Jill Bartolotta: Careers at Sea, June 8, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jill Bartolotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

May 30 – June 14, 2019


Mission
:  Mapping/Exploring the U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin and Blake Plateau

Geographic Area of Cruise: U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin, Blake Plateau

Date: June 8, 2019

Weather Data:

Latitude: 30°30.7’ N

Longitude: 078°11.2’ W

Wave Height: 3 feet

Wind Speed: 13 knots

Wind Direction: 150

Visibility: 10 nm

Air Temperature: 26.6° C

Barometric Pressure: 1015.9

Sky: overcast


Science and Technology Log

Throughout my blogs you have been hearing an awful lot about NOAA. But what is NOAA? NOAA stands for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA informs the public all about environmental happenings from the deepest depths of the ocean floor all the way to the sun.

NOAA was formed in 1970 as a federal agency within the Department of Commerce. It was the result of bringing three previous federal agencies together, U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, Weather Bureau, and U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries. Through research, NOAA understands and predicts changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts. Through outreach and education, NOAA shares the research with end users and the public with the purpose of conserving and managing coastal and marine ecosystems and resources (NOAA, 2019. https://www.noaa.gov/our-mission-and-vision).

In order to accomplish its mission, NOAA hires a whole slew of people including Commissioned Officers, administrators, career scientists, research technicians, vessel operators, educators, etc. These people may work on land or out at sea. In this blog I will focus on some of the NOAA careers at sea.


NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps)

The NOAA Corps is a descendant of the US Coast and Geodetic survey, the oldest federal scientific agency dedicated to surveying the ocean coast. Today, officers of the NOAA Corps command NOAA’s fleet of survey and research vessels and aircraft.

In order to be eligible to apply for NOAA Corps one must have a four-year degree in a study area related to the scientific or technical mission of NOAA. There are many other eligibility requirements and you can check them out here.  Once you meet the requirements, you apply to the program, and if accepted you will head to the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut where you will attend a 19-week basic officer training class. Once officers graduate, they are assigned to sea duty for two years. After sea duty, officers rotate to land duty for three years. And the pattern continues as long as the officers choose to remain in the NOAA Corps.

NOAA officers fill many roles on Okeanos Explorer. Their primary role is to safely navigate the ship. All officers stand two 4-hour watches. During these watches, they are responsible for navigating and driving the ship, taking weather, and handling the ship per the requirements needed for the science mission whether it be for a series of ROV dives, mapping project, or emerging technology cruise. When not on watch, officers are responsible for collateral duties. There are many collateral duties, some of which are described below:

  • Safety officer: responsible for the safety drills and equipment.
  • Navigations officer: maintains charts, loads routes, plots routes on paper charts, updates electronic chart, and creates inbound and outbound routes for ports of call.
  • MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) officer: responsible for fun activities when at sea or in port. These activities have included ice cream socials, movie nights, and baseball games.
  • Public affairs officer: Responsible for giving ship tours to the public, maintain the ships social media presence, and performs public outreach.

There are also many officer ranks (follow the ranks of the US Navy) aboard the ship. The entry level rank is ensign or junior officer and the highest rank is admiral, allowing for 10 ranks in total. In addition to rank classes, there are varying positions. Ensigns or junior officers are recent graduates of basic officer training and on their first sea assignments. They are learning how to navigate and drive the ship, the tasks associated with standing watch, and learning about the other collateral duties. The operations officer is responsible for all mission operations while at sea and in port. They serve as the liaison between the science team and the commanding officer. If project instructions change, the Operations Officer is responsible for managing operations, understanding requests or change and then speaking with the commanding officer to approve the change. They are also responsible for all logistics when in port such as shore power, vehicles, trash, potable water, fuel, and sewer. The next highest position (second in command) is the Executive Officer who also coordinates with many of the port duties, and is supervisor of the varying departments on the ship. They are also responsible for all paperwork and pay. The highest duty on the ship is that of Commanding Officer. They are ultimately responsible for mission execution and for the safety of the ship and people aboard.

NOAA Commissioned Officers
The NOAA Commissioned Officers aboard Okeanos Explorer. From left to right: Ensign Brian Caldwell, Lieutenant Steven Solari, Lieutenant Rosemary Abbitt, Ensign Kevin Tarazona, Commander Eric Johnson, Ensign Nico Osborn, Lieutenant Commander Kelly Fath, Lieutenant Commander Faith Knighton, and Commander Nicole Manning.


Professional Mariners

Professional mariners provide technical assistance needed to support operations while at sea. They support the ship in five different expertise areas: deck, engineering, steward, survey, and electronics. More information about the professional mariners and job posting information can be found here. Some have attended maritime school to receive training or licensure to work aboard a ship at sea. Others get their training while at sea, take required training courses, and complete onboard assessments. These mariners that work their way up to leadership positions are known as hawse-pipers (for example, the Chief Boatswain, Jerrod Hozendorf, many years ago was a General Vessel Assistant and has worked up to the Department Head of the Deck Department.)

Deck

Deck hands and able bodied seamen who attend maritime school or training where they learn how to support ship operations, including but not limited to maintenance of the ship’s exterior, maintenance and operation of the ship’s cranes (places ROV (remotely operated vehicle) or CTD (conductivity temperature depth) in the water) and winches (lowers ROV and CTD into the water), and conducts 24/7 watches to ensure the safe operation and navigation of the ship. Augmenters also rotate through the fleet, while others are permanent crew on a ship.

deck crew
The deck crew aboard Okeanos Explorer. Back row from left to right: General Vessel Assistant Sidney Dunn, Chief Bosun Jerrod Hozendorf, Able Bodied Seaman Angie Ullmann (augmenting), and General Vessel Assistant Deck Eli Pacheco. Front row from left to right: Able Bodied Seaman Peter Brill and Able Bodied Seaman Jay Michelsen (augmenting).

Engineering

The engineers aboard are responsible for the water treatment, air quality systems, and machines needed to make the ship move through the water. The also oversee the hydraulics of the cranes and winches. Engineers receive a four-year engineering degree at either a maritime academy or regular college. Depending on their degree, they will come aboard at different engineer expertise levels. Engineers move into higher level positions based on their days at sea and successful completion of licensing tests.

engineers
The engineers aboard Okeanos Explorer. From left to right: General Vessel Assistant Christian Lebron, Engine Utility Will Rougeux, Acting Chief Marine Engineer Ric Gabona, 3rd Assistant Engineer Alice Thompson (augmenting), Junior Utility Engineer Pedro Lebron, and Acting First Assistant Engineer Warren Taylor.

Stewards

The stewards on board are responsible for the preparation and management of the culinary services and the stateroom services such as bed linens. Tasks include meal planning, food purchasing and storage, food preparation, and oversight of the galley and mess.

stewards
The stewards aboard Okeanos Explorer. From left to right: General Vessel Assistant Eli Pacheco (assisting the stewards for this cruise), Chief Cook Ray Capati, and Chief Steward Mike Sapien.

Survey

Survey technicians are responsible for the operation of all survey equipment aboard the ship needed for mapping, CTD deployment, and ROV operations. Equipment includes echo sounders and meteorological and oceanographic sensors. They are also responsible for data quality control and processing, disseminating data to land data centers so it can be shared with the public, and working alongside the science team to assist with other data and equipment needs. A college degree is not required for survey technicians, but many of them have one in the fields of environmental or applied science.

Electronics

Electronic technicians are responsible for all electronics aboard such as the intercoms, radios, ship’s computers and internet access, sonars, telephones, electronic navigation and radar systems, and most importantly satellite TV! Chief Electronic Technicians rotate between land and sea, typically spending 2-3 months at sea.

survey and electronic technicians
Chief Electronic Technician Mike Peperato and Senior Survey Technician Charlie Wilkins pose with the CTD.


Personal Log

We saw dolphins today!!!! It was absolutely amazing. We believe them to be Atlantic Spotted Dolphins. Spotted you say? The one in the picture to the left is not spotted because it is less than one year old. They do not receive their spots until their first birthday. Spotted dolphins are very acrobatic. They enjoy jumping out of the water and surfing on the bow waves created by vessels. To date one of the best moments of the trip so far. Yay dolphins!!!!!

Atlantic spotted dolphins
Atlantic spotted dolphins surfing the bow of the ship.


Did You Know?

Including all the NOAA officers and professional mariners aboard Okeanos Explorer, 12,000 people work for NOAA worldwide!

Victoria Cavanaugh: Questions & Answers with the Ship’s Crew, April 22, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Victoria Cavanaugh
Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
April 16-27, 2018

MissionSoutheast Alaska Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska

Date: April 22, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 48° 25.012′ N
Longitude: 122° 44.039′ W
Sea Wave Height: 1-3 feet
Wind Speed: 10-20 knots
Wind Direction: NE
Visibility: 14.1 km
Air Temperature: 14oC  
Sky:  Scattered Clouds

Science and Technology Log

As NOAA Ship Fairweather began its northward journey through the Inward Passage, I took advantage of a few days at sea to conduct interviews with crew from each of the various departments onboard: deck crew, engineers, officers, stewards, and survey technicians.  Through the interview process I realized just how much goes in to making Fairweather  successful.  Two themes arose again and again in conversations: First, the crew of the Fairweather loves what they do — the crew’s commitment and passion for being at sea was unanimous. . .and contagious.  Second, Fairweather is family.

