Robert Ulmer: Know Your Surroundings, June 28, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Robert Ulmer
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 15–July 3, 2013

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 28, 2013

Current coordinates:  N 56⁰40.038’, W 134⁰20.908’ (southeast of Point Sullivan in Chatham Strait)

Weather conditions:  13.53⁰C and falling, scattered cumulus clouds with intermittent light rainfall, 81.05% relative humidity, 1019.55 mb of atmospheric pressure, breezy with gusts of wind out of the NNW at 10 to 15 knots

Explorer’s Log:  The layout of the ship

An explorer who doesn’t make himself familiar with his new surroundings is truly no explorer at all, and he might just as well stay home.  Why would you venture forth if not to witness the events and items along the way?

The "big eyes" on the flying deck with the anchor deck visible below
Keep your eyes open.  There’s so much to see everywhere!

For the past few days, NOAA Ship Rainier has been continuing its mission to complete a detailed and thorough survey of the sea floor along Chatham Strait, a channel used by many nautical vessels in their transit of the Inside Passage of Southeast Alaska.  So, aside from noticing the appearance and disappearance of some rock features in the rising and falling tides and the daily incremental reduction of snow as it melts on the high mountaintops nearby in the relative warmth of early summer, most of what I see from the deck of the ship and from the smaller launch vessels is the same topography in every direction that I’ve seen for the past week, along with occasional clouds, whales, otters, birds, and other boats.  The scenery beyond the rails is very beautiful, but the temporary respite from faster passage to any new geographic destination also has given me a chance to take a few photos of the space around me:  the ship herself.
Using the shadow cast by a gnomon in one city while the sun reflected straight up from the bottom of a well in another city, along with alternate interior angles and a proportion, Eratosthenes calculated Earth’s circumference in 240 BCE. Image by Dr. John H. Lienhard, University of Houston.

However, instead of writing nautical miles* of text to talk you through a verbally descriptive tour of the entire vessel, I’ve posted a bunch of captioned photos that will give you some view of what I see while wandering around my current home away from home.

Before we begin the tour, a brief note:  In case you’ve ever wondered (as I have!), a nautical mile is a unit of length approximately equal to one minute (1/60 of a degree, and there are 360 degrees in a circle) of latitude measured along any meridian or about one minute of arc of longitude measured at the equator.  Because our understanding of the exact shape of Earth has evolved from a perfect circle into that of an ellipsoid since Eratosthenes of Cyrene calculated the circumference of his perfectly round model of the planet (and assigned the first latitudes and longitudes), the definition of nautical mile has changed over time.  To address the variation in actual one-minute arc lengths around Earth, the definition of a nautical mile has been standardized by international agreement to be 1,852 meters (approximately 6,076 feet).  A statute mile, by comparison, evolved both in etymology and in length-definition from the Latin term mille passuum (“one thousand paces”), commonly used when measuring and marking distances marched by Roman soldiers across Europe.  Healthier and better-fed soldiers often took longer strides, and so their “miles” were longer than the miles marched by less-healthy counterparts.  To address this variation, most countries eventually agreed to standardize the statute mile at its current length of 5,280 feet (about 1,609 meters).

Now for some snapshots from NOAA Ship Rainier:

