Skip navigation

Walvis Ridge MV1203 Expedition

Daily Report 4 -- Saturday, 3 March 2012 -- Letter to a Friend


Hi Greg!!! Hope you're doing well man. I miss the heck out of you. It's really kind of strange going so long with out seeing you and Chuck. How was your birthday? I sent you a message on FB, I'm not sure if I was able to get it through. I am now on a research vessel named R/V Melville some place in the South Atlantic and during the port call I'm having the experience of a lifetime, can't wait to show you the pictures. While I was in South Africa I got to go to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope, it was stunning. I also got to dive with the great whites! It was one of the most insane feelings in the world, three times the shark rammed the cage and was literally inches from my face. We also got to visit a game preserve, which was cool. We got really close to a bunch of animals like the cheetahs (really cool) and a couple baby giraffes.  Unfortunately, the lions were about 50 yards away and lying in the grass, so you could only see part of their heads, the hippos were even further and never broke the water's surface, and we didn't get to see the rhinos at all. Not that it was all disappointing. I got some great pictures I think. Everyone was making fun of my 35mm, just playing of course, but I'm just hoping they turn out well.

On Feb. 11 we departed to do scientific research and sampling on the Walvis Ridge, a chain of extinct hotspot volcanoes, similar to the ones that formed Hawaii. We will be at sea for 49 days. Life on the ship is good, but the tasks are rather repetitive, sometimes boring. I am handling it just well though, we're both used to this kind of monotony. We only work 8-8.5 hours a day and the days are rhythmic and repetitive. I get up at 7:30am, eat breakfast, work for four hours, eat lunch, work for four more hours, eat dinner, work out, read, send a few emails, shower, then in bed by 11:00pm. Repeat, repeat, and repeat. The food and living conditions are much better than I expected. What the galley serves is pretty much the same stuff every day, but with slight variations. But it's hot, freshly made, and there is plenty of it. Way better than anything they ever served us in any military chow hall, that's for sure. The bad news: soon we will run out of fresh fruits, vegetables and meats. So everything will be canned or frozen. The good news: it's still better than anything they ever served us in the military. I have my own room and I share a bathroom and shower with one other person. The room is spacious for what it is and it's good to have some privacy. The boat isn't very big and we are constantly around everyone else. The good news is that I like everyone and we all get along, and if they don't like me they are nice enough to fake it.

The work is simple enough. Most of the time we are surveying. So basically we are mapping the ocean floor. We do this with multibeam sonar (a more advanced form of single beam sonar with far better resolution), we record the magnetic data stored in the ocean floor with a magnetometer, and also use a standard echo sounder. A lot of our time is simply monitoring the equipment to make sure it's functioning properly, and making routine log entries. We are searching for underwater volcanoes called seamounts. We have a pretty good idea where they are from altimetry data collected from a satellite, but often the data is not accurate. We are the first to map, as well as discover, many of them and we are naming them as we go, pretty cool I think. When we find a good location on a seamount we lower a dredge and drag it across the surface. This can take up to eight hours. Since we are dredging in water several miles deep it's a craps shoot. Sometimes we get a bucket of rocks, sometimes we get nothing...and one time the dredge got snagged on the bottom and the chain snapped, leaving our samples and the dredge at the bottom of the ocean. But we have a few backups. When the rocks come up they need to be sawed open, not such an easy task on a rocking boat, then described, categorized and packed for shipping back home. Once stateside the rocks will be further analyzed using equipment that we don't have on the ship. Basic duties include watch standing, sawing rocks (my specialty), multibeam data (ping) editing, and rock describing. We run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and don't have a single day off for the entire 49 days at sea.

All in all I am having the time of my life. It's not always stress free, but I am enjoying the lowest stress levels that I can ever remember. The work is simple and repetitive, but satisfying and I am learning a lot of new stuff about geology and volcanoes. Most of all there isn't anything ever hanging over your head. When you're off of work, you're actually off of work. Nothing concerns me until my shift the next day. It feels great. I'm reading at an extraordinary rate. I've finished five books so far and just started my sixth last night.

Anyways, this letter was much much longer than I intended. It was actually quite relaxing to put all my thoughts in writing. Hope you made it to the end of the letter! Again, Happy Birthday, I miss the heck out of you and I look forward to seeing you in April. Take care!

Joe Hill