Enjoy the five interviews below, the first of which is with a Edward Devotion School alum. . .


An Interview with AB Carl Coonce, Fairweather Deck Crew & Devotion School Alum (1971-1974)

AB Carl Coonce at the Helm

AB Carl Coonce at the Helm

Carl on bridge

AB Carl Coonce & Devotion School Alum on Fairweather’s Bridge

Q: What is your role aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather?

A: I’m an able-bodied seaman or AB. My permanent job is to take care of the ship. Some duties include maintaining the ship’s cleanliness, ensuring the security of the vessel, and steering the ship.

Q: Why is your work important?

A: Without AB’s, the ship can’t be driven. AB’s also maintain the security of the ship and watch out for the safety of the ship’s personnel. AB’s work on the upkeep of the ship’s inside and outside condition, checking to prevent rust and other damage. The AB’s ready the equipment for different missions and load and unload equipment, too. Finally, the AB’s help with the officers’ work, with surveying, and with engineering.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about your work?

A: I love being at sea. I love being able to see different sunrises and sunsets every day. I see things most people only see on TV or in pictures. For example, I’ve seen two rainbows cross before at sea. Sometimes rainbows are so close when you are at sea that you can almost reach out and touch them. Every day at sea is a new adventure.

Q: Where do you do most of your work?

A: I mostly work as a helmsman (driver) up on the bridge (which is like the front seat of the car/ship). A helmsman is the person who drives the ship. A helmsman keeps watch, looking for any potential dangers such as things floating in the water, other ships, and certain parts of land (such as sand bridges). Another important part of my job is to understand how to read maps and use all of the radar and other navigational equipment up on the bridge.

Q: What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?

A: Sleep!

Q: When did you know you wanted to pursue an ocean career?

A: I always wanted to come to sea because my father was a sailor. I took a different route for a long time, but about 15 years ago I started my ocean career. I guess it was in my blood. It was hard to get started because I knew nothing about ships and what was required in the beginning. I went online and researched shipping companies and sent my resume out to a few hundred companies. I received a call from NOAA and began my sea career in Woods Hole, Massachusetts on a fishing vessel, NOAA Ship Albatross. By the way, Albatross is actually where the NOAA Teachers at Sea Program started.

Q: What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?

A: I didn’t expect to be around the same people 24/7. You are always with the people with whom you work and your boss. Eventually, though, it becomes like a family.

Q: How do you help wider audiences to understand and appreciate NOAA science?

A: I would tell other people that NOAA is a wonderful job for people interested in going to sea. When you start off, you can go out to sea for a few weeks at a time. With NOAA, you have a chance to see and do things that you don’t get to do on commercial boats. You also are able to see new parts of the country. I’ve seen the east and west cost. The benefits are outstanding. Aside from traveling, I also have three months of vacation each year, something I would probably not have with a desk job, even after many years.

Q: How did you become interested in communicating about science?

A: When I was on the east coast, I was on NOAA Ship Henry Bigelow out of Newport, Rhode Island. A group of scientists came onboard, and we sailed up by Newfoundland. We sent a special net nearly three miles down into the ocean. The most memorable thing was catching a fish that was about 2.5 feet long, incredibly white, paper thin, and had bright red fins. The scientists told me that this fish only lives two miles down. Experiences like this are once in a lifetime. That was one of the most exciting and memorable trips I’ve had with NOAA.

Q: What advice would you give a young person exploring ocean or science career options?

A: Don’t take the sea for granted. There is a mystery for the sea. We know more about the moon than we do about the oceans. There is so much to learn at sea. Even after fifteen years at sea, there is so much more to learn about the ocean. It is never the same. There is always something new to see. I’m still amazed by some of the things I’ve seen at sea, even if I’ve seen them over and over again. For example, hearing the sound of the glaciers hitting the water is unforgettable. Seeing the different colors of the ocean, you realize there is so much more than green and blue. Once you think you’ve learned it all, the ocean changes again on you.

Q: What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?

A: I’d probably be back in Boston working as a chef. I went to school for culinary arts, but I think I’d be miserable if I wasn’t at sea.

Q: Do you have an outside hobby?

A: When I’m home, I like to work in my backyard. I like to work on my garden. I also like to work out.

Q: What is your favorite memory as a student at the Edward Devotion School?

A: I loved growing up in Brookline. It was a wonderful town to grow up in. I really feel now that being a kid at Devotion School was one of the happiest parts of my life. There is so much history at the Devotion School. Even after having traveled all around the country with NOAA, I love going back home to Boston and Brookline. Boston and Brookline are my favorite places. I still keep in touch with five of my friends from school in Brookline. We’ve been hanging out together for over thirty years. My friendships from grade school and later at Brookline High are still tremendously important to me today.


An Interview with HST Bekah Gossett, Fairweather Hydrographic Survey Technician

HST Bekah Gossett

HST Bekah Gossett

IMG_20180422_134940

The View from the Plot Room

Bekah's sheet on Yakutat Bay project

One of HST Gosset’s Projects from Last Season: Notice the Green Plot Lines and Surrounding Glaciers

A Finished Sheet from Last Season

A Finished Sheet from Last Season: Notice the Contrasting Depths (69 fathoms on a Previous Chart v. 94 fathoms Based on Sonar Data)

Comparing Updated Charts with a Historic One

Comparing Updated Charts with an Outdated One (Green Represents Data Matched, Blue/Red Show One Data Set is Deeper/Shallower than the Other)

Q: What is your role aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather?

A: My role on the ship is to acquire and process data that gives us information about the depth of the seafloor.

Q: Why is your work (or research) important?

A: This work is important because it contributes to updating and creating charts (maps) that are navigationally significant for US mariners to keep them safe and to support them economically. And, it’s cool!

Q: What do you enjoy the most about your work?

A: I really like working on the small boats (the launches) and working in Alaskan waters is great. It is a really open and good learning environment for this field of work. I have learned a whole lot in just a year and a half. This goes beyond hydrography. I’ve learned a lot about others and myself and about working with people.

Q: Where do you do most of your work?

A: I do most of my work in the plot room and on the launches. During the field season, we’re on the launches almost every day. The plot room is the data processing room where there are lots of computers. It is adjacent to the bridge, the central and most important location on the ship.

Q: What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?

A: A computer!

Q: If you could invent any tool to make your work more efficient and cost were no object, what would it be and why?

A: I would create something with lidar (lasers) or a super sonar. Lidar is used on planes or drones to scan and provide data back. Lidar on launches would help us get data quicker.

Q: When did you know you wanted to pursue an ocean career?

A: I studied art in school, but then I switched to science. I’ve always liked ocean sciences. I decided to pursue an ocean career when I was 19.

Q: What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?

A: I run the ship store, which is never something I expected to be doing. The ship stores sells snacks, candy, soda, and ship swag for the crew to keep morale high.

Q: How do you help wider audiences to understand and appreciate NOAA science?

A: I usually explain the ship’s mission as updating and correcting nautical charts. Sometimes we have different projects. Last year, for example, we were searching for a ship that sunk in Alaska in February 2017. We found it!

Q: How did you become interested in communicating about science?

A: When I was in college studying geology, I realized exactly how important it is to communicate science, because there is a lot of knowledge there that we can all learn from and use.

Q: What advice would you give a young person exploring ocean or science career options?

A: There are a lot of different things one can do. There are many different degrees from engineering, to environmental science, to biology. You can study ocean science, but you don’t have to. Any science can be applied in the ocean. It is not just science. You can learn about many different careers in oceans. Engineers and deck crew are great fields to pursue. You could also be a steward and travel a lot.

Q: What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?

A: I would probably be working for an environmental agency, but I would probably not be very happy. I might be at home with my dog.

Q: Do you have an outside hobby?

A: I like to paint. I also have a ukulele. I also love to read.


An Interview with EU Tommy Meissner, Fairweather Engineer

EU Tommy Meissner

EU Tommy Meissner Hard at Work in Fairweather’s Boat Shop

EU Tommy Meissner in Navy

First Assignment: In the Navy, Onboard the USS Forrestal, The World’s First Supercarrier at 1,060 Feet Long in 1990

 

IMG_20180422_195404

EU Tommy Meissner: An Engineer & His Electric Guitar

Q: What is your role aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather?

A: I’m a utility engineer. I stand watch on the main engines and  check all of the propulsion equipment. I do maintenance on the small boats. I work on air conditioning, refrigeration, heating, etc. I am jack-of-all-trades.

Q: Why is your work (or research) important?

