is the cat’s meow, the Maneuvering Board is the lion’s roar.    By drawing the vectors of the ship and the relative wind, the true wind can be calculated on the board.

maneuvering board
This board is useful to sailors becuase it can be used for many calculations - wind speed and direction, charting around stationary objects, and charting around other ocean traffic are some good examples.

Remember, the ship has a speed and a direction – its total motion is a vector quantity.  Wind also has a speed and a direction – its total movement is ALSO a vector quantity.  I’m sure as you read you can hear the vector demon whispering in your ear, prophesizing about what is to come…time to resolve vectors…time to resolve vectors…Just give in.  There’s no use fighting it, mostly because vectors are super-awesome.

In order to calculate the true wind speed, both the relative speed and direction of the wind and the true direction and speed of the ship must be taken into account.  Once those two vector quantities are added (or subtracted, depending on the motion of the ship and the wind) the true wind speed and direction can be calculated.

But we only have to do that if all of the instrumentation catastrophically fails on the bridge.  A lot of the people on the bridge will complete a maneuvering board on occasion, just to stay fresh.  Otherwise, you just read the screen.

Personal Log

WHALES!!!  WHALES EVERYWHERE!!!  Tonight as we were moving between transects, we were invited to join a humpback whale party.  I was on my way up to the bridge to see what sorts of shenanigans were going on when someone informed me that the bridge was the place to be because there was a whale.  Well, when I got to the bridge, it was NOT a whale.

This is a picture of one of the whale's flukes. The pattern on the underisde of the fluke acts like a "fingerprint" for scientists to help identify particular whales. This helps marine mammal scientists understand the Humpback's behavioral patterns.

There were at least 15.  It started off as two or three spouts in the distance.  Then came the tail flukes slowly and playfully slapping the water.  They were everywhere!  As if that weren’t a beautiful enough show, they began to breach – exploding out of the water and returning via a graceful dive.  We must have seen 8 to 10 breaches.  I don’t know if any one whale breached more than once, but it felt like just as one re-entered the water, someone was shouting “Breach!” in a completely different direction. Two swam within about 50 feet of the Dyson, and we had to change our course briefly for one particular whale who was fancying our transect line as a place to play.  We stayed up on the bridge for about an hour, just watching them have a good old time in the sea.  I’ve never seen anything like it, but I hope to see it again soon.  I got some on video, but my plan is to wait until I’m home to upload videos to my blog because it takes up a lot of internet to upload videos at sea.  It was an incredible and powerful sight.  Scientists still can’t completely confirm why they breach, in particular why humpback whales breach, but I’m not going to ask questions as long as they keep doing it!  What a trip!

In other news, I’ve been combatting seasickness quite handily (I hope I haven’t spoken too soon! Uh oh!) by using a transdermal ear patch.  I tried using  some other anti-seasick meds, and they worked just fine, but they made my brain feel foggy – not a good state to be in while assessing fish stocks!  Finally I just gave up and went to the patch.  I didn’t want to overload my body with medication, but it’s critical that I remain alert while at sea.  It is also critical that I do not hang halfway over the side-rails for extended periods of time.  After all, I still don’t have my sea legs.

AK Sun
I've been working hard, but when my view from the chem lab looks like this, I would call it hardly workin'. Gorgeous!

Up on the bridge, one of the NOAA Corps Officers asked me how long I had been wearing my patch.  I told him I was going on hour 48.  He told me I ought to take it off because my pupils were wildly dilated, which is a side effect of this particular medication.   Admittedly, I kind of blew the advice off, because even if my pupils are big, at least I’m not feeding fish.  A reasonable trade off in the grand scheme of things, in my meek opinion.

Then I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror.  Have you ever seen the cartoon classic feature film Who Framed Roger Rabbit?  Yeah.  I look like one of those bad-guy Toontown  weasels after he gets hit on the head with a frying pan.  Both of my pupils are large, but one (the one that shares the same side as the ear patch) is considerably larger.  In case you are having a hard time picturing this, I have converted this image into a “dilated emoticon face” to give you a reasonable  representation of my eyes:  o_O    <– me.   So, I’m currently at an impasse.  I was told that after three or so days at sea, it’s not necessary to continue medication because your body adjusts to everything constantly moving.  I don’t know how I feel about that.  I also don’t know how I feel about looking like a crazy cartoon weasel for the next five days.   So, with that being said, I think I may resolve the issue by cutting the patch in half and reducing the medication amount.  It is my hypothesis that my pupils may return to regular, well matched sizes at that juncture.  It is also my hypothesis that I will remain an able-bodied sea girl in doing so.  I guess we’ll see what happens.

Trivia Question:  Where was the Oscar Dyson built?  In what year was she launched?

*Answer:  She was built in Mississippi, and launched in 2005.