Crew Introductions: Electrician

“Sometimes it feels weird to be home. And when I get back to the ship, it just feels normal again. I really do enjoy going out to sea. I used to get homesick, but I’m glad I stuck it out. I actually found a job I enjoy.” 

Adam can usually be found in the electrician’s office just outside the lab.

Adam Goodbody has always had the skills and inclination to be an electrician, even helping his dad rewire the house as a kid. His uncle, a tanker captain and former SIO Chief Mate, suggested that he work at sea so that he could also see the world. So for the last three years, that’s exactly what Adam has done. Right out of high school, he began as an OS (ordinary seaman, see post about that job here) on the now-retired Melville. He then worked his way from wiper to oiler (see post about those duties here) in the engine room of R/V Roger Revelle. The Chief Engineer there knew he was interested in becoming an electrician, and made sure he learned those duties when he had time. Adam was then sent to R/V Sally Ride as day oiler while the ship was still in the shipyard in Anacortes, Washington. There, and on many of the science verification cruises, he trained under Manny, a long-time electrician on Scripps ships. And now the training wheels are off and Adam has been sailing as ship’s electrician for the last few months.

Coming aboard a brand new ship and learning about the electrical systems was a trial by fire experience (though thankfully not literally). As Adam says, “You start the engines from a screen, there’s no manual way to do it. The fact that everything is electronic on this ship means that my job is that much more important.” And he’s not overstating things, pretty much every component in every space falls under his purview. When things are running smoothly, he’s studying diagrams in anticipation of the day that something important breaks. “That’s my biggest fear. I want to have a basic understanding of everything on the ship before I have to fix some major problem. So I study constantly…and I hate studying.”

Adam at work, taking things apart and putting them back together.
This is his patient face, just after I made a joke about cutting the red wire. 

There are hundreds of these diagrams, and he showed me a few. To me, it just looks like a confusing jumble, which Adam assured me is normal. “It all looks like a bunch of jumbled up lines when you just look at it, but all you have to do is find a line and focus on it and you can tell where and what it is. There’s switches, junction boxes, but it’s not as complicated as it looks.”

Adam works a day shift. His morning rounds begin on the bridge and take him six decks down to the engine room. He checks on the lights and alarms all over the ship, as well as any equipment that’s plugged in outside on the decks. He also monitors the load on the ship’s UPS (uninterruptible power supply), which protects lab equipment from power surges and supplies a charge even if the main power is lost.   

The electrician is also treated like the ship’s resident MacGyver. If a scientist lingers sheepishly in the hallway outside the electrician’s office, you can bet that something has broken and they need help. I have definitely brought nonfunctioning instruments to them, putting on my nicest voice, and opening with “Hey…so, I have this problem…”

Adam trained AB Natasha and day oiler Dave on the operation of the winches, which run
the spools of cable or wire that scientists attach their instruments to before lowering them
into the ocean. I tried to sneak up on them to get a natural photo, but was noticed.

From waterproofing crates to soldering a circuitboard, from removing water from a winch on the back deck to fabricating Teflon pieces, or if the carburetor on your remote controlled kayak has stalled – Adam has seen it all and can probably help. Or give him a few minutes and he’ll catch up. Science parties try to bring everything they might possibly need (or at least they ought to), but if you forget tape, the drawers in the electrician’s office have like 12 kinds of tape, along with zip-ties (all sizes!), rope, screws, you name it. When asked what his favorite tool onboard is, Adam says, without hesitation, “…the sledgehammer. I’ve found there’s a lot of situations where it does the job. A few good smacks.” 

During his downtime on the ship, Adam shows up to game nights (see Twitter picture below), watches movies, and gets as much sleep as he can. Like many crew members, he extolls the virtue of having his own room. On Revelle, he had to change rooms often, moving in and out of other people’s rooms based on their schedules. Despite this, he says he’d be happy enough to go back to that ship, and says “It’ll be cool to see Revelle come into San Diego. I kind of miss that crew.” The ship just arrived into its home port for the first time since 2012, and will be working along the West Coast for the rest of the year.

Adam in the ship’s engine room.

Adam’s preferred schedule is to work about eight months a year, though this year he’ll only get two months off. When asked what he’ll do with that down time, he says, “I don’t have the full year with my friends and family, so I spend time with them. I enjoy whatever holidays I get at home. It’s not the same at sea – you still work your full day, though there’s usually some sort of treat from the galley.”

Down the line, Adam is interested in becoming an electro-technical officer, adding programming and networking knowledge to his skill set. There’s always work on drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, where the money is astronomical. But he plans to remain aboard R/V Sally Ride, keeping the ship running smoothly so she can travel the world doing science. There’s still a lot he can learn onboard Scripps research vessels, and he’s eager to do just that. “I largely attribute why I enjoy working with Scripps to the crew. Any time I want to learn something, it’s not difficult to find a teacher in the crew.” Research cruises have taken him to nine foreign countries already in his short career, and Adam says that is a huge draw, “The adventure keeps me coming out.” 


Crew Introductions: Oiler

“I like the people at Scripps. It’s a tight knit family, which makes everything much more enjoyable, especially when you’re living here for two-thirds of your life, maybe more.” 

