The Bering Sea
53 38.40′ N 178 00.70′ W

Global Time: 07:00 GMT | 06.30.2009 : Tuesday
Ships Time: 19:00 GMT-12 | 06.29.2009 : Monday

When Andrew awoke, it was half past nine. He rolled out of bed and wondered if he had missed the last station. Realizing he still had his contacts in, he took them out. Although he was disappointed that he had slept in, he assessed the situation. His tardy wake up was not the result of alcohol, merely exhaustion. Joaquim had acknowledged that since Andrew had misplaced his alarm before they departed, Andrew would be relying on Joaquim to provide a wakeup call around five. If Joaquim had not yet woken him, it was likely that the station had been late. Quickly he considered his options. This time, the list of hierarchies which had served him so well the previous night placed ‘showing up at work’ above ‘brushing teeth before lunch’. Andrew grabbed a breath mint and headed above.

On deck, Joaquim explained that he had learned they would not be taking water at the previous station, and noted that Andrew had skipped breakfast. Andrew politely corrected him: he had missed breakfast. Since the CTD was not yet in the water, Andrew headed for the bathroom to spit out the mint and brush his teeth. As he flossed, the PA system kept him informed. “Go…yon…san…ni…iich…stop.” The CTD would take samples at five depths. Each time, a girl named Ai who monitored the depth would count down from five and then tell the winch operator to stop when the CTD was at the right depth. When Ai had announced all five stops, Andrew hastily rinsed and spit, and ran on deck to help collect the samples.

The collections went well and lunch had been curry and rice. By the time Andrew had worked on his proposal, grabbed a quick workout, and taken a shower that was two days overdue, the day was looking up. When he reached the mess hall with his laptop to check his email and found a birthday being celebrated, he concluded that the day had officially been made right.

Advertisements

The Bering Sea
52 06.55′ N 175 51.56′ W

Global Time: 14:00 GMT | 06.29.2009 : Monday
Ships Time: 02:00 GMT-12 | 06.29.2009 : Monday

The CTD and its sample bottles did not surface until about ten o’clock, pm. It typically took about two and a half to three hours to filter all the samples. It had already been a long day, and it was going to get longer.

Since Andrew had taken a twenty minute break he finished twenty minutes after Stacey and Joaquim, a few minutes past one in the morning. On his way to his cabin, he stopped by the mess hall. Inside, a half a dozen passengers were sitting around a table upon which sat a small town of beer can buildings. He contemplated getting his rest. He expected the next station to be at 5:30, just hours away. There was protocol, to follow however, and that protocol was one Andrew had set in place himself. It stated a hierarchy of priorities which put ‘making new friends’, ‘experiencing new cultures’, and ‘drinking in new places’ all above both ‘getting plenty of sleep’ and ‘being rested for work’. He sat down and began talking with a young professor who had recently completed her doctorate at Texas A&M. Her English, because of her time in America, was fairly strong. Andrew was offered a glass of Sobasouchou on ice, which was also fairly strong. It was similar to vodka, though only 50 proof. The Russians had used potatoes, and the European’s wheat. It only made sense that the Japanese would use Soba, a grain often found in noodles of the same name.

Andrew had was pleased at the way his Japanese held up. He used some of his new words (“My mother likes green tea”) and they taught him a few more (“drain your glass”). Andrew had heard that the Japanese are a culture that loves alcohol. While Egyptians would not drink anywhere, the Japanese allowed it on a ship full of students. This would never have been found on an American Ship. A Norwegian ship, Carlton had told him… sometimes. It was not simply a nightcap they were having, either. When Andrew departed for bed at two, others who did not have work until the next afternoon were still awake and still drinking. It seemed rather European: though no one was misbehaving, it was clear that a number of them were drunk. Andrew made a mental record of his findings and rolled into bed.

Day 22

-

The Bering Sea
52 06.55′ N 175 51.56′ W

Global Time: 04:38 GMT | 06.29.2009 : Monday
Ships Time: 16:38 GMT-12 | 06.28.2009 : Sunday

They had dodged the storm, much to Andrew’s secret dismay. The next day, research resumed as usual. After performing their optics readings and filtering their usual samples (twice, with another sample point scheduled in only four hours), Andrew performed the first analysis on the iron enrichment experiment.

The samples were all stored in individual bags. There were sixty of them, each half the size of a 2 liter soda bottle floating. As a child, Andrew had seen how his father would add fish to the fish tank, letting the bag sit floating on the surface, to allow the two to equalize in temperature. The incubation tank was the same idea, only the fish were invisibly small. Andrew drew out two bags, one with a red flag on it and one without. Below deck, the two water samples were strained for growth markers. They were run through a filter which was saved to be analyzed by its color later for chlorophyll. They were also pumped through a remarkable piece of science fiction hardware called an A.L.F.

