Stormy Seas and Starry Nights 12/13/2012: Noura Randle

Jordan Young and Laura Spencer taking in the surreal flat seascape.

After enjoying several days sampling in the southern edge of U.S. waters, we headed north sampling one the longest transects so far on the trip. The weather in the southern edge was tranquil with water so smooth it looked surreal. Using the CTD we determined visibility at 35m with crystal blue water as far as the eye could see. However, as this cruise was for research and not pleasure, we turned around toward unsampled territory and headed into less than ideal conditions.

The WHOI CTD starting its descent into clear water

Nonexistent swells turned into 2-3ft swells in one shift and then 3-5ft swells for our following shift, meaning I was about eye level with some of the wave crests as I stood out on deck. The 11th was probably the most miserable day of sampling we had so far. After pulling the CTD on board we secured it, put the boards back up to complete the deckside and then start sampling.

Storm edge at sea.

As a courtesy, our captain Max continued on at half speed while we sampled in order to not lose precious time and unfortunately for us, our heading was straight into the wind. This meant that the rain was being blown into our faces with the occasional wave washing over the deck. All this added to the experience of sampling 4°C water – cold enough to hurt as you let the bottle overflow for 30 seconds. Although trying, it was not impossible and validated my procurement of waterproof gear.

Sleeping that night proved interesting as my berth is close to the bow  which meant I got to experience a lot of the vertical motion. The bow would catch air as it went over the crest of wave and for quiet moment it was if I was levitating in my bunk feeling completely weightless down to my toes. The next morning the storm had passed, and although the air was still crisp, the wind had died down a bit and the clouds had broken to reveal a clear sky.

Night sky and sea.

The last 3 hours of our shift we got a break as the next station was a 4 hour steam away. Jordan and I took the time to play cards while Laura went to visit the bow. A few minutes later she returned excited about witnessing bioluminescence and without much effort convinced Jordan and I to go outside with her. Stumbling up the bridge and out on to the bow, Laura was excellent at guiding us around obstacles as we waited for our eyes to adjust. Peeking over the side we could see the little green sparks generated by the hull slicing through the water. Its amazing to think that tiny single celled dinoflagellates are responsible for creating this phenomenon of riding on fairy dust.

There can never too many photos of sunset at sea.

The sky was so clear, and though surrounded by lit rigs, we could clearly see the Milky Way arching over our heads and meteorites streaking across the sky in a celestial fireworks show. Though it was cold, and I was not wearing as many layers as I would have liked for this outing, I was transfixed. We ended up going on to the O-2 deck (highest deck we are allowed access) to watch the stars.

Laura and I stayed out the longest, reminiscing over past stargazing moments. Laura remembered lying out on her trampoline in her the backyard with high school friends and I thought back on the first time I really saw the Milky Way riding in an open safari vehicle through a wildlife park in Tanzania. Anne Lovely finally finished running samples and chose to join us, almost not believing we’d still be out after 3 hours. Eventually the cold won out and we retired to our bunks. Though it seems like getting 12 hours off each day is long time, you end up easily sleeping away 10 of those hours.