Willie Brown has been working in the engineering department of Scripps research vessels for 13 years. His dad worked with Captain Tom, master of R/V Sally Ride, and it was through that connection that Willie found out about an open job as wiper on the New Horizon. All three of his brothers followed in his footsteps, and two still work rotations at sea. A wiper works two 4-hour shifts per day in the engine room, assisting the engineer and oiler.

Willie (right) assists fellow oiler Dave in fixing a hydraulic fluid leak
on the ship’s A-frame. Though by this point he’d noticed the camera.

Willie has since moved up to be an oiler, working with third engineer Sarah during the 12-4’s shift (midnight to 4am and noon to 4pm) on Sally Ride. There are no wipers aboard the new ship, the trend towards automated equipment has led to less people being required to operate and maintain the engine room. Willie’s been learning everything he can on the job and watching online lectures in order to ensure he stays competitive in the narrowing job market, “before this AI takes over everything.” He says this is his usual deadpan seriousness, which can make it nearly impossible to determine if he’s joking or trolling you, both of which he does quite often. I’ve watched him humor people that are impossible to talk to, the kind of people I try to avoid sitting anywhere near at the dinner table. He’s also a master at finding people’s conversational triggers, and pokes them just to get a rant started. I’ve discovered over the years that he’s a nice guy, and it’s an excellent distraction in what can become monotonous interpersonal interactions at sea.

New Horizon’s ship track in a typical year.
Learn more at http://siogames.ucsd.edu/Ship_Tracks/

Willie worked on New Horizon for most of his Scripps career, ending with that ship’s retirement in 2014. It was an intermediate class research vessel that operated in the northeastern Pacific, often out of its home port of San Diego. Willie was born and raised in Southern California, and enjoys the “normal life” afforded by working out of San Diego. Many of the crew don’t have this luxury, choosing to live elsewhere and fly to meet the ship and live aboard it in port. Under these circumstances, working about 4 months straight and then taking 2 months off is the usual routine. Willie tries to work as long as the ship is in its home port, saying he’s “24/7/365. It’s very expensive to live in San Diego, other people come here on vacation, so I’m not taking vacations.”

In its first year since leaving the shipyard, all of Sally Ride’s research cruises have been in and out of San Diego. Willie has been onboard most of that time, meaning he’s often training the other oilers when they switch out for vacation or rotations on other ships. The oilers are assigned to run the winches when science operations require them for deployment and recovery of gear, so Willie often spends a few hours of his shift doing that and a few hours of overtime training newer crew members.

Willie (back) oversees O/S Daris’ training on the scientific winch controls.

He’s also been known to stop by the lab to check out what the scientists are doing, “especially if they’re pulling up something besides water and mud.” If you’ve been following along on the blog, you know that much of oceanography is collecting water and mud, and Willie isn’t the only one who only stops by the lab when something else is going on. Many people crowd in to check out biological samples, gathered with nets towed over the starboard side or stern. In typical engineer style, when Willie is seen above deck, he’s often in coveralls, though his colorful board shorts are becoming legendary. 

Willie has done a few cruises aboard the other SIO research vessels, Revelle and Melville, which is where I first met him in 2010. He’s a workout champion, and being in the gym at the same time as him is intimidating. I’ve been on research cruises where other crew members join his workouts and follow his meal plan, bucking the trend by coming away more fit after a research cruise. Having access to three hot meals a day and never-ending snacks, on top of not being able to walk more than 200 feet in any direction at a time, often leads to gaining a few pounds – but not if you’re around Willie. Though he says the 12-4 watch is cramping his usual habits, “I cannot get used to it, no matter what. It’s the Reese’s peanut butter watch, I get the munchies, it’s the worst time to be up.” Rumors of an intensified workout were spreading last time I was onboard, so perhaps he’s stepped up his game to compensate.

I’ve managed to get only a few candid pictures of him, as he’s a complete ham and usually notices me after a few seconds and begins to mug and flex. He even suggested a topless welding photo, and we joked about a “men of Sally Ride” calendar, but instead we kept it to a staged session in the machine shop. And while fellow oiler Buck got a case of the giggles, Willie managed to keep a straight face in every single shot, even when wearing a welding helmet and holding an enormous chain wrench for no apparent reason.

SIO crew members together at The Loma Club.

Like others I’ve interviewed, Willie enjoys being on the Sally Ride. A key selling point for the crew is that they each have their own room. “Privacy is huge, I love it, I value it,” he says, continuing in his deadpan, “I can listen to podcasts out loud. I can walk around in my underwear doing karate moves. That’s very important to me.” It’s the simple pleasures that really add up. The ship has been keeping a busy schedule, out to sea more often than not. In what little time off in port they have, many of the crew members golf together. Enjoying each other’s company outside of work, especially since this isn’t your normal 9-5 job, really speaks to the cohesion and general happiness of the Sally Ride‘s crew. And, as the saying goes – happy crew, happy ship!


Week 3 Report from FLIP

The small boat from R/V Sproul pays a visit.
Photo by Jeremiah Brower.