The Automated Laser Flurometer, or A.L.F. took in water samples and passed two lasers through them. These lasers allowed it to measure the amount of light the contents of the water were absorbing and reflecting. A healthy plant cell will take in all the light it can. When it is unhealthy, it cannot use the light, however since energy cannot simply be destroyed, it discards it. The plant discards the energy in the same
way it received it: as light. The flurometer measured the minute amounts of light jettisoned by the cells to determine their health and nature. The screen attached it it was remarkable. It contained six small windows. Two were bar graphs which would rise and fall dynamically while it worked. Two were spectral line graphs. One was a series of dots on a plot, and another was a jagged line that danced unidentifiable. Around each sat at least two dozen buttons, indicators and number displays. It could only have appeared more contrived if it had an extraneous screen with an image of a DNA helix slowly rotating. Joaquim and Andrew saved their data and left to wait for dinner and the evening’s entertainment – more water samples.

Day 21

-

The Bering Sea
50 58.77′ N 179 30.02′ W

Global Time: 04:30 GMT | 06.25.2009 : Sunday
Ships Time: 20:05 GMT-12 | 06.27.2009 : Saturday

It appeared that the Oshoro-maru was headed for a storm. There was no telling what ‘bad’ meant, when Andrew heard that things were going to get bad. All he knew was that the captain had canceled the next data collection station, and everything that was of value was being tied down. It was not a problem, losing that data station. It was about 20 minutes distance* from the last data station. It most likely would have produced data similar to the last one. Andrew was actually looking forward to the storm. So far, the boat’s rocking had been strong, but in never really debilitating. Occasionally, Andrew would walk down a hallway in a sine wave, or ascend a staircase with the sense that he had levitated up it free from gravity as the boat dropped away beneath him. He had yet to see anything he would even characterize as a nuisance. Not only was he curious, but if he had to return from a journey on the north Pacific with a report of nothing but calm seas, he would have been very disappointed. The optical package was strapped to a ladder with three strips of webbing. The incubation tank that Andrew was personally responsible for was covered with plastic. The incubation tank was a large plexiglass box about five feet long and 18 inches across and deep. It contained 60 bags of seawater, half spiked with traces of iron. It was the undertaking of the proposal Andrew still needed to revise. The final draft was due in a week. (The rough concept of the experiment is outlined under “Notes”)

In the last few days, Andrew’s efforts in learning Japanese had seemed worthwhile. Though infrequently, he found himself recalling words with greater ease and employing sentences usefully on occasion. It was also helpful that again a card game had united the students, providing opportunities to employ new words.

Andrew decided to go work on his proposal a bit while he waited for the storm and the ship to meet.

(* In geographical terms, a minute is a unit of measurement of distance. It is one of the numbers often used in GPS coordinates)

Day 19

-

The Bering Sea
50 27’67”N 179 49’15” W

Global Time: 04:30 GMT | 06.25.2009 : Friday
Ships Time: 16:30 GMT-12 | 06.24.2009 : Thursday

The work had been going well. Every few hours, the boat would stop and
equipment would be deployed or retrieved. The previous day, a sediment
trap had been hauled in. The trap was a large funnel designed to collect
the particulate matter which sunk to the bottom of the sea. This
particular sediment trap had been sunk a year prior. Every month it
segregated its collection, so that once retrieved, scientists could see
a yearly profile of the available food at the bottom. To collect it, the
boat returned to the spot the trap was sunk and called it back. Radio
signals would not work, however. A radio signal was an electromagnetic
wave like light, only on a different frequency. Just as light dimmed
with depth, the signal could not penetrate to the bottom. Underwater,
ships detect distance using sonar, a call-and-echo system similar to
radar, however with sound. Instead of a radio signal an acoustic one was
broadcast, signaling the trap to release its ballast. After that, it
would take an hour to reach the surface, where it would be marked by a
flag and a homing beacon. The first person to spot the flag would win a
bottle of wine. Unfortunately, it was the doctor offering the wine who
spotted it first.

The waters had been calm recently. This was most likely because the ship
was passing through the Aleutians. The string of islands that formed the
Alaska’s tail served to break waves. Soon, however, the would need to be
wary. Beyond the islands lie the deep north Pacific.

