Christmas at Sea
December 25, 2005
NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration
While families back on shore gather together for the holidays, singing holiday songs, attending religious gatherings, and cooking holiday meals, scientists and crew on board the Research Vessel Thompson float hundreds of nautical miles offshore, over thousands of meters of ocean depth. While our work at sea continues without break through weekends and holidays, the team working together on board RV Thompson do their best to make this holiday time a memorable one.
Planning for the holidays began months in advance so that celebrating supplies could be put aboard the ship before it sailed from San Diego. Just over a week into the cruise, and several weeks before Christmas, science and crew began displaying the holiday spirit with lights strung around science labs, complete with streamers, garlands, and even mistletoe. A large, brightly lit rendition of Santa Claus and a cold-weather penguin wrapped in a striped red scarf mysteriously appear in the wet lab, dwarfing everyone with their size.
About a week later, the crew puts out a 7-foot tall Christmas tree in the lounge, which the scientists decorated with lights, icicle streamers, and ornaments made from photos of everyone aboard. Within a few days, Kayla Petitt and other artistic science party members gather together with paint, paintbrushes and paper to create a very convincing brick fireplace complete with a glowing fire that is hung using the universal method - duct tape - to the lounge wall behind the Christmas tree.
Old (but clean!), donated socks and newer fashionable pairs are converted to Christmas stockings with the addition of some paint, glitter and glue. Every person on board receives a personalized stocking that hangs from the fireplace and streamers decorating the walls of the ship’s lounge. And of course, no Christmas could be complete without cookies. Throughout the week before Christmas, Jamie Smith, Jennie Morgan, and Stacy Supak take turns spending evenings in the galley baking cookies from homemade recipes. Several batches of sugar cookies are cut into holiday shapes and frosted, however with no luxuries such as cookie cutters on board, all shapes are cut by hand. The outcome is impressive - stars, Christmas trees, snowmen, bells, and Santa’s sleigh complete with gifts sit covered with frosting for everyone’s delectable enjoyment.
Christmas Eve and Christmas day are made more enjoyable with ongoing tournaments of poker and Ping Pong organized by the students. In addition to traditional games, several members of the science team are gathered by Morale Chief, Tonya Del Sontro, and put together an interactive game show called “Liar’s Club.” During a rare occasion, all available persons on board meet at 7pm in the ship’s lounge and divide into teams of 4-5 people and are given 5 blank answer sheets. Our host, Tonya, announces the arrival of 3 guests to the show - the ghost of Christmas Past (Nathan Buck), the Pirate Sargasso (Webb Pinner), and Gumby’s cousin, Rumby (Jason Meyer), complete with costume. A rare, typically unknown word is read aloud and each of the three guests provide us with their definition of the word - only one guest providing the correct definition. Our job as the audience is to guess which of the three is telling us the correct definition, a surprisingly difficult feat. Last but certainly not least, the holiday festivities are made complete with several daily showings of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. If we felt any inadequacies with our ability to make the holidays a bit more festive out at sea, simply watching and laughing hysterically at Chevy Chase’s trials make us feel more complete.
And then everyone awoke Christmas morning to a pleasant surprise. Those walking into the lounge on Christmas morning found their personalized stocking resting under the Christmas tree stuffed with sweet snacks and small, often comical gifts. Each person also received a useful gift - body wash, a Nalgene bottle, a small flashlight - all handy items during a six-week stay at sea. It appeared that Santa truly did remember everyone on Christmas Eve, even those out in the middle of the ocean.
All during these celebrations, the work of the science program continued, punctuated by additional work required to repair the winch and one of the ship’s two engines. The successful repairs and discovery of a half dozen new plumes along the DSL120 trackline on Dec. 25th were additional causes of relief and celebration on Christmas Day.
GalAPAGoS: Where Ridge Meets Hotspot will be sending reports from Dec 3 - Jan 10. Please check back frequently for additional logs from this expedition.
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