Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Time and Motion

Almost home…
0700 EST
41° 29.558’N, 70° 40.751’ W
Winds: 8 knots
Sea Surface Temperature: 66°F

Something woke me from a deep sleep at 0500 EST. It was something we had not known for many days. It was stillness. We had been transiting through a gale for almost two days and suddenly all was calm. I walked up to the bridge and fixed upon a light slowly flashing far away through the fog. We were almost home, and the peaceful sounds of Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” began to play in my mind.

The sea fought us for two days. Winds exceeded 40 knots. Waves pushed us back. Periodically, we made 4 knots at best—moving only 4 nautical miles closer to home for every hour that three diesel electric engines hummed below the waterline. Pizza for dinner, two Meclizine for desert, and then quick preparations for a long nap. This included filling a water bottle (you don’t know how long you’ll want to stay in bed), grabbing a good book, and then stuffing extra blankets under the side of the mattress. The latter curls the bed and keeps you off the floor. It may reduce the startling sensation of falling out of bed, but it does not reduce the sensation of falling out of the sky. Of countless such experiences, three were particularly memorable. Laying in darkness, head to the bow, feet to the stern, I would try to visualize our ship from above and the seas that were shoving it. Were we crossing the swell at an angle? That would explain the roll associated with the pitch. Was the wavelength close to the length of the ship? That would explain the regular rise and fall of Atlantis. Were we headed straight into it? That would explain ferocity. There was comfort in predictable regularity, and I nearly drifted to sleep. Then we began to fall. Faster. Head first. We crashed into the trough and the hull rang explosively. A bomb could have detonated under the deck and I wouldn’t have known the difference. According to our third mate, Kami, the wave “was taller than the house. The bow went under, and it knocked the phones out of their cradles.” Three times.

We were able to grab one last multi-core before the transit, but had to forgo two stations. Such is the nature of oceanography. The gaps in our data, and ultimately in our knowledge, are frequently driven by the temperament of our Planet. But in the end, we successfully sampled the majority of our proposed stations and all of our high priority stations. It is hard to believe that so much has happened and 26 days have passed. Does this mean it is over? Not hardly. Our immediate future involves unloading the ship, storing and properly cataloguing our samples in the libraries at WHOI, paperwork, etc… It also involves taking a moment to thank the wonderful crew, to step off the gangway, and to look back on the incredible machine we called home for one month: Atlantis. Followed by properly unwinding, of course.

A new adventure awaits on land—one in which we read aloud the messages stored in our bottles.


  1. You are a poet! I'm glad you made it through rough seas unscathed. Enjoy the unwinding!

  2. Thank you warmly, Steven for taking us on your memorable cruise--our mind's eye voyage has given us a feeling for what you have all been through and what you have achieved.Quite poetic journalism indeed!