Eyewitness Accounts

The following quotes provide a glimpse of the ups and downs of life aboard a scientific research vessel. To learn more about the crew and science technicians that work aboard the Weatherbird II, visit our crew and technician profile pages!

What is it like being on a research cruise?asublift
Steven Bell (BATS Technician): "It depends on the weather. When conditions are good (i.e., flat seas, little wind) the work proceeds according to plan and little strain is put on people or ship's gear so there is little to do except follow the cruise schedule. When conditions are rough it's tiring both physically and mentally. Physically you are using a lot of energy just to keep balance. Many people are often seasick on cruises so it is doubly bad for them as they can't eat and still have to work. Mentally, rough conditions are tiring as well as sometimes you have to rearrange the cruise schedule if conditions seem too dangerous to do particular tasks. Also you worry about the well-being and safety of both the ship's and scientific crew."

Robert Chadwell (Weatherbird II Captain): "It's like getting to spend five straight days with your favorite teacher. When you love the sea as much as I do, it's a treat to be able to contribute and learn while working. The work we do at BATS doesn't help just one person, one village, one ecosystem, or one species of animal; the work helps solve problems for the entire planet. I feel fortunate to be a part of the solution."

Martina Haines (Weatherbird II cook):  "Life at sea is a unique experience. It is an escape from the real world. You have to spend 5 days with the same people in a small space. Life is very routine and can get boring if you let it."

Shawn Lake (Able-Bodied Seaman aboard the Weatherbird II): "You try to stay busy as every part of ship life becomes routine and peaceful. Unless the seas are heavy, then you read a lot."

Mike Parks (Weatherbird II First Mate): "That depends on the weather. Some days it's like a birthday party and some days it's like detention."Sunset

Keven Neely (BATS Technician): "This is a very difficult question to answer. Sometimes it is the greatest thing in the world.  Other times it is long and hard. The weather plays a very important role in ship life. Work can be very dangerous when the weather is rough. You have to remember in order to work you have to be outside on deck.  If the waves are big and the water cold it makes for a tough day. On the other hand, when the weather is clear and you get to see whales and other marine creatures the days are wonderful."

What is your favorite part about being at sea?
Lore Ayoub (BATS Technician):  "I especially like the camaraderie with my colleagues and the ship's crew.  We are very lucky to have supportive sea-going people.  I also enjoy looking at the zooplankton we collect on the net tows.  The feeling of accomplishment at the end of a successful cruise is rewarding."

Fred Bahr (BATS Technician):  "Calm days with beautiful sunsets and being out of contact with the lab.  Being on a regular schedule on a ship and doing your work, with a nice sea.  Blue water swimming when we were able to do it."

Steven Bell (BATS Technician): "I get a chance to read a lot as it takes 6 1/2 hours to get to the BATS site and there's little else to do enroute."

Robert Chadwell (Weatherbird II Captain): "The chance encounters with sea-life—large and small. One moment you're observing a pod of sperm whales and next you're looking through a microscope at the most fascinating creatures. Hollywood aliens are tame compared to what I've seen under a microscope."

Martina Haines (Weatherbird II cook): "At sea I get to do my favorite thing all day—cook! And I can sit on deck in the sun and read or knit socks. I love to wake up and peek out my porthole and see only water. It is neat to be part of a small community where we all are working toward a goal."RobEating

Shawn Lake (Able-Bodied Seaman aboard the Weatherbird II): "The fresh air and low stress."

Julian Mitchell (BATS Technician):  "Anticipating my return."

Keven Neely (BATS Technician): "I love the ocean when the weather is nice and the water is warm. I can sit on deck during my breaks and read or just watch the ocean. The sound of the ship sliding through the water is very soothing."

Mark Otero (BATS Technician):  "All of the free food is great.  My favorite part must be all of the things you get a chance to see, though.  At sea, you can look 360 degrees around and see nothing but water.  It really puts the size of the ocean into perspective.  Sunrises, sunsets, and stargazing are favorites of mine.  Occasionally, you also get to see a great thunderstorm off in the distance.  Whales and/or dolphins sometimes make an appearance too.  Watching bioluminescence off the bow wake is always fun.  There are all kinds of things at sea that you just don't get to see anywhere else.  And pictures won't do justice!"

