Saturday, June 6, 2015

Life at Sea

Doug Dunbar (photo by B. Block)
With the Hawaiian Islands soon to rise over the Northern horizon, many of us on board are reflecting on the unique experience we have all shared. For me, this trip has expanded my own horizons in many different ways from lab work, to cooking, even just living as a mariner. Our world on board is small but not claustrophobic; it rewards hard work with tangible benefits that we all enjoy. Standing watch on the bow during a squall equates to your shipmates sleeping peacefully below knowing they are literally being watched over. Scrubbing soles (floors) after every dawn watch keeps us all safe from slipping as well as healthy on a clean and happy ship. People are eager to help out whether on or off watch because it feels good to contribute towards something we all share, it also reduces the stress of time imposed on all watch standers.
Time on a vessel following a strict schedule is as much a resource as fresh water, fruit, or toilet paper (the last of which we are running low on). Though the lab and deck are separated by different agendas, both must work together to accomplish the things they set out to do. When coming onto watch for either lab or deck you are confronted with a to-do list often much longer than you have time to complete. It is essential to prioritize, delegate, and communicate in order to get through as much of the list as possible, that way when you turn over to the next watch they have less on their agenda. In Lab you balance deploying scientific equipment with data processing, all the while ensuring the deck is informed and prepared to have the ship at the right speed or orientation so that none of the equipment is damaged. On Deck you balance keeping the labbies happy with maintaining course and speed made good towards whatever destination is next. While getting mama Seamans onto station may sound like a wheel turn away, heaving to on a port tack for science (HTPT4S) involves sail handling, gybing or tacking, and often more hands than are available. This is when you rely on your shipmates to lend a hand so that when it comes time for their watch everything is shipshape and on schedule. Keep in mind, all of this is unfolding on a rolling, bouncing, heeling living entity we have all called home for the last five weeks.
Compensating for the motion of a ship underway manifests itself in many ways. Appetites increase, but weight is not gained, eating meals off the gimbaled tables involves many crunches to maintain a constant range (distance) off your plate. Sleeping in your bunk requires a strategically braced leg to prevent yourself from falling out or crumpling up in a corner.
People walk in sequences, holding fast when the swells make movement energetically inefficient and bursting forward when gravity is once again on their side. Water tight doors that open against the heel of the ship (tilt of the ship) are ankle killing traps that require no small amount of brute force and alacrity to slip through unscathed. Showering involves fortifying yourself in a small stall, fighting an uphill battle against being clean and the negative side effects soap has on your ability to maintain friction. It is easy to spot the freshly woken oncoming watch from their stiff legs and drunken movement, often resulting in unintentional embraces with bulkheads
(walls) or even each other. All in all the motion is one of the many universal forces we all share aboard the Robert C Seamans, it is something that we bond over, from catching one another to jumping up from dinner to clean up a spill from a foolishly placed milk carton.
Without internet or outside communication everyone on board has been relying on the font of knowledge stemming from the book filled library and all of our own skills, strengths, and experiences. This so called intranet arguably yields more information than any Google search, not only do you get your question answered, but you get associated anecdotes and insights that save a lot of time in the long run. Not to mention people frequently expand upon brought up subjects opening up new avenues for future interest or investment of time on board. The number of recommended books, movies, theses, and campsites has merited a long and fruitful list for time on shore. With our journey quickly coming to a close we are all frantically running around to update said lists, download all of our favorite photos, and gather contact information. The last of which is especially important for me as a UC Davis student who will not have the luxury of bumping into these beautiful and intelligent people back on Stanford campus.
A sailing sunset (photo by Nick Mendoza)
Our small rolling world, unifying work ethic, and reliable intranet has brought us all together. Similar to the many remote atolls and islands we have stopped at, we are a product of our environment, relying on the finite resources and community support to thrive. The prime take away from this trip for me was how high the gross domestic happiness was at each of the inhabited places we were so fortunate to visit. There is no need for a high paying salary, flat screen TV, or cell service to lead a fulfilling and happy life, instead the priceless interactions between each other and the place we inhabit is more than enough to fuel our souls. I certainly felt this way aboard the Robert C Seamans and I am hoping to cling to this feeling after my reintroduction to terra firm. I know that if I can incorporate even a fraction of this vibe into my everyday life it will increase my overall happiness and peace of mind.

Still Sailing Strong
-Doug Dunbar S259


pat girvin said...

nice post Doug!

Raquel Girvin said...

Ay ay ay - I'll miss these blog posts and will be savoring every last bit of them!
Thanks Doug and every other blogger who's written about how well you've all cared for and learned so much from each other. Music to a parent's ears!

Shelley Lexmond said...

Thanks to all you intrepid mariners for sharing your epic and poetic tales from the briny blue.

SEA FEVER, below, despite references to more temperate latitudes, is offered, in thanks, as a befitting tribute to you and your "laughing fellow-rovers":

I MUST go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a gray mist on the sea's face, and a gray dawn breaking.

I must down go to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way, where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

John Masefield (1902)

Peter Shea said...

Seamans Strong! Thanks for sharing your blog.

Dita Hutchinson said...

Oh my goodness - this one really got to me. It sounds like you all know each other better now than perhaps some of your longtime friends. I so wish I could meet each and every one of you! You're all welcome to visit us in Boulder, CO anytime. Enjoy your last "sleep" aboard the RCS :)

Neusha Etemad said...

Beautifully written Doug! Can't wait to hear more about it/see your face in 2 days!! Enjoy your last days at sea!