**Guest blogger Randy Christian is a crew member on R/V Sally Ride, but this month is working on FLIP, Scripps’ FLoating Instrument Platform. FLIP is deployed on a project offshore of Southern California, accompanied by other members of the SIO fleet, R/V Sproul and R/V Sally RideYou can learn more about Randy in this blog post introducing him as second mate, though he sometimes sails as third mate, and read his first report here.** 

Monotony set in after the first week or so. Though morale is still generally good aboard the R/P Flip, by now signs of restlessness and homesickness are showing. It’s no secret we would all rather be with family and loved ones. We are all missing the creature comforts of home, privacy, long hot showers, clean laundry, and our own beds. This is sometimes exacerbated by the issue of food. Anyone who’s worked on ships for a while knows the importance of food to the morale of the crew. Run out of anything, and there is a noticeable dip. Fresh fruits and vegetables are hard to come by after the three-week mark. Thankfully, we’ve had a couple resupply missions from the Sally Ride, which has much more reefer space than Flip does. Hot sauce and the “good” coffee are running low, but we’re keeping it together. Things could be worse, and we are on the final countdown with just a week to go.

The so-called penthouse, with bunks for crew and
scientists. Photo taken by Randy Christian before
the flip, bunks swivel and are then locked into place.

Individual idiosyncrasies and habits, having been tossed together into this confined space with virtually no privacy, have aggregated together to become little rhythms and traditions, an odd Waterworld-meets-The Life Aquatic kind of culture. The squeak and clank of rigging is ubiquitous, as is the sound of water bottles being crunched in order to save space in garbage bags. Heavy metal plays on the Bose speaker in the galley as Matrik cobbles together our next meal. Coffee is slurped quietly out on deck while giving the gulls congregated around Flip the evil eye. The Wirewalker’s buoy has developed an amusing squeak that sounds like the bark of a shih-tzu. Pairs or small groups of people form around a piece of equipment or a computer monitor and discussions break out. The individuals then dissipate, and new groups and discussions form in other areas. Discussions range from the utterly pedestrian and mundane to the fascinating and profound. Everyone comes out on deck to watch dolphins and whales swim by. I get off watch at noon every day, and Johnny Rod is watching Flipper in the penthouse, something that has become correlated and identified with my afternoon supercomfyrelaxingtime.

Down time relaxation is a necessity. Photo by Randy Christian.

Later, the residents of the penthouse gather there with our dinner plates to watch some much-needed comedy while we picnic on our bunks. Several of us gather on the exterior decks to watch the sunset, if there is one. At any given time of day, Tom is telling someone a story, and someone is lounging in a beanbag or a deck chair and reading. Headphones signal a desire to be left alone. Some evenings, San Thanh Nguyen shows off his gallery-quality photography, and sometimes asks for input on which of his photos he should enter into the County Fair. Depending on the time of day, you know who is likely to be in the lab, or the pilothouse, or the galley.

There have been minor gear issues, which caused Laurent’s near-constant smile to be temporarily subdued for a few days, but by all accounts the trip has been a success. The Wirewalker walks its wire and collects data that San spent the first few days writing code to be able to interpret into a series of graphs on his monitors. The “underwater weathervanes,” as I call them, are on an intricate system of rigging that periodically adjusts itself (startling whomever is standing near the winch), or gets adjusted by Laurent and Ralph “R.J.” Jiorle from out on the booms. Jerry Smith’s passive sonar array, mounted on the hull, does its thing and beams him data. The wave gliders circle Flip, or rather rectangle it, sending their current location and wave motion data to R.J.’s workstation. Terabytes of data have been and continue to be collected just here on Flip, to say nothing of the two other ships and the small plane that have also been involved in this big, expensive project.

Chief Scientist Laurent shows off preliminary data. Photo by Randy Christian.

It will take the scientists months to comb through it for meaningful patterns and trends. Some of it may never even get used, there’s so much. Laurent (now referred to as “The Wiry Frenchman” by his cohorts who read my first blog post) will be writing several papers, as will other members of the scientific parties here on Flip, and those aboard the research vessels Robert Gordon Sproul and Sally Ride. I look forward to reading them from the comfort of my big red couch with one arm around the woman I love. It won’t be long now.


Crew Introductions: Senior Cook

“I have traveled all over the world. I get to work with a lot of interesting people. It’s what I do, it’s not only work for me, it’s part of my life.”

TGIS. A typical Sunday dinner menu,
plus a cheese plate and ginger beer.

Mark Smith has been a cook at UC San Diego for 22 years, first in a dining hall on the main campus and then onboard SIO’s research vessels. He’s cooked on Sproul, New HorizonMelville, Revelle, and is now senior cook on Sally Ride. Of working on the new ship, Mark says, “The pride factor is really high here, we want to keep this vessel looking good.”  I interviewed him during meal prep for Sunday dinner, which is the best night of the week thanks to him. It always includes surf and turf, plus special extras like a fancy dessert, cheese platter, and ginger beer. If there’s not scientists working on the fantail, the cooks or chief engineer often pull out the barbecue to grill steaks, filling the whole working deck and lab with the delicious smell. On this occasion, there were operations going on, and we got prime rib made in the galley instead (a worthy second choice). 

