The Floggings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

We’ve been in heavy ice for the past few days, back in the Bransfield Strait pushing and bumping and grinding our way from survey station to survey station, trying to find (or make) a hole big enough to do a proper net tow or CTD.

Below deck, the ice is manageable enough during the day, by which I mean night, what with my holding up the graveyard shift side of things. First time out, it probably took a good two weeks before I managed to habituate my instinctive “Titanic panic” every time the boat shuddered and lurched sideways off a big chunk of ice. By the end of the cruise, though, you get to the point where you practically count on the shifting, pitching funhouse frame of reference to get you through your day. Need to go fetch something from the printer? Wait until that next starboard whooomp helps you up out of your chair and on your way.

But at night, the rational mind sleeps, and the free association of the unconscious brain just can’t get used to letting its guard down so easily. Sure, it’s like sleeping on a train, but one perpetually shuttled from track to track in a screeching switchyard, not to mention repeatedly lifted and dropped from no small height by a clumsy crane operator.

So sleep has been an issue again, but the ice has meant worse for others on the ship. We’ve had to abandon sampling close to a dozen stations, and the lack of net tows means a lack of krill, which means a surfeit of idle hands on the zooplankton team.

Fortunately, the AMLR folks are resourceful. Beyond fifteen billion kinds of coffee they’ve brought in their personal stashes, there are the usual card games (yes, Cards Against Humanity, but also two decks of Exploding Kittens), and music – the disco ball in aft dry lab has not been underutilized – and art and silly hats. Lots of art, most often executed with the astounding arsenal of multicolored Sharpies that the zoo team keeps at hand. It shows up everywhere: on hands and clothing, on station reports and in the zooplankton and oceanography coloring books (yes, that’s a thing). But nowhere is it more elaborate than on the cups.

Cups? Yeah, cups.

“Hey Pablo – have you done your cup yet?”

I always demur, because we’ve already got way too much crap filling the knickknack shelves at home, but I get suspicious glances for it. Because for most of the zoo folks, cups are an almost a holy ritual. It goes like this: at least once each cruise, you grab a Styrofoam cup from the holy stash and decorate it elaborately with the aforementioned Sharpies. Then, the next station where we have enough clear water to do a full CTD cast, you strap them all into the rosette and send them down to the bottom to get crushed by the pressure. And when they come up, they’re all warped and shrunken and tiny, like the coffee cups toddlers might use, if the toddlers happened to also be marine biologists and drink coffee.

And oh, right – the silly hats. Lots of silly hats. Just another tradition, and mostly on “Hump Day,” halfway through the cruise. For most people, that is – Kim seems to have an endless, Bartholomew Cubbins-worthy collection of silly hats, and every few days seems to be wearing a new one I’d not noticed before. Yet another reason we all adore her.

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Finally, there’s always, always, always going out on deck to take pictures, or just to stand on the bow and marvel at the utterly otherworldly seascape (icescape?) around us. We are here, in freakin’ Antarctica, in the middle of the winter, riding our steel and diesel spaceship wherever we will. We’re all still get a little giddy out there.

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I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: this is a good gang of folks to be sailing with. No matter how crappy the conditions are, how little sleep they’ve had, or how much they long for fresh blueberries or a quiet, non-jolting/careening/lurching night where they go to bed in the evening and wake up in the morning, they’ve got this positive energy that makes my brand of “relentlessly cheerful” seem downright glum.

But maybe I’m just not drinking enough coffee.

One response to “The Floggings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

  1. Hi Pablo, Thank you for the detailed snapshot of life on the “Titanic panic”…somehow, the noise and vast landscape seem as though it would draw a person to really think about life, ones own life and how to keep it simple. It’s nice that the crew seems experienced with keeping the day to day playful and colorful, like children. I’m imagining!


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