The Board of Lies

Sikuliaq Ice Trials
March 19, 2015

The Third Mate runs members of the science team through survival suit training.
The Third Mate runs members of the science team through survival suit training.

Another morning in the cocoon. Perry and I left the sink light on before falling asleep so I’m not sure what 6am feels like. No port hole so I have to go by the sounds of the kitchen again. Our neighbors sharing the head seem to have a sense of mornings and one of them is in the shower on cue. So I figure that’s my cue to find my way into clothes and the main lab to see what’s scheduled on the “Board of Lies.”

9:00 safety meeting!
10:00 drills!
10:30 Science Team Meeting!
20:00 Sailing!

You cannot always trust the board of lies, but sometimes it’s all you got, a white board in the main lab that pretends to know what’s going to happen today. There’s a webcam aimed at the board so that while you can’t call off ship or pull up your email on a mobile, you can login to the webcam with your phone and maybe figure out what that noise was that just woke you up (a winch, the bow thruster, ice!). When going to work is walking down a flight of stairs, walking isn’t a bad idea either.

Chief Scientist Carin Ashjian leads the first meeting of the Science Team.
Chief Scientist Carin Ashjian leads the first meeting of the Science Team.

8:34am now. Smarter this morning and skipped the bacon and sausage and eggs and forced myself to keep with the yogurt and granola and fresh fruit. That “47-strawberry, 3-banana” smoothie feels like a long time ago and we haven’t left port yet. Still quite dark. Once the weather reveals itself, might consider a walk after the morning meetings, see if the planes are coming in. They did yesterday, which puts them on a day on, day off schedule at the moment. Our mammal and bird watch researchers landed yesterday completing the crew.

Those not having been to sea in six months watch the UNOLS video yet again. Those not familiar with the Sikuliaq’s survival suits practice putting them on. We muster for an emergency drill and go single file to the life-boat stations. Top bunk is port side. Lower bunk is starboard. The third mate goes over the ship’s safety systems: the eye wash stations, the hospital, the pharmacy, the sauna and the Walgreens — the fire extinguishers, the trip hazards, how important it is to know your exits. “Holy cow,” is all he has to say when it comes to advising everyone to tie EVERYTHING down. “This boat likes to roll,” or “rolls like hell,” or something like that. He’s added a piece of toffee candy to each of the survival suits for, you know, when you’re in the water and not too happy about it. “Have a Wurthers.”

We take a quick tour of the first platform below the waterline. Parts of the gym are in the bow (weights, rowing machine). Ethan points out the pull-up bar and that it looks very different from every other water pipe on the ship. Other parts of the gym are in the rear science hold (treadmill, elliptical). The science hold has three exits including the escape hatch to the deck. The bow gym has one. It’s through a massive, hydraulically driven, water tight door. Ethan explains the alarm systems and how the hand crank works, how the rowing machine can be an extra workout when the ship is moving.

Not the least of items on the Board of Lies: “20:00!” Tonight we leave port, though it’s not going to be dark because of that skew in timezones. One last day on land before we see what the Bering Sea has in store. As I write this I can look over at the dents in the starboard wall of the lounge/library where some nasty seas broke the heavy chairs loose of their floor anchors and tossed them across the room. If something can fall aboard a ship, it will. I remind myself to check on how I’ve secured the camera gear and remind myself I need to bolt/tie down the production laptop in the lab. Today is the day of being reminded this ship likes to move in the water.

Oh, and maybe last chance for a shower that isn’t an adventure.

An eagle flies over the fishing mecca.
An eagle flies over the fishing mecca.

And last chance to stretch the legs. My walk becomes a hike up to the point with bunkmate Perry Pungowiyi. The hike is rain and a tiny bit of hale, “unstable cliff” signs and eagles and lots of photos and audio recording our footsteps as we walk through an old, buried, concrete bunker. Perry lights a cigarette inside in the darkness and the sound carries for several seconds. Our phones are flashlights. Out on top of the point, the great iron gears of the gun emplacements are snapped like biscuits, as if they’ve been bombed, or more likely scuttled. Pictures do the ruins better justice than words. The landscape is reclaiming everything as fast as it can. Give it another 70 years.

On the way back down to the boat I keep stopping us to take a few last shoreside pictures. I get a couple nice portraits of the Sikuliaq and one of a little boat called the Makushin Bay. I just thought it looked nice with the mountains behind, but a sailor stopped and asked me if I was a fan. Sorry, I didn’t get him at the time. A fan is something you call someone when they’re fond of a sports team … or a tv show. Hmm. Dutch Harbor. I have no idea whether I’ve just met a celebrity or just a blue fishing boat. Dinner included clam chowder and shrimp in rice.

The Sikuliaq a couple hours before setting sail.
The Sikuliaq a couple hours before setting sail.

At 8:00 the ship pulled away smoothly in the rain. I ran around the 01 and 02 decks taking pictures, cleaning lenses and taking more pictures. I could see the bunkers up on the point, the small bay where we wandered after landing in Unalaska. It’s good to be moving.

I’m going to fall asleep typing in my bunk. The roll’s a light 5 degrees and every once in a while the whole ship shudders. We’re making way but we’re already doing some baseline tests on speed and stops and other orientations of the thrusters. We’ll be doing the same in ice. My stateroom is reasonably far aft as the staterooms go. Much farther and it would be the control room for the baltic room load-handling system. Even so, the odd clang of one of the anchor chains resonates all the way down the boat. Once we start hitting ice, we’re going to want earplugs.


Written by Roger Topp


One thought on “The Board of Lies

  1. Reblogged this on myths & fragments and commented:

    You cannot always trust the board of lies, but sometimes it’s all you got. It’s sort of a to do list that floats around on the ocean subject to winds, and ice, and engine issues. Reblogged from the museum, some of the couple months of ship time I got last year.

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