April Fools

Sikuliaq Ice Trials
April 1, 2015

There is a polar bear in the wet lab.
A polar bear in the wet lab.

As soon as Perry’s feet hit the floor, he’s calling my name and trying to spin me some yarn about my “laptop is smoking,” or I’m needed on the Bridge or there’s a Polar Bear on the ice or in the wet lab or the corridor or something. I’m not having any of it. I’m not awake enough to believe the Internet’s dead — really dead, because the latest upgrades went terribly wrong and it’s not just that we’re holding the ship on the wrong heading and the main mast is blocking the antenna’s view of the satellite. Now, if he told me he had discovered the password to my cell phone he might have got an eyelid open.

Bearded seals
Bearded seals

We’re stuck in the ice and there’s a polar bear on the working deck, a gang of walrus partying it up on the bow, and Eric is putting on his drysuit to go down and sharpen the ice knife. Today our Internet gets a 4x speed boost courtesy of the geosynchronous satellite and NSF fleet-wide upgrades. We’re talking Mega bits, small (b). It’s April Fools, but this last one might actually be true once we exit OIT crisis mode. It’s also true that for all the nets we’ve put in the water tis cruise, today is the day will we catch our first fish, whole bunches of amphipods, and krill. The Bridge crew also spotted our second bowhead whale and I was up there when we pushed our new super highway though what must have been suburb for bearded seals. One per floe and leads for picket fences.

Eggs for breakfast and I’m eyeing the warm pineapple turnover with the cherries on top — suspiciously. I think it is breakfast. Back at the museum you can come in early on the first if you don’t want your office pranked, and you can avoid the break room and the always tempting and always to be avoided fresh box of donuts you will find there. Linda is always the most innocent looking. Always the one to blame. We’ve replaced your regular donuts with something that just tastes wrong. It’s those you least expect that you have to watch out for.

No one’s believing anything Perry says this morning, but the ‘polar bear in the wet lab’ warning has some traction, despite my thinking the wet lab is not the best place to contain the scariest of predatory animals to walk or swim these parts. I mean, you can hear it banging on the bulkheads, the web lab locker has most of our weather gear. There are very official warnings posted in the mess, and usually open doors are shut and posted ‘no entry.’ Still, we’re all sedately sitting in the mess, sucking down first and second coffees while the ‘thing everyone (secretly or not) most wants to see’ is pawing at the watertight doors.

There is a polar bear in the wet lab.
A polar bear in the wet lab!

Before going downstairs I grab the laptop and the novel I started reading yesterday. Once in the main lab, I stare at the computer for a few minutes, not feeling really inclined to write anything or work on some of the video. I could start taking pictures, or not. Sunrise is still half an hour away.

Finally I get around to checking out the bear. And there it is. Fantastic, but I’m mostly asleep so I have to go back to the lab to get my camera. Put it to my eye. Put it down. Take the lens cap off. Put it to my eye. Put it down. Turn it on. There. Waking up.

I’ve been dragging all day. Our ice station was relatively featureless, but for once we disembarked on the port side, which meant an opportunity to take pictures of her majesty from her other, less photographed side. The business side of the superstructure, with the drains and the stains. Still, the ship encased in white is a pretty sight, sitting up there like that in the middle of a bright, tired-eyes ice desert where no ship should be. The thin line of water of in the distance just serves to separate the snow from the sky.

Sikuliaq with port side gangway to nowhere.
Sikuliaq with port side gangway to nowhere.

Early afternoon and work needs to be done on the starboard side crane. This requires the port side crane to get a man in a basket up to the knuckle to repair a hydraulic leak we’ve been watching for a week. So a couple hours not moving, not operating on the ice, not doing science over the side.