Mike Parks (Weatherbird II First Mate): "The food is quite good on the WB II. We usually dine on fresh fish and vegetables with the occasional steak dinner."

Cathy Rathbun (BATS Technician):  "Anytime we see something new or different is always fun.  I also really like it when we are able to see animals of any type (I love the flying fish we see frequently on the way to the BATS site)."

What is the strangest or most exciting experience you've had?
Lore Ayoub (BATS Technician):  "One day we saw a couple of pilot whales swimming near our ship.  It's also neat when a giant squid follows us at night when we occasionally need to shine a light in the water – it hunts for food then."

Fred Bahr (BATS Technician):  "The strangest or most exciting experience was being at sea during a westerly wind burst over the Warm Pool of the Pacific near Christmas.  The seas became very rough and the weather was nasty, but it was an event we were hoping to catch.  Also, seeing a large manta ray off  Bermuda.  Seeing vast pods of dolphins in the Pacific.  Blue water swimming over the Marianas Trench."

Steven Bell (BATS Technician): "Being on an ice-breaker while working in Tasmania. I used to like going right up to the front of the ship to watch it plough through the sea ice. After miles the ice in front of the ship would get so compacted that the ship would have to back up about 100 metres then go to the ice at full speed. It would then slide up the ice and the weight of the ship would break the ice and off we'd go again. I also used to really like going up in helicopters over the sea ice. Another time we decided to have a barbecue on the sea ice. We had to abandon it after half an hour because the beverages started to freeze."

 Robert Chadwell (Weatherbird II Captain): "While working aboard a tugboat off Miami early in 1999, a fishing boat transmitted a "MAYDAY" call on the radio and said they were sinking. Since we were the closest vessel and actually watched the boat sink on the horizon, I coordinated the rescue via the marine radio. By the time the fishermen were rescued, one U.S. Coast Guard jet, three helicopters, and three U.S. Coast Guard cutters were on the scene."

MartinaCookMartina Haines (Weatherbird II cook): "While flipping the chicken over on the grill, my hand left the grasp of the plate of cooked meat for a half second. The ship suddenly rolled, and the pan of chicken was fed to the fish. I screamed very loudly knowing that that doesn't happen on stable land."

Shawn Lake (Able-Bodied Seaman aboard the Weatherbird II): "Sighting sperm whales."

Julian Mitchell (BATS Technician):  "On one seemingly surreal occasion, the sea was absolutely calm and there was not a puff of wind whilst the ship sat on station.  It really felt as though we were becalmed like ancient mariners.  As if this wasn't enough, it wasn't long before a pod of porpoises surfaced within yards of the vessel and eyeballed us for a good 15 minutes.  This was fantastic, but the ripples they produced were enough to make the Weatherbird II roll!"

Keven Neely (BATS Technician): "The most exciting experience was a passage through the Bering Straits. When we entered the Straits the ship was in 40-knot winds and 20-foot seas. By the time we cleared the Straits the ship was in 40-foot seas and 60-knot winds. Also during this transit the windows on the bridge blew out and two of the ship's winches were lost. While the crew fought the storm the science team stayed in the mess hall lying on the floor. It was so rough that one could not sit in a chair without being thrown across the room. Sometime it can get a little scary out on the water. But a good ship and crew makes all the difference."

Mark Otero (BATS Technician):  "Most exciting experience so far… must have been when I discovered the chocolate syrup in the `fridge."

Mike Parks (Weatherbird II First Mate): "I once worked on a vessel that almost sank. We floundered on a ledge while sea smashed against us continually. It wasn't very strange but it sure was exciting."

