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Walvis Ridge MV1203 Expedition

Daily Report 1 -- Friday, 24 February 2012 -- Time and Space at Sea


People who have never been at sea for long periods of time wonder if you get tired of looking at the ocean all the time and being in such a small space with the same people for so long. The truth is that our perceptions of time and space change when at sea.

The Melville is 84 m long and 13.8 m wide. It has 5 decks: the Hold, the Main Deck with most of the state rooms, the Science Deck with the main lab and galley, the 01 Deck with the upper lab and library, the 02 Deck with the exercise room, chief-scientist's room, and captain's room, and the 1st Platform with the bridge and chart room. There are 16 scientists, 3 science support crew and 23 crew members on board, for a total of 42 people.

Sharing such a small ship with so many people means that there is not a lot of private space. However, on this cruise we are lucky enough to all have our own state rooms, since we do not have a full science team. Being surrounded by the ocean also becomes normal after a few days. Once you stop expecting to see land, your eyes no longer look for it. Instead you start to focus on the changes in the ocean: wave heights, whitecaps, schools of fish, passing pods of whales, changes in the rocking of the ship as it turns and is hit by waves and swells from a different direction.

Time also becomes less important on a ship that operates on a 24-hour schedule. There are three watches: the evening watch (5pm to 1am), the night watch (1am to 9am), and the day watch (9am to 5pm). Depending on your watch you may sleep during the morning, the night, or the day. Meals are held at regular times (7:30am for breakfast, 11:30am for lunch, and 5:00pm for dinner). The vocabulary you use to describe time changes based on your watch. For example, for someone starting a shift at 1am, a dredge on the previous shift was 'yesterday', whereas a person on the previous shift would describe it as 'today' because their day is just ending. You start to lose track of the days of the week. The only thing to remind you that time has gone by is the weekly emergency drill on Sunday.

The best answer to the question of time and space though, is that life at sea is not like life on land. You tend to work much longer and on more urgent tasks than on land. When dredging we are all so busy that we don't have time to feel bored or trapped. We work our shifts, watch the sun set or rise, sleep, eat, and then begin the cycle again. So far we haven't started to imagine land on the horizon and everyone seems satisfied with taking an endless ride on the exercise bicycle rather than a real bicycle tour. We still have 5 weeks remaining though, so maybe this will all change by Week 7!

Susan Schnur