23,000 pounds of research gear loaded, secured, and distributed among the deck and main labs. Five deck levels of a ship well equipped to handle any ocean with a crew busy from bow to stern. And twenty-five scientists officially called R/V Sikuliaq, a small island, home for twenty days starting yesterday. Aside from a cruise ship in the Caribbean where I lost all my money gambling, R/V Sikuliaq is the largest ship I have ever been on. Although I have crewed on several research vessels in my lifetime and finding my way around ships to be commonplace, stepping aboard the ramp yesterday onto Sikuliaq was different.
The ship was alive. On the aft deck, yellow and white hard hats zoomed back and forth. Ship crew were performing routine maintenance on the A-Frame and wire. A group of graduate students were setting up trawl nets in a corner not occupied by large mooring buoys, anchors, chains, and sensors. In the middle of the deck, several phytoplankton stations were ratcheted down with several scientists setting up the water flow for the chambers--an experiment to test how differences in light affect phytoplankton. Just next to this station was the large Connex container that held the research gear, now empty. Soon this will be full of empty Pelican cases, Action Packers, and boxes that once held sensor equipment, microscopes, and fluorometers.
The wet lab and main labs were also a motion blur. Teams assigned to different parts of the project worked closely together, quickly pullings items out of their packaging and placing them on the lab tables fixed with bungee cords and non-skid. Walking through the lab, I quickly realized that my meager gear shot of camera equipment was nothing compared to the amount of equipment brought on board Sikuliaq for the next twenty days. Organized chaos with an astute group of scientists all plugging away to ensure lab stations were set up and secured before departing the next day... today.
I stowed my gear in my bunk and was introduced to my bunk mate, Atsushi, a Japanese researcher working with the zooplankton group. He told me that his name in Japanese meant, Honesty, something that I find already suits his character. I mentioned that my name came from the Patron Saint of sailing, but that Brendan also meant smelly hair according to some name books. Exchanging some laughs, I knew that Atsushi was going to be a great friend throughout the cruise.
Throughout the day, with cameras attached to the hip and fixed to my eye, I would travel to each group of scientists stealing moments of flurry or momentary pause. The pause often met with a long exhale, a breath presumably thick with the work that still needed to be done setting up. The sun barely moved in the Nome sky, but the clock continued to flex its arms, and pretty soon, evening was upon us.
At 6pm, a large group of us headed to UAF's Northwest Campus for a brief presentation about the Arctic Program to folks in the community. Gay Sheffield, Marine Advisory Agent for UAF, organized the event to a tune of 35 people. Several scientists who were the leads in their different elements of the program spoke including Seth, Russ, Lisa, Sarah, Andrew, and Catherine. Several community members asked some amazing questions, and it made me realize how connected we all really are to wanting to understand what impacts a warming Arctic Ocean might have for all of us.
A quick phone call to my wife. I missed talking to my daughter as she went to bed before I could say goodnight. My wife could sense the sadness in my voice. We both knew that this was going to be tough on our daughter. So many of the scientists aboard share a similar story to mine, of long-distance love, of children growing and learning in our absence. I look forward to hearing about Atsushi's home, his family, and hopefully share similar stories to help remind us how precious our lives are off the ship, but also how important it is to do the work aboard Sikuliaq.