Sunday, June 17, 2007

Post Cruise Log~June 16: No, this isn’t a cruise ship!

The Trick and Wells labs had finished packing their freight by early morning which allowed us the luxury of sitting on the forward deck in the sun as we came into Seattle. (Photo by Mark Wells)

Here I am back in Maine at the Darling Marine Center after the unloading of our freight from the shipping company trailer truck. Nineteen pallets of equipment for one cruise! (Photo by Linda Schick)

The University of Washington dock, home of the Thompson. Despite its Soviet-era style architecture, it is always a welcome site at the end of a cruise.

Marine Science is glam! (Photo by Bill Caddigan)

One thing I won't miss: working in a plastic bubble.

Here I am in the lab adding acetone to filtered phytoplankton cultures to extract the chlorophyll.
(Photo by Bill Caddigan)

A flurry of activity on deck at one of our sampling stations.
(Photo by Bill Caddigan)

Filtering! (Photo by Bill Caddigan)

And more filtering! (Photo by Bill Caddigan)

Melissa and Tatianna at the microscopes.

WALPOLE, MAINE (June 16, 2007): On a sunny warm Seattle day, we came back through the locks. Because our experiments were finished and our gear was packed in pallets and crates on the fantail, we were able to relax on the forward deck in the sun and enjoy the trip in. The Wells and Trick groups had all pitched in the day before, to clean the hundreds of incubation bottles, pack up all of our supplies and gear and to read the last few hundred chlorophylls. Because the seas outside of the strait were calm, we were able to arrange our containers on deck and start packing early in the day. We packed up 22 pallets of stuff weighing about 8000 pounds.

Once, we hit the dock, the crew was able to offload all of our gear right away. We always try to have our stuff ready to offload as soon as the ship docks so we can get out of the way, because often the crew has to load the next group on immediately. We always schedule a freight pick up for the afternoon that we get in. So, by 4 pm all of our gear was gone from the dock....

I am shore side now and back in the lab at the Darling Marine Center. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be finishing the data entry and analysis from the cruise incubations. Some of the preliminary data look really interesting and I am actually looking forward to pouring over the results. It is probably difficult to understand if you have never worked in a similar situation. You would think that after working 10-15 hours a day for 29 of the last 30 days, I would be ready for a break. But, in reality, I get so accustomed to working that it is difficult to slow down. I will be able to take a break when the preliminary data analysis is done.

For me, it takes a while to decompress from cruises. On the ship, you live with the same roughly 50 people every day and night for a month. You work with them, eat with them, take breaks with them, solve problems with them, sometimes argue with them, and have some really good times with them. New friendships are formed; some closer than others; some continue after the cruise, some don’t. But for a few weeks, your cruise mates are a surrogate family and there is a sense of loss when that family splits up.

Of course there are lots of things I won’t miss at all; like the showers, the acetone bubble, trying to sleep in rough seas, the toilets (they are vacuum powered and loud), having to tie down everything (and that means everything), eating from a sliding plate, pouring chemicals when the ship is rolling, walking on an angle, bruised arms, working long hours, the sound of the GO FLO winch, working in the plastic bubble, my stinky cruise sneakers.

It is always a week or two before I want to be around groups of people and longer than that before I can be civil in a crowd. Lisa, Jen and I went to the Pike Place Market in Seattle the day after the ship docked and I had to keep going outside to get away from the noisy tourists and shoppers. I find idle chatter particularly annoying when I return from a cruise. The ship itself may be noisy but it is far from the clamor and clutter of TVs, radios, phones, politics, news, etc. and in that distance is a kind of solitude and peace that I miss when I return.

I wanted to include more pictures of the science crew working in this blog entry, as it occurred to me that the last few entries made it look like we were just having too much fun. We wouldn’t want the powers that be to get that impression, heaven forbid. Although, technically, I don't think they can ban fun without infringing on basic civil liberties....

Thanks to everyone who has followed the blog. It was enjoyable to write and it is awesome that so many of you are checking in. Thanks also, to everyone who sent an email comment or question. And thanks to my cruise mates who let me use their photos for the blog and for everyone who allowed themselves to be photographed for it. If any of you have further comments or questions, I can be reached at If you would like more information about our lab, we have a web site

For those of you who would like to learn more about the Darling Marine Center, check out the Center web site at
If you would like more information about the Thompson, you can check out the Vessel Operations web page for the UW School of Oceanography at Some of the pages are not up to date, but there is quite a bit of info there about the ship.

And if you find yourself in Maine, stop by. The Darling Center has tours in the summer, you can get more information by calling (207) 563-3146, ask for Lisa or Linda.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Cruise Log~June 8 :Water World

The compass.

One of the most valuable pieces of scientific equipment on board the Thompson.

