July 13th, 2017
I never expected to do this, but sometimes you have to tell your boss “no,” even if the boss is an expedition leader aboard a ship miles from shore in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The truth is, though, most of the time you’re on board a ship, you’re saying “yes,” and to just about everything.
I happened to be just such a position one day on the top deck of E/V Nautilus. It had been two days since we left port, and we were feeling a bit more pressure as we prepared to stream video live from the ship to the National Geographic Channel as part of the EarthLive broadcast.
I had already settled into the daily rhythm of the expedition when Samantha Wishnak, Digital Media Coordinator for the Ocean Exploration Trust (which owns the Nautilus), asked me a favor.
“Can you come up to the top deck and make sure no one enters the control van during rehearsal for the Nat Geo show?”
“No problem,” I said. “So you want me to be a bouncer?”
“Yeah, something like that,” she replied. She handed me a walkie-talkie and disappeared. I remember thinking, “Okay, so now I’m a security guard.”
When you’re aboard the Nautilus, it quickly becomes clear that you’re expected to do things you might not have planned on. It’s also clear that everyone else aboard the ship also is more than willing to do those unexpected things
As one example, on our first day, Lead Science Communication Fellow Amy Fleischer and I stepped out of the broadcast studio and into the middle of a bucket brigade in the hallway.
They were shuttling provisions onto the ship, what the people there call “bringing on stores.” We quickly joined in.
And there were plenty of stores to be brought aboard. Trust me, no one will go hungry on this trip! We were all chatting and joking about the food, even ice cream, and it was a great way for us all to bond even before the Nautilus departed from its offices on AltaSea’s docks in the Port of Los Angeles.
Another time I aided the team from the University of New Hampshire with their Autonomous Surface Vessel.
The vessel has been acquiring excellent shallow-water mapping data, which the team will use to guide follow-up dives with the Nautilus undersea submersibles Hercules and Argus.
The team was having problems at one site, where giant beds of undersea kept kept entangling the ASV, rendering it inoperable.
I happened to be on the back deck watching the ASV when navigator Gene Douglas asked if I could help him with the ASV. It was another chance to say yes to an unexpected new task.
I jumped in our Zodiac– an inflatable quick-response boat – with Gene, ROV Engineering Intern Everett Collins, Video Engineer Emily Ballard, crewmember Fedir, and 3rd Officer Martyna Graban, who piloted.
We pulled up along the ASV in bumpy seas and I helped Gene stabilize the mapping vessel while he freed the propeller from the kelp. Although we banged against it a few times, we were able to safely free the ASV so it could continue mapping.
Technically, my role on the Nautilus is as a Science Communication Fellow. You can bet I never foresaw a robo-rescue on the open seas as part of my job.
This brings me back to my bouncer duties outside the control van.
Samantha had asked me to stop people from entering during filming. After two hours and no interlopers, I figured this was one easy job. Then I saw Nicole Raineault, our expedition leader, coming up the steps, and began to second-guess whether Samantha actually meant “everybody” included Nicole too.
Up to that point, I had only spoken to Nicole once, momentarily, while handing her my passport. Now I was blocking her way. You may be able to imagine how awkward I felt.
And of course, Samantha wasn’t available to clarify, so I had to make an executive decision that no, she couldn’t go in quite yet. It was a bizarre feeling, as one of the newest members of the team, to tell one of its most senior what to do.
It was particularly odd because I was blocking her from the control van, the hub for the expedition she was running. It turned out fine, however, and I was soon at ease as we chatted and I confessed my momentary anxiety. That helped break the ice.
We stood on the top deck shared stories, and joked with one another. What began as a peculiar moment quickly became another bonding experience for me as I continued to settle into the experience of working on the Nautilus crew. Sometimes “no” can feel like “yes” as a situation unfolds.
Throughout this expedition, I have kept a lookout for opportunities to contribute, ways to feel like I was making positive changes, however small, on the ship.
I found one such chance with guidebooks OET provided to identify ocean species.
I started using Post-It notes to flag pages showing the many invertebrates, fish and marine mammals we were finding.
The books quickly became festooned with dozens of tabs. It was clear this could be a good tool for watchstanders to quickly confirm a species, and to anticipate what we might soon encounter.
Samantha and Amy encouraged me to continue, noting this would help the team when speaking to the public and on our live ship-to-shore broadcast to museums, schools, and community groups.
I went on to build a star wheel for the crew to help identify the beautiful constellations and stars overhead as we traverse the ocean.
These are examples of this kind of proactive mindset you can find everywhere on the Nautilus. Every member of the Corps of Exploration is here to support and inspire everyone else. We are all here to explore, conduct science, and share our discoveries with the world. We are all here to share in the hard work and have a blast doing it.
We know our explorations must continue into the distant future. Less than 20 percent of the ocean floor around the world has been mapped. Even less (under 5 percent) has actually been seen.
There are still countless discoveries to be made. Perhaps one day you might be the one helping explore the oceans, doing the unexpected, the things you’ve never done before, the things you never thought you would. Best of all, maybe you’ll be the one, like me, who’s doing it with amazing people, and doing it with a smile.
Please join all of us here on E/V Nautilus during this expedition. Be part of the discoveries throughout this season (24/7 exploration until the end of November). Follow the adventure on social media on Facebook and Instagram as NautilusLive and on Twitter as @EVNautilus. Send in your questions and comments you will hear us discuss them live all by visiting www.nautiluslive.org.