After completing all necessary work, Andrew headed to his bunk. On his
way, he saw six people in the mess hall. Five were Japanese. The sixth
was fellow American, Christen. Andrew offered a game of cards, and she
agreed. Trying to decide on a game to play, Andrew turned to the
Japanese students and asked if any of them knew how to play a game
called “Bullshit”. It was a simple game that allowed for any number of
players and required little explanation. Soon they were all sitting at
one table, each shouting his or her own particular word used to convey
disbelief. “Bullshit!” “Doubt!” Liar!”

After two rounds and some watermelon, the players dispersed. The boat
was approaching the next station.

Day 18

-

The Bering Sea
51 56’71” N, 179 10’64” W

Global Time: 05:49 GMT | 06.25.2009 : Thursday
Ships Time: 17:49 GMT-12 | 06.24.2009 : Wednesday

Since arriving on the ship, the majority of Andrew’s time had been
directed toward the study of Japanese. After his initial thrill at his
ability to introduce himself, Andrew was quickly confronted with the
realization that he did not have enough of a vocabulary to go beyond
greetings and counting. Most of the passengers spoke some English.
Andrew could easily have spent the rest of the trip as he was. However
the initial thrill of understanding and being understood in a language
so foreign was intoxicating. Andrew entertained dreams of casual
exchanges given and received in hallways and over dinner.

His ambitions were lofty. He would most likely have surrendered if not
for the slightest tease of possibility. The previous day he had asked
what kind of fruit he was eating; that morning he had confirmed that
the measurements equipment was still in the water. Hungry for more, he
sat in his room following the cues of his “Learn to speak Japanese” program.

His major opportunities for interaction were over meals. The food was
fantastic, too. Rice and fish were served with every meal. Andrew was
thankful that he knew how to use chopsticks well. He was pleased to not
stand out. Also, besides being one of the trusses in the cultural bridge
he was attempting to build, forks were not provided.

Day 16

-

The Bering Sea
Coordinates Unknown

Global Time: 07:36 GMT | 06.22.2009 : Tuesday
Ships Time: 19:36 GMT-12 | 06.22.2009 : Monday

Since the ship had set out to sea about ten hours earlier, Andrew had entered a new world. Once the ship was up to full speed, the motion of the boat became intense. Andrew felt no illness, but he was not sure if that was simply because he had taken a tablet of Dramamine earlier. Still, he felt as though he had been drugged. When he looked at the walls or ceiling, they moved. Relative to each other and to Andrew, they were stationary, however he could still see them gliding fluidly.

With the exception of four people, the passengers were all Japanese. Andrew had tentatively employed his limited vocabulary with excellent results. Most of the other passengers spoke some measure of English, and while they seemed concerned about their language skills, Andrew was impressed at their ability to communicate. His meager Japanese proved very useful as well. Besides filling in small gaps in language, its primary use was to impress and make friends. When all else failed, the others could usually rely on the small portable electronic translators they all owned for translating scientific documents written in English. All in all, the Japanese students were wonderfully hospitable. One man, Rui, had even recognized Pittsburgh when Andrew told him where he was from. Like any foreigner familiar with the Pittsburgh, it was because of the Steelers, whom he recalled beating the Seahawks two years ago while staying in Washington State. Andrew was touched.

Once at sea, the ship switched to International dateline time, Western Hemisphere. The ship ran all operations at -12 hours GMT. If it were midnight on new years in London, the Oshoro-maru was experiencing noon on December 31st.

Since Andrew had been originally misinformed that the ship ran on Greenwich Mean Time, he had been advised to sleep at 13:00. He was under the impression that it was one hour past midnight, and he was going to have to endure a flightless jetlag. When he awoke three hours later, he felt rather disoriented. He had slept deeply, and awoken in absolute perfect darkness, aware of only a humming and the rise and fall of waves. His body, laid horizontal, felt strange. He would feel gravity strengthen until it momentarily ceased exerting any effort at all. Then he would fall about two feet in slow motion. He laid in bed, absorbing the unusual sensory experience for about ten minutes before he dressed and headed to meet with Joaquim. They had a long steam before they would reach their first test site the next morning, so the rest of the day would be devoted to exploration and cultural immersion.

Unalaska, AK
53 53′20″ N, 166 31′38″ W

Global Time: 15:00 GMT | 20.6.2009 : Saturday
Local Time: 06:00 GMT-9 | 20.6.2009 : Saturday

The security guard who monitored all movement on and off of the boat referred Andrew to the lathe operator of the massive fishery which owned the dock. This proved impossible without the consent of a manager who was out of the office.

Andrew walked to the Grand Aleutian hotel to use a phone book and a payphone. If he found a suitable company he could take a taxi and have the corks fixed within the hour. No one on the phone, however, seemed to understand what he was asking and so no one could commit to a price or agree to the job. Andrew decided to simply walk towards two of the more promising boat mechanic firms.

