“At some level, they’re alive, aren’t they?” the chief engineer mused. “That’s why we name them.” Sabrina had been chief on the RV Oceanus for only a few months, but presiding over the final “finished with engines” call from the bridge for a tidy, sturdy trooper of a research vessel was a bittersweet experience. “She’s a good ship. I think she’s got some years left in her.” Sabrina said.
But the Oceanus has been cruising the waters off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts for 45 years, completing scientific missions and gathering data that has led to any number of published papers and new discoveries. But her time had come. Her systems were tired and dated, and the expense of keeping her running began to outweigh the benefit, or so it had been determined.
I had the privilege of joining the researchers for this final cruise to capture stories and document the voyage. We chugged out into churning November swells and proceeded to Heceta Bank near the edge of the continental shelf, one of the most productive areas off the West Coast. And despite being tossed about by high seas, we still were greeted with views of wildlife and a several sublime sunsets.
The experience left me humbled, as always, by the chance to hang out with wicked-smart scientists and students, the incredibly gracious and hardworking crew and the awesome might and fragility of the natural world. When you’re bobbing like a cork inside of 200 feet of steel while the wind and waves lash the portholes, you feel that the see is boundless. But the data show us otherwise. They tell us that the sea is changing, that the waters are starved of oxygen, that the creatures that inhabit it face unprecedented struggles. If I’m thankful for anything, it’s the chance to stand on the edge of the unknown.
What’s my ticket to this behind-the-scenes glimpse of an opaque world? It’s a bag of camera gear, a subscription to Adobe Premiere and the ability to cobble together a cohesive sentencer or two. While it sometimes feels like stealing, I know I’ll pay it back in long hours in the edit room, in redlines, midnight oil and a lack of any sort of normal routine of a life. I may make a living as a thief of other people’s stories, but it’s a living I’ll never take for granted.