Open Ocean Music

Sikuliaq Ice Trials
March 20, 2015

The Sikuliaq main mast and stack.
The Sikuliaq main mast and stack.

First song in the random swarm of songs this morning on the laptop: “Yellow” performed a cappella. I am sitting in the main lab and facing the stern as the boat gently rolls side to side, punctuated every dozen seconds by the thump of a cut swell. Still dark. 150 miles north there is ice. Big ocean. Small world. I find out two of the scientists on the cruise are also headed to Japan for the ASSW conference afterwards. Sam has a guide book to Tokyo. I have two small books on common phrases and grammar. Just in case we didn’t think the ship and crew don’t have everything we need aboard, we’ve added to the library at hand. Perry asks if I’ve brought other books with me. I wasn’t thinking. I’ve just brought the e-reader. Hard to share that last great book you’ve read when you can’t pass on a dog-eared copy. The ship’s been at sea for much of year now and the library has grown remarkably from the bare bones user manuals when she left Cleveland last summer.

Sikuliaq heading for the mouth of the bay.
Sikuliaq heading for the mouth of the bay.

At breakfast none of the early birds missed a chance at the smoked salmon quiche. I talked to Sue briefly about watching for sea mammals, to Carin passingly about the trip to Japan in April. The Chief Engineer sat down with us bearing a bowl of fresh berries. The Boatswain is squeezing the last of the juice of his grapefruit. Get them while they last.

The rescue boats.
The rescue boats.

The Board of Lies still maintains we will do an open water station sometime during today’s daylight. Lou is writing in his notebook. Dean is looking at the water chemistry coming in through the sea chests. Others are checking email, drafting papers. Someone is working on a grant proposal.

The laptop cord on our production computer is plugged into the ceiling and hangs down over the workbench. It works well as a pendulum and gauges our roll out the corner of my eye. VR HUD anyone? If it leans too heavily in one direction or another I can grab both computers, the desk, the chair… The wireless mouse can fend for itself. But seas don’t get bad instantly — usually. Something as big as an ocean likes to sneak up on you. Because we haven’t been inured to the basic roll yet, my head is still keeping me informed of our attitude. In another week, when we’re over comfortable with the movement, it helps to have a cheap gravity sensor to tell you what’s really happening outside. There are fluid bubble levels on the lab walls and the Bridge. One measures in fine increments to 20 degrees. The other, more coarsely to 45 degrees. On the way back across the Pacific from Guam, the ship has maxed out both, so I hear.

Now my offline radio is playing “Pride” by Syntax. I won’t go on about music. This morning every song is going to feel just right.

The First Mate on the starboard side 02 deck.
The First Mate on the starboard side 02 deck.

Dean opens the -80 freezer next to me. I wait for the hairs on my arms to prickle but there’s nothing. The readout says -79. Close enough. The freezer buzzes away.

The freezer noise is nothing. It’s going to get loud down here when we start milling ice. As the Captain pointed out at the museum presentation in Dutch. The Sikuliaq doesn’t have lightweight props. These things are clubs. The Sikuliaq is a blender, a snow-cone maker, an ice-grinder. Note to ask Ethan to grab some of the hydrophone recordings once we start beating ice. The ship has microphones embedded in the acoustic blister, for monitoring animals and ship noise. Just have to push record.

Retrieving a CTD from the water. First cast of the cruise.
Retrieving a CTD from the water. First cast of the cruise.

Operations on the working deck. A CTD cast, three different kinds of net tow, and four benthic grabs. Each new net laid out on deck is larger and more complicated than the last. We have water, we have mud/sand, we have critters. Copepods and diatoms under the microscope. Some bivalves and worms in the sand. I can run outside quickly to grab photos in jeans and a light fleece but with this much activity, it’s time for the mustang suit. I like this piece of orange and black clothing. Carin swears by hers. One piece from neck to ankle with straps and pockets everywhere. “I’m impervious,” she says. There’s even a tube under the left collar for inflating the bladder across the shoulder blades. Keeps the head up and you floating in cold water. This is important. In water this cold, you can’t stay conscious for very long. Mustang Suit, Xtra Toughs, camera bag and hardhat. Half a day is spent on the working deck.

Carin, Bern, and Ethan bring the net and samples to the deck.
Carin, Bern, and Ethan bring the net and samples to the deck.

Dinner is halibut, meat loaf, mash potatoes, gravy, asparagus, dinner rolls, and the ever-present salad bar. Blue cheese, jalapeños, almonds, carrots, cucumber, eight kinds of dressing. And today from the onboard bakery, muffins, a sheet cake (chocolate), and peanut-butter cookies.

We have many miles to travel before dawn. At the end of the day the Board of Lies has changed. So far I have no reason not to trust it. At the moment it promises driving through the night and if we get to the ice before dawn we’ll wait there for light before we finish our drive testing in open water. Then we go into the ice.

At the moment the ship is pitching nicely into the wind driven waves. The general stores in the bow is right at the water line. At the moment it’s audio heaven, slosh and splash and a curious, shimmering tone that’s the ship acting as a bell. It’s musical. Remind me about it some time and you’ll hear the real voice/song of the ship.

Ship location north of Dutch and south of the ice.
Ship location north of Dutch and south of the ice.

Falling sleep is as easy as lying down.

Written by Roger Topp

 

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