Thursday, May 5, 2016

Of Sea and Space

6 May 2016
I would like to ask you a question, dear reader: Would you ever like to travel to outer space?

For myself, I have always figured the answer to that question is a flat “no”. After all, space is big and cold and wants me dead. Not to mention that in leaving the planet you are accepting the fact that you will be cooped up in some small space shuttle with limited human contact and no means of leaving your living enclosure lest you perish alone in the void.

I bring this up because at least on a number of superficial levels life on a ship is not too different. For all intents and purposes, right now the R/V Roger Revelle is not only my home, it is my entire world. We’re not completely isolated, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to create this post, but we are pretty close. Were I to choose to leave the vessel, there would probably be little waiting for me now other than a slow, lonely death in the sea.

In the picture to the right, there are three life lines along the stern of the ship to keep people from falling off. Can you see them? Credit for the photo goes to James Holmes.

A man overboard is no joke. Right now the ship is steaming ahead at 13 knots, which translates out to about 6.7 meters (or ~20 ft) per second. You are not going to be able to keep up with that, and if no one sees you fall off the deck it could take a while before anyone realizes you’re missing. Even if you are wearing a life vest, chances are the seawater is colder than your body temperature, so hypothermia becomes a real danger. At that point, it may take a minor miracle for the crew to come to your rescue. The take home point is to try to stay in pairs on the deck, especially when you go out to the edge. Hard hats and life vests are also required if you are doing any work out there.

In fact, safety in general is a major concern. If a fire or something were to break out on board, it would be everyone’s problem, which is why we review the safety protocols at the beginning of the cruise and at regular intervals during longer voyages. If that alarm bell goes off, you immediately drop everything and muster to your station, no questions asked.

This post is perhaps a little more grim than previous ones, but I do feel it is important to write about the types of risks we have to be prepared to deal with. They are something rather different compared to
the daily risks a person might encounter on land, and something that anyone who will spend an extended time at sea must be prepared to live with. On the flip side, the view of the ocean from the deck is spectacular, especially if you can catch the sunrise or sunset. I imagine the view of Earth from a shuttle would probably be similar.

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