Editor's Note: Peggy Delaney is sailing on a newly refurbished research vessel, the JOIDES Resolution, that left Honolulu on March 10 with an international group of researchers on board. The ship, supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation, conducts scientific investigations beneath the seafloor by drilling the ocean floor and retrieving long “cores” of mud for testing and data collection. This is her ninth blog post. To see all her posts, see "60 Seconds in the Mid-Pacific."

SOMEWHERE IN THE EQUATORIAL PACIFIC (April 14, 2009)—One of the things I think about when I am on a research expedition is the question of "what is the hardest job on the ship?" The only absolute starting point I have is that I know it's not mine! I am here, participating in a research project, doing my part of a big picture puzzle. My food is cooked for me, my laundry is done for me, my bed is made, and my cabin is cleaned for me; my commute to work is a short walk.


To answer this question, it helps to know a little about how we all work and live out here. The ship is about 500 feet (150 meters) long, but only a small fraction of that length is occupied by the living quarters and the lab, the areas where most people on the ship spend the vast majority of our time. The science party, those folks invited to participate on just this expedition like me, consists of 29 scientists from eight different countries. We are supported by 25 technicians and by 66 crew members and staff. These folks sail on a regular basis, many of them participating in every other two-month expedition. This ship is their home for six months a year, in rotating stints, and they sail again and again with the same folks.


Everyone on the ship is assigned a 12-hour work shift. We each work that shift seven days a week for the entire expedition. For example, my shift in the chemistry lab and at the computer doing shipboard responsibilities is from midnight to noon. Nikolas Gussone, my counterpart "inorganic geochemist," works noon to midnight. Twice a day, we "cross over," telling each other what we accomplished in the past 12 hours on our mutual priorities for the expedition, what problems arose that aren't yet solved, and what the general status of progress is. The same thing goes on all over the laboratory floors—with science crossovers—and throughout the ship.


Many people work 12 to 12 shifts, some are on six to six shifts (both six days, and six nights), and some are on shifts a bit offset from the rest. When it's my morning (at midnight), it's someone else's lunchtime, it's someone else's end of the workday, and it's someone else's time to sleep. This is true for all the shipboard areas of responsibility. The people doing the hard and critical physical labor on the rig floor work 12-hour shifts, too.


This aspect of life—that people are in different stages of their day—is one of the joys and challenges of an expedition. There is always someone coming with new energy, and the faces I see vary throughout the day—that's one of the joys. There is always someone wide awake, taking care of things while I sleep—another joy. You also have to learn to respect each other's daily rhythms day after day, learning who is wide awake when they get to work, who droops midday, who might be really needing to leave work at the end of their shift as opposed to liking to hang around. Typically, your counterpart can't leave until you get there, so you learn the value of being predictable and on time. You learn to leave space for each other—physical and psychological. The differing shifts also mean that you can sail with people for two months that you rarely or only briefly see. You get to rediscover them in port at the end.


When and what do we eat? There are regular meal times around the clock, with meals at each A.M. and P.M. five to seven and 11 to one. The 5 A.M. to 7 A.M. meal is a typical breakfast meal with eggs, bacon, pancakes, sausage, french toast, oatmeal available in the serving window. The kitchen crew tries to have one entree that is more lunch/dinner–like at that meal, for those not just getting up. The other meals (11 A.M. to 1 P.M., 5 P.M. to 7 P.M., 11 P.M. to 1 A.M.) are all dinner-type meals, with a choice of several different entries, one or two soups, a couple cooked vegetables. There is always rice, and I think always french fries or at least some kind of potatoes. Meals have a salad bar, where they work hard to provide an interesting array of salad materials—even as the lettuce fades away and they can no longer rely on fresh ingredients. I joke than an expedition is characterized by the salad bar approaching the "carrot and raisin salad" end with time. There is always bread of various types available, along with cereal, crackers, cheese, fruit. On this expedition, after the commercial yogurt ran out, the galley folks have been kind enough to make yogurt daily!


What about that laundry? And the cabins and beds? Each person has a mesh bag to put dirty laundry in. You set it outside your door and it is taken away to be returned later, cleaned and carefully folded. We all tend to wear the same small sets of clothing day after day, rotating at most through a few T-shirts, because ship life and ship laundry, geared toward getting industrially dirty clothes clean, is rough on clothing. I find this laundry service one of the most magical things about ship life. Our beds get made each day, as well.


Okay, so back to "What's the hardest job?" The captain has a hard job, doesn't he? He's in charge of everything. Well, yes, the rest of the mates and the ship's crew are really important, right? They do all the things that the captain doesn't that keep us going; their work lives are certainly challenging. How about the crane operators? It's really amazing watching them get a piece of equipment over the side and back again, and it makes operating a crane on stable dry land look like a cakewalk. The doctor has a lot to handle—working to keep everyone safe, dealing with all the small injuries and minor medical issues that arise. The chief scientists and the project expedition scientists have tough jobs, right? They have to make sure the science goes well, and they have to keep the science party engaged, productive, energized and in good humor.


I run through the rest of the list: the people in charge of the technical staff, the drilling superintendent and the operations superintendent, the various folks in the drilling operation who work day in and day out to get us these incredibly valuable cores and logs from beneath the seafloor, the technical staff themselves—all of these extraordinary folks who weave their contributions together to make an expedition succeed. I decide that none of them really qualify for my "hardest job on the ship."


A total of 15 people—seven galley crew, including the camp boss, and eight stewards—are responsible for feeding all of us, keeping all the laboratories and quarters clean, for doing the laundry, etcetera. So, when I think about the hardest job on the ship, I think about these folks: the people who do the laundry, working with heat and humidity day after day; and the people who serve us our food, with good cheer, learning our names and our preferences and greeting us with smiles every time, no matter how many times we walk into line and, like grumpy five-year-olds, screw up our noses, point at something, and say, "What's that?" before we can decide what to eat. My thanks to all—it is truly incredible to be allowed to be here.

Photo of Peggy and two colleagues discuss Rhizon sampling of core sections, courtesy IODP