First Impressions: Life at Sea

As I prepared to leave for the West Coast OA research cruise, many family and friends skipped right over the ‘research’ part, and jumped straight to ‘cruise’.

As close to a Carnival Cruise as it gets- enjoying the last few hours of travel before arriving at our first station in Mexican waters. Photo: Emma Hodgson

But to their disappointment, the photos of me sitting by the pool drinking my margarita will never materialize. The Ron Brown, our research vessel, does have two lounge chairs on the main deck, but they are strapped down to keep them from flying off as we go tipping back and forth with the ocean swells. Immediately after boarding the ship for departure from San Diego to Mexico, you have to start adjusting to this never-ending sway. After some stumbles and falls (which I’m certain the crew found entertaining), you get used to the motion, and can at least minimize public clumsiness. Another thing that quickly becomes obvious on departure is that the ship never really sleeps. Aside from the creaks, clunks, and continuous hum of the engine, one shift of officers and crew is always awake, navigating us to the next sampling location. Meanwhile, the scientists are paired up to split each 24-hour day into two 12-hour shifts. Between the scientists and crew, there is no end to the workday, and activities on board continue round the clock. After a night of rocking around in our bunks, meals are served at 7:00 am in the mess hall, which could end up being breakfast, lunch, or dinner, depending on your shift time. Everyone aboard who isn’t on duty eats together, so it is an interesting chance to hear about the crews’ lives at sea, some of which have lived aboard the Brown for 20 years. After a quick meal, rubber boots, hard hats, and vests go on to continue work.

Don’t confuse the fire and abandon ship alarm combos and show up for a fire drill in your survival suit!


Survival suit safety check for the man overboard drill. Photo: Emma Hodgson

Once each week, work is interrupted to practice our mandatory safety drills: man overboard, abandon ship, and fire. Each drill is announced by a unique combination of horn blows (so don’t confuse the fire and abandon ship alarm combos and show up for a fire drill in your survival suit). Once the alarm is sounded, every one on the ship is required to muster at their pre-determined station for check-in. Depending on the drill, you may need to then put on your survival suit, spread out and look for the man overboard, or put on your life jacket to wait for the all clear. After completing the necessary drills, everyone once again disperses to resume their respective roles on board.

Despite the constant activity aboard, you may find some time to catch a few quiet moments on deck to watch the sunset and appreciate the 360-degree view of blue skies and open ocean. In these moments, I feel very lucky to be a part of this unprecedented research effort, and for the opportunity to learn from the many brilliant scientists aboard.

View from the ship deck while blog writing. Photo: Melissa Ward

The chance to directly observe the ocean changes occurring under our rapidly changing climate reminds me what we are working towards understanding and protecting. With this fresh inspiration, working in the lab analyzing seawater samples aboard a tipping vessel 100 miles offshore until 3 am doesn’t seem so bad.

Author: Melissa Ward



4 thoughts on “First Impressions: Life at Sea”

    1. No sharks- but a lot of dolphins. And a variety of other sea creatures soon to feature in upcoming posts!


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