This log, called a "camel," is used as a buffer alongside less-equipped docks to protect both the dock and the ship.
This log, called a “camel,” is used as a buffer alongside less-equipped docks to protect both the dock and the ship.
Mechanism for operating the port side davits
Mechanism for operating the port side davits, which use hydraulics to lift and lower the launch vessels
Starboard side walkway to the launch vessels at their raised and secured positions in the davits
Starboard side walkway to the launch vessels at their raised and secured positions in the davits
Ventilation pipe from the incinerator
Ventilation pipe from the incinerator
Some interesting-looking tube joints
Some interesting-looking hydraulic hose fittings for the davits
The galley
The crew’s mess and the galley
Fire Station No. 23, starboard, deck D
Fire Station No. 23, D deck starboard side
Crane, anchor, vents, and the stowed gangplank on the bow
Crane, anchor windlass, vents, and the stowed gangway on the bow
Muster Station 1
Muster Station 1, where I am to report in the event of an abandon ship order
Docking bits on the bow
These large bits on the bow are used for securing lines while docking.
Cranes on the bow
Cranes on the bow
Electric boxes on the forward mast
Electric boxes keep the important electrical equipment that is mounted on the forward mast properly powered
The view along starboard from the flying deck
The view along the starboard side from the flying bridge
Machinery for lowering and hoisting the anchor
The anchor windlass (machinery on the bow for letting go and weighing anchor) includes gypsy heads, a riding pawl, a devil’s claw or pelican hook, and a wildcat.  (Many other “animals” are referenced on a ship, including a goose neck and a bull nose.  Look up others on your own!)
The forward mast
The forward mast carries radar equipment for navigation. The halyards (lines from the mast) are for support and for hanging items used for distant communication.
The "big eyes" on the flying deck
The “big eyes” on the flying bridge allow magnified distant viewing from above the bridge.
Passageways are narrow, from deck (floor) to bulkhead (ceiling)
Passageways are narrow aboard NOAA Ship Rainier from the overhead to the deck and bulkhead to bulkhead.
Stateroom C-04-103-U
This is the view from corner to corner of stateroom C-04-103-U, one of the larger two-man staterooms on the ship, which I share with HSST John Doroba. (His is the lower bunk.)
Some of the internal communications equipment on the bridge
A phone on the bridge that gets its power from the energy of sound waves spoken into it (so that the phone still can work even if the generators fail — awesome, right??)
Ensign Micki Ream plotting a course on the bridge
Ensign Micki Ream uses old-fashioned compass-and-straightedge geometric constructions and calculations to plot a course through Hecate Strait on the bridge.
Bicycles for use ashore during liberty
Bicycles for use ashore during liberty
Port ladder to launches alongside Rainier
Launch crews usually board launch vessels by walking directly level off the deck onto the smaller boats while the davits hold the small launch vessels in place. This Jacob’s ladder is lowered to launch vessels like the skiff when they are placed in the water alongside NOAA Ship Rainier.
Fishing poles
Fishing poles, to be used only when licensed and permitted
A cool light and electric fixture
A cool-looking light and electric fixture
A hatch on the fantail
A hatch on the fantail that leads to After Steering
The winch control mechanism for the "fish"
The “fish” is a very heavy brass device that is towed on a strong Kevlar-sheathed electric cable up to 600 meters behind the ship, and it requires a sophisticated winch mechanism for casting, retrieval, and transfer of data to the computer system aboard the NOAA Ship Rainier.
A lifebuoy and the "fish"
On the fantail the “fish,” a part of the Moving Vessel Profiler (MVP), is the very heavy CTD device that is towed by winch behind NOAA Ship Rainier, usually during multi-beam sonar data acquisition. CTD stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth of the water, all of which affect the speed of sound from and to the ship’s sonar device.  (The lifebuoy is a nearby safety measure, of course.)
One of many ladders
One of many ladders (which is what staircases are called aboard ship)
The skiff secured on the fantail
The skiff secured on the fantail underneath a sign that reminds everyone of NOAA’s culture of safety
Stowage space
All stowage space is used efficiently aboard NOAA Ship Rainier.
The emergency pull station, just in case
The emergency pull station, just in case
The galley service line
The galley service line
Pyrotechnic locker for emergency flares, on the flying deck
Pyrotechnic locker for emergency flares, on the flying bridge
Launch vessels secured in starboard davits
Launch vessels secured within the starboard davits
A tie-down the port deck
Line (rope in use aboard a ship) is one of the most important tools on a ship for tying, supporting, securing, pulling, and hoisting, and so it is treated with proper respect at all times.
Warnings on the stack
Noise, fire, and heavy equipment can be dangerous if not addressed with caution, as these signs on the stack warn.
Kayaks for exploration (and sometimes recreation)
Kayaks for exploration (and sometimes recreation)
Life rafts 2 and 4 alongside the port bridge wing, with davits in the background
Life rafts 2 and 4 alongside the port bridge wing, with davits in the background
Alidade on the port bridge wing
The alidade on the port bridge wing, which is used for determining a “true” line of sight for navigation

I aligned the photos to give you a more authentic feel of passing waves.  Oh, I hope that you didn’t get seasick!  If you did, just head to the dispensary on D deck near the bow amidships, and then go on deck and look at the horizon so that your inner ears and your eyes can agree about which way actually is up.

