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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.... 

Friday, August 9, 2019

Meet the Team! PSO Alejandra Ramos

One of the critical teams on a seismic expedition are the Protected Species Observers who monitor the marine mammals and wildlife around the ship to mitigate their disturbance from acoustic activity. So let's meet PSO Alejandra Ramos from Mérida, México!

A dear friend of mine told me that her company was recruiting people, and she suggested that I could do a good job as a PSO. I sent an application and they called me for an interview. Apparently everything went well because here I am, in the middle of the sea!

Visual watch has to be conducted 30 minutes before the sunrise until 30 minutes after the sunset. You have to collect data such as weather conditions, visibility, wildlife sightings, and seismic operations every hour, and of course you have to keep an eye on the sea, looking for marine mammals or any other protected species (birds and turtles).

I am really new in this business (6 months), I only have been in the North Gulf of Mexico and now here in the North Pacific, which I think is my favorite place so far.

So far, blue whales are my favorite.

The blue whale is not only the biggest animal on Earth nowadays, it is the largest animal ever known to have lived on Earth! They can live up to 100 years!

I believe it is important because, that way, universities and oil companies can perform seismic surveys at the sea without harming species that are sensitive to those operations. Above all, we should keep the planet safe.

What do all of these screens actually mean?!

If you are wondering what we are doing during our shifts (2x 3 hours per day) it can be summarized in one sentence: “We are watching to see if computers are computing well” (Brian, 2019 com. perso. ). 

By Axelle Cap

What can they all possibly mean?!

In fact there are many screens (46!!) grouped on an entire screen wall
located in the lower part of the boat under the air gun deck, and we check if the acquisition is working well. Three teams can be distinguished here: the navigation team, the PSOs and the student team.

So let's break it down:

We, the student team (A), are working by groups of 2 or 3 persons. Our task is to adjust the phase (depth range) of the bathymetry to capture the seafloor depth from the Chirp. The Chirp (32) provides 2D data with accurate data until 10 m depth whereas the multibeam (33/34) provides 3D data (morphology) of the seafloor. We can adjust the incident angle of the multibeam to get greater, or lower, spatial resolution. Every 30 minutes we fill an Excel sheet (35) with various information (location coordinates, depth, shot number, direction and speed of the boat, wind force and direction, wave length, gravity, sea temp, salinity) from screen 19. On screen 33 there are waves curves indicating the heave, pitch and roll of waves (with practice you can also feel it directly when you walk in the boat). Screens 2 and 17 give the navigation direction and information about the boat. Screen 31 corresponds to water temperature according to the depth (only 4°C at 2500 m!). All this information will be used to know the environmental settings at any time of seismic acquisition.

Team A: I can see the seafloor from here!

The navigation team (B) is watching if the air guns and streamers are working properly. That means that when there is a shot every 15 seconds, the streamers receive a signal. They can have up to 4 streamers (line of receivers behind by the boat) to take care of. If there is something wrong with one of them, they launch the alert and then the team start to bring back the air guns and the failing streamer. They can contact the bridge at any time to adjust the navigation plan, depending on the needs of the science party and to fill the gaps of the navigation plan. They can control the birds (modules with wings located on the streamers) depth at distance in order to adjust the depth of the streamers down to 16 meters for our cruise. It is important to keep the streamers at the correct depth otherwise they can be damaged by a too high depth (birds have also a security system in case of issue). Screen 20 (RMS window) gives information about the velocity in the water column and noise proportion in the channels. Screens 7 and 8 give an idea of seismic signal, so if you have informed eyes you can guess shape of the magma chambers or other features.

Team B: Everything looks ship shape and in the right direction

The PSO team (C) is looking for mammals from the outside tower during the day and listening to them during the night using acoustic monitoring. If mammals are communicating, their “voice” can be detected by sonar. If they are too close (less than 1 km) from the boat we have to stop to shoot to not disturb them too much. Screen 45 shows the PSO team live acoustic signals from the water column where they can distinguish the frequency, amplitude and length of an acoustic signal; different mammals produce different sounds. Screen 46 helps them to locate any sources by bearing and distance from the ship. 

Team C: Watching for whales...

