Cruising Big Blue ’17: The Life Aquatic

by Annaliese Meyer
13-Jul-2017
60˚ 18.866’ N 171˚ 15.836’ W

1200 hours: We set steam from Dutch Harbor two days ago, and have been making fast headway towards our first station. Dutch Harbor was absolutely breathtaking, astounding, astonishing – my adjectives are woefully inadequate when attempting to describe it. We lapsed into movie comparisons as we sailed through the sunlight that filtered through mist, wrapped ‘round rolling mountaintops. I think the closest we came in terms of comparisons was walking out of the Shire, the Cliffs of Insanity from the Princess Bride, and the song-bound hills of the Sound of Music.

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Hiking up Mount Ballyhoo (credit AllTrails.com)

The evening we pulled into port, we came into town and explored a little, then set about with more detailed exploration the next day. At 7:30 am, too few hours after we had gotten home from the town, a couple of us made a hiking expedition up the Ballyhoo. This hill was host to a few signs that had perplexed us at first – later that day, two men in town explained that the US Coast Guard owned the signs, so whenever ships came into that port, they would repaint a sign with their ship’s name. We tried to rally a few artistic souls to leave our mark on the hillside, to no avail.

We discovered that these fellows were following a similar route to us, laying fibre optic cables around the coast of Alaska. Apparently these two are self-described seamen for hire, and had just returned from excavating Spanish Galleons from coral reefs. Sile asked them if it was for archaeological purposes. At this, they scoffed amicably and one said, “Nah, treasure hunting.” Apparently they’ll be in Barrow at the same time we will be there; maybe we’ll run into our Indiana Jones-esque friends once again!

This rest of the day’s adventure involved only minor amounts of climbing rocks, don’t worry. It’s quite the experience, traveling with a cohort of scientists from disciplines – the walk into town alone took much longer than it rightfully should have, as each of us would get distracted by some different aspect of the landscape and excitedly point it out to the others. This is why my SD card currently has several shots of step basalt carving its way through the hillside- Sile giddily pointed them out to me. Once in town, we wandered the local haunts and the tourist traps (aka Safeway – Dutch Harbor is not a tourist town). We had Mexican food for lunch…though we were probably as far as we possibly could get from Mexico, it hit the spot nevertheless.

Last night, I was further indoctrinated into ship life. A week or so again, much shock and chagrin occurred among the scientists and crew upon learning I’d never seen the Wes Anderson film ‘The Life Aquatic’. Apparently it’s required viewing, as despite the fact that none of us religiously wear red hats or have been assaulted by pirates, it’s an accurate representation of SWL [Sir Wilfred Laurier] life (mostly kidding). Sile and I are the interns in this situation, so we’d have to share a Glock. There are no Glocks on board, so we had to put something else into our leg holsters…

That leads me into the next little bit of shenanigans on board. If you’ve read through Saskia’s posts, you might remember she alluded to some sort of ceremony for those who haven’t yet crossed the Arctic Circle – tadpoles, if you will. For those of you out there who will someday cross the Arctic Circle yourselves, I can’t say much more… but I will mention that it involved me on AutoCAD at 22:30, and desperately calling engineering students from home to figure out what file type works in a MakerBot 3D printer… I now have an oddly-shaped object strapped to my leg and am feeling kind of like Laura Croft, Tomb Raider. Unfortunately, the 3D print didn’t work and I had to improvise with plastic bags and a heat gun.

We cross the Arctic Circle in four days, and the round-the-clock science stations start tomorrow. I’ll be helping out with everyone’s sampling where I can, and doing the N2O [nitrous oxide] and CH4 [methane] sampling for a lab at UBC [University of British Columbia], along with a few more radiocesium samples.

I’ve been promised there’s a whole lot more tadpole-baiting and sleep deprivation to come… I may have already made an enemy of Andrew, the EL [electronics] Tech, in the ruthlessness that is these trials. Stay tuned for the dramatic next installment.

Annaliese Meyer is aboard the CCGS Sir Wilfred Laurier as part of InFORM’s annual summer oceanic monitoring program. The ship left Victoria, BC on July 3rd and arrived in Barrow on July 23rd. Read her other posts: I Need to ExploreOut of Sight of Land, Mostly Regarding Food, Caffeine and Bittersweet Farewells

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