My head was hurting so I retired to my bunk, tried to read (for about 10 seconds) and then tried to fall asleep. It’s an art on a boat in the ice, with cranes and winches and work being done. Woke up for dinner (not that I really slept), supposed that at some point one does have to rest, and turns out I wasn’t the only one. Apparently this was the day for naps, for thinking, “How long have we been out here? How long have we left?” Jonesing for port. Jonesing for something.

Sea ice as continents.
Sea ice as continents.

At some point the sun came out yet again, but just seeing it in the monitors made my head hurt more. “The calm before the storm,” said Perry. It was. It was beautifully calm outside. Shooting from the deck out behind the Bridge was comfortable without a hat or gloves. More ice for continents. Endless maps. I could see water in the leads with nary a ripple. Reminded me of seal-hunting in the ice, in the Beaufort, one June, when the only disturbances to the sea were caused by our boat and the light drizzling rain.

Now, we were in for yet another great sunset. The forecast is for 35 knot winds the next couple days. This could mean many things. I treat the sunset like it might be our last for a while.

Over 22:30 coffee, Second Mate Mike and I have a brief discussion about some ideas I tossed around in my head earlier before falling asleep. If I WERE to jump over rail the and take off on foot across the ice, what are my chances of escaping if the ship were to try and pursue and run me down. 8 knots over the good ice, half that over anything substantial, poor turning radius (this is the ship), especially in ice, but the potential to create all sorts of AOE hazards in the form of cracks ahead of the boat. I on the other hand could keep up a 4-6 knot pace for hours over a light snow. We each had very specific strengths under specific conditions. I suggest the boat should make a wide circle and cut me off on a piece of ice a half mile wide. Then slice and dice. Three feet of lead and I’m not crossing it. Mike agrees, we’d do donuts, but “Take Perry and you’ll be fine.” He shakes his head laughing. “This far into the cruse, I’m not surprised you’re having these sorts of dreams.”

I disagreed. “Oh no, I was thinking this while I was awake,” I said. Hypothetically.

Alice Orlich and Eric Wood measure ice thickness.
Alice Orlich and Eric Wood measure ice thickness.

We were talking about dreams at lunch today. I haven’t had any I can remember since that first night in the hotel in Dutch Harbor (I wrote about it but left it out of the published blog, you know, because I don’t share everything). But Alice tells us about hers from last night. Turns out I was in it. She was working on stuff. I was filming. She and I (and I have to really paraphrase here (because lunch (or was it dinner (yesterday was so confusing)) was pizza and it was very good)) were diving, I think, around the ice floes, as one does (in dry suits I hazard to guess) but we weren’t working off the ship. We were working off a surf board. I suggested a Polynesian long board might have been appropriate (over lunch, not in the dream (the sort of day where you suggest edits to someone else’s dreams)) and I gather that all was going well dream-wise until the orcas turned up. At which point it may or may not have turned into a nightmare. The rest is fuzzy, whether in the having, the retelling, or my ability to listen at that point before my forced afternoon nap. April Fools is a little like the Halloween of Spring.

So, yes Mike, “This far into the cruise…”

In other check-list type news, I was finally able to sound record Brandon playing Seth’s banjo in the Main Lab — while some heavy ice was breaking against the hull (you have to do this sort of thing secretly and then confess to it later (oh and Carrie, just to confess another little thing — that bit where I dry boiled the kettle one night before leaving for the ship — I actually did it two nights in a row, so now you know)). So a major score for the day.

And before I forget and by way of punchline, Mess Attendant Annie had her own confession to make at dinner. Up until 14:00 she had been replacing all ‘the coffee we usually drink’ with Folgers decaf. Death stares from the coffee drinkers. Smug looks from those with alternative (and we know you have them) drug habits. My head was still hurting, but at least I knew then from what carafe my pain had been served.

There might need to be a reckoning, but in the meantime night is falling after yet another sweet sunset, and I’m going to schlep the laptop up to to the Bridge where Mike will be driving us into the am. He might need the extra eyes to watch for moose by the side of the road, because you just know it’s not going to be a polar bear.

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

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