Other notable screens and devices:
Did Italy score Massimo?!
  • Camera screens (1/6/9/11): Almost every part of the boat has a camera, and most of the time there is nothing to watch on it, but there are 3 exceptions. (1) When operations on gear are taking place of the desk you can stake if other students are working efficiently and not resting! (2) “pongvision” is surely the most important and diverting one: you can watch a ping-pong match live like in a stadium but comfortably seated and without screams in your ears. (3) It is a long time that you are here in the basement/hold of the boat, so if you want to have an idea of the weather, you can have a look on the screens (S9).

  • News screen (S5): we don’t understand most of the 16 lines of this screen with so many numbers(!) but 2 things are noticeable: (1) you know that we are not shooting (turning or fixing gear) if the 15th line is red, and (2) you can get international news in English and even in French (the French community is well represented on the boat!) on the last line, if you are patient, as the words appear slowly. Newsflashes are really randomly ordered: you can learn important international news in a sentence and the next sentence will learn you that a new mosquito has been discovered in the unknown forest of somewhere unknown in the world.

  • Phone: calls from bridge to the navigation team or if the PSO see a whale from the observation tower.

  • Walky-talky: communications during operations are made by radio, you won’t understand well what is said because of crackling but it seems ok for people used to.
First discussions at the map table
  • The map table: It is here than you can have a look to know where we are. Normally you see a black triangle in the middle of a pack of red lines (shooted lines) and white lines (scheduled lines). Sometimes you see the triangle in middle of nowhere, we are not lost but just fixing the gears and out of the studied area. This table has also many other important roles. It is like the countertop of a pub... but without beers. It is THE place where: (1) Tom brings candies and sweeties every day (the best ones are the pistachios in my mind), (2) the “question of day” is located, and (3) for a week where the Cribbage tournament took place. Here you can see the best Cribbage player of all the pacific battling for the top spot!

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Meet the Doodlebuggers! Wait... what's a Doodlebugger?!

No seismic expedition is possible without it's hard-working Doodlebuggers! One of our own doodlebuggers, Shaun, gives us the full breakdown of seismic life at sea!

By Shaun Shaver
Showing students how to keep track of the streamer deployment

The official Doodlebugger patch
As defined in the Urban Dictionary and edited for this blog: Term for field seismic personnel. Differentiated from a roughneck by their actual coarseness... Doodlebuggers search out oil, natural gas, and other precious commodities the world around by exciting the ground with explosives, drop weights, and more often than not pieces of specialized heavy equipment called vibrators or air guns. They work in the most extreme climates, brave the most dangerous countries, and suffer some of the worst wages in the oil and gas industry. Most importantly, doodlebuggers are renowned for their ability to drink. Doodlebuggers often work in camps in the middle of nowhere, and are rarely seen in their natural environment. Easily identified by their pot bellies and lack of shaving. They tell the BEST stories.... 

Meet Shaun!
Having worked as a Doodlebugger for close to 37 years, I have a pretty good idea of what the job entails and the lifestyle that it creates. 

In reality a Doodlebugger is a hardworking man or woman in the oil and gas industry, either on land or at sea on a seismic vessel. I can’t speak too much about the “Land Crews” but normally they work longer trips in worse environments than the ocean based crews (if the weather is ok).

Marine Doodlebuggers consist of 2 departments; Seismic and Maritime. The Maritime crew; Captain, Officers, Deck Hands, Engineers and last but certainly not least the Cooks and Stewards. Their role is to keep the vessel in “ship-shape” condition and running smoothly and safely. A well fed crew is always a happier crew. One Golden Rule, Never Annoy the Cook!! 

Doodlebuggers Matt, Todd and Josh keep an eye on the deployment off the starboard stern

The seismic crew is led by the Party Chief. He/She is the most senior member and in overall charge of the seismic activity and data quality. They work closely with the on board client reps and the office to ensure that the program is completed within the specifications and delivered on time to the client. As the title would suggest, The Party Chief is also in charge of buying at least a couple of rounds when the crew is back on land. 

Holding down the Navigation Screen Fort in the main lab

The 3 other roles within the seismic crew are all unique in what their responsibilities entail. Let’s start with the Navigation Department. A.k.a. Navigators, Nava-guessers or just Nav for short. Their main job is to keep the vessel “On-Line” as it acquires seismic data. High quality data is useless if we don’t accurately and precisely record where it was collected. They do have other duties, such as survey planning with the Party Chief, processing the navigation data after each seismic line is acquired and keeping their “in-sea” equipment ready for deployment. They are very often assisted by the “gunners.” 

