August 1, 2018
This is the day the cast assembles, and to a large extent airport currents bring people together naturally, because everyone is flying in from the four corners. Like magic, we cluster outside the gate. We see friends and colleagues we haven’t seen in a year, doing something commonplace as waiting for a plane. The airport is a natural corridor of comings and goings, and more often than not, a place of gathering. Later, of course, the pub becomes a green room, that most gregarious of places.
This is my fifth time waiting for the Sikuliaq, the fourth time I’ll board. I was lucky to be there at one beginning, waiting for the shell of the giant machine to be dropped into the Menomonee River. That day in October, it rained like mad, and the guests of honor had trouble breaking the champagne against the underside of the ship’s hard nose. The bottle slipped from their fingers and fell from the gantry. Our shipyard hosts ran back to the trailer and pulled another from the case. In the end, all the good photographs were taken, and everyone shook hands and water as the ship pushed its first and largest displacement across the river.
The expanse of the sea is deceptive in its seeming uniformity, but we’re guided to our places on the stage. Infancy is rough like early rehearsals. We don’t need, nor necessarily want them to go too well. But ships and towns mature. Weathered wood and rust stains are evidence of the best of repeated performances, poor copies only if you think of them as copies, as something similar to what has gone before—which is to say, nothing is ever routine, but only, gradually worn in. Nothing can be trusted when new. A cruise is an imperfect performance and an expedition is something else, a traveling show, a motley crew, and we haven’t got to the karaoke yet. This is not about that.
*To follow the R/V Sikuliaq, find @Sikuliaq on Twitter and @R/V Sikuliaq on Instagram and Facebook. To chart the course and interact with this August 2018 expedition to the Beaufort Sea, look up Arctic Winds, Fish, Fins, and Feathers on Facebook and @Artic_WFFF on Twitter.
—Thanks to the R/V Sikuliaq, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, and the National Science Foundation.