Sunset in the Florida Straits on the RV Walton Smith

By: Su Sponaugle, Professor, OSU

June 12, 2015

Today the seas are rough and as we head into the sunset on a long offshore DPI (ISIIS) transect to cut across our elusive eddy it’s a good time to stare out at the ship’s wake and reflect on the role of these cruises in our lives.

Going to sea on a research cruise literally and figuratively allows us to “get way from it all”—our everyday life, established routines, and responsibilities. For many of us who live with long to-do lists, being out of the office is a special hiatus in the never-ending effort to check off completed tasks. Although overdue deadlines weigh on our minds, while at sea we are forced to set these aside to ‘live in the moment’. Our focus is on the collection of scientific data so all of our energies are directed at making sampling decisions and executing the sampling plan. The cruise is essentially a protracted pause in our normal day-to-day life and, as such, is an escape of sorts. Not a vacation, mind you, but a unique hiccup in routines.

Research cruises also allow us to spend many quality (or not so quality) hours with our research team members. Bleary-eyed and shower-free, we work side-by-side through the night, sharing common struggles and celebrating discoveries. Professors, postdocs, technicians, graduate students, and summer interns all chase a common goal of conducting exciting and novel science. In our case, we hope our efforts will further our understanding of plankton life in sea. We don’t often have a chance to do this together so very intensely 24/7.

Despite the excitement, a cruise brings clear challenges to those of us with complex lives. Spouses are left home alone to care for young children, dogs have ‘staycations’ at local kennels, untended gardens wilt, and family reunions are postponed. We miss barbeques with friends, long-awaited weddings, baby showers, or, occasionally, our first yak calves being born (a story for another time). But when the sea and science call, we all pack up and head out, armed with our sampling equipment, computers, phones, Go-Pro cameras, head phones, chocolate, bean bag chairs, meclizine, dark roasted coffee, gluten free protein bars, marine-themed stuffed beanies (what?), a musical soundtrack or two, a deep supply of T-shirts, and gallons of sunscreen.

Being at sea brings a complex of emotions and experiences. Witnessing and employing cutting-edge technology can inspire awe of how quickly science advances. Yet at other times, our journey seems to only echo the romantic voyages of generations past, when our ancestors set out to chase their dreams of treasure, new lands, opportunities, and adventures. Venturing out onto the high seas today, we hope to eventually return to our everyday lives not only more knowledgeable and experienced, but also invigorated and more than a little salty. Ahoy, matey!

1 The Owl and the Pussy Cat, a poem by Edward Lear, 1871