Chris enjoying some quality time with one of the streamers up on deck

The next role is known as the “Observers”, “Obbies” or ACQ department. They work alongside the Navigators in the Instrument Room, Recording Room or Lab as it is called on Research vessels. They are tasked at insuring that the seismic cables and recording systems are capturing the precious seismic data. They are also found on the back deck deploying or recovering the seismic cables.

Josh explains how the air guns work to our science party during the induction

Last but by far not least the Mechanic, Handling Specialist or most commonly known as, “Gunner”, rounds out the list of seismic roles. Gunners are the mechanics, engineers and the “GO TO” seismic crew for just about everyone on the vessel. One of their traits is the ability to, “Improvise, Adapt and Overcome” any mechanical obstacle. Their main role is to maintain the energy source that is being used to obtain the seismic data. They started with dynamite and moved to air guns and vibrators. Land crews still use vibrators today, but they are much larger and mounted to large “Buggies”. Nowadays the air gun is the energy source used in marine seismic. Imagine the biggest air compressor at your local home improvement store. Now, strap a dozen of those together, charge them up and release all that power at once. (WARNING: trying this at home will likely land you in the hospital, and quite possibly the on the news.) Repeat this process every fifteen seconds or so for weeks on end. Needless to say, that activity is rough on the equipment, so things break often. The gunners are also tasked with keeping all the back deck equipment in perfect working order. The list of equipment is too varied and long for this blog. Just believe me when I say they have a lot to do on a large multi-streamer vessel. One last note with regards to the Gunner, never use this job description on any visa application!!! 

If you are interested in more detail and the history of the Doodlebugger please check out these links:

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Shelby shows us the ropes... literally!

I taught the science party how to make rope stretchers for "on-land" fieldwork emergencies!

By Shelby Brandt
A successful stretcher creation for our volunteered "victim" Tanner.

Like me, you’ve probably used some makeshift first aid gear at some point in your life. A cotton ball and tape instead of a band aid, or perhaps some contact solution to clean a wound. However, when living and working in a remote setting, the resources available can demand some creativity from the person providing first aid.

Northern Saskatchewan, Canada. What happens if you're injured out here?!

Picture this; you’re beginning your first field season as a geologist in the beautiful Northern Saskatchewan, Canada. It’s a fly-in fly-out camp only accessible by float plane or helicopter and you’re psyched to spend a summer off grid. One day, you and your assistant are mapping 4km from shore when suddenly, your assistant falls down a shear face. You run to their side and find they are knocked out. After several unresponsive minutes you call an emergency heli to come pick them up. There is no way you can carry them 4km to shore, and the bush is too thick for the helicopter to land where you are, but you don’t worry; you have 100ft of rope in your backpack! 

I worked in Northern Saskatchewan last summer as a senior assistant for the Saskatchewan Geological Survey. My job was to lead a junior assistant through the rocky terrain in order to map the rocks in this virtually unmapped region. In order to prepare us for the potential risks and challenges associated with working in these conditions, we were trained in Wilderness First aid by the Red Cross. During this 3-day course we learned how to make splints out of branches and scrap fabric, how to start fire with a flint stick, and many other unique skills like how to make a stretcher out of rope. 

The recipe for avoiding disaster:

To make your own rope stretcher, first you need 100 ft of rope. Lay the rope zig zag across the floor with each length about 2-3ft. At each corner you tie a knot to make a loop. You continue to zig zag your way down until the pattern is approximately the same length as the injured human, continually making knots with loops at each corner. Then you lay the human on top of your zig zag so the loops stick out by their sides with the loose end of the rope near their feet. You should put some sort of support (like a Sam Splint or board) under their head and cross their arms across their chest. Wrap the rope once around their legs then put the end through the last loop. Continue to zig zag your way back up the body by putting the rope back through the loops on alternating sides of the body.

Once all loops are accounted for, tie a secure knot. At this point, the patient should be rather secure in the net-type stretcher you have just made, however there is no way to lift it. To create a midpoint to lift from, you need to tie the rope near the left shoulder, let out about 4ft of slack, then tie a secure knot at the right shoulder. At the midpoint of the slack, tie another knot with a loop. Repeat this near the knees so you have two triangles with a loop at the top of each. Put the loose end of the rope through these loops and tie a very secure knot. You may also want to put a beaner through the loops for extra support. Now, you have a secure rope stretcher. When the helicopter comes to evacuate the patient, you can throw or pass the loose end of the rope up to the helicopter and they will be able to lift the patient up using your device.