A: There is always something too hot or too cold, something leaking or blocked. There is always too much of something or not enough of something else. That is really the challenge of the job.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about your work?

A: The travel aspect is the best thing about my job. I can go anywhere in the world I want to go, whenever I want to go. The oil field in Mexico is opening back up, and so now there is lots of work available.

From a work aspect, it is challenging to understand why a piece of equipment isn’t working. Fixing the engines. . .or anything really. . . is all about following a process, working methodically. It feels good to be able to fix the boat and keep it in the water.

Q: Where do you do most of your work?

A: I do most of my work in the boat shop on the small boats on E-Deck. That’s where all the maintenance is performed while the launches are in the davits (the machines that put the boats in the water). When underway, I spend eight hours a day in the machine room, but when in port I work mostly in the boat shop. Eight hours a day, four hours a watch. In addition to the two watches, I usually do at least two hours of overtime a day. During a watch, I walk around, checking all the machines, pumps, generators, boilers, air conditioners, fridge, freezer, etc.

Q:  What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?

A: The first thing I always grab is a pipe wrench. It is always good to have one nearby. A pipe wrench is a tool that we use to take apart plumbing and to loosen and tighten any connections. I am pretty well known on this boat for unclogging restrooms and showers.

Q:  If you could invent any tool to make your work more efficient and cost were no object, what would it be and why?

A: I would want a third hand! There is always a time when you need another person. It would be helpful to have one more hand to do work more efficiently. There are lots of times when I can’t reach or need that extra hand.

Q: When did you know you wanted to pursue an ocean career?

A: I’ve been sailing since 1990. I joined the Navy in 1989. All my life I’ve liked being around boats and on the water. Even though I lived around the water when I was little, I never had the opportunity to go to sea, so it was something I dreamed about for when I was older. Living in Fort Lauderdale, I saw the Navy come through and watched all the ships. I thought it would be cool.

Q: What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?

A: I had no idea where I would be going when I joined NOAA. Before I said yes to the job, they gave me the choice to go on the Fairweather or the Rainier. Initially, I wondered about Alaska. Nome, Alaska is as far away from home for me as Dubai. I had never been so far west.  Alaska has been great, though.

Q: How do you help wider audiences to understand and appreciate NOAA science?

A: Everyone I talk to doesn’t seem to know what NOAA is. NOAA has various missions, mapping the bottom of the ocean, studying coral reefs, fish ecology (understanding how many tuna are in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico and what species of fish are on the reef off  North Carolina). I don’t think people know enough about NOAA.

Q: What recommendations do you have for a young person interested in pursuing an ocean career?

A: I would study oceanography and math and science if you want to go to sea.  Decide what type of career you would like; there are so many options at sea.

Q: What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?

A: If I wasn’t working for NOAA, I would go back to South Carolina and work in building or construction. I prefer NOAA!

Q: Do you have an outside hobby?

I play guitar and teach guitar. I was always a metal head.


An Interview with 2C Carrie Mortell, Fairweather Steward

2C Carrie Mortell

2C Carrie Mortell Serving a Delicious Meal in Fairweather’s Galley

Q: What is your role aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather?

A: I work in the galley (kitchen), which is very, very busy. It is kind of like the heart of the ship.   We work to feed everyone, make sure everything is kept clean, etc. There is a lot to do! We work twelve hours everyday. Many people think the galley is just cooking, but there is a lot more to the galley such as keeping track of massive amounts of stores (supplies), keeping everything fresh, and more.

Q: Why is your work (or research) important?

A: Keeping the mess deck (dining area) clean and keeping people happy and healthy with good meals is key. We boost morale. People look forward to sitting down and having a good meal at sea. We try to take peoples’ requests and keep the crew satisfied.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about your work?

A: I love being at sea. I love to cook. I like to see people happy and satisfied. I always try to keep upbeat. We all have to live together, so it is important to keep morale up. We’re like a big family at sea.

Q: Where do you do most of your work?

A: I spend most of my day in the galley.   All of the stewards cook. We rotate every week. One week, one cook is in the galley, and then we switch into the scullery (where dishes are cleaned).

Q: What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?

A: My hands!

Q: If you could invent any tool to make your work more efficient and cost were no object, what would it be and why?

A: Another pair of arms to help cook. It is really, really busy in the galley!

Q: When did you know you wanted to pursue an ocean career?

A: Well, I used to commercial fish. I have always loved being on the ocean. I grew up around fishing people. When I was little, I always wanted to live in a lighthouse. I also like being able to go to different places. It is exciting to always get to travel when at sea. I loved the French Polynesian Islands, where I traveled with NOAA. I worked out of Hawaii for about eight years, so I spent a lot of time sailing around the Pacific, visiting Guam, Sonoma, the Marshall Islands, and crossing the equator several times.   On the East Coast, I enjoyed sailing Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. I also love Alaska, so sailing on Fairweather is great! Eventually, I want to move back to Alaska.

Q: What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?

A: I really love cooking, which is what I get to do everyday. I feel really passionate about my job. There isn’t anything I didn’t expect. You do have to really like what you do, though, at sea.

Q: How do you help wider audiences to understand and appreciate NOAA science?

A: All the ships do different missions. NOAA Ship Fairweather, for instance does mapping. Another NOAA ship I worked on put out buoys for tsunamis. NOAA helps keep oceans clean. NOAA also works with fisheries and brings many scientists out to sea to study the population of our oceans. NOAA even has gone on rescue missions for aircraft and other ships in distress.

Q: What advice would you give a young person exploring ocean or science career options?

A: First, you should love the sea. It is hard sometimes if you have a family. Sometimes you miss out on important events, but if you pick a ship in the right area, you can see your family more often. Sometimes, NOAA isn’t what people expect. It is really hard work, but I love it. There are lots of different departments and jobs on the ship though, so it is possible to find something you love.

Q: What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?

A: I definitely would be working in culinary arts somewhere.

Q: Do you have an outside hobby?

A: I love to write, paint, draw, crochet, and read. I’ve always dreamed of writing children’s books. I used to tell my children stories, especially scary ones which they loved.


An Interview with ENS Linda Junge, Fairweather Junior Officer

ENS Linda Junge on the Bridge

ENS Linda Junge on the Bridge

ENS Linda Junge

ENS Linda Junge Leading a Navigation Briefing, Explaining Fairweather’s Course for the Inside Passage

Q: What is your role aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather?

A: I’m a junior officer (JO).

Q: What’s the process for becoming a JO?

A: The process to apply to become a JO is much like applying to graduate school. You write essays, get three to five letters of recommendation, fill out the application, and have an interview. You need a BS in a field relating to NOAA’s mission, which can be pretty much any math or science field (geology, physics, calculus, engineering, biology, environmental sciences, etc.). Then you attend BOTC (Basic Officer Training Class), which is held at the Coast Guard Academy along with their officer candidate school. Another way to become a JO is to transfer in if you were formerly enlisted. BOTC for JO’s lasts five months, and we have lots of navigation classes.

Q: Why is your work (or research) important?

A: NOAA Ships have three main categories: oceanography, hydrography, and fisheries. The major job of JO’s on ships is driving, we’re like bus drivers for science. When we are underway, 50% of my work is navigation, driving the ship, and deck stuff. 30% is collateral duties, extra administrative things to make the ship run such as thinking about environmental compliance and working as a medical officer. 20% (which can fluctuate) is focused on hydrographic survey, driving small boats or helping with survey sheets, managing an area, collecting data, and being sure data is processed on time.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about your work?

A: I really enjoy knowing that I’m keeping people safe while they are sleeping. I really enjoy traveling. I really enjoy the sense of family that comes from living on a ship.

Q: Where do you do most of your work?

A: All of the navigation is done from the bridge. The rest of the work is desk work. Any ship needs lots of administrative work to make it run. It’s like a space ship, a hotel, a restaurant, a family. To make all of those things run you need cooks, plumbers, etc., you need a lots of admin. It is like a government-run hotel. There is lots of compliance to think about. It’s a JO’s job to make sure everything is done correctly and all is well taken care of because it is paid for and continues to be paid for by tax payers. Everyone who serves aboard a ship has documented time of when you have been on the ship, sea-service letters. A commercial ship may have human resources (HR), and yeomen (arranges paperwork for travel, keep everything supplied and running, stocked, etc.), pursers (who manage money and billable hours), but all of these tasks are done by JO’s on Fairweather.

Q: What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?

A: Red lights. At night, it is dark on the bridge. We can’t destroy our night-vision, so we use red lights, which are gentle on the eyes and don’t affect one’s night vision. It’s important to be able to see the charts as well as to maintain night vision while keeping watch.

Q: If you could invent any tool to make your work more efficient and cost were no object, what would it be and why?

A: I would hire someone to be the yeomen to make sure we never ran out of pens, always had travel vouchers, made sure copiers ran, and helped with all the other random jobs.

Q: When did you know you wanted to pursue an ocean career?

