Risk and Reward

August 5, 2018

It’s no frivolous thing to put a mooring in the water and expect you can collect it a year later, or even a couple weeks later. The cost of a mooring is high, not taking into account the cost of the ship to get on station, twice. But the data is rich. A ship collects a large amount of data moment to moment, but only where the ship is, moment to moment. If you want to gather data from one particular location miles out in an ocean, moorings, despite the left-out-in-the-cold risks, are a better option. The ship gets us there and gets us back again.

The Sikuliaq arrives where CEO I was last seen. Pete dials up the mooring’s ENABLE code on the acoustic transmitter and sends the command to the release, 48 meters below and some two-hundred or so meters to port—we think. We know we are close. Ethan listens as the release pings back. It says it’s a hundred and some meters away. Pete dials in the RELEASE code to tell the mooring to surface. Now, it shouldn’t take long. But it seems to. Watching from the working deck, there’s no sign of the large syntactic float risen to the surface. And we’re still watching to port when word comes down. The mooring has come up on the starboard side of the ship. I asked Ethan yesterday, when we launched the glider, what the risks were the glider would re-surface directly under the landing craft, or the ship. He just nodded and said the chances were very small. I agreed with him. But still.

 

To follow the R/V Sikuliaq, find @Sikuliaq on Twitter and @R/V Sikuliaq on Instagram and Facebook. To chart the course of this August 2018 expedition, look up Arctic Winds, Fish, Fins, and Feathers on Facebook.

—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.

Transit / Transition

August 3, 2018

After the yard work, the Sikuliaq’s anti-roll system now makes for a smoother, more comfortable ride than before. By pumping water between tanks in the hull, the ship better maintains level. Upstairs from the Main lab, the lounge now resembles a lounge and not a second cantina. There’s a gaming table crafted aboard ship. There are a pair of couches set for movie watching. The TV has been moved away from the corridor wall and lowered, now less like a platform for PowerPoint and training videos and more like something someone could fall asleep to, while a film plays to the end, rolls credits, and plays the star-spangled banner. The lounge is carpeted, and there’s far less chance, now, we’ll come back tomorrow morning and find all the café chairs piled in a heap and lashed together against the port wall, the paint scratched, on the inside, by the latest storm.

The ship’s had a new paint job. The ice-like, arctic blue of the lower hull has been re-imagined as something deeper, richer, and oceanic. I’ll get used to this, though I’ve been grumbling these last few years how the new look has rendered obsolete all the photos I took of the ship set in the ice, the crew in orange and black—and black and orange suits dotting the frozen ocean, the ship steady as if set-up on blocks in a dry dock. She cleans up nice, but the sea is hard. The rust comes back.

To follow the R/V Sikuliaq, find @Sikuliaq on Twitter and @R/V Sikuliaq on Instagram and Facebook. To chart the course of this August 2018 expedition, look up Arctic Winds, Fish, Fins, and Feathers on Facebook and @arctic_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.

Mobe Day

April 2, 2018

Phil brings part of a second round from the bar out onto the deck where we blink in the low, northern sun. Alaska, in summer, so no one needs walk back to the boat in the dark. We discuss past expeditions and who has sailed with whom and when and where. We wonder what the weather will be. The satellites see ice over some of our stations, but there’s an equal chance it will be driven north as the winds change to the east. Will there be swells? Will the ice still be there when we need to collect our moorings? Will the glider behave on its test dive, and will be confident we can let it dive again out of sight so it makes its own months-long journey to Barrow? We talk about the ship and how it has evolved. We talk about seasickness. We talk about the vagaries of itinerary at sea.

Here’s what to know about a ship: it’s trying to kill you. Watch where you put your feet. Watch where you put your hands. Here’s what to know about seasickness: it’s your inner ear telling your body, for some reason—probably due to an evolutionary cock-up—that you are being poisoned. Food in your stomach is a good thing. Hydration is a good thing. Dry crackers are great. Coffee and other greasy foods spell trouble. Ginger works. When you do get sick, and everyone has their limits, it’s the worst thing in the world, not unlike an adult’s inexplicable and seemingly sudden revulsion for rollercoasters. Celia says she’d rather catch the flu. The best thing, of course, is lying down. Lying down makes everything better. Lying down takes the motion of the ocean and turns your nightmare into a hammock. It’s not a solution though, because we’ve only got the boat for a few weeks—and every hour counts. There’s science to be done on deck, and you have to get up anyway, to eat and keep the stomach busy. Busy is good. Busy is probably the best thing to be.

 

To follow the R/V Sikuliaq, find @Sikuliaq on Twitter and @R/V Sikuliaq on Instagram and Facebook. To chart the course of this August 2018 expedition, look up Arctic Winds, Fish, Fins, and Feathers on Facebook and @arctic_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.

This is Not About That, Not Yet

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.