I hope you are never, ever, in this situation where you need this skill. But the next time you need a team bonding activity or cool party trick, I’m sure a homemade rope stretcher will be a big hit.

Meet the Ship's Team! Todd Jensvold - Chief Science Officer

Science-at-sea would not be possible without the hard-working crew and technicians on-board! So let's meet some of them...

Meet Todd Jensvold, our on-board Chief Science Officer. He is the main source and manager of scientific operations on-board the Langseth. Without him and his team, there would be no data for us to collect!

I came offshore as a “seismic helper” in the oilfield industry for Western Geophysical in 1993. My brother, Tony, was working there already and encouraged me to interview with them in Houston. I was just going to do it for a year or two.. that was 26 years ago! My first job offshore was on the Western Hercules in Trinidad. The oilfield gave me the experience and training that I bring to this job for LDEO (Lamont-Doherty) and academia.

I have worked on 13 or 14 different ships through the years. I actually worked on this ship (MGL) around 1995. She was a lot newer and was named the Western Legend back then. She’s been modified quite a bit since then!

This is a tough one. I have visited a lot of places! The last few years have been pretty cool for destinations that included New York, Chile, New Zealand, Greece, Hawaii and Alaska. I would have to say that New Zealand was my favorite place so far. The landscape was breathtaking and the people are so friendly and accommodating. I have also spent a lot of time in Brazil, Norway and India, too.

Traveling to so many places is a wonderful perk. I have enjoyed working with so many interesting characters along the way, as well! LDEO is very cool because we get to work with a completely new Science Party during each unique mission. The scientists and students that make up these cruises are very diverse, enthusiastic and brilliant. We often have five or six nationalities represented on each cruise. The number one perk of this type of job is the schedule. We work for a month or so offshore and then take some time off between hitches to enjoy at home with family and friends. It’s definitely a different lifestyle than your basic Monday thru Friday, 9 to 5 type of job!

We have a small core group of technicians that make every mission happen. This ship has a diverse set of capabilities. We tow multi streamer 3D configurations for one job and the next job we may be deploying a single super long 2D streamer. We often deploy and retrieve OBS’s, too. We are constantly adjusting to different configurations, different geographical locations, different weather conditions and different groups of people. Everyone has high expectations and we want to deliver good data every time. I feel like we do a great job providing this to the academic community.

I love spending time with my family and friends, especially my two little grandkids! I am an avid mountain bike rider and like to participate in area races when I’m home. I have a little place on a lake in Minnesota and enjoy putzing around the lake and property. I volunteer at the soup kitchens and minister at the jails and shelters. A simple life.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Lending a helping hand on board

 In their spare time, some of our scientists have offered to help out with the routine tasks and activities on deck!

By Victoire Lucas

Between our two shifts of the day, we have about 9 hours of free time that we can use the way we want. During those breaks we can, if we wish so, give a hand and help a bit on the deck. Of course, we are not seamen and seawomen of experience yet, and there are some activities we can’t help with for safety reasons. But there are always ways to be useful, and here are two examples. 

Last week, with my shift mate Matthew Griffiths, we went to the emergency generator room to help with the maintenance of this engine. This maintenance is done once a week by Michael Hill (aka “Mike”), the electrician onboard. We helped Mike take a look around, check that everything was ready before testing the emergency generator: check the level of fuel in the tank, the level of oil in the generator, make sure that the vent was open etc. Mike explained how all of this works and we were able to do the maintenance following the protocol. After that, Matt and I received a very fancy diploma of “Honorary Marine Engineer” (Mum, I hope you’re proud of me). Under good supervision such as Mike’s, everybody can help! 

Another way to help is by painting the metal pieces on the upper deck. Indeed, there are many things that need a fresh new paint onboard, such as the hand rails and the cranes. We can help by painting the two coats of primer and then the coats of color paint. That way, the paint will protect those objects against the seawater and last longer. 