A: Before I did this, I was a fisheries observer. I was a biologist who went out to sea. I always loved standing on the bridge and hearing the stories. I loved not commuting, not having to go to the office. I loved casting out to sea, working hard, and then, pulling in, tying up, and feeling a huge sigh of relief that the crew worked hard and arrived safely back in port. It stuck with me, I enjoyed that, and I decided to pursue a career with NOAA.

Q: What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?

A: All the administrative stuff!

Q: How do you help wider audiences to understand and appreciate NOAA science?

A: NOAA is everywhere, and sometimes people don’t appreciate that. NOAA produces weather reports and regulates fisheries in Alaska, where I’m from. NOAA could do a better job of advertising to the public its many pursuits.

Q: What advice would you give a young person exploring ocean or science career options?

A: There are many cool internships on research vessels. The commercial sector will always take people looking for adventure. If you don’t make a career of it, that’s fine. At the worst, you learn something new about yourself while having a really cool experience. That is not such a bad thing.  I highly recommend giving an ocean job a try.

Q: What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?

A: I would probably be in grad school. I would study city planning.

Q: Do you have an outside hobby?

A: I like walking. I like being in the woods.


Personal Log

While most of the crew spends days working on the bridge (navigation), the plot room (data analysis), in the galley (preparing meals), or in the engine room/boat shop (keeping everything running smoothly), there are a lot of other areas on the ship that help make Fairweather feel more like home.  Below are some pictures of such key places:

The Ship's Gym

The Ship’s Gym Next to the Engine Room

Ship's Movie Theater

The Ship’s Movie Theater. Some Nights the Crew Gathers to Watch Films Together or Play Games.

Ship's library

The Ship’s Library – Lots of Science Fiction and Suspense!

Ship's Mailroom

The Ship’s Mailroom – Mail is Sent to Each Port; One of the Many Things to Look Forward to in a New Destination.

Conference room

The Ship’s Conference Room Where Navigation Briefings and Safety Meetings Are Held

The Ship's Laundry Room

The Ship’s Laundry Room

Ship's store

The Ship’s Store – Candy & Snacks – Treasures at Sea

The Ship's Store - Swag!

The Ship’s Store – Swag

Berth

A Berth (or Living Space) on the Ship Shared by Two Members of the Crew. Note the Bunk Beds & Curtains. The Crew Works Various Shifts 24/7.


Did You Know?

There is a lot of lingo aboard!  Here are some terms helpful to know for navigating a ship:

Aft: towards the back of the ship

Bow: the front of the ship

Bridge: the navigation or control room at the front/top part of the ship

Decka floor/level on a ship

Flying Bridge: the top-most deck of the ship that provides unobstructed views

Fantail: area towards the back of the ship

Galley: the ship’s kitchen

Hands: a popular way to refer to the crew or people working aboard the ship

Head: the bathroom on a ship

Helm: the “steering wheel” of the ship

Hull: the outside sides/bottom of the vessels

Mess: dining area on the ship

Scullery: where dishes are washed

Starboard: to the right of the ship

Stores:  the supplies kept in the hull that the crew will need while away at sea for a long time

Stern: the back of the boat

Port: to the left of the ship

Challenge Question #3: Devotion 7th Graders – Create a scale drawing of your ideal research or fishing vessel!  Be sure to include key areas, such as those shown above.  Remember that your crew will need space to eat, sleep, navigate, research, work, and relax. At a minimum, include the plan for at least one deck (or floor).  Include your scale factor, show conversions and calculations, and label each area using some of the vocabulary included above.  Needs some ideas?  Check out this link to NOAA’s Marine Vessels for some inspiration.

Lisa Battig: The Interview Issue, September 8, 2017

NOAA TAS Lisa Battig

Aboard Fairweather Alaskan Hydrographic Survey Ship

September 8, 2017

Location: Coast Guard Base, Kodiak Alaska

Weather from the bridge: 48o F, 1-2 knot wind from, Completely overcast,


XO Gonsalves

Executive Officer Michael Gonsalves in his overwhelming (because of all the things he does) office.

An Interview with XO (Executive Officer) Michael Gonsalves

How long have you been with NOAA?

I’ve been here for 13 years…I’ve been on the ship for about 6 months.

What brought you into NOAA?

Certainly I’ve always had an interest in the ocean and in the environment. One of my undergraduate degrees was in oceanography. So I think that’s what steered me towards NOAA. My other undergraduate degree was in math, so I liked the idea of being able to apply math in an environmental setting.

As a side note, XO Gonsalves also has a MS in Applied Math and a PhD in Marine Science

What is it that you do – what is the job of an executive officer?

The Executive Officer position is second in command. So if anything should happen to the CO (commanding officer) I would assume command. Though that is a contingency; that is not my actual job… All administrative work goes through me. For example, the budget, payroll, travel, performance, disciplinary actions, scheduling, arranging all port logistics, …getting augmenters to come out to the ship to fill in… I do everything to allow everyone else to do their job. My job is not the mission. My job is keeping the ship safe and logistically ready to execute the mission.

This is typically a step on the path to becoming a CO, is that correct?

Typically, that’s right. Usually the average NOAA Corps officer will have four sea assignments. Basically every five years, give or take, they will be going back to sea. The first will be as a junior officer, an Ensign. The second is as an Operations Officer who will be coordinating the mission [of that ship]. On the hydro ships that means coordinating the hydrographic science. The third sea tour will be as an Executive Officer and the fourth, around year 15, will be as a Commanding Officer.

I know that NOAA Corp officers spend roughly two years at sea and then three at a land billet. So what has your path been thus far?

I lingered in nearly all of my assignments by a little bit. My first assignment was here, on Fairweather, just after she was reactivated. It was a very skeletal crew. I had opportunities to be trained quickly. We only had two launches at the time. There were so few boats, there were so few people trained in doing things, it was in the crew’s best interest to qualify me because very few people were qualified to do anything.

My first land assignment was at the University of Southern Mississippi. It was a double billet. Number one, it was full-time university training. There was also working with an inter-agency group, The Naval Oceanographic Office and the Army Corps of Engineers, both also conduct survey operations. It’s a nice inter-agency group with similar issues and problems and we can share best practices and things like that. Their particular niche is airborne laser bathymetry, so they are working from an airplane.

Back to University of Southern Mississippi, what was the degree you were pursuing?

Initially it was a master’s degree as a one year program. As it happened, there was a project that I could work on of suitable interest to the joint LIDAR center. We all agreed that I could continue to work on it. The university felt that it was dissertation worthy. So I received my Ph.D.

What was your second tour at sea?

My second tour was as an Operations Officer on Fairweather’s sister ship, Ranier. All three of my assignments thus far have been on hydro ships. There is something to be said for that. It’s a little bit tricky to bring someone in from the outside. It’s a steep learning curve.

My second land assignment was working for the NOAA Operations Branch in Washington D.C. This is a part of the Hydrographic Surveys Division. They govern the field units on the large scale. So I was making the big decisions for what the hydro ships would be responsible for during that particular season. We determined what type of coverage would be needed in each area. That is then the information that the Operations Officer on the ship is working from.

What made NOAA so attractive to you?

Giving service to the US government was a big part. I happily pay my taxes. I appreciate having a police force and knowing that my meat is safe. So that was definitely a big part of it. But NOAA also has a unique mission that I found attractive. And the variety is important to me – just knowing that every couple of years the assignment will change.

And what is it that keeps you going while you’re out here at sea? Is there anything you miss or are looking forward to when this sea tour is complete?

People are tricky and a lot of my job involves personnel. The whole job keeps me going, really. I do miss Washington, D.C. – the public transport, the museums and the shows. There are so many things to do and see. There are a lot of jobs in D.C. and I am making clear that is a desire for the next land billet.


ENS Calderon

ENS Carroll

Junior officers, ENS Calderon and ENS Carroll on the bridge working on the computer navigation system. Both also are intimately involved with the surveying program.

A quick one question survey for the junior officers on the ship… Why did you choose a hydrographic survey ship? A collection of the answers I received are below:

  • To have the opportunity to be much more deeply involved with the science
  • My background is math or math/mapping
  • To be in Alaska
  • This is a route to pursue flying with NOAA Corps
  • Didn’t want the technical skills developed in prior work to go to waste
  • Had already worked on fisheries ships with Department of Fish and Wildlife

As with all officers in our uniformed services; NOAA Corps officers have had degrees conferred prior to service. Most of the degrees are math and science. The hydrographic survey ships tend to attract the math, physics, and geological science degrees for obvious reasons. Many then go on to pursue advanced degrees as did LCDR Gonsalves, the focus of my interview.


 

An interview with Kathy Brandts and Tyrone Baker; Ships Stewards

How long have you been cooking for NOAA Ships and what were you doing prior?

Chief cook Tyrone in the kitchen

Chief Cook Tyrone Baker, master of the grill

T: I cooked for the Navy for 20 years out of school. When I finished, I went to work for a casino for a while – still cooking. Then NOAA called me up (he had put in an application a while before and forgotten about it) and here I am! That was back in 2005.