As senior cook, Mark is in charge of three meals a day, as well as placing the food orders. Generally every 2-3 weeks a truckload of fresh supplies pulls up to the ship in port. It’s an all hands on deck moment, with crew and science alike setting up a chain to get everything onboard (see the time-lapse video below from during the shipyard period last summer). On longer trips, the cooks have to make sure fresh food lasts as long as possible. I’ve had crisp lettuce a month in – meanwhile at home mine turns into brown sludge in the drawer after two weeks. “We have plenty of tricks for keeping food good that long,” says Mark. He also makes sure the mess is supplied with plenty of snacks for people working all hours of the day. At any time you can make a PB&J, heat up some leftovers, pour a bowl of cereal, grab a granola bar or handful of nuts, satisfy your sweet tooth with candy, or make popcorn. Stashes of tea, coffee, soda, water, and milk are also available.

Mark gets everything set just minutes before 5pm thanks to the galley clock
being set 8 minutes fast.

A second cook works with Mark, they trade off days being the primary cook: planning the menu and preparing the hot food like entrees and bread. The other person takes care of the salad bar, dessert, and cleaning the galley. To keep things fair, the primary person also gets to choose the music; you can tell it’s Mark’s day when you hear Prince getting funky as you walk down the hallway on the main deck. 

Mark has worked with a few other cooks on Sally Ride in its first year in service as the crew rotates their time off, or moves to other SIO ships. He gets along well with Nick, who was onboard the ship in November and again in March. “Sometimes you don’t know what to make. I like cooking with somebody like him, that’s different from me, who has their own thing.”  The cooks make sure to accommodate members of the crew and science party with specific diets – vegetarians, gluten free and other allergies, and I seem to detect slight changes under different captains as well.

Mark prepares 3 meals a day, keeping the crew and science party happy.

These are the hardest working guys on the ship from what I can tell, working 6am-6pm every day, no matter what the weather or other circumstances. Scientists often work a 12-hour shift, but get down time if seas are too high to deploy equipment. There is no autopilot function in the galley, and good food is as essential to a research cruise as any other factor. “I know that the food is a big part of morale on any trip. For most people, it’s work and eat and rest, that’s it, so if you have a bad meal, that’s not good for anybody.”

I’ve sailed with Mark numerous times since beginning my oceanographic career, and I’m always excited when I see him in the galley when I come aboard for a cruise. He’s friendly, and remembers people even if it’s been years since sailing with them. Recently I’ve developed an allergy to walnuts, and he’s always good about making sure I can easily avoid them. During my stretch onboard these last few months, pecans have been the go-to nut in cinnamon rolls, brownies, and other tasty treats, and I know he’s looking out for me. He’s a good guy to befriend, and makes sailing on R/V Sally Ride a great experience.

Check out this 360 degree view of the galley (kitchen) and mess (dining room).

See more from Mark at the R/V Sally Ride gallery at Birch Aquarium’s Explorations at Sea exhibit! Thanks to aquarium staff for the interview, taken for the “Meet the Crew” feature.


Report from the FLIP

**Guest blogger Randy Christian is a crew member on R/V Sally Ride, but this month is working on FLIP, Scripps’ FLoating Instrument Platform. FLIP is deployed on a project offshore of Southern California, accompanied by other members of the SIO fleet, R/V Sproul and R/V Sally Ride. You can learn more about Randy in this blog post introducing him as second mate, though he sometimes sails as third mate. Learn more about FLIP’s history and specs, including video of it flipping, here. **

Flip, as photographed from one of the boom arms, will be home for the next
few weeks. Photo by Randy Christian.

Research Platform Flip is one of a kind. She was designed and built as a four-year Navy project on a budget of roughly $500,000, according to the vessel’s Captain/Chief Engineer of 30 years (and my boss of the past four days), Tom Golfinos. This was during the Cold War, with the advent of nuclear submarines, and the U.S. Navy was suddenly very interested in learning more about the ocean. The vessel was designed to be towed in the horizontal position, and, when on location in deep water, to have ballast tanks in the cylindrical aft portion of the vessel flooded with a series of valves much like a submarine. Flip is a ship that goes vertical. This vertical position then gives the platform numerous advantages over your average oceanographic research ship. With a 300 ft draft, she is incredibly stable, and with no engines turning propellers (only a single generator for power), she is exceedingly quiet. All of this adds up to a platform perfectly suited to studying numerous aspects of the ocean, from subsurface currents to sound wave propagation; important stuff to know about if you’re navigating the depths and trying to find Soviet submarines before they find you. Needless to say, that four-year project “got extended one year, and then fifty more,” as Tom says in his thick Greek accent. Flip turns 55 this June, and much of what we know about the physical properties of the ocean can be traced back to her. Now operated by UCSD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO), R/P Flip is still owned by the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR).