Paul, the Chief Engineer (at control panel) gives a tour of the engine room.

The Thomas G. Thompson has two desalinating water makers and can make 8000 gallons of fresh water every day.

The control display for the ship's generator and engine #2.

The ship has 2- 3000 hp, 360 degree electric stern thrusters. There is also an 1100 hp bow thruster. The electricity for the engines is provided by three 1500 KW generators shown here. The ship can carry 248,000 gallons of fuel.

Juan de Fuca Strait (June 7, 2007): Sorry, due to technical difficulties this post has been a long time coming.

I have included pictures here from a tour of the engine room given by Paul, the Chief Engineer which some of the science group took. My great grandfather was an oiler and he died in a fire in the engine room of the steamer Mineola. I have a lot of respect for the engineering crew. The conditions are really harsh; it is hot and insanely noisy. And it seems that there are alarms going off all of the time signifying something that needs to be repaired. Almost every cruise that I have been on there is some member of the crew that I see for the first time after we have already been at sea for a week or so. Invariably, it is an engineer or an oiler. One of the oilers on this cruise that I saw quite often was Ricky because he would take a break out on the balcony of the 01 deck which was near my cabin and where I would often go at night after work to watch the sunset or look for whales. Ricky grew up in Alaska and lived in Ketchikan for a while.
Several readers have asked for more details about life on the Thomas G. Thompson. (You can email your own comments or questions

Here is my typical routine. I wake up early in the morning, partly because I am still on east coast time, but mostly because early morning is one of the few times that I can take pictures, watch wildlife, lounge on the deck, etc. without being inconveniently interrupted by work. I usually eat breakfast at 7:30 am and the galley is on the same level as my cabin, through 2 doors and down the hall. One of the best things for me about a cruise is having someone else cook and wash the dishes. On land, my typical breakfast is 2 pieces of toast, so on the ship it is my favorite meal. After breakfast, I take a short commute down the ladder to the main deck where the labs are located and depending on what I am doing, I work in the main lab, the clean lab or out on the weather deck. Usually, I take a few minutes in the morning to make an espresso (or 2 depending on how well I slept the night before). If I don't have time to make espresso there is always coffee in the galley, 24 hours a day. Ships run on coffee and the coffee from the Thompson galley is better than on most ships I have sailed on.

Most days, I am able to take a break for lunch. On the days when I can’t, I can go to the galley fridge and find the leftovers which the galley crew leaves for those of us who have to work through lunch. The afternoon is the same. After dinner I prepare for the next day and enter and analyze data from the experiments. Most nights we are done by 9 or 10 pm, sometimes earlier. I often raid the fridge after work for snacks and drinks.

There are good things about being at sea: No cooking, no bills to pay (thanks to electronic bill paying I can usually arrange everything ahead of time), no news, no politics, no television, no phone, my commute to work is one flight of stairs, escape from the everyday routine, meeting and getting to know some really awesome people, a little bit of adventure (18-20’ seas, dodging flares, hiking in Ketchikan, for example), whales, sea bird watching, a sense of camaraderie and team work.

There are not so good things about being at sea: With the exception of a lucky few, when someone gets sick, we all get sick. Long work hours. No weekends. In bad weather, we can’t go outside and I get claustrophobic. When it is rough, we get thrown around and I am not the most graceful person. I always depart the ship with my arms covered in bruises.

Ships are really noisy: engine noise, fans from the air circulators, sonar pings, various ticks and rattles. In rough seas, ships boom and groan and shudder. This cruise I have an incredibly quiet cabin. Last cruise, my cabin was below deck next to the hull. Whenever we had any rough seas, it sounded like an enormous wooden mallet swung by the Jolly Green Giant was hitting the hull of the ship next to my bunk. It is really amazing how loud waves hitting the ship can be. We all yell at each other most of the time. I am always asking, "What did you say?".

There are 2 places that I found to be refuges from the noise. One is the bridge; the pinnacle of the ship world. From there you also have an awesome view. The other place is on the forward 02 deck in front of the ballast tank. The only sound there is the bow crashing through the waves and the ballast sloshing back and forth. It sounds like waves hitting a beach. If the sun is shining, I go out there and close my eyes and pretend….

I can understand why people speak of the ocean as a living thing because it is always changing. Sometimes quickly going from flat calm to boiling like a pot of water on a stove. Sometimes you can see a storm approaching from the horizon many miles away. At times the sea seems angry and harsh, sometimes tranquil and inviting. And every day brings new creatures; albatross, humpbacks, orcas, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions, sunfish, sharks, you never know who will drop by for a visit. For me, the good aspects of working at sea for the most part outweigh the bad. Which is probably why, as much as I sometimes complain about it, I will always come back to sea one way or another.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Cruise Log~June 6: Some of my Peeps....

