Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Salty Ship

Our wake up call!
A humpback whale breaching on the port side of the R/V Melville.

Trey Joyner's video of the playful sea lion pup.

The day started with a humpback whale breaching off the port side of the R/V Melville.  We were now far offshore from Washington.  The skies were grey and cool -- the waves were rolling, making it challenging to walk across the deck. Throughout the day, we got work to get caught up on reading samples and entering data. Shortly after dinner, we saw a sea lion pup showing off its acrobatic swimming skills Trey Joyner used a pole to lower his Go Pro into the water to get some video of the playful pinniped.  During this chance encounter, we believe the pup may have hit the camera, causing the housing to take in water.  While we are not sure if the camera is still usable, we were able to get the video off of the it and onto a computer.  There we stood in the lab, watching the sea lion bounding about in water no deeper than three meters.


Rear Admiral George Wallace Meville, USN
Namesake of the R/V Melville
As the oldest and longest operating research ship in the UNOLS fleet, the R/V Melville is the current holder of Order of the Ancient Albatross. A Scripps Institution of Oceanography-UCSD vessel, it is based out of San Diego, California. With only three more cruises until it is retired, it is a well traveled vessel, having conducted hundreds of research cruises since 1969. There have been many mariners that have worked the deck of the R/V Melville.  Unfortunately, most people will never get the opportunity to live or work on a ship and experience the adventure that comes with being at sea.  I would like to use this post to recognize the hard work and dedication of the "Salty Ship's" crew.

Portrait of the R/V Melville in the ship's library.
Not only is the R/V Melville a research vessel, it is also home to her crew for months at a time.  Crew members may work two or more cruises in a row before they are able to return home to their family and friends.  It is not an easy job, and in most cases it can be very dangerous.  They operate heavy equipment such as winches and booms, all while contending with an unforgiving sea.  They get us to where we need to be, feed us three times a day (very well I might add) and help us carry out the science.  They are just as important as the scientists when is comes to successfully completing a scientific mission.  

Supper time.
When the crew members are not involved in helping the science party, they are operating the ship, maintaining the vessel, and repairing equipment. They work in four hour shifts (four hours on, four hours off).  During their off hours, they try to get caught up on personal matters such as getting rest, doing laundry, or paying bills. Others may decide to work out at "Steel Beach," a small gym on the upper deck. Crew members meet there in the early morning to lift, exercise, and bond.  If you thought working out in a gym was tough, try bench pressing while the ship is moving. As a runner, I have already felt a difference in my body from not running for more than three weeks.  It is simply too dangerous to try to run on the deck of a moving vessel and is not permitted.  For cardio workouts, crew members will either ride the stationary bike or walk around the deck and climb its stairs. 

The laundry room.
Daily tasks that you might do at home are done differently on a ship.   Laundry can be taken care of at any time, but we must keep in mind that there are 33 crew members (in addition to 21 scientists). There are only two washers and dryers aboard 

During chow time, we have to keep in mind that they need to get in and get out to their jobs.  The crew will mix in with the science party to find out more about our backgrounds and what we are trying to accomplish. We try not to "sit on our plates" when we are done with our meals.  When they are not preparing meals, the R/V Melville's cooks, Bob Seeley and Mark Smith, are cleaning the mess hall and going over future menus.  

OS Paul Martin and 
Hannah Glover (NOAA-PMEL)

At the end of the day, some members of the crew will congregate in the mess hall for a friendly game of poker. Others may join the scientists in watching a late night movie in the lounge. There is also a community guitar for anyone to play.  Rob Ball is a musician and when not working on a ship plays in bands. He owns ten guitars and is an Iron Maiden fan.  

I got the opportunity to talk with several members of the crew, to get their perspectives on working and living at sea.  All five of these members represent a crew that is by far, the best that I have ever had the privilege of working with.  The crew of the R/V Melville's are personable, hard working, and exhibit the highest level of professionalism.  Here's a little background on some of the people I get to interact with on a daily basis.