Cathy Rathbun (BATS Technician):  "We saw the Hale-Bopp comet on a perfectly clear and completely calm night.  We were actually able to see the comet reflected in the surface of the ocean.  It made it almost worth being up and working at 4 am.  Also, once in the Pacific Ocean, a pod of dolphins came up to the ship as we arrived on station.  They hung around the ship the whole time we were sampling.  We could see them diving down to look at our equipment and hanging out at the surface to watch us.  Once we finished sampling and started to move again, they all dashed up to the front of the ship to ride the bow wave."

What is the hardest thing about going to sea?
Lore Ayoub (BATS Technician):  "The hardest thing is the small space and the engine fumes.  I don't get seasick very much, so storms are more exciting than bothersome, except that they may cause delays in our work."

Fred Bahr (BATS Technician):  "Being seasick.  Being away from family."

ShowerInHeadSteven Bell (BATS Technician): "Having a shower in rough conditions."

Robert Chadwell (Weatherbird II Captain): "When the seas get rough it can be quite miserable, even for those who don't get seasick."

Martina Haines (Weatherbird II cook): "Being seasick and living in a confined place, not being able to go for a walk and get some exercise."

Shawn Lake (Able-Bodied Seaman aboard the Weatherbird II): "Missing family and friends."

Julian Mitchell (BATS Technician):  "Going on a cruise can be rather disruptive at times.  If the weather delays the departure of a cruise, or work during a cruise, then you are unable to plan things for the weekends—or conversely, if you have planned things, then alternative arrangements have to be made.  Sometimes it can feel as though you are on call."

Keven Neely (BATS Technician): "The hardest thing about going to sea is leaving your loved ones at home. The rule of thumb is that while you're at sea anything at home that can break down will. This puts a lot of responsibility on my wife. She has to be Mom, Dad, plumber, mechanic, and doctor. It can be very hard on the family."

Mark Otero (BATS Technician):  "Getting used to losing all of your personal space except for your bed.  Having to live in a room that is always dark because someone is sleeping.  Living at work for a week straight."

Mike Parks (Weatherbird II First Mate): "The hardest part about going to sea is being away from my family for such long periods of time."

Cathy Rathbun (BATS Technician):  "Getting seasick. ‘Nuff said."

What about going to sea took you the longest to get used to?
Lore Ayoub (BATS Technician):  "The feeling of being so far from society.  This can also be a good thing, a reason why so many people love to have sailboats and travel across the ocean."

Fred Bahr (BATS Technician):  "Taking a shower in foul weather."

Steven Bell (BATS Technician): "Being in a confined space."

Robert Chadwell (Weatherbird II Captain): "The weird hours. Typically, at least one member of the science party is working at any given hour and the crew works 24 hours a day in six-hour shifts."

Martina Haines (Weatherbird II cook): "Surviving the seasickness and the lethargic feeling that the ship causes has been challenging. My body seems to finally be accustomed. Also most of the time I am the only female on the ship. Growing up with lots of sisters, being here took a lot of adjustment."

Shawn Lake (Able-Bodied Seaman aboard the Weatherbird II): "Getting along with the other "personalities" on board any ship."

asleep in bunkJulian Mitchell (BATS Technician):  "The cramped sleeping arrangements.  If you have to spend much time in your bunk because of bad weather, then it won't be long before you start aching and longing for a decent, uninterrupted sleep!  Moreover, if you're only at the start of a five-day cruise, then you know that it will be some time before you're in the relative luxury of your own bed."

Keven Neely (BATS Technician): "The constant noise of the ship and the changing of the weather. Most working vessels are very noisy due to all the pumps and engines. And you never know what the next morning will be like. Sometimes you get up and the sea is flat and other times you're in a storm. With all this going on sometimes it is very hard to sleep."

Mark Otero (BATS Technician):  "The smell and the motion of the Weatherbird II."

Mike Parks (Weatherbird II First Mate): "The constant pitching and rolling of the ship."

Cathy Rathbun (BATS Technician):  "The realization that if you forget to pack something, it could have dire consequences.  You can't just run out to the corner store and pick up what you've forgotten, so you have to be careful to bring out everything that is needed, or become very good at improvisation.  On one cruise, we had to use ketchup bottles and other containers from the galley because we ran out of sample bottles."


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