Chris Harvey, June 7, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Harvey
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 5 – July 4, 2006

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographical Area: Central Pacific Ocean, Hawaii
Date: June 7, 2006

Science and Technology Log 

Necker Island came into view about an hour ago.  But alas! I was enthralled in Kurt Vonnegut’s latest (last?) masterpiece, “A Man Without a Country.”  It was rather hard to put down. Having the same critical side to me as Vonnegut, I have become a fan of his recently.  In this novel he comments on the times, and on the times ahead from a socialist/humanist standpoint.  I enjoyed most of it, though some parts struck a nerve.  It is strange to think that as a writer, some people think the same thoughts as I and are able to express them so much more eloquently.  We have stopped now to bottom fish in about 120 fathoms of water.  Good for us! For those of you who skipped Pirating 101, or Sailing Across the Atlantic 101, a fathom is 6 feet.  So you do the math!  I have a feeling I am spending a lot more time writing than it is intended.  But as the proverbial “they” say, practice makes perfect.  Or rather, as my high school basketball coach stressed, perfect practice makes perfect!

If you cannot tell, I have taken a peculiar fascination with Amee.  I have become a scientist of sorts on board this ship.  And she is a rather strange creature to study.  So I spend much time dissecting her horrible English accent, and injecting as much sarcasm as possible when we communicate.  Recently she commented on how nice my boots looked.  I thanked her and told them that they were called “Euro trekkers,” and that they were good for trekking Euro. They don’t really match my board shorts and t-shirt, but this is no fashion show!

By the way, on a semi-serious note: Amee is a police officer back in England, so we have had many stories to swap about our less-than-ideal work conditions.  I think that is why we get along so well. The other researchers onboard are just “kids,” as I have explained before. They are all undergraduate students with slightly less life experience than either of us. So I truly enjoy having a friend who can relate to my experience, especially one with a diverse perspective. We have debated the solution to all of the world’s problems from various angles, and I am continuing to see why perspective is so important to solutions.  (By the way, the solution to all of the world’s problems is Ahu, a little red snapper that dwells around Hawaii.  It is a pretty little thing, with big eyes and a fat belly.  Well, the solution is either Ahu, or Peanut Butter and Jelly.  You can never go wrong with that!)

I am often viewed as a complainer, because I tend to see the world through very critical eyes. But I also do my best to gain as much perspective in a situation as possible before opening my mouth.  This is something that I have learned through traveling time and time again. I remember very clearly the first time I spoke without perspective on my first journey. I was sitting in a lounge in a hostel in Dublin, Ireland having a conversation with a Canadian, a Kiwi (New Zealand), a Welshman, and a Pole (is that what someone from Poland is called?) about the politics of the war in Iraq. It had first broken out just days before my travel, and I was anxious about the reception that I would have in Europe.  In some cities there were riots and American exchange students were being spit on and beaten up in public. And here we were, a bad joke waiting to be told, trying to figure out the ethics, reasons for, and solution to the war in Iraq, each of us from a different standpoint. I started to open my mouth to say what I truly felt as an American who survived the 911 attacks and grew up under the protection of and respect for the military, which would have been brutally honest, when the Welshman cut me off and began ranting and raving about how terrible US politics were.  I was growing furious inside and if it weren’t for the good-natured Kiwi who spoke up before me, I would have said something rude and most likely provocative of a fight.  The Kiwi asked the Welshman if he had ever lived in the United States.  The Welshman said no.  “Have you ever visited the United States?” Again the answer was no. “Then what right have you to speak of the politics of the United States if you have never been there?”  Silence filled the room and suddenly I was aware of what perspective truly meant.

Had I opened my mouth to defend my country, I would have most likely ended up looking just as angry and ignorant as the Welshman for his point of view.  Instead, through patience and persevering through another person’s point of view, I was able to objectively understand the arguments from another person’s side of things.  I had NEVER been able to do this before. And at this particular moment, my life was forever changed.