I am on loan to the Flip from my usual gig as Third Mate aboard the brand new R/V Sally Ride (also owned by ONR and operated by SIO), and this is an exciting opportunity. There aren’t many professional mariners who have flipped a ship 90° and lived to tell the tale, much less who’ve done so on purpose and considered it a resume builder. In the horizontal position, Flip’s layout is odd. Rooms are narrow and tall, there are sideways doors, hatches, catwalks, and ladders, like an Escher drawing come to life. There is even a sideways shower and sink, occupying the same room as a right-side-up (for now) sink and toilet. Reefers and freezers, the entire galley, deck lockers, and all of the bunks are all on gimbals, so they can rotate freely when it comes time to flip the Flip.

Chief Scientist Laurent (left) and researcher Nick prep an ADCP for deployment.
R/V Sally Ride operates in the background. Photo by Randy Christian.

According to the Chief Scientist for this trip, Laurent Grare, a wiry Frenchman with a near-constant smile who is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen, Flip is ideally suited to study the interface between the air and the ocean. As wind blows over the water, it stirs up cylindrical currents with an axis parallel to the direction of the wind. Laurent and his team will be deploying and testing acoustic profilers, infrared cameras, and various other sensors with the goal of better understanding how this process works.

With five crew (myself included) and nine scientists aboard, we depart Scripps’ Nimitz Marine Facility in Point Loma at 13:00 on the 15th of March, and are towed out of San Diego Bay by the tug J.M. Hidalgo. I have the 20:00-24:00 watch, which, since we’re under tow, is much easier than what I’m used to. We are towed through the night around the northern end of San Clemente Island to a point about equidistant from San Clemente, San Nicholas, and Santa Barbara Islands, and at around 05:00 on the morning of the 16th, the fun begins. After disconnecting from the tug, we get to work on final preparations. These include tying our personal gear down to our racks, checking that all gear is stowed securely in the lower aft corner of every space so that nothing will drift when turned 90°, ensuring all pins are pulled and all gimbals are rotating freely.

Everyone has an assigned station for the flip, and mine is on the bow with experienced crewmember, Johnny Rodrigues. All hands don life jackets as Johnny and I work our way forward to the bow, closing heavy grating doors behind us, which will become decks. After Tom starts opening valves, the flipping process takes about 25 minutes total. There is not much noticeable change in the first 10-15 minutes, but then the decks start getting a bit slanty, and as the process proceeds it occurs to me that I hope this is the only situation in which I will ever have this feeling. Once we get to about 30°, things start to accelerate and get exciting in a hurry. The sound of water rushing up the sinking hull is audible from the bow, and I hear Tom shouting, “Get ready! Get ready!”

Sproul standing by as FLIP begins to flip. Photo from a previous trip by restech Josh Manger.

Everyone is bracing himself or herself in some sort of position, ready to either step from deck to bulkhead, or lying against the bulkheads, which will shortly transform into decks. I am holding onto the capstan, facing aft and spotting my landing on the bulkhead in front of me. Suddenly there is a rush of acceleration as Flip slings itself upright, and I step gingerly onto my landing spot. For a moment it almost feels as though she’s going to keep going right over, but instead she starts spinning, like someone put the rudder hard over. After a couple of rotations, she settles out, and the flipping process is done. Flip is now a tree house floating in the middle of the ocean. 

Senior hand Dave Brenha and “The Old Man,” Captain Tom Golfinos.
Photo by Randy Christian.

Now the work begins, and there is much to do. Setting three anchors with 640 ft. of chain, 60 ft. of cable, and over 6,000 ft. of thick synthetic hawser each with the help of the tug J.M. Hidalgo and the R/V Robert Gordon Sproul (another SIO vessel) will take several hours, and once that is completed, Flip will not move for 26 days. All spaces are checked to make sure everything gimbaled rotated as intended. Finding my way around is a bit tricky and disorienting at first, as the entire deck plan has transformed. Every room on Flip suddenly has much more deck space in the vertical position, and as the scientists begin to break out their gear, set up tables, and run wires, it becomes clear that one of the most stunning transformations will be the lab.

Meanwhile, out on deck, The Old Man, Johnny Rod, Dave Brenha, and I are climbing, rigging, heaving, and hauling. There are three 60-foot-long booms to deploy, a 40- foot radar tower to erect, and several heavy winches and air-tuggers to move and bolt into position, and Flip’s only motorized lifting device is the capstan on the bow I used to steady myself during the flip. This means a great deal of rigging, using pad-eyes, shackles, lifting straps, and snatch-blocks to create fair leads through which lines can be run up to the capstan. This setup will take us the next three days, and they are long, physical days of intense labor. We all clock over 25 hours of overtime each in these first three days, but it is gratifying work, and we can see the results. Matrik, the cook, has ravenous mouths to feed.

As we get the booms deployed, the scientists are affixing their array of sensors to them and running wires back to the lab, which before long looks like a high-tech command center, with 15 flat screens all streaming data, or about to. We assist with the deployment of a few instruments that will remain submerged, collecting data for our entire time out here.

Lab space aboard FLIP, set up after the platform is vertical. Note the ladder on the wall/ceiling.
Photo by Randy Christian.

