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Saturday, August 10, 2019

24 hours through the eyes of The Night Crew!

Making sure that a marine science operation runs continuously 24 hours a day requires a small team prepared to flip their usual day schedule around!

By Massimo Bellucci

Welcome to The Night Crew  It's 02:00 in the middle of the ocean, and our seismic and science team are being fuelled by Sour Patch Kids and Cribbage.

So what does 24 hours look like for a night-dwelling science party member?

04:40 - Sam tells me: “Hey Massimo, why don’t you write a blog post on your 24hr day?”. Not enough time to think about my day... and Victoire and Matt arrive for the change shift, it’s 05:00. Time for two words, but then I go straight to sleep.

Usually, I wake up at 12:00, or at least I try, to enjoy the sun by reading a book outside. I take a coffee (the first of many), I meet Sam, who has lunch (actually his “breakfast”), Gilles with a cup of tea, and I get on the bridge deck. Here, I know that I might meet Alistair with his book. Not every day, it depends on the wind direction. The ship’s exhaust can be annoying. It’s nice to find the same people at the same time doing the same things, like when you say good morning to the postman every day. Here is quite different, as you might understand.

My shift starts at 14:00, I go down to the lab and the three hours pass quickly. If you are bored there is a competition for anything, from cribbage to ping-pong or the questions of the day (like the country that won the last table tennis Olympics. Yes, we are addicted to ping-pong!). I have noticed that people take challenges seriously around here. The main task during our shift is to check the acquisition of multibeam and chirp. Furthermore, in case of need, we give support to the doodlebugger team (see Shaun’s post) in deck operations. Usually we only help them with streamers and birds; I don’t think there are “gunners” born between us, except for Shelby and Brian, they actually are, but they don’t know it. In those cases, we are outside, in the middle of the night, sunrise approaching, taking care of “our” beloved birds and there is no better place to be.

When everything it’s apparently quiet, we try to take advantage of the PI’s experience and all the processing software available in the four computer workstations. Personally, I am spending time using seismic processing and interpretation software, which are useful for my thesis project. But it’s interesting to spend time with members of science crew working on topics other than yours,such as geochemistry. There is a lot to learn in the ship and every moment is useful.

17:00 is workout time at the gym. The ambience is cosy. Adrien throws the glove for the challenge on the row-machine but the real task is to run on the treadmill without hands, it is more dangerous than the wingsuit. I have only seen the captain make it...

Shower and dinner, which is actually my lunch. Yes, dinner at 18:15. It is late and only leftovers remain, the kitchen closes at 18:00. We have discovered that English people are not disturbed by this time, but it’s crazy for an Italian!! From 19:00 I take free time, which means... relax. I take a nap, I read a book, make public relations, games, everything that relaxes your brain. Around 21:00 there is the attempt to sight the sunset, but here we are quite north; the weather is not always mild. There is the possibility to watch a movie: the room is fantastic, the sofas comfortable, quality of the system excellent, a wide selection of films / TV series, popcorn available in the mess but a constant background noise (similar to a lawnmower) does not allow you to fully appreciate Ennio Morricone’s soundtracks. Sad!

At about 22:00 I go down to the laboratory again. Around 23:50 Sam launches the call to arms for “midnight meal”, which is actually our dinner. The best meal for me. The environment is familiar, without line and we also stay 50 minutes sitting, with spicy coffee and fried chicken. We all go back together in the laboratory and this is our most productive time... at 01:00!! I’m trying to work on my project, and by 02:00, Shelby shows up, which means our shift starts again until 05:00. I note that she has just woken up(!) and that her morning begins even though we’re on the same “shift cycle”. It's amazing how the ship is a 24h non-stop. There is no specific scheduled time to relax, to work, to sleep or to deploy streamers.

The arrival of Steffen at 04:00 is the signal that only one hour is left at the end of the shift and his morning freshness allows us to survive until 05:00. They look like the 24 hours of a classic winter Monday, but the small details during your day that make this a special place. And there is no place so far from the routine as a research ship, especially working in the night shift.... 

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