Fish and Dentistry

Sikuliaq Ice Trials
March 26, 2015

I’ve never been one to fish, which is terrible considering I always order the surf over the turf. “Always the fish,” I said yesterday to Matt, our cook, about choice of meals on Sikuliaq. But my guess is fishing’s not so different from standing on the bow with 10-20 feet of painter’s pole, a goPro strapped to the end, and extending it out to see down where the ship is breaking the fresh ice. You spend your time in paradise and maybe come away with something for dinner.

Roger about to go fishing.
Roger about to go fishing.

Today’s video was okay, but the pole wasn’t far enough out. I’ll try and stick the thing closer to water/ice tomorrow. The shape of he bow makes it hard to see round to where the hull meets the ice. Sikuliaq is designed to break ice, which means she’s designed to ride up on top of the ice, crushing it underneath her weight as she goes. She does this well, moving forward or backwards. Which, yes, got a little creative when we were reversing at speed today. Will see how that video turned out tomorrow.

Sikuliaq Bow, Tip of the Spear.
Sikuliaq Bow, Tip of the Spear.

Couldn’t take a break from taking pictures so I took a break from working with them on the laptop. Caught up on some of the week’s earlier video and so missed seeing a pack of walrus we passed by. No dearth of cameras though. Lots of great pictures came out of that sighting and have made it back to the mainland. I know a couple can be seen at Brandon’s blog at icefungi.wordpress.com.

Mid-water trawl recovery.
Mid-water trawl recovery.

Since we’ve found some wide leads and polynyas, thick with birds and hopefully fish, we put a couple nets in the water today one after the other. We in put a mid-water trawl, looking for juvenile fish an inch to two inches in length.

They didn’t catch anything this time. The Van Veen and the Haps Corer were both temperamental but brought back samples, more animals that really didn’t want to see the light of day.

Ethan and Ann retrieving the benthic core.
Ethan and Ann retrieving the benthic core.

That’s why we have a machine shop, an electrical shop, an electronics shop… When it breaks we have to fix it. No going back because we need a bolt or a really long selfie-stick. The wood-working tools, though, are stored in the van, and the deck in most weather serves when the crew needs to make a box, a work bench, a park bench, a swing set, or an ice anchor.

Important to note that we also have a hospital. I have a couple bruises from hitting one shin on a cofferdam and another on something I don’t remember what, and I’ve seen a couple bandaged fingers walking around (with electrical tape naturally). But I doubt “Ship Medicine” will make it as a TV pilot. Still it sounds pretty high-tech in there, meaning that hospital. I haven’t seen it but John or Adam said something about the hospital’s automated help system or something. It has a fancy name/acronym. I’m pretty sure it does things like say, (audibly) “Step One: Connect electrode A to the…,” if you suddenly find yourself with a patient, or maybe it’s just a dedicated sat-phone line, but if your mind wandered during the safety briefing back in Dutch, it could sound more like we have the auto-surgeon from Prometheus onboard.

I made a joke to my dentist last month about perhaps us finally taking care of that problem tooth before I went to sea (the one that’s been complaining since October). The joke was that the Captain would likely need to be my dentist if I had a problem out here. Not sure if it really would be the Captain, but it would need to be one of the crew and — yeah. My dentist agreed quickly, and suddenly all sorts of appointment slots became available. Modern medicine suddenly felt modern again. X-rays were delivered. Phone calls happened. My travel schedule seemed to matter more than office hours.

We took care of the tooth (removed that money-pit!) allowing a little bit of time before the cruise in case there were any post-op problems. Brought antibiotics with me just in case, not knowing when my jaw would stop aching — for a week and a half, right up to Dutch Harbor. The flight into Dutch was fine, but the Horizon Air turboprop to Anchorage made two attempts (blamed it on another plane — but we’ve all heard that one) to land and I swear the cabin pressure was changing the whole time. My sinuses were not up to it — but all good on getting to Dutch. All moisture, all happy to be there. Like visiting a spa. I haven’t thought about it much since, but Carrie reminded me in a email yesterday, asking how my mouth felt. Maybe I just don’t grind my teeth on ships. Maybe this was the life for me. Ah, nostalgia.

Sunset over sea ice.
Sunset over sea ice.

I told my dental-surgeon-person that I really wasn’t nostalgic (about losing my tooth). I was in the chair and she was going into an explanation about how all other options were really off the table (the patient’s dead Jim), and I interrupted because I just wanted to cut the sorrows to a minimum, get it out right there, get back to work, and give me the maximum number of hours between extraction and the boat leaving the pier.

Funny how a tooth feels like a small thing and yet the hole left behind feels like it could hold two of them. Let’s not get into why we can’t just leave the gap — because the teeth and bone are moving parts in check…

Sikuliaq Bow, Sea Ice Nursery.
Sikuliaq Bow, Sea Ice Nursery.

These are the things you (I) think about standing watching the ice floes crack and split and be pushed together. The little foot-width green-black ribbons of water are not melt-water streams you could splash across. They are opening. They are closing. They are 60 meters straight down. It’s easy to imagine the ice as just another snowy stretch of (very flat) tundra. But imagine walking across the ice and breaking through — just for a second — just one foot, one knee, one leg. How quickly you’ll snatch that leg back, sensing all that sudden space beneath it, like it could get lost down there while still attached to your hip. There’s a lot of world under the ice to swallow it up. And the cold numbs fast. I think about what will happen to our track after we are gone. Areas will freeze up. Areas will welcome summer. But every time we take a floe and make two floes, both can move independently. A small cut, a healing, or a great big gap?

I did see the oral surgeon a second time so she could do her best at a, “Still aches? Ok,” optimistic thumbs up, have a good trip, “Here’s my number, call me Sunday before you leave if there’s a problem.”

No problems. No worries. Another day of Arctic Odyssey. Surreal. Today, instead of walrus I saw Alice measuring ice thickness while we were underway. Pictures later, but it was sort of a cross between puppeteering and arcade asteroids. Today I learned that a dinoflagellate cyst is basically a gobstopper with jazz hands. I did get to see a seal hauling itself over ice, mad to get away from this crazy, tech ship. I saw my second sunset in two days, but this one was over water so, dull. Oh, hardly. That’s a heck of cold wind when we’re making way. Step outside. Snap. Snap. Snap. Step inside. Repeat to taste. I learned that pecan pie is the easiest pie to make and that the secret to polenta is cheese, milk, cheese, butter, and more cheese. Now, a cooking show? On ship. I’m sure it’s been done.

Clear skies means 250m resolution MODIS satellite images.
Clear skies means 250m resolution MODIS satellite images.

And concerning cheese. Rumor has it we might be looking at our second ice station tomorrow. Time for coring to turn another floe into Swiss cheese, and then, well, drive a ship into it, smash it up, and fish in the holes we’ve made. Salts, trace metals, Plankton, juvenile fish, benthic worms. Small, important stuff. We’ve been out here a week with two to go. Hard to imagine we’re just getting started.

— Roger Topp (UAMN Head of Exhibits, Design, and Digital Media Production)

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