Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Getting to Know the Cap'n

      When you're at sea on a research cruise, scientists only make up part of the population on a ship.  We're actually just visitors here - lots of space and time are shared with the crew, who call the ship their home.  So it's great to take some time to get to know the people you'll be living alongside for a few weeks.  The other morning I had the chance to talk with the captain, Wes Hill, the third mate, Matt Serio, and AB Pete Steiner up on the bridge a little bit about life at sea.  Below is a summary of what was said "on the record."  For the off the record transcript, you'll have to find the captain in Manila after the cruise ends!
      I got to know our Captain a bit first.  Wes has been a captain since 2000, but has been with Scripps for nearly 24 years, and he's known many of the crew for almost as long.  Before becoming captain, Wes was a mate.  He sails with all of the Scripps fleet but has been at the helm of the R/V Revelle for the past three years.  When I asked him if he had a favorite ship, the captain replied, "No comment."  A very PC answer!
      I asked Wes about his favorite and least favorite parts of the job.  He said interacting with the scientists was great (and I'm sure not just because he was talking to one at the time), and of course the travel, listing Taiwan as his favorite port, and Easter Island as one of his favorite places he's been.  The biggest drawback is all the time away from home.  To give you an idea of the kind of time the crew spends at sea, the Revelle has been cruising around the western Pacific since mid-July.  This leg of the cruise ends in Manila on October 3rd but the Revelle continues on to Taiwan from there.  The captain heads for home on October 9th, but he doesn't know his schedule after that and could be home as long as 3 months or called back out to sea pretty soon after getting back on dry land.  I asked Wes if he could have one thing named after him and he immediately replied, "A seamount!  Definitely a seamount.  And definitely not a reef.  You can write that part - definitely not a reef." 
Matt and Wes at the helm of the R/V Revelle
      We chatted next about life at sea.  You always hope for smooth sailing, but sometimes the unexpected happens.  I asked the captain what the scariest thing was that had ever happened to him at sea.  "Blog interviews," the captain replied.  Seriously though, Wes said that when weather turns, that can be tough.  It's rare to unexpectedly run into really bad weather these days, thanks to technology, but occasionally storms can creep up on you.  Once the winds pick up to 60 knots or so, things can get a little hairy.  Scripps vessels have also been involved in some civilian rescues, including an abandoned sailboat and a sailboat that had run aground near Palou.  In the latter case, a family with two young kids was brought on board the R/V Melville for a few days until the ship reached port.  The captain assured me the anti-pirate water cannons had never been fired…except to test them…on over-curious scientists.  
      Speaking of over-curious scientists, I asked if there had ever been any really strange requests from scientists, and Pete chimed in with a story about one researcher who was adamant about exactly where he wanted to drop a buoy off a few hundred meters off to starboard, in spite of a very shallow and very obvious reef, and in spite of the captain trying to point out that a large research vessel can't just sail over a reef.  You can bet the captain won that argument.  Wes shared that he has sailed with and shook the hand of Bob Ballard (and hasn't washed it since), who is noted for his work in underwater archaeology, and with Roger Revelle's wife on the maiden voyage of the R/V Revelle
      Finally, with the hopes that maybe some future marine scientists would be reading this blog, I asked the captain if there were one thing you'd want scientists to know before they came onto a research vessel, what would it be? 
       The unanimous answer?  "How to make good pot of coffee."

by Kelly Gibson