K: I started out in the Coast Guard…I wanted to be a bosun [boatswain] mate, which is what everyone wants to do. But it was going to take a long time to make grade, and hardly anyone wants to be a cook because it’s a lot of work. I decided to go through their school, which was two months. That was when it started, in ’94. My first ship assignment was the Polar Star, which was an ice breaker.

Chief steward Kathy B and me

Kathy Brandts, Queen of the kitchen – also known as the Chief Steward. This is the day she let me cook a bit with her.

Kathy, why did you get out of the Coast Guard and what finally got you to NOAA?

K:  All of the land assignments were being contracted out to [private companies]. So I was never going to get a chance to cook on land. So I decided that wasn’t for me. I got out after my four and a half years. I landed in Seattle, and that’s where NOAA was based. I had heard about them when I was in the Coast Guard. I knew they were hiring, talked with somebody, and essentially got hired on the spot. And I was in Alaska! I started out in the augmentation pool, I worked on Discovery and then on Ranier. Then a permanent position came up and I jumped at it. I didn’t really get along with the Chief Steward, though – so I left NOAA and worked for Keystone Ski Resorts in Colorado at their stables. [She spent several years on land at that point.]

The Chief Steward on Ranier tracked me down [in Colorado] and asked me to come back. There was talk of Fairweather coming back online and I wanted the Chief Steward job. I didn’t have the experience at that point, so I took a year off and went to Culinary School. I applied for the Chief Steward job on Fairweather and got it. I was on Fairweather from 2004-2013. [She is now the Chief Steward on Ruben Lasker, another NOAA ship, but is helping out on this leg]

Why be a ship cook?

T: I’ve been so many places and seen so many things I wouldn’t have otherwise seen. I’ve really been all around the world. I’ve been in almost every port of the world. How many people can say that? I wouldn’t trade it.

K: I was a restaurant cook for a while. I hated it. You’re either going 9 million miles an hour or there’s nothing. There’s a lot of alcoholism and drug use in that industry and they live a different life. The service industry… (laughs). And people are either sailors or they’re not. I think, much to my chagrin, I found it out after I quit the Coast Guard.

T: Yes, I agree. I’m a sailor. It was why I joined the Navy.

What are the best and most rewarding things about what you do?

T: I just really like it. I enjoy the cooking. I enjoy the work.

K: I like good food and I like when people are appreciative of what I do. And we’re all stuck out here together, why not make it the best that it can be. Meal time is what you look forward to when you’re on a ship.

David GVA and me

GVA Dave – he just joined Fairweather and was actually helping out the stewards on this leg, but now he’s where he’s supposed to be in the deck department.


Crew member of the Day: Electronic Technician (ET) Charlie Goertzen 

Charlie and me

Charlie Goertzen, tech guy extraordinaire!

So today as we pulled into Kodiak, the news came in that the long awaited new televisions were here. Immediately, Charlie was notified. And he will work hours to make sure that each crew member has a working television in their room.

He is the guy that keeps the connectivity going in pretty difficult conditions. He has to spend a lot of time keeping various computer components talking to each other. He has to content with all of the complaints about lack of bandwidth, slowness of applications, slowness of wireless – and he does his best to keep things optimized and clean and efficient all the time. Two of the things he loves the most are the ocean and working with electronic components. He gets both of them all the time!

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!

Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 10.38.13 AM

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” 

IMG_1451

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.

Barney Peterson: Who Works on NOAA Ship OREGON II? Part 3

NOAA Teacher a Sea

Barney Peterson

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 13 – 28, 2016

Mission: Long Line Survey

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Sunday, August 28, 2016

Weather Data is not available for this post because I am writing from the Biloxi/Gulfport Airport.

DECK CREW

Tim Martin, Chief Boatswain, aboard the OREGON II, left his home near the Missouri River in Missouri for a life at sea and has never looked back.  Like many young people from the Central United States, he joined the Navy as a way to travel and see the rest of the world.  He was stationed on Whidbey Island in Washington State and when he left the Navy he became a commercial fisherman working out of Seattle to fish the in Bering Sea from Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

Tim left the west coast and the world of commercial fishing to join NOAA and worked for several years on ships out of NOAA Woods Hole Station in Massachusetts.   Eventually, through connections he made on the job, he was able to transfer to the Southeastern Fisheries group.  He has worked on several ships, but has been on the OREGON II for 12 years.  Tim likes his job for the variety and activity it provides, as well as opportunities to apply his mind to ways to make things work better or more smoothly.  He attributes much of the good working atmosphere on the ship to the stability of many crew members who have worked together for years.   As a long-time civilian mariner with NOAA he appreciates the importance of believing in what you are doing and being committed to being successful.

But, Tim Martin is not so one dimensional that you can know him as just a mariner.  Talking with him I learned that he is a voracious reader with very eclectic tastes in literature.  He devours everything from travel accounts to true adventure, biographies, and historical accounts of exploration and settlement of the world.  He has traveled broadly and uses his reading time to continue to learn about the places he has visited.  He is a licensed diver and enjoys the underwater world as much as sailing on the surface of the sea.   I was fascinated to learn that he has dived to authentic pirate wrecks…quite a change from his underwater beginnings in the dark and brackish Pascagoula River.  Tim is a great example of someone who recognizes that his only limits are the ones he sets for himself.  That is a great legacy to leave for his family.

Chris Nichols, Lead Fisherman, got into marine work for the adventures.  Growing up he read classics like “Captains Courageous” and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” His years as a Boy Scout helped empower him with a can-do attitude that kept him from quitting when things got difficult.  After a mediocre high school career and his childhood years in West Palm Beach, Florida, hanging around the docks and fishing, his quest for travel and adventure led him first to commercial fishing and then to join the Navy.

After six years in the service, including training in water rescue, Chris left the Navy and started classes for work in the merchant marine industry.  As he worked toward earning his 100 ton master rating he discovered that using math, which had seemed unimportant and boring in high school, was critical for navigation.  Applying the things he was studying to real world problems made learning important.  The life-style structure of his military years helped him move fairly seamlessly into the shift work that became his routine aboard merchant ships.  The travel fed his sense of exploration and adventure.

Now, after 20 years working either on NOAA ships or for companies that contracted with NOAA, Chris still loves his job and his life style.  His experience in the merchant marine gave him the background to understand working on ships from the viewpoint of the wheel house and the deck.  He patiently explained to me that the job titles of people working on the deck crew are just positions for which eligible Able Bodied Seamen were hired.  They are not classification by skill or experience; they are job descriptions.  Each survey watch requires 3 crew members on deck to work equipment and support the scientists in deployment and retrieval of lines. Cooperation and communication are the most critical skills needed by everyone on the ship for success in carrying out their mission.

“NOAA has recently been experiencing a lack of interested, qualified applicants,” Chris told me.  “I think many young people lack the sense of adventure that makes life at sea attractive.”  He certainly demonstrates that desire for adventure: his eyes light up and an infectious grin spreads across his face as he talks about the places he’s been and the places he still wants to go.

The whole deck crew, including Chris Rawley, Mike Conway, Chuck Godwin, and James Rhue, are a lively, hard-working bunch.  They do their jobs, they have some fun doing them sometimes, and they like what they are doing.  Every time I was around them I could hear John Fogarty’s song “Rambunctious Boy” playing in my head and I ended up smiling and humming along!

the-deck-crew-chris-nichols-mike-conway-tim-martin-james-rhue-and-chris-rawley

The Deck Crew – Chris Nichols, Mike Conway, Tim Martin, James Rhue, and Chris Rawley

ENGINEERS

Thirty-six years ago Rich Brooks took the advice of his high school math and history teachers and enrolled at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.  The strict structure of the Academy helped him develop his study habits and learn the discipline needed to raise from a low C student a B+ student who took pride in his work.  He graduated with a degree in Marine Engineering, but spent time as a substitute teacher while deciding where he wanted to go with his career.  Currently he holds 3 chief engineer licenses: steam, motor and gasoline and is qualified to operate any watercraft.

richard-brooks

Richard Brooks

Eventually he started working on ships, spending a number of years in the Merchant Marine.   He worked on merchant transport ships contracted to our government to support Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom in the Persian Gulf. For 10 years he worked on independent oil tankers on the West Coast, transporting oil and gasoline to and from various ports. He has been a 1st Engineer for NOAA for 2 years.

Rich enjoys the travel and adventure that are part of his career.  He likes visiting different cities and has been through both the Suez and Panama Canals in his travels.  It has been a long journey around the world from his childhood home in Haverhill, Massachusetts to Mobile, Alabama where he made his home base for the last 25 years.  He is proud that his work as an engineer has influenced his son to pursue a career in engineering, following his father’s example of hard work and sacrifice as the way to get ahead in life. Rich hopes to see more young people turn to careers in engineering, knowing as he does that the average age of marine engineers in this country is 58 years which means there will be openings for young people as they complete their training.  As for him, when he retires several years in the future he looks forward to moving closer to his father in Florida, going fishing and playing golf.

