ALIA Expedition
Interview with Bryon Wilson -- Captain of the R/V Kilo Moana

How did you come to be Captain of the R/V Kilo Moana?

I started out on boats as a fisherman in Alaska working on small trawlers. Then I transferred over to be an ordinary seaman on a large factory trawler, but as an AB (able bodied seaman) is better than an ordinary seaman, and 2nd mate is better than 3rd mate, I worked my way up, and eventually became a captain, which is "the best job on the boat." I have been working at sea for 20 years, oceanography for 5 years, and was a marine biologist previous to being a sailor.

What qualities are required to be a good captain?

Patience. Others too though, such as relying on the good qualities of the crew, so that they can do their jobs, and the work which is required to run a ship. Another part of being captain is to oversee people’s jobs, not micro-managing them, so that they have enough freedom to do what they have to do, but as captain, I am ultimately responsible, and oversee all that goes on.

Why do you like being on a research vessel?

Being on a modern research vessel is reminiscent of how the merchant marine used to be, there is much more variety than in the commercial fleet. Instead of carrying cargo from point A to point B and then reversing and repeating the course endlessly, you get to visit different places so that there’s always something new to see and experience; it never gets boring.

Do scientists every make unreasonable requests of the ship?

Yes. Frequently of the dynamic positioning system, that is the system which uses the GPS to hold the ship in place, however it cannot do so against strong winds or currents, when not pointed in the correct direction, and sometimes the conditions are beyond the DPS’s ability. A big part of the job is figuring out what will satisfy the scientists who are chartering the boat, and what is feasible.

Did you initially like the twin hull and unique design of the Kilo Moana?

At first I was hesitant, because it handles differently than a mono-hulled ship, and I had never been on a twin-hulled ship before, much less been captain of one. Maintaining trim, to keep the ship level, on the Kilo Moana is a bigger challenge than on a mono-hull, which we accomplish by pumping seawater in and out of the several ballast tanks in each hull, so that the weight balances out the ship. It took about 3 to 4 months initially to become in tune with the ship’s sounds and become one with the ship’s normal operating noises (In the middle of the interview, there was an “unusual” sound, which made the captain’s spider sense tingle. According to the captain it "turned out to be a minor problem with one of the ship's four generators which was quickly corrected by the ship's engineers.").

Have you ever encountered pirates?

Not per say, but there were some very small fishing boats around New Guinea, who came in ducking under the radar, and claimed to be merely fishing, but since they came up close to the ship unannounced in the middle of the night, we had all the spotlights on them, and the crew out on deck to make sure no one sneaked aboard, or did anything to endanger the Kilo Moana.


Ryan Delaney onboard the R/V Kilo Moana.
26 April, 2005


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