Harmony at Sea
Going to sea can be a lot like band camp (and I should know—I went four times!). It generally takes place during the summer (field season). You pack up your instruments (scientific equipment) and personal effects, move to a remote location, such as a campground (ship) upstate (offshore), where you won’t be distracted by the outside world (newspapers and TV), and where everyone works together to focus on the new show (mission). Every day you get up excruciatingly early (watch schedule) and each section, percussion, horns, woodwinds (deck, survey, engineering) will split off and do their own thing for a while—work on a piece of music (develop procedures), practice marching (maintenance) and then put the two together (field trials) out on the field (survey area). The upperclassmen (plank owners) will show the freshmen (greenhorns) how to hold their instruments (collect the data) and march properly (seamanship). Every day, the whole band (mission and ship’s crew) gets together and practices what they learned individually and as a unit to see how it fits together as an entire group (conduct operations).
Throughout the day, the whole band eats meals together (mess deck), sleeps in cabins with bunk beds (staterooms) and are basically not out of sight of other band-mates (ship-mates) the entire time. Literally the only place to go to get some peace and private time is the bathroom (head), except that someone is inevitably taking their sweet time, and you have to wait your turn. This schedule is repeated daily. When the whole week (cruise) is over, they put on a show (highlight video or other cruise products) for all the parents (scientists) at home (on shore) to show them what they have been doing the whole time they were away. Sometimes parents (scientists) will attend (telepresence) the camp (cruise) and offer suggestions, advice or general comments on how well it sounds or looks (data quality analysis).
You can’t pick your cabin mates, section leader (supervisor) or peers. Sometimes, a really difficult section of music (piece of equipment) will hold up (break) the whole band (ship), and the director (commanding officer) won’t move forward (delay a cruise) until you have collectively mastered it (made repairs). If the set design (cruise plan) being formed by the marching sections (mission team) doesn’t work at a certain point in the music, the designer (operations officer) will simply change it to accommodate the conditions. For example, if two clarinets quit and a trumpet player switched to the drum line, they may decide that the circle needs to become a triangle (the camera broke on the ROV so we will map the seafloor instead) and change a few people’s positions (line plan) on the field (survey area). Sometimes, the marching practice gets rained out (like a squall at sea) and the instruments get broken or need new parts, like a reed on a saxophone (or a new cable for the CTD), at which point everyone needs to be flexible to move to a new area, such as indoors (new survey area) and work on music instead (contingency cruise).
By the end of the week (cruise) everyone (everyone) is ready to go home. You work way more hours on the new show (mission) at band camp (sea) than you would ever have at home in one big chunk of time. You are sunburned, tired, achy, and can’t possibly look at another piece of sheet music (data) or your head will just explode. The food seemed good at first, but after many days of eating at the same (only) place, you eventually get tired of it and desire the ability to simply make your own choices. Now imagine going to a three week band camp with a couple of days in between for 10 months a year. Who’s ready?
I may joke about all of this, but the truth of the matter is that I look back at band camp with fond memories. The same goes for being at sea. Having already spent two years on the Okeanos Explorer, I remember some miserable days pitching and rolling, hardly able to handle my footing (as well as my lunch), much less the task at hand. There have been many a night of lost sleep and several mornings of early rises. Although some struggles never get forgotten, the bonds between your band-mates (ship-mates) never disappear. The experiences you have with people surviving tough situations make the amazing moments that much more spectacular. Every now and again, something remarkable happens—a sunset, a great video from the ROV or discovering a plume in the multibeam—which reminds me why I keep coming back for more.
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