Now that you’ve seen many random angles in no particular order — but  — maybe you also need a tour to put the whole package together into a meaningful map of NOAA Ship Rainier.  Fortunately, HAST Christiane Reiser created a video of just such a tour for visitors, and you can watch it here.

The gangplank
This is the gangway to board Rainier when the ship is docked. Uniformed personnel must salute the colors when boarding or exiting the vessel.

… And now you’re ready to come aboard!

Remember always that half the fun of the journey is getting there… but the other half is actually being somewhere.  So look at the scenery in the world around you — wherever you happen to be — as you keep exploring, my friends.

Did You Know?

Before you board a seagoing vessel, you’d better be able to talk the talk.  People on ships have a vernacular that can sound like a foreign language if you’re not familiar with the terminology, so here’s a list of some key words worth knowing before you come aboard, with definitions and descriptions from a glossary of terms provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, a partner agency of NOAA with regard to training crew members and making nautical travels safer:

  • Starboard:  The right side of the ship when facing forward.  The name is a very old one, derived from the Anglo-Saxon term steorbord, or steering-board.  Ancient vessels were steered not by a rudder amidships, but by a long oar or steering-board extended over the vessel’s right side aft.  This became known, in time, as the steering-board side or starboard.
  • Port:  The left side of the ship when facing forward.  The original term was “larboard,” but the possibility of confusing shouted or indistinct orders to steer to larboard with steering to starboard at a crucial moment was both obvious and serious.  The term was legally changed to ‘port’ in the British Navy in 1844, and in the American Navy in 1846.  The word ‘port’ was taken from the fact that ships traditionally took on cargo over their left sides (i.e., the side of the vessel facing the port).  This was probably a holdover from much earlier times when ships had steering-boards over the right side aft; obviously, you couldn’t maneuver such a vessel starboard side to the pier without crushing your steering oar.
  • Wings:  Extensions to either side of the ship.  Specifically, the port and starboard wings of the bridge are open areas to either side of the bridge, used by lookouts and for signaling.
  • Bow:  The forward end of any vessel.  The word may come from the Old Icelandic bogr, meaning “shoulder.”
  • Stern:  The rear of any vessel.  The word came from the Norse stjorn, meaning “steering.”
  • Deck:  What you walk on aboard ship.
  • Below:  Below decks, as in “going below to C Deck,” never “down.”
  • Fore:  An adverb, meaning “toward the bow.”
  • Aft:  An adverb, meaning “toward the stern.”
  • Boat:  Any small craft, as opposed to a ship, which carries boats.
  • Ship:  A general term for any large, ocean-going vessel (as opposed to a boat).  Originally, it referred specifically to a vessel with three or more masts, all square-rigged.
  • Stateroom:  An officer’s or passenger’s cabin aboard a merchant ship, or the cabin of an officer other than the captain aboard a naval ship.  The term may be derived from the fact that in the 16th and 17th centuries, ships often had a cabin reserved for royal or noble passengers.
  • Stack:  The ship’s funnel on an engine-powered vessel.
  • Bridge:  The control or command center of any power vessel.  The term arose in the mid-19th century, when the “bridge” was a structure very much like a footbridge stretched across the vessel between or immediately in front of the paddle wheels.
  • Galley:  The ship’s kitchen, where food is prepared.  The origin is uncertain but may have arisen with the ship’s cook and helpers thinking of themselves as “galley slaves.” (A galley was originally a fighting ship propelled by oars rowed by slaves, from the Latin galea.)
  • MessPart of the ship’s company that eats together, (such as the officers’ mess) and, by extension, the place where they eat.
  • Head:  The bathroom.
  • Ladder:  On shipboard, all stairs are called “ladders.”