 

THE PEOPLE I MISSED INTERVIEWING:

My roommate, Chrissy Stepongzi, is a marine biologist and the person of whom I saw the least on this cruise.  She knows her job and was always eager to answer questions.  We just did not see each other often to talk because of being on opposite shifts and sharing the room.  She slept while I worked and visa-versa.  I appreciated her quick smile and well-developed sense of humor and wish we had been able to get better acquainted.

night-crew-before-shift-change-trey-chrissy-lydia-and-toni

The Night Crew before a shift change – Trey, Chrissy, Lydia, and Toni

Fisherman Mike Conway has been working on ships for a long time.  He loves the ocean and loves the travel.  His willingness to make sure I learned and got opportunity to see things was really helpful and made me feel welcome.  Mike was always willing to grab my iPad and take pictures so I could be in them and he was the one that made sure I got to see the sky at night and appreciate the beauty of being on the ocean in one more way.

Fisherman Chris Rawley, quick to grin, but slow to talk, took some effort to get to know.  Chris was a fisherman on our shift and helped with everything from running the crane to pulling lines to wrestling sharks.  He was “born under a wandering star,” and loves to travel.  He’s a gypsy at heart.

James Rhue is another fisherman working on the deck crew.  He too was with the night shift so we didn’t cross paths often.  When we did talk he could always answer my questions and made me feel welcome.

Mike, Chris, and James are pictured in the Deck Crew photo above.

Mary Stratford was filling in on the deck crew this cruise.  She lives in Puerto Rico where she is a ceramic artist, but much of her life has been spent working in jobs that allow her to see the world.  Mary was helpful and friendly and always interesting to talk to.

2nd Engineer Darnell Doe, the quiet, friendly guy I ate breakfast with most mornings.  We shared a little conversation and watch the news over a quick bite to eat and a cup of coffee.  I never turned out into a formal interview and didn’t take notes on our casual conversations.

darnelle-doe

2nd Engineer Darnell Doe

3rd Engineer Sam Bessey was filling in a temporary vacancy.  He is a recent graduate of an academy in Maine and worked the opposite shift of mine so we had a few chances to talk a little, but not enough to call an interview.  I do know he wants to head for Hawaii and try to find work there after this cruise, but will head home to Maine to see family first.  Good luck in your new career Sam.

Roy Tolliver was our tech person.  I most often saw him walking from place to place on the decks, checking on electronic equipment and trying to troubleshoot computer problems when they arose.  Roy has worked on ships for many years and has been many places around the world.

roy-tolliver-and-sam-on-the-flying-bridge-as-we-moved-into-the-harbor-at-gulfport-mississippi

Roy Tolliver and Sam Bessey on the flying bridge as we moved into the harbor at Gulfport

O C Hill, Listed on the staff roster as a “wiper” was another one of the people who kept the ship running.  Our interactions were limited to friendly smiles and greetings.  When folks work in the engine room it is hard to find a time to talk with them, especially if shifts don’t match.

wiper-otha-hill

Otha (O.C.) Hill

Valerie McCaskill, our cook and one of the most important people on the ship.  I know she has a daughter she was eager to get home to see.  I know she had very little warning that the previous cook would not be on this voyage so she had to step in in a hurry.  I know that she has a beautiful smile and makes legendary macaroni and cheese!  She kept us very happy!

Chuck Godwin would normally be working on this ship as a skilled fisherman on the deck crew, but he worked in the kitchen with Valerie this trip to fill an important empty spot and keep us all well-fed.  His irrepressible sense of fun and lively conversation kept us all hopping.  His career has spanned time in the Coast Guard as well as years with NOAA.  His is a proud new grandpa.

valerie-mccaskill-and-chuck-godwin-in-the-galley-of-noaa-ship-oregon-ii

Valerie McCaskill and Chuck Godwin in the galley of NOAA Ship OREGON II

That I did not get to know everyone on the ship is my loss.  Everyone that I met was friendly and helpful.  It was a true pleasure to meet and work with these great people.

DJ Kast, Interview with the Stewards, June 1, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dieuwertje “DJ” Kast
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
May 19 – June 3, 2015

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Geographical area of cruise: East Coast
Date: June 1, 2015 Day 14

Weather Data:

  • Rainy and Choppy
  • Air Temperature: 8 °C
  • Water Temperature: 10.46°C
  • Barometer: 1021.3 mb
  • TSG (Sound-Velocity): 1487 meters/sec
  • TSG- Conductivity: 3.63 s/m
  • TSG- Salinity: 32.66 PSU
  • Wind: 30 knots North East

Interview with Dennis Carey and Jeremy Howard, Chief Steward and Chief Cook of NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow Research Cruise 1502. They have been working together for 3.5 years.

 

Dennis Carey

Dennis! Photo by DJ Kast

Dennis! Photo by DJ Kast

 What is your job here on the ship?

My name is Dennis and I am the Chief Steward. This means that I am in charge of food production and management. I am the Head of the Steward Department and I have been for about 12 years now.

How is a boat kitchen different from a home kitchen?

First of all, a boat kitchen is called a galley and the dinning area where everyone eats is called a mess hall. Additionally, a water fountain is called a scuttlebutt.

In terms of a technical answer to your question, we have:

  1. Convection oven- it cooks things faster because it can cook at 25F higher than a regular oven and the air is circulated by a fan as well.

Convection Oven. Photo by DJ Kast

Convection Oven. Photo by DJ Kast

2. Grill

Grill! Photo by DJ Kast

Grill! Photo by DJ Kast

3. Steam jacket kettle- for sauces and soups

Soup Maker. Photo by DJ Kast

Steam jacket kettle. Photo by DJ Kast

4. Commercialized equipment- blender& large refrigerator

5. Gallon water, coffee and milk machine

Water and ice dispenser, microwave, and lots of tea. Photo by DJ Kast

Water and ice dispenser, microwave, and lots of tea. Photo by DJ Kast

Milk on the left, See-through refrigerator on right. Photo by DJ Kast

Milk on the left, Stand-up refrigerator on right. Photo by DJ Kast

6. Cereal dispensers!

Cool Cereal dispenser! Photo by DJ Kast

Cool Cereal dispenser! Photo by DJ Kast

7. Salad bars

Salad bar. Photo by DJ Kast

Salad bar. Photo by DJ Kast

8. Dragon/ Dishwasher Machine: It sanitizes by steaming dishes up to 195F.

 

The Dragon. Photo by DJ Kast

The Dragon. Photo by DJ Kast

Tell me about your experience:

I served 22 years with the Navy, and 12 years with NOAA and all those years were in food service.

What training do you need for your job:

  • Back in my day, I was called a Mess Specialist when I graduated C-school, now called culinary specialists.
    • According to https://www.navycs.com/navy-jobs/culinary-specialist.html:  The Navy Cook rating was one of the original ratings in 1797. The name Cook was changed to Ship’s Cook in 1838. It wasn’t until 1948 that the culmination of the various rates Commissary Steward, Ship’s Cook, Ship’s Cook (B) (Butchers), and Baker consolidated into the Commissaryman rating. In 1975, the name was changed to Mess Management Specialist, and finally, in 2004, the Culinary Specialist rating was established.
  • I attended Rose State College in Oklahoma and Central Texas University.
  • I went to C-school, which is also called advanced food preparation and management.
  • You will need experience and lots of it, particularly on the job experience. I started with an Intern culinary internship with Hilton Northwest in Oklahoma city.
  • I also did a Food Service Attendance. It is a 3 month rotation where everybody has to work in the galley. They kept me as a cook!

According to the Navy Personnel Command,

General Culinary Specialist description:

Culinary Specialists (CS) receive extensive training in culinary arts, and other areas within the hospitality industry.  This CS rating is responsible for all aspects of the dining (shipboard mess decks) and shore duty living areas.  Culinary Specialists work in the “heart of the ship,” and are vital in maintaining high crew morale on ships, construction battalions and every shore base.

Job Descriptions:

  • Menu management and ordering the quantities and types of food items necessary for quantity food preparation.
  • Operating kitchen and dining facilities.
  • Maintaining subsistence inventories using storeroom management procedures.
  • Culinary Specialists work in kitchen, dining areas, bachelor quarters, living quarters and food service storerooms aboard ships, shore bases, construction battalions, and designated aircraft.  The work is physical, creative and mentally challenging; in which one has to be flexible and versatile in their daily duties.

After “A” School, Culinary Specialists are assigned to deploying units or shore stations in the United States and/or overseas. During a 20-year career in the Navy, CS’s spend approximately 60 percent of their time assigned to fleet units and 40 percent to shore stations.