The first one, Hydro Pro, was a garage specializing in hydraulics. The man inside consulted an older mechanic who said that while he had no idea what the corks were or what Andrew wanted done, Andrew was free to do the work himself. His only provisions were that Andrew understood that if he lost himself a finger, not only would they not accept liability, they would be forced to prevent him from ever leaving the garage, just to be sure that no lawsuits ensued. Andrew agreed to the terms and modified the corks with a table mounted grinder and returned to the dock site a few minutes before 1600.

Back on the Oshoro-maru, Joaquim had been routing a cable through a stairwell and some hallways to the wet lab. The wet lab was a second lab which, unlike the lab which Stacey had been cleaning, was designed for the handling of messy samples pulled straight from the water, dripping. When Joaquim found Andrew, he told him he had good news. One of the other students was working with iron, as Andrew was. Her name was Aiya, and Andrew had met her that morning while unpacking boxes. Joaquim suggested that Andrew try and collaborate with her. Hopefully, it might mean greater productivity for the both of them.

While cleaning the lab, Stacey and Andrew began to wonder about what kind of cabins they would be living in. Joaquim found the ship’s third officer, Abe (pronounced A-bey) to show them their quarters.

Stacey’s room was designed to hold six, though it was remarkable to imagine six people sharing such little room. Fortunately, the ship was operating with a much smaller crew than its maximum capacity would allow. The one other occupant had canceled her trip, and Stacey would live alone in a space which, for one person, was quite large.

Aware that it was unlikely that Andrew would be so lucky, he asked to see his room. As it turned out, he actually was so lucky. They had placed him by himself in a room which contained four bunks. There was an occupant, but he was not continuing on the next leg of the cruise. Andrew inwardly declared to all of the room’s occupants that he was claiming one of the two top bunks for himself. There was no dissent.

Unalaska, AK
53 53′20″ N, 166 31′38″ W

Global Time: 11:00 GMT | 20.6.2009 : Saturday
Local Time: 02:00 GMT-9 | 20.6.2009 : Saturday

Joaquim, Stacey, and Andrew began unpacking boxes on the Oshoro-maru at ten after nine. The temperature was in the low forties, with only a few brief showers. The first box unpacked was a wooden crate about three feet squared. It contained the optical package: an array of electronics designed to measure the various color properties of the water. More on the project objectives. The equipment was mounted on a pristine black frame. The entire probe would be lowered into the water. Its sensors would collect data the same way a probe sent into space would, and bring it back for analysis.

The rest of the boxes, which numbered almost a dozen, total, were lab supplies. Space in the Oshoro-maru’s laboratories had been set aside for Bigelow Laboratories’ experiments. The lab was smaller than expected. Fortunately, Joaquim had the distinguished cabin reserved for “Scientist A”, the researcher beneath only the Chief Scientist. His cabin was his alone, and it was on the main deck, directly across from the one room laboratory. Stacey and Andrew placed any supplies which would not be used regularly in Joaquim’s cabin.

Around 1400, it was discovered that a set of vital corks were too large. The corks were black rubber stoppers used for crucial work, however they were a size too large for the bottles they sat in. In was crucial that the problem be solved, or the mission’s key experiments could not take place. While Stacey and Joaquim continued to unpack, Joaquim sent Andrew to look around town for a new set of corks or someone who could fix the set they already had.

Day 13

-

Unalaska, AK
53 53′20″ N, 166 31′38″ W

Global Time: 21:00 GMT | 19.6.2009 : Friday
Local Time: 12:00 GMT-9 | 19.6.2009 : Friday

Joaquim, Stacey, and Andrew ate breakfast at a large grocery and items warehouse type store called Eagle. The name made sense, as Dutch Harbor was swarming with Bald Eagles. Andrew saw his first the previous day. It was rummaging for fish in a dumpster three meters from him. He asked himself if it was his imagination that a bald eagle was dumpster diving right in front of him. Answering the question, the eagle raised its white feathered head, and posed as in its many depictions. It looked very proud. After that, he became aware of their constant presence.

Following breakfast, they paid a visit to the shipping office to confirm all their equipment had arrived and been prepared to be loaded on the Oshoro-maru. The ship was expected to dock that afternoon at 13:00. While the shipping office checked on some things, Joaquim, Stacey, and Andrew went for a walk to a nearby clothing/food/hardware store. Andrew called the Baha’i center a second time, however still only got an answering machine. On the way back, to the shipping office, he got his first taste of the flash rains he had been told about.

At noon the three returned to the hotel. Andrew decided to eat lunch, then return to his list of ways to pass the time: study Japanese, send letters, and explore town.