ResTech Keith Shadle and Oiler Tom Brown.
Keith Shadle is the R/V Melville's ResTech.  He serves as the liaison between the ship and the science party.  His job includes assisting with cruise planning and overside deployment of scientific equipment. Originally from Indiana, he now lives in San Diego.  After graduating from college, he started working on vessels and has continued to do so for the past 11 years.  He describes "deck experience, problem solving and the ability to work well with groups of all backgrounds" as requirements to successfully execute his duties. 

Thomas Brown is an oiler in the engine department and works as a winch operator during the deployment of scientific equipment. He is 25 years old and resides in San Diego.  He finds traditional work to be boring and would rather work at sea where he is able to save money for his extended vacation times on land.    When on land, Thomas enjoys riding his motorcycle and spending time with his girlfriend.  A good natured guy, he often talks about Southern California sports with me.

2nd Mate, Heather Galiher.

Paul Martin is also 25 years old, and hails from Maine.  As an Ordinary Seaman, he takes care of day maintenance and takes part in small boat operations.  He describes the R/V Melville's crew to be a tight community.  He says that unlike being on land, it is not possible to separate home and work while being at sea.  "Being on land is our vacation."  He adds, "Working here is about a lot more than just doing the job. It's about  exploring the world and being a part of many interesting projects that take place on board."

Trey Joyner shows AS Cletus W. Finnell his
sea lion video.
Heather Galiher is the R/V Melville's 2nd Mate and is from Chicago, Illinois. After taking a trip to sea while in high school, she knew that she wanted to travel the world.  While visiting with her today during her watch on the bridge, she shared with me some images on her cell phone of a recent to trip to Papua New Guinea.  In one photo, she is standing beside the stern of the R/V Melville with an erupting volcano behind her in the background.  She finds commanding the vessel at night "calm and relaxing."  

Cletus W. Finnell is an Able Seaman from Kansas City, Missouri.  His responsibilities include keeping the ship clean and safe, and keeping a lookout for floating objects and ships in distress.  He finds life at sea to be peaceful and a time for reflection. He's traveled all of over the world and speaks Spanish and a little Japanese.  He enjoys spending time with his wife, kids, and grandchildren.  His favorite hobby is dancing.

Having traveled the world, they've seen places that we could only dream of.  They were kind enough to share some words of wisdom for high school kids that might be reading this.

ResTech Keith Shadle assisting 
with the deployment of the 
Go Flo bottle.
"Don't let school get in the way of your education.  You don't have to go into science to go to sea." -Keith Shadle, ResTech

"Pay attention, stay in school and listen to your parents.  It takes you far in life."  -Thomas Brown, Oiler

"Some lessons that you are taught today might not seem useful or important.  But today, I use many of the skills I learned in high school."  -Paul Martin, Ordinary Seaman 

"Learn as much as you can and never be afraid to do something that is difficult.  Practice makes perfect and it's worth it."  -Cletus W. Finnell, Able Seaman


I hope that you enjoyed this small insight to life at sea with the crew of the R/V Melville.  Kids...they are always looking for hard workers!  They are a great group of people, and I thank them for their time and hospitality.  You can follow the "Salty Ship" on Twitter.   Below are some extra photos of the ship and her crew from this cruise.

Check back tomorrow for more updates!  Six more days to go...

Chief Engineer Alex Rodriguez
grilling steaks for dinner.
Bud Hale is the R/V Melville's 
computer tech.

2nd A/E Rob Ball (far right) of the R/V Melville
attempts to repair a broken chiller.

ResTech Keith Shadle secures the Rosette
for the evening.

Captain Wes Hill enjoys watching the science take place.  
He is seen in the center, wearing a green jacket.

An example of a shower on the R/V Melville.
Some of you have asked, 
so here it is,an example 
of a "head" on the ship.

A view of the bridge.
A hallway on the berthing level.

No comments:

Post a Comment