Morgane and I enjoying some time up on deck!
We of course have safety rules to follow: wear gloves and safety glasses all the time, and don’t go outside of the hand rails so we don’t risk to fall overboard. It is a fun activity that we can do in teams of two or three, and it’s nice to be working out there, watching the ocean. I usually paint one hour and half in the morning, and about two hours in the afternoon, this activity keeps me busy and it’s a good thing! 

I hope I will have time to paint many more hand rails before our arrival in Seattle. Now when I see the Langseth, I can say to myself “I’ve been participating in this!” and it makes me very proud.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Meet the Science Party! Dr. Steffen Saustrup

Hi all, I'm Steffen and I’m a Research Scientist Associate at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics in Austin, Texas.

I work in multichannel seismic acquisition, processing, and interpretation. I spend a lot of time in the field, much of it on ships. I also TA a field course in marine geology and geophysics each May. 

This is my first time to use two seismic sources in flip-flop mode. It’s also my first time to sail with so many people from France. 

I’m excited to try to image an undersea volcanic magma chamber in three dimensions. This is a really challenging environment for seismic imaging, but already our preliminary results show success. 

I love that the geosciences involve so many of the other sciences all rolled into one field – I get to touch on chemistry, physics, biology, mathematics, astronomy, geography, and oceanography on a nearly daily basis. I love nature and I love history, which are what geology is all about. I love being in the field. I love forming a working team out of a group of skilled and talented strangers with a common goal. I love that geology is all around us. I love that I get to work with very smart and capable people, both in the office and in the field. I love travel, new places, new cultures, weird foods and strange money. I love boats and being on the ocean. I love working with cutting edge instruments and technologies. I love the feeling that I’m involved in important work. I love teaching. I love that what we do is not easy. I love that the people I work with – both the scientists and the non-scientists (deckhands, cooks, engineers, technicians, computer jockeys, admins, sailors) -- are all adventurers with a laugh and a story to tell. 

My hobbies are music, sailing, fly fishing, dancing, cooking, and most recently painting. I’m lucky enough to have seen a lot of the world, including trips to both the Arctic and Antarctic. I’m passably good with Spanish, and Patagonia is one of my favorite parts of the world. I sort of fell into geophysics after I took my first introductory geology course as an elective, I had been a computer science major before that. Geology just plain made sense to me.

Science At Sea: Expectations vs. Reality

Tanner weighs in on how science and life at sea is shaping up to his prior expectations

By Tanner Eischen

As a first-time member of an oceanographic cruise, many aspects of life at sea are different than I expected. Where to start…? The food. I did not expect to be so well-fed while floating along in the middle of the northern Pacific. The best part: dessert. There are seemingly endless amounts of pie, cheesecake, donuts, cookies, brownies, etc. in more flavors than I could have ever expected to be stored on a ship. I am not sure if everyone else is enjoying it, but, hey, I sure am. I might eat (pun intended) my words in the final weeks of the cruise, however, when we have begun to run low on essential and favorite items. For example, we have already witnessed the end of bananas, avocados, cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes.

It’s not like I expected everything to go completely smoothly, but I definitely did not expect the surveying equipment to malfunction. It feels as though we are pulling in the streamers and/or shutting down for nearby mammals every week, sometimes every few days. The more experienced members tell me this is just part of the job, and the crew of the Langseth always manage to quickly solve the problem and keep data coming in.

I expected my work shifts to be longer and more arduous, but this has allowed for some quality bonding time with the other scientists and crew members, and work time. I did not expect to participate in so many games/competitions while aboard the ship. We are currently in the middle of a heated ping pong tournament, and I hear rumors that a dance competition is on the way. Cornhole, Cribbage, the Werewolf game (French version of Mafia), Ticket to Ride, Codename, and Oh Hell have all made appearances.

When you're confined at sea for 5 weeks, your science party becomes a small (albeit science-heavy) family

As this is my first maritime experience, I expected to be seasick; and I was spot-on. Symptoms have included, to varying degrees, exhaustion, nausea, dizziness, and trouble sleeping. Luckily, no vomiting yet (fingers crossed for the rest of the trip). I did not come unprepared, however. Thank goodness for doctors whom prescribe scopolamine patches.

In short, I had a variety of expectations regarding life at sea which did not always reflect reality. Almost every experience aboard the ship has been new or surprising, and I appreciate most of them. Despite a few frustrations (e.g. seasickness and a general inability to communicate with the outside world), I have thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity.