“Alright, Simin… A-Frame in.”

“Gooood, Simin. Now, wire up. And hold.”

The safety netting that once lined the transom has been released and secured by Ethan Roth. Paul St. Onge turns his body away from the main deck and faces out to an open transom, an open ocean. Eighteen feet below, the ocean stirs violently, taunting and goading the crew on the deck to make just one false move. Paul lifts his right arm and makes a fist in the air, like challenging this oceanic bully to an arm wrestle. The other hand holds the UHF-radio close to his mouth. A thick mustache bristles against the radio. His underlying beard has taken shape since the start of the voyage, a reminder of the time passed since departure. His shoulders are hunched and turned away from the wind so he can block out the wind blowing 25 knots into the mic. A pair of tan Carhartts are wet from the sea spray kicking up from the stern of the ship.

 Portrait of Paul St. Onge. Photo credit: Brendan Smith

Portrait of Paul St. Onge. Photo credit: Brendan Smith

Research gear in the air. Wires and line strewn on the deck. Winds gusting to now 30 knots. A foot placed in the loop of a wire. Three scientists on deck, two seasoned boat crew, and a photographer. Probably too many people during seas in this condition—a delicate balance of science and safety.

 Ethan Roth atop the multi-core unit. Photo credit: Brendan Smith

Ethan Roth atop the multi-core unit. Photo credit: Brendan Smith

“Get your foot out of the wire,” barked Paul. His stern, clear, grizzled voice matches his rough exterior, a countenance hardened by many years at sea working on ferries and the R/V Knorr. Alert and focused, Paul scans the deck, A-frame, research gear in mid-air, research crew, and the ocean. His head is a swivel of safety and risk management. His life and the rest on deck depend upon his decisions, a responsibility he bears with firm decisiveness. Ethan grabs the boat pole and hooks into an eye on the trawling gear. Simin stands by from the winch control room, waiting for Paul to give the signal.

Winds are breaking up communication between Simin and Paul. He raises his right arm again only this time flashes a signal that only winch operator and deck crew understand, a language of safety and direction. As Simin brings in the A-frame, research crew and Ethan grab the trawling gear and swiftly bring it on deck. Paul dutifully gathers the mesh netting, R/V Sikuliaq’s removable transom, and safely secures it.

“Wire down, Simin. Gooood.” The tension lifted from Paul’s voice and a hint of his Canadian accent could be heard. The long drawl of affirmation on the radio is the only praise heard on the mic. He pauses and scans the deck. Paul informs the bridge that the deck is secure and all research gear is aboard.

 Paul radioing in to the winch control room.Photo credit: Brendan Smith

Paul radioing in to the winch control room.Photo credit: Brendan Smith

On any boat, there is an unspoken trust. It is not earned or rewarded, but expected. It can be taken away… stripped and torn down by trepidation, sloth, and distraction. On any boat, trust is yours to lose.

Paul and Ethan walked passed me after helping the science crew stow their gear. In that moment, I had an overwhelming sense of respect for the way they have worked the deck. Respect, unlike trust, has been earned.