By the time Sunday rolls around, things start to mellow out, and I am grateful be able to get some rest. “Now it’s just doing time,” Dave says casually and with a wry grin. While this may be old hat for him and Johnny, for me it’s new and different from anything I’ve ever done before, and has more the feeling of summer camp than prison. There are bright, intelligent people to talk to about fascinating things, there is science to facilitate, and there is meat on the grill. Morale is high, and, barring any unforeseen disasters, I get the sense it will stay that way. The close quarters and the nature of the work leave no room for complainers, victims, or layabouts. Everyone aboard is friendly and positive, enthusiastic about their work and the ocean, multi-skilled, hard working, and problem solving by nature. I have heard the phrase “teamwork makes the dream work” uttered more than once since we flipped and got to work. As corny as the phrase is, it is appropriate. We are all working together for the acquisition of data that will be used in the project of science, the careful and systematic study of our ocean and our planet, and the broadening of our understanding of how it all works. It is a worthy dream indeed.


Crew Introductions: Able Seaman

“It’s so awesome – the research, the science…you feel like you’re doing something good with your life. Just to know I’m part of it – loading the gear on, making sure everyone’s safe when they’re operating. It gives you that satisfaction of bettering the world. I wouldn’t get that from a 9-5 job. I’m incredibly grateful to be here.”

AB (able-bodied seaman) Aaron Putnam first came to work on R/V Sally Ride a year before the ship got underway to her home port of San Diego. In the Anacortes shipyard, the Scripps crew took the husk of the ship, which had been christened (floated) in August 2014, and made it into the functional working and living environment that it is. Being part of the crew when the ship was commissioned makes him a plank owner, an honor in the maritime profession. “It’s really rare to be a plank owner of a ship. It’s fantastic. Not too many people can say that they took out the newest research ship for the first time.”

Aaron is a bridge watch-stander, which involves helping the mate with navigation and keeping a lookout.

Onboard, bosun Dave Grimes assigns tasks to the deck crew (ABs and OS) based on their strengths and interests. When the ship is underway, Aaron works two 4-hour watches, the 8-12s (0800-noon and 2000-midnight). There’s one AB per shift. As part of the day watch, they are responsible for deck preservation and maintenance, which includes removing rust, wash downs, and making sure science and ship equipment is secure. Along with the OS (ordinary seaman – Elysia in this case), the ABs also keep the interior of the ship clean. This is key, as for the last few months, a cold has been traveling around the ship, from science party to crew and back. It finally seems to have ended, undoubtedly thanks to the deck crew’s vigilance. Aaron also stands watch on the bridge with the Third Mate, assisting with navigation and driving, as well as lookout duties. The AB also raises and lowers day shapes and flags, which are used to convey information about the ship’s status to nearby vessels. During the night shift, he make rounds of the ship in order to keep an eye on safety and security.

Aaron, in Ukraine, has hitchhiked all over the world.

In his down time Aaron is learning three new languages – Russian, Ukrainian, and Spanish. He’s also writing a book, a thriller novel he’s been working on for a year. And he’s always planning travel – next up is Thailand, and his goal is 30 countries in 2017. When I tell him that sounds like some seriously productive “down time,” he assures me that he has his lazy days too – playing video games or doing nothing but sleeping. “My goals are to study, to learn languages, to save money, and grow the hell out of this beard. You have to have one goal that doesn’t take any effort.” This last directive sounds like something we could all stand to learn.

A Navy man, Aaron enlisted right out of high school and spent seven years fighting piracy in Somalia. He left the service with 2,200 sea days. After a few months off, he was ready to be at sea again, so got his merchant mariner credentials. As part of this new civilian life, he began getting rid of possessions, including his car. Now, he says, “I can get off the ship with my backpack and my laptop, and I’m free, I can do whatever I want. I feel like an adventurer. That’s what brings me back.” He’s taken classes using the GI Bill, and plans to get qualified as a Third Mate, and eventually work his way up through the ranks. 

Aaron admits to being both interested and intimidated by the science happening onboard. “I love being engaged in it. I’m always interested, knowing about the CTDs and equipment we’re putting in the water – it’s thrilling. That buoy, out on deck, is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in my life.” For someone who’s been all over the world, this is strong praise and, for what it’s worth, I agree with the sentiment. (Check out the post on the surface buoy recovery and deployment done on this trip.)

Aaron checks out the surface buoy on the back deck.
His beard is coming in nicely.

After bringing R/V Sally Ride home, Aaron took a few months off and went home himself, which for him is with his girlfriend in Ukraine. He wasn’t sure initially if he’d be coming back to work at Scripps but says the tight-knit crew was key to him returning. “It’s really homey and feels like a big, happy family. I’ve never felt so welcomed back in my entire life, anywhere.” And though he’s got a plan B of going back to school, I get the feeling that the Scripps research fleet is where Aaron will be found for years to come. He may not have grown up near the ocean, but as a kid he read Robinson Crusoe and had treasure maps on his wall, so it seems this adventurous lifestyle fits his personality well.


Crew Introductions: Ordinary Seaman

“I’m going to work on deck, I’m going to move forward. I am one day going to be captain of a vessel. It might be twenty years down the road, but no one’s going to stop me from doing this.” 

