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March 28, 2003: Leg 3, Day #18

Today was a full day with an ROV dive, a blue-water scuba dive, and midwater trawling. The update was written by Derek Greenwood.

Farallon Basin

We’re still somewhere in the Sea of Cortez, although exactly where I couldn’t tell you. There are no identifying islands or coastlines to possibly recognize, and looking out the open galley door, I can see only the hazy, horizonless, indistinct melding of sea and sky. If I had to guess, I would say that we’re somewhere just southwest of Los Mochis on the Sinoloan coast. At least, we were there a couple of days ago but we may have moved during the night and that sneaky Bruce Robison didn’t tell me. Now, I suppose I could go up to the bridge and look at the charts and tell you exactly where we were, but when you live on a 100 foot by 50 foot ship, that feels like a very long walkall the way to the bridge. So, we shall have to content ourselves with the general feeling of still being somewhere around Baja California. Please don’t feel cheated. I am sure that wherever we were, it would look much the same as it does in this particular placelots of water and the occasional seagull being the defining characteristics of most of our destinations. 

Of course, beneath the rolling waves, it is an entirely different story as each new science station brings a new environment populated with a fresh cast of colorful and exotic creatures! Well, actually, I don’t know much about that either, though, because I’m just the ship’s cook. Come to think of it, the creatures I do see floating across the video monitor in the mess-deck look an awful lot like the creatures we saw yesterday or back in Monterey Bay for that matter.

Now, however completely useless I am proving to be otherwise, I am uniquely suited to describe for you the one place where variety is perhaps prized most
—where every day crew and scientists gather expectantly in anticipation of what creatures are being sacrificed for sciencethe galley.

We began this morning with the usual, unremarkable breakfast: french toast, potatoes, eggs to order, bacon, sausage, oatmeal, and a fruit salad of mango, cantaloupe, honeydew, strawberries, pineapple, and papaya. Personally, I feel the best breakfast is 16 ounces of coffee, served at around ten in the morning, but I don’t have much say in the matter…yet. Why these people feel the need to get up at the crack of dawn is beyond me. I mean, it’s not like all the fish are going to catch the 6:30 into town and be gone all day. Anyway, as I had to be awake, I chose to play the mellow Miles Davis “Kind of Blue” (my real duties aboard ship being mess-deck DJ), and I enjoyed a cup of breakfast while the early birds already had the ROV in the water and were chasing their worms. 

Now, “worms” is a particularly accurate description of most of the critters that the midwater biology group lusts after. Nudibranchs, flota, larvacean, jellyfishthey all possess distinctly worm-like traits. Slimy, segmented, and usually just a random bag of digestive tract hoping to stumble onto some aqueous garbage to eat. Flipper it ain’t. Indeed, today we spent most of our dive hunting for, and I quote, “mucus houses” constructed by tiny larvacean. Mucus? OK, I realize that Jacques Cousteau worked over all the charismatic sea creatures a long time ago, and we’re getting to this game late, but really. I mean, please, untold millions of dollars to hunt for mucus? I could have done that at the local pool for a fraction of the cost.

It doesn’t matter however, because I only found this out later, and at the time we were busy searching for sea snot, I was in the galley preparing lunch, untroubled by our grand mission. I had the door open to a glorious seascape of sun and wind-whipped waves and was energizing myself for cooking with a mix collection of indie rock; mostly Bettie Seervert, Mary Lou Lord, The Minutemen, Modest Mouse, and the Pixies. I don’t remember what I made for lunch, though. Wait, let me think. It’s all a blur. No, wait, I remember! Greek tacos! Greek because they were stuffed with gyro meat, Tzatziki sauce, olive oil, and lemon-marinated cukes and tomatoes. Tacos because I forgot to get enough pitas before leaving California and had to use flour tortillas. Of course, if you know Mexico, they were VERY good flour tortillas and Erik, our resident Greek, pronounced them very good and no poor substitute. Buzz, our resident Mainer, preferred the tortillas to pitas, but he’s from Maine, so take that into account if he comes at you all yammering about Greek tacos someday. We also had some delightful Baklava to round out the Greek theme and, of course, the ever-present salad bar of lettuces, fresh crudités, and marinated items and cheeses.

Following lunch, I attempted to nap, as is my usual habit, but excited at my charge of being the designated daily reporter, I couldn’t sleep and roamed the ship observing the activities of everyone else. Here is what I saw:

Upon the upper aft deck, several of the ship’s crew and pilots were using the stairstepper and lifting weights in the sun. It looked like a prison yard up there. I was dismayed to see them working off the pounds I had so carefully enticed them to put on, and so resolved to cook extra rich and fatty for a couple of weeks to counter the rebellious slimming insurrection I saw. “Fools! Their buns of steel are no match for my buns of cinnamon! Ha ha ha ha. Bwa ha ha ha!”

