The word “immersive” comes to mind. The last three days have been a blur, but now I remember: once you get started, they’re always a blur. Just seeing her, rising in illuminated red and yellow steel above the frozen midnight pier, is enough to trigger the change: clambering up the gangplank, in through the hatch and down to Main Deck, the old programming (how can it already feel so familiar?) kicks in. Whiteboards and keyboards and walls of machines and screens to be attended to. The green rubber flooring and handholds and hatches everywhere. The hum and whoosh and smell of steel and paint and diesel. Carhartts and hardhats. High fives and hearty handshakes for some: “Good to have you back, man.” Squeals and hugs for others: “Pabloooooo! Pablo’s back!” Heh. The transformation seems unnaturally fast as it is inevitable once I’m aboard. Yeah, I’m back.
Which means there’s a hell of a lot of work to do. I’ve got the easiest part of the turnover – we’ve got four ITs (Information Technicians – that’s what I am) on board at the moment, and I am by far the most junior. Bryan and Matt around rotating out, bringing Sean and me up to speed on changes. But honestly, compared to the previous two turnovers, this one’s cake. The Palmer’s been in port for a few weeks while Bryan and Matt were aboard, and they’ve got almost everything running like clockwork.
We’ve got a great team for this cruise. To refresh you all on the alphabet stew of roles, I’m part of the ASC (that’s Antarctic Support Contract); our job is making sure the scientists aboard can do their science-y stuff once ECO (Edison Chouest Offshore – they run the ship itself) has gotten us to where we’re going to do the aforementioned science. ASC roles are pretty neatly divided up:
- If it’s big and heavy, ask one of the MTs, the Marine Techs. For this cruise we’ve got Joee and Jennie, new to this ship, but both Antarctic veterans. It’ll probably become obvious later, but I am in absolute awe of MTs.
- If it’s small and breakable, you probably need an ET; that would be Sheldon and George, our Electronics Techs.
- If it’s squishy, the MLT – Marine Lab Tech John Betz, is your guy.
- If you can’t actually touch it, it’s likely a problem for an IT – an Information Tech like me and Sean.
Rounding out the ASC team is our MPC (Marine Projects Coordinator) April – a combination babysitter/chessmaster, who works with the Captain and the Chief Scientist to coordinate our activities.
Like I said, it’s a great team. And the science aboard is AMLR (Antarctic Marine Living Resources) – the project I supported on my first cruise two years ago. Some new folks there, but enough familiar faces to make it feel like a homecoming.
Tonight’s our last night ashore (see Last Night Ashore for a fictionalized account of what those are like). Tomorrow morning we’re heading east through the mouth of the Magellan Strait and south “around the Horn” into the open sea of the Drake Passage. And if all that sounds strange and otherworldly to you, imagine how strange it feels for me to be writing it so casually, so much like I’ve done it all before. This is only my third deployment on the ship, after all. But once I slip into it, once the transformation is complete, it feels unnervingly natural. It seems normal to throw on a hard hat when you stroll out to the back deck, to nod knowingly when one of the MTs laments the dearth of good anchorage in Paradise Cove – yeah, we had that problem off Arctowski Station two years ago when they were trying to calibrate the CTD. Or was it the ADCP?
But you get the idea: I’ve stepped through that magic door and no longer strange to suddenly find myself on an icebreaker – it’s strange to suddenly find myself the kind of person who would just naturally be on an icebreaker. And I know, I know, three weeks from now, when we’re out in the Drake for the fourth time this cruise, and I’m sore and physically sick and tired in too many ways to count and the RVDAS is broken and I’m feeling overwhelmed at really, honestly not knowing what the hell I’m doing here – I know I’ll promise that I never want to do it again. But isn’t how the sea shanties always go?
Anyhow, gotta go – the gang is waiting over at Cabo for our last night ashore…