ADVENTURES OF A
I realized that most people have not lived on a research vessel, so I should probably give some basic info on what it’s like!
Even though it is called a “cruise”, it is very different than a vacation cruise. We typically work 12 hour shifts, either noon to midnight or midnight to noon. During shift, you may not be working continuously, but you do need to be awake and readily available for anything that comes up. It’s a lot of sitting and waiting in the lab, doing something for 5-60 minutes, waiting again.
There are 3 meals served a day, but no matter which shift you’re on, you’re only going to be awake for 2 of them. On the Thompson, the food has been great. There is always a salad bar, and then entrees and desserts. An example from a recent lunch: quinoa salad, philly cheese steaks, open faced smoked salmon sandwiches, garlic kale, roasted carrots, fries, and chocolate cookies. I’m eating better than I ever do at home! They also leave snacks and leftovers out, everything from chips and crackers to diced fruit and cereal and corn bread.
Outside of shift, you are free to do whatever you want. I usually get bored: even working 12 hours leaves you with a lot of free time when you have no commute, no cooking, and very few chores! American research vessels are dry, so you can’t whittle away the evening with a few beers.
I like to work out, in the gym if there is one, or I’ll do push ups and yoga if there isn’t a gym. I also read a lot. And I’ll socialize by chatting and playing card games. And, being on the ocean, you often end up on deck to see the whale/iceberg/bioluminescence/sunset/stars/etc. That’s my favorite part: seeing so many amazingly beautiful aspects of nature. Last night, we saw bioluminescent waves along the bow of the ship and it was magical. Other people will use their free time to watch movies, paint, draw, write, play ping pong, crochet, play guitar, do crosswords, whatever keeps them sane. Everyone tends to sleep a lot at sea too, it’s very tiring just to be awake and moving about a rocking ship.
And the ships do rock! It depends on where you’re going, the time of year, and the weather, but the seas can get quite rough. Generally, you’re expected to keep working. Maybe take a Dramamine, or a nap, but get back to work. Everything is harder when the ship is moving. You can’t carry as much, it’s hard to walk, you may even fall out of bed. Showers get pretty tough. I usually give up on shaving. I don’t really get sea sick, though, which is very convenient.
You very quickly get to know people at sea. You eat every meal together, you work together, sometimes you share a cabin. I get to Peak Introvert Friendship Level with people very quickly: where I am happier to read in the same room as someone rather than reading totally alone. Most of the people I’ve sailed with feel like family to me. I may not keep in touch with them regularly, but I am always happy to see them and I would do just about anything for them.
Since everyone is so close, there is inevitable coupling up. It’s pretty common among oceanographers to meet your partner at sea. There is also casual sex; after a few weeks seeing no one else, everyone around you starts looking more attractive (is this a known phenomena in psychology?). Personally I avoid that since I’m usually one of very few queer people on a ship. It also doesn’t seem very comfortable to me. Our cabins are usually shared, with twin sized bunk beds with very little headspace. But somehow people make do! Since we have no work to do right now, my routine has become: breakfast, group yoga on the deck (another scientist is an aspiring yoga instructor), lunch, read/write/work, dinner, watch sunset, run, upper body weights, read/write/work, bed. Not a bad life!
Depending on the cruise, you could be at sea anywhere from a single day to 60 days or more. I’m always happy to see land again, but after a few days on land I want to go back to sea! It can be hard work, but I really, really love it.