The Captain and Lisa. This is their third cruise together and Lisa's last cruise as a member of the Wells lab. (Photo by Kathy Hardy)

Russell has been working on ships for 31 years. He is a really nice guy; quiet and unassuming. I hear from a reliable source that he is one of the most valuable people on the ship! (Photo by Kathy Hardy)

The table in the computer lab where the PIs set up their computers.
Mark and Charlie dubbed it "The Table of Infinite Wisdom".
(Photo by Jen Boehme)

Paul, the Chief Engineer and Mark in Ketchikan. Paul can make or repair just about anything and has, for us.
(Photo by Kathy Hardy)

Charlie, me, Dane, Ben and Lisa on the 01 deck. (Photo by Mark Wells)

The Wells group: Mark, Eric, Jen, Morgan, Peggy, Lisa and I.

The Trick Lab: Natalie, Elio, Charlie, Ben and Billy.

This cruise was Jimmy's first on the Thompson. He works in the engine room.
(Photo by Bill Caddigan)

Larry, who lives in South Dakota, is one of the ABs on the Thompson.
(Photo by Kathy Hardy)

QUEEN CHARLOTTE ISLANDS, BC (June 7, 2007): Since we left Ketchikan, Natalie, and I and a series of helpers, including Bill, Billy, Morgan, Dane, Traci, Ben, and Eric, have filtered over 800 incubation chlorophylls and 1500 chlorophylls including those for the CTD. It has been a productive week. It will take some time to process the data from all of these samples.

I filtered incubation culture samples for DA this afternoon and that was the last of the incubation samples to be collected for our team. It feels really good to start packing up. After a month of working every day, usually long hours and living with the same 50 or so people and seeing no one else, you sometimes have to remind yourself that there is a something else out there. Packing is sort of the first step back to the outside world.

I have been so busy the last few days that I haven’t really had much time to write in my blog. I just want to take a few minutes to introduce some of my lab/cruise mates. Lisa Pickell is a PhD student in our lab at the Darling Marine Center. This is Lisa’s 14th cruise. We have been going to sea together for 4 years now. Usually Lisa and I work together but this time we were both busy with our own projects. This will be her last cruise as a student as she is scheduled to finish her degree before we are scheduled to go another cruise. Lisa has been a pleasure to work with. I have seen many people come and go from the Darling Center over the years; students, post doctoral researchers, technicians and professors. It is the nature of working at a University. I will be sad to see Lisa go. We have had a lot of good times together.
Jen Boehme is a researcher at the Smithsonian, who was a post doc in our lab for the last several years. She and Mark have a joint project. It’s great when you can develop an ongoing collaboration with some one you have enjoyed working with at the lab The cooks allowed Jen to take over the galley one night; she makes a mean scone!

Morgan Brunbauer is an undergraduate helping out our group on this cruise. This is his first cruise and I am not sure at this point if he will become a marine scientist or run screaming from the ship as soon as we hit the dock. As the youngest person on the ship, he has taken a lot of ribbing from everyone else, especially since even though he is 20, he looks like he is 16. But Young Morgan seems to be able to dish it out pretty well too. For those who have never been on a month long cruise, suffice it to say, normal social structure kind of breaks down after the first couple of weeks and you start to feel like you have known people you just met for your whole life. Anyway, Morgan seems to fit in just fine. He is sort of everyone’s little brother/son/nephew. He had to have a bone marrow transplant when he was young and has been through a lot, perhaps that is what gives him the ability to put up with a motley crew like us. He has been a real help where ever he is needed.

The science crew couldn’t do anything out here without the knowledge and expertise of the ships’ crew and we couldn't have asked for a more accommodating or capable crew or a nicer group of people to work with than the crew of the Thompson. Captain Phil Smith, Chief Mate Robert Symonds and Chief Engineer Paul Schroeder; you guys are the best! Thanks to all of the crew for making this a successful and fun cruise!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Cruise Log ~ June 3: Zodiac Excursion to Tasu Sound

The first work boat trip to the Sound. We climbed a ladder down the side of the ship to reach the small boat. (Photo by Jen Boehme)

The zodiak in front of the huge mountains of Tasu Sound. (Photo by Mark Wells)

To give you some idea how big these mountains are; there is a barely visible speck in the water in the opening between the two mountains. That is the zodiak. (Photo by Mark Wells)

Can you tell that Natalie and I are happy to not be filtering chlorophyll samples?
(Photo by Jen Boehme)

View of the Thompson from the zodiac headed to Tasu Sound.