Elysia is the ordinary seaman (O/S) onboard R/V Sally Ride, which is perhaps an unexpected job for someone who grew up in the land-locked state of Montana and went to art school. She has been working for Scripps for a few months after spending years as a processor on the pollock fishing vessel (F/V) Starbound in the Bering Sea. When she first got into the male-dominated industry, her co-workers placed bets on how long she would last, none of them believed she’d be there at the end of one season. Many seasons later, she was still working hard, and hoping to advance herself. “I knew from the first moment that I set foot on the Starbound that I wanted to be on deck,” she says.

Elysia helps with the lines as the ship leaves and ties up at the pier.

Her goal of working as a deckhand required her to put in extra hours on top of the usual 16-hour processing shift in order to prove she could work on deck and in the wheelhouse. On her own time, she took classes towards an A/B (able-bodied seaman) certification in order to set establish upward momentum. When it became clear that, as a woman, she wouldn’t be given the chance despite being qualified, she decided to apply to work at Scripps. Three months later, she was onboard R/V Sally Ride. And the culture, she says, is very different.

“Here at Scripps, you’re in control of what you learn – if I want to know it, someone will teach me.”

As O/S, she works the day shift cleaning the main deck and doing other ship maintenance projects as assigned by the bosun. This week that has included rust removal on the working decks, and grinding, priming, and repainting the hook and headache ball on the ship’s crane. She jokes that her main job is cleaning up coffee spills, and I believe it. At least once a week I myself clean up a coffee spill that I come across (I don’t actually drink coffee), usually near doors, where people undoubtedly slosh when opening or closing them. See a hazard, fix or report the hazard – it’s part of being a good citizen, which is essential to life and work in close quarters. 

Elysia prides herself on a job well done, in this case refurbishing the ship’s crane hook.

Not one to coast, Elysia spends four hours of her down time each day on the bridge, gaining hours towards her A/B and watch certifications. The mates have all been teaching her various bridge-related skills, including navigation. It will take about a year of these volunteer hours for her to earn a spot as an A/B. She is also being trained on the use of the winches that scientists need to deploy and recover their instruments. Some research cruises, like the one we’re currently on, have overnight CTD casts, which require over 12 hours of continuous winch time. Crew members put in extra hours to accommodate those operations before and after working their usual shift. So any extra person able to get into the rotation is helpful, and Elysia is more than willing. “I just love it more than anything else. Truthfully, this is where I’m the happiest. No matter what, I still want to go to work.”

On her way between tasks, Elysis stopped by the lab to check out the live feed
from the ROV on the seafloor and talk to scientists.

 When she’s not working in her free time, she’s often found playing games in the mess or lounge. She recently purchased board games for the ship’s supply, and has her eyes on a Settlers of Catan set next. Spending down time with other members of the crew is not something that Elysia experienced in her previous life onboard a fishing vessel. She likes the camaraderie here at SIO, and the feeling that she’s helping to save the planet. “We’re making a difference. There’s people doing new, amazing things. It gives you hope. Although I’m not a genius, I’m not an inventor, I’m contributing to that. And that’s just invigorating. I’m showing my kids it can be better. You can contribute, no matter what you do.”


Crew Introductions: Second Engineer

“Not many people can say they love their job, that they like to work. I can.”

Second engineer Sue Swader has been on the water since infancy, and loves it. Her grandparents have a sailboat and she spent summers sailing with her family to the Channel Islands, including Catalina and Santa Cruz. When she’s not working on the water, she’s playing on it – surfing (when the water’s warm enough), water-skiing, wake-boarding, and “anything to do with the water.” Sue’s home base is in Washington State, where she spends time with family during vacations. 

There are multiple levers and pumps involved in
the transfer of fuel that Sue performs every morning.

Sue studied at Cal Maritime, part of the California State University system. At first, she considered a degree in facilities (shore-side) engineering, but opted instead for marine (sea-going) engineering with a minor in marine science. She played water polo, though the women’s team had a hard time finding players to fill out their ranks. The student population was 86% male, something Sue says never bothered her. The marine engineering industry itself is likely even more dominantly male, though Scripps aims to buck that trend.

Onboard Sally Ride, the engineering department maintains essential equipment all over the ship, including the air supply, potable water, drains, sewage, fuel, propulsion, and electricity. When the ship is holding station, only one engine block is powered on, to generate the electricity needed to run the main systems besides propulsion. When the ship starts moving again, a second engine comes online. Check out this 360 degree shot of the engine room, showing the four engine blocks.

Sue monitors systems all over the ship from the nerve center.

The second engineer is referred to as the “fuel king,” and is in charge of all fuel operations, including transferring diesel from the storage to the day tanks each morning and keeping logs of fuel consumption. Sue is also in charge of the RO (reverse osmosis) system that turns seawater into potable water, which is piped into sinks, showers, and water fountains all over the ship. Consoles in the nerve center overlooking the main engine room show diagrams of all the engineering systems. From there, status reports, pressure gauge readouts, and alarms can be monitored, but the oiler also does rounds to visually inspect systems onboard. Sue and the oiler on her shift, Buck, have a good rapport which, she says, “makes watch a lot better, if you get along. If you can joke around and hang out, it makes it easier.” 

