Try Again in 29 seconds

Sikuliaq Ice Trials
April 2, 2015

It’s a Thursday so, some things I remember from —

My first time at sea: 

Nothing. I was less than a year old and crossing the Atlantic on the QEII.

My first time working at sea:

Getting sick a lot in the Gulf of Alaska.

Thinking how small a boat feels when rolling on the ocean

Being woken up as we clunked our way through glacier ice.

My most unexpectedly awesome moment at sea:

Being stranded on an ice floe while the pilot fixed the outboard.

My worst experience at sea:

Trying to watch a movie on a ferry between Wales and Ireland, at night after a day of hiking and driving and no sleep. The movie was Chicken Run.

Sikuliaq seen from net near Puerto Rico
Sikuliaq seen from net near Puerto Rico

My first cruise on the Sikuliaq:

Smelling the ocean as the boat moved into saltwater for the first time.

Watching the sonar resolve images of the Andrea Doria as we ran donuts over the wreck site. Leaving the computer lab to go up on deck and look down at the unrevealing water where the wreck lay.

Hearing and recording a church choir sing as we passed by on the St. Lawrence River at night.

Sikuliaq sonar imaging of the Andrea Dorea (North Atlantic)
Sikuliaq sonar imaging of the Andrea Dorea (North Atlantic)

My second cruise on the Sikuliaq:

Watching the Sikuliaq come past the fort on its way into port.

Heat, humidity, humidity, and more heat.

Sunset after sunset after sunset after sunset.

Sikuliaq, sunset, and sea ice.
Sikuliaq, sunset, and sea ice.

My third cruise on the Sikuliaq:

Sea ice!

Sea ice!

Sea ice!

Different every time. Today, there are patterns in the palm-sized pieces of ice collected into windrows on an otherwise quiet lead. The mosaic of shattered tiles reminds me of a bathroom floor that needs finishing.

More fishing. More benthic coring. More temperature and salinity profiles of the water column. Doing the same thing over and over again, sometimes until you get it right, sometimes — because that’s the nature of the riddle. Sampling in multiplicity. Square mile upon square mile of sea floor and grabbing at it on square foot at a time. How many grabs gives us a good idea of what’s there? Sometimes you need come up with the same result time after time — until you don’t.

Isaacs-Kidd midwater trawl catching a jelly.
Isaacs-Kidd midwater trawl catching a jelly.

Put a net over the side for an hour to capture animals small as a pea, smaller even. How many hours of towing at what depth gives us a good (and what does ‘good’ mean) idea of what lives in the water column, along the ice edge, down near the bottom, or right up at the surface? Repetition is necessary because we don’t know what might find if we go about looking systematically, intelligently. Who knows what we will find a couple days from now.

We had burgers again tonight. Salad again. Pizza has been had twice. I think we’ve had salmon a couple times. I’m not complaining, but we notice repetition. In two days we’ll have spaghetti for the second time and the yogurt will run out. It’s been a true friend many a cruise breakfast, the yogurt, and I will miss it once things change.

I upgraded my phone a few weeks back. I let the old one, like my tooth, go easily. Past due, and with all the trips this Spring and Summer I wanted a little more capability/capacity. A good idea. The phone’s camera took most of the images from the first couple days in Dutch Harbor and when I first stepped aboard the ship. The phone part isn’t any use at sea (and hit and miss in Dutch) and the wireless, not so much either. On ship, I can reach my daily allocated personal bandwidth cap in about 10 minutes playing Wordhero while all the other applications I can’t be bothered to disable struggle to ping me notifications. Forget actually checking Facebook and email. You know you’ve been cut off when your last poor game still puts you at the top of the leaderboard like no one else has been playing. But still, it’s mobile computer number three and you can check the Board of Lies, the ship’s satellite map server, and our course and heading before getting out of bed — if you can get past the security!

About a week into the cruise the phone stopped asking me for my fingerprint, accepting only the backup password. Nothing I could do would persuade it to accept anything but letters and numbers. Well now, didn’t realize I was supposed to remember this password, because, you know, fingerprints (does it work for toes too (we shall have to experiment)). Throwing in random, oft-used password variants didn’t go so well, and giving up I pretty much put the thing in a drawer for much of the trip.

Then we got into the last week of the cruise and I started thinking about wanting to make phone calls once we got to port. So, with renewed clarity of thought after the fiasco with the decaf coffee, even the timed lockout before the next round of guesses couldn’t keep me from methodically running through iterations of my half-dozen greatest passwords. Between the rounds I read a page out of a book. I figured there was no way I was being TOO creative when creating a password I never really expected to use. It had to be something simple for me to guess at. I knew this thing was going to be forgotten when I put it in there. I knew THIS was going to happen. So what was it? ‘Try again in 29 seconds.’

And there you go. Try, try, try. Read a page of a book, try three more variants. Read another page of a book. Before I was through a chapter it pays off. Almost disappointing really, being methodical, but it works. Suddenly something different happens. Something’s been unlocked, and you find yourself staring at the screen, at first confused the keyboard’s gone away. At this point the machine should welcome you back, or welcome you to enlightenment. Something more than a “Oh, here you go. Have a dashboard.”

What did I just do? Oh yeah. I should write that down. But no. This might be the one password I remember for a good long while. In the meantime, fingerprints!

Isaacs-Kidd midwater trawl coming to the surface.
Isaacs-Kidd midwater trawl coming to the surface.
Isaacs-Kidd midwater trawl at the surface.
Isaacs-Kidd midwater trawl at the surface.

And jellies, because science happens too. Ann puts down her book when it’s her turn to do a round of benthic grabs. Eric and Lorena put down the cards when it’s their turn to run the trawl net. And the nets seem to catch jellies more than anything else. Not saying they aren’t important to the system, but annoying if you’re just trying to get at the smaller stuff. If you come up with nothing exciting in the net, you have to sit out much more than half a minute. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to put that net back in the water come evening, or more likely the next day. All the science on ship takes its turn. We can’t lower a grab at the same time we trawl a net, and we can’t move from CTD station to CTD station when we’re spending a day coring on the ice. We have 25 people in the onboard science party. Subtract the 4 marine techs and the 3 outreach/observation/pilot folks (myself included), that’s still 18 crew with at least 12-14 independent research goals.

So, it helps not to go in blindly. When the opportunity comes up we have plans and clear ideas of what’s gone before. If you are cunning and a little bit lucky you have a phone call to make when you reach port.

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


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