(Photo by Traci Haddock)

Entrance to Tasu Sound. (Photo by Traci Haddock)

Mountains surrounding Tasu Sound. (Photo by Traci Haddock)

An abandoned mine in Tasu Sound. (Photo by Traci Haddock)

Me and Natalie entering Tasu Sound in the zodiac. (Photo by Lisa Pickell)

QUEEN CHARLOTTE ISLANDS, BC (June 3, 2007): I went up to the bridge early in the morning as we approached the Queen Charlotte Islands and Tasu Sound. The sky was still pink and the mountains looked huge in the early morning light. I was shocked when Robert said that we were still 20 miles away. Tasu Sound is surrounded by dramatic mountain peaks with steep cliffs leading to the water. Later in the morning, Mark, Tatiana and Bethany, the three Principal Investigators (PIs) still on the ship, along with some of the students, took the small boat into the Sound to take seawater samples.
Mark decided last night that everyone who wanted to would be able to take a trip to the mouth of the Sound, so the plan was to take the work boat and make several trips. But, when the boat returned from the first trip, the wind had picked up, so the Captain decided that the small boat could only make one more trip. So, the rest of the science crew hopped into the zodiak. The boat was pitching a bit as we went down the ladder. I am not very coordinated and in my efforts to get into the boat and stay upright, I accidentally stepped on both the Third Mate's and the assisting AB's feet. And we were in such a rush to board the boat, that I didn’t have time to run up to may cabin and get my camera.

The ride out was great; bouncing on the swells and sea spray in the face. I noticed several hours after returning that my glasses were still covered with salt. The fjord was amazing; steep cliffs towering over the shore, soaring eagles and a basking sea lion. The mountains were unlike anything on the east coast, steep with jagged peaks. In the miles of shoreline visible, I could see only 2 structures; one left from an abandoned mine and the other a small camp. We went behind a little island and the Third Mate turned off the motor when he was switching the gas tanks. It was sunny and warm. The water was calm and quiet. I could have stayed there for a long time….

With few exceptions, all of us have been working really hard, particularly this last week. It was generous on Mark’s part to let us take a couple of hours to go exploring. We had a nice zodiac ride, good company and incredible scenery. All I can say is thanks to Mark, the Captain, Jay, Robert and everyone else who made the trip possible.

Because my camera with a fully charged battery was sitting on my desk in my cabin, all of these photos were taken by my cruise mates.

Track the last reported location of our ship, the R/V Thomas G. Thompson. CLICK HERE TO TRACK

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Sunday, June 3, 2007

Cruise Log ~ May 30: Shore Leave in Ketchikan, Alaska; A good time was had by all!

The Thompson docked at the Coast Guard station in Ketchikan, Alaska. Morgan took this picture from a sea plane!

At the start of the rain forest trail. (Photo by Jen Boehme)

Eagles were plentiful in Ketchikan. (Photo by Kathy Hardy)

In the late afternoon, 6 eagles were diving and grabbing small fish out of the water next to the dock. I snapped this picture as one glided by the ship. (Photo by Kathy Hardy)

Natalie mentioned that the forest we hiked through looked like a place where you might find Ents. I would have to agree. (Photo by Kathy Hardy)

The trees in the rain forest above Ketchikan were huge and moss covered.
(Photo by Lisa Pickell)

An enormous rain forest tree in Ketchikan. (Photo by Kathy Hardy)

Ketchikan is known for its totems. This is one in downtown Ketchikan was designed and carved in 1983 by Dempsey Bob and Stanley Bevan to honor the Tongass Tlingit people who historically inhabited the local area. (Photo by Kathy Hardy)

KETCHIKAN, AK (June 3, 2007): I have had a particularly busy day with many incubation samples to filter and several to set up. Natalie, a student with Charlie Trick, is helping me since Peggy and Charlie both left the cruise in Ketchikan and now have their feet firmly planted on solid ground. Natalie was a huge help today and I must say we filtered the samples in record time. Tomorrow will be busy as well and I'm beat, so I'll use this post to catch you up on our visit to Ketchikan.

We arrived in Ketchikan in the morning of May 30th. A group of us set off to find a hiking trail that Terrance, the mess attendant told us about. After a bit of confusion, we found the trail and even though it was foggy and rainy, there was a near unanimous decision to hike up to the first lookout which was at 1500 feet. I am glad that we did, because as the trail led us up the side of the mountain, we were surrounded by the temperate rain forest. The trees were huge and moss covered. The mist and the lush vegetation created a primeval setting.

With the help of some occasional and mutual encouragement, we reached the lookout where we took pictures of each other standing in front of the "view" which was a blanket of clouds and fog. Even though I was tired and soaked after the hike back down, it felt really good to get out into the forest and hike amid green living plants again.

An afternoon of shopping and touring and an evening out with good company certainly improved my attitude!