Would we all take the time to get to know our neighbors and those people who we don’t seem to get along with, I am sure things would be much better in the world.  While I can only promote this notion on a small scale, I hope that others can see how important perspective truly is. EVERY time I travel I learn something new about myself.  Every time I stop and listen to the complaints of someone else about myself, I am able to see things in myself that I need to change.  Again, can I save the world? Most definitely not.  But can I learn enough to change a small part of the world through conversations with people such as Amee?  Certainly.  Should it be my purpose in life to listen and extend my perspective on various ideas and notions?  I believe so.  And not to sound preachy, or “teacher-ish,” as I like to refer to these moments, but do you ever wonder how much confrontation, stress, anxiety, and negativity we could avoid if we only took the time to stop and listen to another person’s point of view?

As Amee knows, I am ALWAYS right!  She has affectionately dubbed me the American Redneck. And to make the name stick, I have intentionally earned myself a farmer’s tan over the last day and a half. I am officially an American Redneck, and Amee is officially a Bloody Brit, but we are officially friends, and that makes a day for me…

We have “made a bed” for ourselves a short distance away from Necker Island.  For all of the huff and puff of reaching the island, I am a little disappointed.  It is definitely nothing more than a rather small island, or a rather large piece of rock, sticking out of the water just enough to attract several dozen birds.  Apparently there are some monuments engraved into the island, left over from primitive Pacific cultures.  Scientists’ best guess is that they were used for navigation, or small religious ceremonies, since the island is definitely not habitable.

It has been a long day today and I am grateful for the change in pace.  At 12:45 we were called into the wet lab, a laboratory set up on the inside of the ship where most of the science of the project will take place.  We, the novice researchers, were given instructions on how to set up and bait the traps, as we would be setting them in our first sites almost immediately.  Joe, one of the scientists and leading authorities on the North West Hawaiian Island (NWHI) lobsters, gave us the run through in Trap 101.  I can teach any of you Trap 101 upon my return to the mainland if you so desire.  He didn’t have certificates to print out, so my knowledge of lobster traps will be filed away under the “Important Once Upon A Time” folder inside my head that contains information such as: how to remove a tick from a dog’s rear end, how to speak Pig Latin, and how to cook microwave popcorn in a microwave.

By 1 PM we were all out on the fantail of the ship assembling, baiting, and locking 160 lobster traps. This again was a wonderful portrait of the unity that we have formed among us, with no instruction to cooperate as such.  To give you an idea of our working conditions, whenever fish blood was spilled on the hot, black deck, a filthy steam would rise into the air. I went through a gallon of water in the course of an hour or so.  And at times the sweat was pouring into my eyes so much that by the time I wiped my eyes with my shirt, more sweat was pouring in. (Remember, no pity parties…yet!)  Now take into consideration that there was many of us working together in a rather tight spot (after we have assembled 160 lobster traps, the deck is rather full) all requiring the same basic materials to complete our task, in such heat as I’ve just described.  I can count the number of times one of us complained by using a Goglesplotcha (That’s right, whatever that “word” is, it does not exist.  NO ONE complained once.).

By 2:30 we were setting traps in the water with the help of the more experienced ship crew. Although no specific jobs were assigned, we seemed to rotate the workload between us, ensuring that the job was done effectively and efficiently.  Again, coming from a business mind, I am thoroughly impressed with the way things went today.  Our boss was so confident in our working together that he stood on the next deck above us and drank a diet coke while we sweated away (I guess that is the reason we should all strive to become a boss one day!).  Nobody had to thank me for the work I had done.  Nor did I have to thank anyone else. We all knew that we had successfully completed the task. Had I a PhD behind my name, I might study our methods a little closer and try to coin a phrase to describe our cooperation and put it in a book!  I think, if somehow our faculty could cooperate the way we did today, there is no question in my mind we would become the best school in the district.  There were probably flaws along the way, and at times some of us may have been thinking that we were carrying more or less of the workload. But when it was all said and done, the job was done wonderfully and we will be rewarded by the data we begin collecting tomorrow.

That’s it for now. Life aboard the ship is peachy keen (or something cheesy like that).

PS- The “sea legs” have arrived, complete with a nice sunburn!  The only trouble I have now is closing my eyes in the shower to keep the shampoo out of my eyes.  When I do this, it seems my inner ear loses its balance and I bang my head against the showerhead.  Believe it or not, the methodical scientist that I am, it is not enough to have this happen once. I must try several times, testing variables such as water temperature, width of stance, and pace of head scrubbing.  In the end I get the same bruised noggin.  O’ the price I have to pay in the name of science!  (It may just be that I am clumsy.  I haven’t taken that variable into consideration yet!)