By Robert Hess, Engineer, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
July 21, 2018
Just over nine days ago, we set off from Adak Island aboard the R/V Norseman II with our sights set on the island of Kiska, roughly 250 miles to the west. The ‘saltier’ members of the team, those who have been to sea before, had a pretty good idea of what to expect; however, the shipmates new to life aboard a research vessel are learning through their early experiences.
When underway in heavy seas, there is a sailing term called “chasing the bubble.” The “bubble” is the air bubble in the middle of a level that tells the angle of the boat. Even though we use digital inclinometers these days, the balance of the boat is still the “bubble.” If the ship is pitching and rolling, it is said that we are “chasing the bubble,” meaning the ship is moving so quickly that the bubble is never centered.
For many of the crew, the hardest obstacle on any trip is adjusting to the motion of the ocean. Seasickness is something that can affect even the most experienced sailor, and for most people, it just takes time to allow the body to adjust to its new environment. While medications such as Dramamine, Bonine, and ginger tablets can help tame the motion sickness that comes with being at sea, for some, the reality of being in open ocean can strike home quickly and brutally. Thankfully, we have been blessed with mostly calm seas and slack winds, although the inevitable Aleutian squall is always right around the corner. Many find ways to distract themselves from the rocking of the boat; reading, working, and sleeping can all help getting through the initial motion problems that come from being underway. For the more experienced among us, it will only last a couple days, and as we focus on the task ahead of us, the nausea tends to fade away and allows us to work towards the goals of the trip.
As time passes and the crew starts to adjust, there is the slow development of “sea legs.” For those who have not had the opportunity to experience the pitching deck of a ship, when first trying to walk a straight line aboard a tossing ship, it is not an easy task to complete. To walk straight, you must adjust your center of balance with the sway of the ship (which isn’t always predictable). As you develop sea legs, you slowly progress from the walking capability of a swaying child to the occasionally smooth ‘nothing to see here’ misstep.
So far we have worked in three of the four proposed operation areas and completed two of the initial four surveys. We have had relatively good luck with the equipment so far, and we are continuing to collect data in Kiska Harbor. Our team is definitely getting our sea legs!