Holidays on the High Seas
Academic vessels operate throughout the year, and research cruises are scheduled during seasons when the weather is good enough for scientific operations. I am lucky to have research targets in tropical latitudes; the downside is that cruises to these regions are often scheduled when the weather is poor at higher latitude – in this case, smack during the holidays.
With round-the-clock shifts, there are precious opportunities for Santa to slip onto a research ship unseen. But slip in he did, leaving treats and gifts around the R.V. Langseth to brighten our day. In the main science lab, the midnight shift’s usual stash of Starbursts and Sour-Patch Kids expanded into a orgy of Pringles, summer sausage and pepperjack cheese, chocolate-covered Pretzels, and a six-pound bag of Gummy Bears. My Charlie-Brown Christmas tree suddenly blossomed with ornaments, from simple paper snowflake cut-outs to handmade fish spun from copper wire snagged from the electrician’s shop. Beautiful paper wreathes appeared on several cabin doors. Over in the OBS lab, Santa delivered a set of pop guns with rubber darts; after briefly considering storming the bridge, the boys entertained themselves with target practice while retrieving the last instrument.
Christmas dawn broke slightly cloudy as we steamed into our last task of the experiment, checking on the status of one of the instruments that we will leave in place for a year. As we finished this task, the sun burst through into a brilliant blue sky — certainly not a white Christmas, but welcome nonetheless. The scientific party and crew mustered outside for the requisite cruise photo, bedecked in holiday cheer. It was time to turn for home.
The festivities of the day were tempered by a degree of melancholy at the thought of loved ones back at home, enjoying their own holidays in our absence. The Lamont Marine Office opened up the satellite phone lines, giving everyone a 15-min phone call, and the chatter from those calls resonated through the ship. As scientists, we have been given a remarkable opportunity to explore our planet and unravel its mysteries. Making that happen requires hard work and sacrifice – from the talented crew around us, from our families back home, and from ourselves. We are truly thankful for that opportunity.