On the bridge, Steven, the Second Mate, was laboriously correcting the out-of-date and often wrong Sea of Cortez charts. I suppose I could have looked closely and noted where we were exactly so as to tell you, but, as I believe I already mentioned, I was relatively confident that we were still in the Sea of Cortez and so felt no need. When his back was turned, I pushed a couple of random buttons and turned some important looking knobs, but nothing happened, so I moved on.

Down on deck, Doug and Erik were taking a break from their less important duties to admire the 25-pound Dorado that Erik had caught earlier at breakfast. Strictly for science, of course. There would be plenty of good ceviche, I mean science, for days to come.

In the ROV control room, Buck and Dave were flying the vehicle, and so far hadn’t seemed to strike any rocks or scientists. A couple of the scientists snoozed in the corner. We considered taking off to hunt for doubloons and sunken Spanish galleons while they were passed out, but the mellow blue light and comfy chairs in there soon sapped me of my drive and zeal. I had to escape before I was drawn into a midwater-sea-snow-blizzard coma.

As I was making my way back forward, I glimpsed some engineers slipping down below. I know down there they have a secret room equipped with la-z-boys, Sony playstations, and cold drinks and one day I’m gonna find it. I chased them briefly, but, like the greasy little gnomes they are, they disappeared down their rabbit hole and were gone.

Back in the galley, I ran into Dan, and we tested his theory that whales often like to augment their diet of krill with a nice salad. Results are inconclusive. We haven't actually seen any whales eating the salad, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t eating it when we aren’t looking. We can, however, unequivocally state that gulls do not like salad, but then these birds are not known for their healthy diet choices. We receive no funding for this, of course. We do it for the pure love of science.

By now it was high time to get dinner started, and I was running a little behind, as usual. So, I put on one of my afternoon rocking CDs so as to get a good cooking groove going. I usually like to play my punk, metal or rap at this time. Of course, that means the mess deck clears of everyone except for Tucker, but I don’t mind. We all need a little alone time now and then. The CD I chose today was a tasty mix of Outkast, A Tribe Called Quest, The Pharcyde, and Jurassic Five. I found the hip hop beats the perfect accompaniment for filleting the tuna and preparing the T-bones I had planned for dinner. Sort of your typical surf and turf, peas and potatoes kind of thing, but, I had sprung Indonesian and Thai upon everyone the night before and felt I had to toss a bone to the those who would prefer everything beef and covered in gravy.

While the meats marinated and the cornbread baked, I wandered back to the wet lab and visited with my scientist friends. Steve was inspecting a curious colony of radiolarians, pinhead-sized amoebas that form a spherical structure to ride upon and collect their food. I briefly ruminated on the similarities to our life; a group of pinheads that ride on a semi-spherical structure called a boat and also gain sustenance from it. I was cut short in my musings as Karen called me over to check out a spidery looking thing that carried a mucus purse with it where ever it went. Now, this purse thing didn’t look all that attractive to me, but, I suppose if you’re a simple spider living at 2,000 meters down where not too much ever happens, if one of these things does come floating by, you’re gonna think it’s the greatest thing in the world and want to haul it all over and show it to all your friends and never let go of it. I turned and found Brad behind me dissecting a squid. Well, actually, this specimen was a tad too large for the suction sampler and so it had arrived somewhat dissected already, but Brad was still gamely slicing and dicingI think because he secretly enjoys torturing these animals. I beat a swift retreat as he’s always trying to get me to cook these squid, and I’m not excited by the prospect. I mean, have you ever eaten a three-foot squid? It ain’t the chicken of the sea, that’s for sure.

I suddenly remembered why I was out here and what I was getting paid to do and realized that perhaps my cornbread was getting a little too crispy in the oven, so I ran to the galley to try and save dinner. Just in time and crisis averted, as usual! We fired up the BBQ on the aft deck and got dinner rolling. I felt the surf and turf was a vaguely 50s kind of theme, so I laid the cool West Coast jazz stylings of the Dave Brubeck Quartet down over the meal. I’m proud of my musical and culinary pairings and felt like I had made a wise choice. Time out, baby! I didn’t bother to make a dessert because have you ever tried these Mexican ices and ice cream bars? Guava, pine nut, chocolate, strawberry, mango. I mean, who can compete with that!? 

After dinner, as I faced a mountain of dirty dishes and pots, I was surprised with the welcome appearance of my friends Steve and Rob. I don’t know what kinds of scientists you hang out with, but these two are two of the best. After sweating their brow for science all day and most of the night, they still have the energy and humility to come into the galley and push me out of the way and wash all the dishes. Not just once or twice, but, about every other day or so, every single trip. Of course, they aren’t dish professionals like me, and I usually end up standing around uselessly so we actually don’t get anything done any quicker than I would alone, but I enjoy the conversation and the company. If any of you director types are reading this, give these men a raise.

The sun dipped low over the horizon, and we retired to the rail to watch for the green flash one can see as the sun disappears into tropical waters. Well, I never saw it, but no mind. It was still a beautiful sunset and so ended another day of science aboard the R/V Western Flyer somewhere in the Sea of Cortez. At least, I think we’re still in the Sea of Cortez, but does it really matter after all?

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