Apprenticeships are highly valued for ship work and below are the current USMAP apprenticeship trades that are currently offered for the Culinary Specialist rating:

  • Baker (Bake Products)
  • Cook (Any Industry)
  • Manager, Food Service (Hotel and Restaurant)
  • Cook (Hotel and Restaurant)
  • Housekeeper (Commercial, Residential, Industrial)
  • Household Manager (Private, Residential Management)

(http://www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/enlisted/community/supply/Pages/CSRating.aspx)

What was the first NOAA ship you worked on?

I worked on the Delaware as a Chief Steward.

 

Delaware Research Vessel. Photo by NOAA

Delaware Research Vessel. Photo by NOAA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeremy Howard- Chief Cook

What is your job here on the ship?

Second Cook- food preparation and sanitation.

How did you get trained to do your job?

I’ve been a NOAA steward for 6 years and every year NOAA sends stewards to training to keep up with the culinary skills.

Tell me more about cooking for so many people

You have to be able to cook portions for crew size. Crew size varies per mission of the cruise and so we figure out all of the crew aboard for consumption of goods. We make sure we are accommodating food choices like: vegetarian, gluten free, lactose free, etc. Our crew size is 32 people right now, and the maximum crew size is 41 people. We try to minimize waste. Main goal of the steward department is to cook GREAT food and not waste it.

Why did you chose to be a chef?

I am passionate about cooking great food. Being a cook, you have to have passion because there is a lot of routine in cooking. You start seeing the same people every day, cooking similar food and so I figure out ways to keep on learning new things, and continuously improve.

To be a chef you need to have good communication skills with the chief steward and in general you need to be flexible especially out on a ship.

Being out at sea- you can’t go to the store if you forgot something. You have to have attention to detail before we get underway.

NOAA is the best kept secret for culinary work. I love the Bigelow- I have a great career here, and I might not be able to see foreign ports so much but I am guaranteed to see my family. I get to see them 2 to 3 months out of the year versus 2 weeks like on navy ships. BEST KEPT SECRET.

Food inventory:

We do all the food shopping before we leave for trip. Chief Steward orders the food from a reputable FDA approved supplier. Dennis does all the inventory. We can’t waste money or food on this ship. He needs to do an inventory of things and we go by our motto with inventory which is: First in, first out!

What was your first ship?

NOAA Ship- Delaware II!

Delaware Research Vessel. Photo by NOAA

Delaware Research Vessel. Photo by NOAA

But technically, before that I was in the Navy for 5 years. I was part of the Hurricane Katrina relief in New Orleans.

What does a typical day look like?

Both of us get up at 4 AM to prepare breakfast and we make 3 square meals a day (7-8 AM, 11 AM-12:30 PM, and 5-6 PM). We finish about 7:30 PM.

IMG_2111

Lunch Menu on 5-31-15. Yummy! Photo by DJ Kast

IMG_2113

Yummy lunch food. Photo by DJ Kast

You gotta keep a good morale about your career, you keep growing, and it never gets boring. We also help with the morale of the ship and we host Bingo Nights, and Ice Cream Socials, which allows new crew to bond with old crew.

Bingo Night with John! Here is Billy picking up one of the prizes. Photo by Jerry Prezioso.

Bingo Night with Third Engineer John! Here is Electronic Technician Billy picking up one of the prizes. Photo by Jerry Prezioso.

I’ll humbly say that Bigelow has the best steward department EVER!

Robert Ulmer: The Company You Keep, June 25, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Robert Ulmer

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

Underway from June 15 to July 3, 2013

Current coordinates:  N 56⁰40.075’, W 134⁰20.96’

(southeast of Point Sullivan in Chatham Strait)

Mission:  Hydrographic survey

Geographical area of cruise:  Southeast Alaska, including Chatham Strait and Behm Canal, with a Gulf of Alaska transit westward to Kodiak

Log date:  June 25, 2013

Weather conditions:  Misty rain under a blanket of thick clouds and fog, 13.76⁰C, 84.88% relative humidity, 1001.09 mb of atmospheric pressure, very light variable winds (speed of less than 1.5 knots with a heading between 344⁰ and 11⁰)

  • Remember that headings on a ship are measured around a full 360⁰ circle clockwise from north.  Therefore, 344⁰ and 22⁰ are only 38⁰ apart directionally.

NOAA Ship Rainier, S-221, underway in Behm Canal

The operation of NOAA Ship Rainier, S-221, requires the cooperation of a large, hard-working, and multi-talented crew.

Explorer’s Log:  The crew of NOAA Ship Rainier

Especially as we leave the confines of childhood, society views us, at least in part, by our intentional decisions about which people make up our circle of friends and our group of colleagues.  Certainly such outside judgments can be unfair when based only on short-term glimpses, predisposed biases, or moments misunderstood for lack of context, but I think that long-term observations of our personal associations can provide meaningful information about us.

With Ai Wei Wei's zodiac sculptures in Washington, DC

With Ai Wei Wei’s zodiac sculptures in Washington, DC

With the crew after the 5K race at O'Leno State Park

After the 5K race at O’Leno State Park

My closest circle of friends – intentionally – is populated by a rich gumbo of personalities, ideas, ideals, physiques, insights, humors, tastes, preferences, and behaviors, all of which serve to stimulate my mind, activate my creativity, enrich my soul, entertain my spirit, and motivate my direction.  In other words, they are the scaffolding that supports me and the team that carries me along through so many parts of my own explorations.  Jasmine’s appreciation of intelligence and beauty, Collin’s sharp wit, Reece’s focused intensity, Dad’s analysis, Mom’s honesty, Lisa’s support, Grandma Madeline’s generosity, Aunt Marilyn’s and Uncle Marc’s welcome, Aunt Lynn’s spunkiness, Cheryl’s cool, Dillon’s quiet observation, Jack’s vision, Teresa’s organization, Bob’s perspective, Katy’s goodness, Chris’s enthusiasm, Emilee’s wonder, Kyle’s repartee, Casey’s lyricism, Will’s genuineness, Rien’s kindness, Tyler’s motivation, Zach’s creativity, Brian’s investment in service, Matt’s passion for justice, Gary’s sense of direction, Tommy’s helpfulness, Silas’s wordsmithery, Loubert’s jocularity, Jonathan’s love….

And then add the brilliant and rich colors and flavors and voices of my larger group of friends and acquaintances:  the teachers, administrators, students, and neighbors who daily contribute their own stories and wisdoms to my experiences, and the result – again, intentionally – is very nearly a portrait of me… or at least the me that I aspire to become in my own journeys.

(For my varied generations of readers, think of the Magnificent Seven, the Fellowship of the Ring, and/or the Order of the Phoenix.  This is my posse.)

In other words, we often are judged and almost always are defined by the company we keep.

Wedding celebration

Wedding celebration

The NOAA Ship Rainier is no exception.  Beyond the mechanical body of the ship herself, the personnel here are the essence of the vessel that carries them.

Acting CO Mark Van Waes maintains a vigilant lookout on the bridge

Acting CO Mark Van Waes maintains a vigilant lookout on the bridge.

Smart and funny, resourceful and dedicated, skilled and hard-working, the crew members of NOAA Ship Rainier are an impressive bunch, all of whom have enriched me in the short time that I’ve been aboard, and all of whom do their jobs and interact in ways that produce superb results.  And the wholeness of their shared strengths, talents, and personalities is far greater than the sum of their individual aspects, as always is the case when a team is well-assembled.

MB_2, Red Bluff Bay, Chatham Strait, Alaska, June 23, 2013

One of the NOAA Commissioned Corps Officers appreciates the beauty of Southeast Alaska.

For more than 150 (and sometimes more than 250!) days per year, the men and women aboard ships in the NOAA fleet sacrifice time away from their own homes, friends, and families – and regularly that remoteness isolates them from news, television, phone, and internet for days or weeks at a time – in service to the public at large through their assigned missions at sea.  Currently, nearly four dozen crew members serve aboard Rainier in several departments, each of which serves its own set of functions, but all of which are unified by their shared mission, like the instrumental sections of an orchestra in the production of a symphony.

NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps

The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, sharply outfitted aboard ship in their navy blue ODUs (operational dress uniforms), is one of the seven uniformed services in the United States government.  For this leg of the mission, the officers  aboard Rainier serve under Acting Commanding Officer (ACO) Mark Van Waes and Executive Officer (XO) Holly Jablonski to perform three sets of functions:  administrative, navigational, and participatory.  As the administrators of the ship, the officers are responsible for everything from payroll to purchases, and communications to goodwill.  In the navigational capacity, the officers are responsible for charting the courses to be traveled by the ship and moving the vessel along those courses, sometimes with helm in hand and sometimes by giving the command orders to effectuate those maneuvers.  Finally, aboard Rainier and her sister hydrographic vessels, the junior officers are trained members of the hydrographic survey team, participating at all levels in the gathering and processing of data regarding the floor of the sea.  Ultimately, the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps members work to define the missions of Rainier and oversee the execution of those missions.

