Life Aboard Ship, Dispatches From South of the "Roaring Forties"
May 16, 2004 6:16 PM, Punta Arenas, Chile
Hello. This is my first "bulletin" from the RVIB (Research Vessel Ice Breaker) "Nathaniel B. Palmer". The time right now is 1040 Punta Arenas time on Sunday 16 May, which (conveniently) is the same as the time in Washington, DC, my home. It's a long trip down here but because it's longitudinal travel, not latitudinal, there's no jet lag what a gift! I've decided to schedule these messages for Mondays and Thursdays, so until 17 July when we reach Capetown, you can check for the latest news then.
What a Mess
Yesterday we got our cold weather/sea clothing issue. I won't give you the list, but I can say that before the cruise I was told that I could arrive here with only a short-sleeved shirt, pants, and shoes and I would get what I needed. It's only a small exageration. I got a parka, 16" steel-toed sea boots, insulated boots, foul weather gear, cold weather pants and shirt, goggles,three different sets of gloves (and liners) and more. I have no doubt that I will use it all during the cruise here in Punta Arenas it's in the low 40s at the beginning of winter, and we are going to spend most of the season further south.
One of the most interesting things to me is solving all the little problems involved in setting up so things work. My work station (when I'm not on deck trawling or processing the catch) is the Taxonomic Van (tax van for short) located in the after hold, one deck down from the main (00) deck. The van (about the size of a small truck) was loaded earlier by crane and bolted down in the hold. The crew then built all the furnishings inside: two long counters for five microscopes, shelves, cabinets with drawers, a sink with drainage approved for formalin and alcohol discards from the specimens, air conditioning and heating, a fume hood for removing formaldehyde vapors, sufficient ventilation to remove any alcohol fumes and more. The van sits above the shaft alleys, so there will be a certain amount of low-frequency vibration, that may make microscope use difficult but we have anti-vibration pads for them that should solve that. We won't know what we need until after we sail tomorrow at noon. Once we're underway, we'll try the scopes to see if they are affected by the vibration; if so, we'll use the pads. In either case, everything will be fastened down securely so that no matter what weather we have, we can work and nothing will move unless we want it to.
The scientific quarters are on the 01 deck (up one), and although they aren't exactly palatial, they are comfortable. My cabin mate (a Ph.D. student from the UK) and I have a space about 7 feet wide and 10 feet long, in which there are two stacked bunks and a head, a TV/video player, fm/AM radio/tape player, computer hook ups, a small desk and assorted cabinets, drawers, and cabinets. I think we're going to get to know each other well in two months. In the interest of space, the bunks are athwartship. My only experience sleeping that way was on a much smaller vessel (120 feet) and it was quite uncomfortable for me I prefer to have my head towards the bow so I can wedge myself into the berth in rough weather. In any case, there are no longitudinal berths, so I'm going to learn to like it or not sleep for two months!
Right now it's getting on to lunch, so I'm going to go eat. Chow is pretty good aboard; the ship is actually out of New Orleans, and the mess deck is decorated with appropriate posters as a result. There's always something to eat yesterday afternoon it was fresh coffee cake and chocolate chip cookies. No alcohol, though this is seriously dry ship, as are others in the US research fleet. Foreign ships are different, but that's another story!