I knew thee, a little bit. So I was a little sad when I got a notice that after 500 voyages, the Oceanus is being retired from the US oceanographic fleet. It’s actually owned by the National Science Foundation, but after 36 years, the powers that be decided it was time for retirement.
Yes, in March, 1997, I spent two weeks on the Oceanus as an onboard journalist and deck hand (on a 177-foot long boat, there are no free rides, everybody works), on its 300th voyage, with Dr. Peter Wiebe as chief scientist. We cruised to Georges Bank and back as part of the US Globec Georges Bank program.The researchers — Peter Wiebe, David Mountain and David Townsend, were trying to figure out the population dynamics of cod and haddock and how this related to these little zooplankton, Calanus and Pseudocalanus. An interesting scientific question, but also on of great interest to local fishermen, who at the time were on year three of a series of restrictions and fishing grounds closures, including for Georges Bank.
Here’s a video tribute, from Woods Hole: Farewell Oceanus
And here’s what it looks like staring down at the deck were we deployed all our equipment and nets:
We worked 8-12 and then 4 to midnight every day (this is known as the “day” shift”) deploying the MOC 10, this gigantic series of 10 meter squared nets that each opened at a specific depth, Bongo nets, CTD measurments, and Reeve nets. We did a lot of hauling things up and down, dumping cod ends of nets into buckets so that the contents could be pickled and examined at a later day, and then we had to rinse everything. Wet, grueling work, but fascinating.
We actually did have one pretty big storm where we had to heave to, as they say, and the bosun, a tight lipped fellow named Jeff Stolp, literally went around the entire ship and closed the portholes and tightened down the thumbscrews — yep, battening down the hatches!
I should probably write a followup to this research — I just dug out my three reporters notebooks, filled with very detailed notes — but since they were in the thick of things during the cruise they didn’t really have any findings.
For me, the cruise was an important peek into this mysterious world of oceanographic research. I got a sense of the difficulties that oceanographers face in trying to tell us something about what is happening in the ocean. It is incredibly hard physical labor collecting tons and tons of data, but when you look at the immensity of the problem which were never enough even though it seemed like there was so much.
Thanks, Oceanus and Woods Hole, for cruise #300 — an experience of a lifetime.