Editor’s Note: Julie Huang is an undergraduate geophysics major at the University of Chicago. She is working as a summer intern with the Stramski lab at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., and is currently onboard the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System research vessel New Horizon. This is her first experience at sea on a research vessel. She interviewed the scientists and crew onboard for this entry, which is a follow-on to the blog posts of marine biologist William Gilly, who wrote several entries about his recent expedition to study Humboldt squid on the New Horizon in the Gulf of California.
I wake up at six-thirty in the morning to the smell of frying bacon. I would venture to say that a lot of people probably wouldn’t want to be up at this time of day, but I happily get up to brush my teeth with great anticipation. One would hardly expect it, but one of the best things about this cruise is the food. There are two cooks on board, and they are amazing. What I find particularly impressive is that everything is made from scratch. Nearly every meal has a theme; breakfast this morning was Mexican. They had small tortillas, large tortillas, eggs scrambled with strips of green and red bell peppers, mixed with ground beef, and topped with a melted layer of two types of cheese. They also had quesadillas and regular scrambled eggs, for those of us who don’t eat meat, myself included—and of course salsa. There is always fresh fruit available at breakfast too, like papaya, mango, grapefruit halves, cantaloupe, honeydew, bananas and pineapple. At lunch one finds crisp fresh salad with romaine lettuce, tomato slices, cucumber, onions, and olives, pickle spears, feta cheese, and jalapeno peppers on the side, not to mention three types of dressing. And there are other "regular" items, like flour-dusted dinner rolls (with whipped butter available for spreading if one is so inclined) and sweet corn on the cob. I’m sure there are items I’m forgetting too, like the cottage cheese at breakfast.
Yes, the best thing definitely the theme of meals. The other night was Thanksgiving, complete with slices of roasted turkey, creamy mashed potatoes (of the perfect consistency, hand-mashed) and turkey gravy, bread stuffing made with chicken stock, cranberry sauce and pumpkin cake with vanilla frosting topped with chopped almonds. Lunch a few days ago was seafood-centric, with breaded mahi mahi, perfectly crunchy deep-fried jumbo shrimp, and clam chowder (or as the first mate Jeff says in his characteristic New Bedford accent, "chowdah"), plus deliciously browned onion rings and crinkle fries. There was an encore seafood production the next night, with seasoned salmon filets. I have absolutely no complaints about how I’ve been fed so far on this cruise. The only question I have is—given the nature of the scientific investigation that is the objective of this cruise, and the fact that these two obviously know how to make breaded seafood—why haven’t we had calamari yet?
Another great thing about this cruise is the crew, whom I like to refer to in my head as the salty boys. There are 12 crew members aboard, and they are all such colorful characters. The res-tech (resident technician, technically lumped with the scientists and not the crew) is this tanned muscular guy with a mohawk. He taught me the proper way to wrap a rope around a capstan two nights ago, before the light meter deployment, to which I responded, "Oh, okay thanks" (simply because I wondered when I would ever need to know this in the future). After this he gave me this frank no-nonsense look and said, "Hey, look, this is the only thing I can teach you. I can’t teach you science." I can’t teach you science. I can honestly pinpoint that as one of the moments that endeared the crew to me—not to mention how the whole lot refers to any one of us as the collective "science." When someone needs to run an op, they say, science wants this, or science needs that. I find it slightly ridiculous, and hilarious, a case of runaway synecdoche. Already I am quite smitten with life at sea and find myself trying to scheme up ways in which I can return to this type of arrangement, perhaps even on a more permanent basis.
We usually deploy the light meters at about six o’clock, and the drill goes something like down five meters, to 10, then 16, and then Mirek (the leader on the light-meter op) has us leave them in the water until after sunset. During one of these deployments, after about 10 or 15 minutes of waiting around on deck, I mosey on over to Pierre (the postdoc, from the same lab as Mirek, me, and one other intern) and ask what time it is. He tells me it is six-thirty. I gape. "Six-thirty?! We’re going to be out here for another hour!" Pierre merely turns to me with a wry look and says, "You get paid to watch ze sunset for an hour. Eez not so bad, eh?" He has a pretty fantastic French accent by the way. And I stop short. And then I laugh, because it’s true. "Yeah," I agree, "that is pretty sweet."
And lastly of course, there’s being out in the open sea, out of sight of land. The Gulf of California (also known as the Sea of Cortez) is ridiculously calm apparently, according to the captain, since it is a nearly completely protected body of water. But we have run into some fresh winds, particularly at night when they are cool and come from the southeast, the direction of the open ocean. Last I heard, there was a storm down south though, and the swells have been getting noticeably bigger. Fingers crossed that I don’t start getting seasick.
I only wish I had a camera that could photograph the stars at night, since I can’t change the shutter speed or get the exposure time needed on my camera. Besides that, the rocking of the ship might make for a shaky, poor quality photo. It’s strange—we have 19 scientists on board, and 12 crew members, and still—when you’re staring out at the endless expanse of horizon, or the pitch black water at night, or the gazillions of stars (there are so many, so many more than I’ve ever seen anywhere else, and they look so much closer than I’ve ever seen before), it feels very lonely and isolating, just like they tell you all the time in movies and books. It sounds clichéd, and perhaps it is, but that doesn’t make the feeling any less real when you finally experience it for yourself.
Images: Dinner line, courtesy of Julie Huang; all others courtesy of William Gilly