Sue seems at home amongst the pipes, levers, buttons, and other
“do not touch” items that are a fixture in the engine room.

Sue and Buck are on the prime shift, 8-12’s (8am-noon and 8pm-midnight). It’s the closest to a normal schedule in terms of when to wake up and go to sleep. Unlike second mate Randy, who’s on 12-4’s, switching to a day shift when in port isn’t a huge transition. She sleeps between her night shift and morning shift, sometimes getting a nap in during the afternoon down time. Sue likes to read FBI thrillers, pulling James Patterson and Catherine Coulter titles down from the shelf in the library to pass the time.

She’s been working for Scripps for three years, and has served as an engineer on both the R/V Revelle and now-retired Melville. Her longest trip was 35 days between ports, though she prefers to see land more often than that, saying “I like to come into port, check out the town.” Like many of the crew, Sue chooses to work on research vessels because she likes being part of scientific research around the world. Her marine science studies are ongoing, as conversations with scientists over meals are routine onboard. The community feeling among the crew, and getting to know new groups of scientists every few weeks, are perks of a job at Scripps. She’s excited about the longer and farther-flung trips R/V Sally Ride has planned for the second half of the year, and going forward. 


Crew Introductions: Second Mate

“This is the job I wanted…it’s just a great environment, great people, involved in interesting work that I feel is contributing to the bettering of the world. I feel like I’m part of something big here.”

The SSV Corwith Cramer, one of SEA’s
schooners. Romantic indeed.

R/V Sally Ride’s Second Mate Randy Christian came to the maritime industry via a circuitous route. One day while taking classes at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, he saw a poster in the hallway for SEA (Science Education Association)’s semester at sea. The advertisement, which he described as “terribly romantic, with two big gleaming white schooners on a windy day,” called to him, and he decided to apply. He then found out that Evergreen offered an interdisciplinary semester-long program, teaching the history and literature of the maritime industry in the Pacific Northwest, along with navigation, sailing, and an introduction to oceanography. He enrolled, and during the two week sailing trip in Puget Sound at the end of the semester, he says, “I was sold. I was like, ‘Oh, I want to do this for a living.’” He also attended SEA’s semester at sea for college credit, and then worked as a deckhand on eco-tourism cruises and tall ships running field trips for kids.

Onboard R/V Sally Ride, Randy works on the bridge eight hours per day. His watch is 12-4’s, so noon to 4pm and midnight to 4am, which he admits is rough to get used to. He tries to sleep “at night” from 4-11am, and then get a few more hours in during his other down time, which means rousing himself from a nap at 11pm to go to work. When the ship is in port, the crew works a day shift (7am-3:30pm) on weekdays. For those who work split shifts while at sea, this means switching back and forth between those schedules. Imagine working 12-4’s for nine days, then the next day switching to the day shift for five days, and the day after that back to 12-4’s.

At the end of each shift, Randy ensures the log, charts,
and navigational computers are up to date.

This is a part of a crew member’s life that they just make work, because they have to, and because they know that showing up for work relieves someone else. After his day shift, Randy goes to the gym, though he says “every day is leg day,” on Sally Ride, due to all the stairs. He is a also binge-watcher, whose recent obsessions include Westworld and Black Sails, and is on the lookout for good sci-fi options (I recommended Battlestar Galactica).

As second mate, Randy is the navigational officer. He maintains the onboard chart catalog and navigational equipment, and plots the ship’s course based on waypoints (position in latitude and longitude) provided by the Chief Scientist. On this coring SVC, that includes locations for science operations as well as survey grids. The scientists collect sediment cores during daylight hours and running surveys at night. Randy’s day shift has primarily involved holding station using the ship’s dynamic positioning system, which uses thrusters to hold the ship in place to within 5 meters, factoring in currents and winds. Click here for a 360 degree view of the bridge, including the essential coffee-making equipment.

Randy has tattoos professing love for his family, as well as
from his nautical and travel adventures. The two swallows
represent his crossing of both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

During the night shift, he runs transects – also called mowing the lawn – where the ship moves in a grid at reduced speed in order to map the seafloor using echo sounders mounted on the hull. Randy’s shift mantra is “Boring is good,” meaning that routine is preferred – a lack of alarms or special circumstances make for the best days.

Randy worked for Scripps between 2004-05 as a mate onboard R/V Sproul and R/P (research platform) FLIP. He then went to work for MSC (Military Sealift Command, a US Navy organization that provides transportation for the Department of Defense). Moving to larger ships, he had to work through the ranks all over again, and is now qualified as a second mate on the other ships in the Scripps fleet, R/V Sally Ride and Roger Revelle. It’s a pay cut to work in the academic fleet, but one Randy sees as offset by the community aspect at Scripps, and the contribution to science. He enjoys working with other crew members who choose to be on research vessels, and the revolving door of scientists that rely on them. For someone who started out planning to go to art school to become an animator, Randy seems a natural sailor, and R/V Sally Ride is lucky to have him.