NOAA Commissioned Officers and Third Mate Carl VerPlanck of the Deck Department navigate NOAA Ship Rainier

NOAA Commissioned Officers and Third Mate Carl VerPlanck of the Deck Department navigate NOAA Ship Rainier.

Deck Department

Members of the Deck Department let go the anchor on the bow

Members of the Deck Department let go the anchor on the bow.

Beyond the uniformed NOAA Corps crew members, Rainier also employs many highly-skilled civilian merchant mariners who work around the clock to support the officers in the duties of navigation and sailing of the ship while it is underway.  Essentially, while following the decisive command orders of the Officer Corps, the Deck Department handles the endless details involved in steering the ship and its smaller boats, along with deploying and anchoring those vessels.  Under the departmental leadership of Chief Boatswain (pronounced “bosun”) Jim Kruger, the members of the Deck Department all hold various levels of U.S. Coast Guard ratings in navigational watch-standing and deck operations, and their experiences and proficiencies earn them respect with regard to many facets of decision-making and operations on the bridge.

(The NOAA Corps and the Deck Department together have been responsible for the passage of NOAA Ship Rainier through the waterways of Southeast Alaska during my weeks aboard.  To see a cool video of NOAA’s travel through Alaska’s Inside Passage made using stop-motion photography by Ensign John Kidd, click here.)

Survey and Deck Department members work together to prepare for the day's launches

Survey and Deck Department members work together to prepare for the day’s launches.

Survey Department

The members of the Survey Department aboard NOAA Ship Rainier are civilian scientists (working hand-in-hand with survey-trained NOAA Corps officers) who have been trained in the specialized work of conducting surveys of the sea floor using single-beam sonar, multi-beam sonar, tidal gauges and leveling devices, CTD devices (to gather data about conductivity, temperature, and depth of the water column), and several very highly-technical components of computer hardware and software packages.

Only the highest point of this 150-meter-wide rock remains above the water line at high tide.

Can you see the horizontal lines on this rock formation? They are caused by cyclical changes in the elevation of the sea water as a result of tidal forces. Only the highest point (around where the bald eagle is perched) of this 150-meter-wide set of rocks (extending beyond the boundaries of this image in both directions several times the width of what this photograph shows) remains above the water line at high tide. However, the portions that become submerged remain extremely dangerous to seagoing vessels, which is why the work of the Survey Department is so important.

From Hydrographic Assistant Survey Technicians (HASTs) upward through the ranks to Chief Survey Technician (CST) Jim Jacobson, they are superb problem-solvers and analysts with undergraduate- and graduate-level degrees in the cartography, biology, geography, systems analysis, and many other fields of scientific expertise, and one survey technician aboard Rainier is an experienced mariner who transferred into the Survey Department with a broad educational background ranging from the humanities to computer science.  The members of the Survey Department spend countless hours gathering, cleaning, analyzing, and integrating data to produce nautical charts and related work products to make travel by water safer for everyone at sea.

Two-dimensional slice of data

The Survey Department compiles raw sonar and quantitative data from the ship and the launch vessels and first converts those data into a graphic file that looks like this…

... which becomes this ...

… which is a slice of this image …

Soundings

… which then goes through this sounding selection stage before eventually being finalized into a nautical chart for public use.

Physical Scientists

 NOAA physical scientist Kurt Brown joins Rainier in surveying the sea floor of Chatham Strait


NOAA physical scientist Kurt Brown joins Rainier in surveying the sea floor of Chatham Strait.

One or two physical scientists join the ship’s crew for most of the field season from one of two NOAA Hydrographic offices (in Seattle, Washington and Norfolk, Virginia), where their jobs consist of reviewing the hydrographic surveys submitted by the ships to make sure that they meet NOAA’s high standards for survey data, and compiling those surveys into products used to update the approximately 1000 nautical charts that NOAA maintains.  The ship benefits from the physical scientists’ time on board by having a person familiar with office processing of survey data while the surveys are “in the field,” and also by receiving an extra experienced hand for daily survey operations.  The physical scientists also get a refresher on hydro data collection and processing along with a better understanding of the problems that the field deals with on a daily basis, and they bring this up-to-date knowledge back to the office to share with coworkers there.

Engineering Department

Oiler Byron Doran of the Engineering Department chooses the right tools for the job.

Oiler Byron Doran of the Engineering Department chooses the right tools for the job.

The Engineering Department is a combination of U.S. Coast Guard licensed Engineering Officers (CME, 1AE, 2AE, and 3AE) and unlicensed engineering personnel (Junior Engineer, Oiler, and GVA).  Their work is concerned with the maintenance of the physical plant of the ship — everything from stopping leaks to making mechanical adjustments necessary for Rainier‘s proper and efficient running in the water.  The engineers are skilled craftsmen and craftswomen who wield multiple tools with great dexterity as needs arise.

Electronics Technicians

Electronics Technician (ET) Jeff Martin hard at work

Electronics Technician (ET) Jeff Martin is hard at work.

The Electronics Technician aboard NOAA Ship Rainier (some ships have a larger department) has the important role of making sure that the many computerized systems — both hardware and software — are properly networked and functional so that navigation and survey operations can proceed effectively and efficiently.  Having trained on radar equipment with the U.S. Navy “back in the days of glass tubes,” ET Jeff Martin is an expert’s expert, adept at prediction and troubleshooting, and skilled at developing plans for moving systems forward with the ship’s mission.

Steward Department

Chief Steward Doretha Mackey always cooks up a good time and a great meal.

Chief Steward Doretha Mackey always cooks up a good time and a great meal.

Chief Steward Kathy Brandts and GVA Ron Hurt keep the crew happily well-fed.

Chief Steward Kathy Brandts and GVA Ron Hurt keep the crew happily well-fed.

The Steward Department runs the galley (the ship’s kitchen) and currently is composed of four crew members aboard Rainier.  Specifically, they are responsible for menu preparation, food acquisition, recipe creation, baking, and meal preparation for the 40+ people who must eat three meals (and often have snacks) spread across the entire day, both underway and at port, including special meals for away-from-the-galley groups (like launch vessels and shore parties), when local goods (like fish, fruits, and vegetables) are available, and/or for crew members or guests with dietary restrictions.  An army moves on its stomach.  The meals aboard this ship, by the way, show great diversity, technique, and nutritional value, including grilled fish and steaks, vegetarian casseroles, curried pastas, homemade soups, fresh salads, and a wide variety of delicious breakfast foods, snacks, and desserts.

Second Cook Floyd Pounds works to prepare a meal for the crew.

Second Cook Floyd Pounds works to prepare a meal for the crew.

So those are the current citizens of the seagoing vessel NOAA Ship Rainier, harmonizing within a common chord, travelers who together explore the seas by working together to achieve their unified mission.  They are the excellent company that I keep on this leg of the exploration.

As you endeavor upon your own journeys, remember always to choose your company wisely so that your efforts are supported when challenging, insulated when vulnerable, motivated when difficult, and celebrated when successful.  And once you are surrounded by those good people, keep exploring, my friends.

Even the sea otters take some time to relax and enjoy one another's company.

Sea otters enjoy one another’s company along their way.

Personal Log:  Enjoy yourself along the way

Although they all work long, hard hours at their many assigned tasks, members of the team aboard NOAA Ship Rainier also enjoy one another’s company and occasionally get to have a good time.  Sharing an isolated, moving home barely 70 meters long with four dozen people for several weeks at a time guarantees social interaction, and the sounds of testimonies of laughter and friendship regularly fill the air in and around the ship, both among the workstations and away from the ship.

Ensign Theresa Madsen and Second Assistant Engineer Evan McDermott, my exploration partners in Red Bluff Bay

Ensign Theresa Madsen and Second Assistant Engineer Evan McDermott, my exploration partners in Red Bluff Bay

One of Carl's many catches

One of Carl’s many catches

Since joining the crew of Rainier just a week and a half ago – and beyond the many exciting excursions that are simply part of the regular jobs here – I already have been invited to join various smaller groups in exploring a town, dining in a local eatery, watching a movie, climbing a glacier, fishing in the waters of Bay of Pillars, walking on a beach, and kayaking through beautiful Red Bluff Bay past stunning waterfalls, huge mountains, and crystal-clear icy streams, including a spontaneous hike into the deep and wild, verdant and  untrammeled woods above the shore, following uncut paths usually trod only by deer and bears on their way to the frigid water running down from the snow-capped peaks high above.

Evan replaces his socks after walking through the stream

Evan replaces his socks after walking through the frigid stream.

Evan takes the lead hiking into the woods (armed with bear spray and an adventurer's spirit)

Evan takes the lead hiking into the woods, armed with bear spray and an adventurer’s spirit!

Truly, the people aboard Rainier know how to enjoy the gift of life.  And I feel honored, flattered, privileged, and happy to be included among these new friends on their great adventures.

Beautiful waterfall in Red Bluff Bay

A beautiful waterfall that Theresa, Evan, and I explored in Red Bluff Bay