6 February, 1998
Hello from Antarctica! Things are going well on the Nathaniel B. Palmer. Today, we spent quite a bit of time using the deep tow (side scan sonar). I even learned how to "fly the fish!" Actually, the most important things that you have to do is make sure it stays a safe distance from the sea floor and make sure that the display (on a monitor and on a printer) stays in the correct spot. You also have a keep a special log every 15 minutes about the details of the instrument.
The "fish" is actually attached to a long cable. As the cable is lowered, the fish drops lower and lower in the water. One of the crew members of the ship (called a deck hand) operates the winch that lowers and raises the cable. This brings us to yesterday's question, "What other crew members do you suppose are necessary to run a ship like the Nathaniel B. Palmer?" Deck hands are hired by Edison Chouest Offshore. All seven of the deck hands on the Nathaniel B. Palmer happen to live in the Philippines. Many of them have been to a Maritime School in the Philippines to learn how to work on a ship. Some of the deck hands have even earned their Mate's license.
Deck hands do a lot of general purpose work around the ship. Basically, they work under the direction of the Mates. They help to stand watch on the bridge -- looking to avoid things like ice or severe weather. They operate all the winches, move cargo, and help keep up the general cleanliness and sanitation of the ship. If something has to be painted, a deck hand will do the work. They also do a lot of the general maintenance that's required. The deck hands work very hard at a large variety of jobs both inside and outside the ship. In addition, many of them have added specialties that come in very handy. For example, one of them is a barber, one can sew, and another can make beautiful cabinets! Deck hands sign a contract to work at least 10 months aboard the ship before returning home for vacation. As people return from vacation, others are able to leave. Everyone that I talked to likes their job a lot. They really enjoy the fact that they are working in Antarctica -- where the wildlife is unusual (penguins, seals, whales) and both the air and the sea are clean!
The rest of the ECO employees on the ship work in the engine room. Johnny Pierce (J.P.) is the Chief Engineer. His wife and 5 year old daughter live back at home in Mississippi. Johnny graduated from high school in 1979 and got his first boat job in 1980 as a trainee on a seismic boat. He had no mechanical experience, so he started off working on the cable crew. He continued working on seismic boats for various companies until 1986, when he took a job with Edison Chouest Offshore. Through years of experience and some serious exams, J.P. has worked his way up to the position of Chief Engineer. In 1992, he was asked to come aboard the brand new Nathaniel B. Palmer to work as the Chief Engineer. His specialty background in air compressors was one of the main reasons that J.P. was asked to work on the NBP. Today, his primary job is to make sure everything on the ship is up and running. There are 4 main engines, 4 generators, and 2 thrusters that must be maintained. In addition, there is a lot of upkeep on equipment such as spotlights and cranes. He says that he loves to continue learning new things, and he makes it a goal to learn something new every day. Even though he misses spending more time at home, J.P. really enjoys working on the Palmer and seems especially proud of the teamwork that is required to run a ship such as this. He enjoys working in Antarctica, and he loves working with people that he calls the "best of the best."
Working under J.P. are 3 Assistant Engineers (just like the Mates work under the Captain). The 1st Assistant Engineer is Murry Lewis from California. The 2nd Assistant Engineer is Mike Wright from Florida. The 3rd Assistant Engineer, who's been with the ship since it set sail in 1992, is Brian Zipper from Florida. There are also 3 people who help the Assistant Engineers. Their official title is "Oilers." Oilers help the Assistant Engineers with whatever is necessary to keep the ship running. They work in the engine room, the bow thruster room, and the generator flat alongside the Chief Engineer and the Assistants. Everyone helps out when there is work to be done -- whether it's engine work or general painting.
So now, we've looked at all the crew of the ship (those people hired by ECO). They include the Captain and the Mates, the Galley Crew, the Deck Hands, the Engineers, and the Oilers. All together, there are 22 crew members on board during this cruise. It may vary by a few people each time, but the average is always near that number. As people leave for vacation, other crew members come on board the ship to take their place. When we unload at McMurdo Station in a couple of weeks, some of the crew will be leaving for their vacation and other crew will just be coming back on board. Besides the crew members, there are other people working on this ship. In the past, I've mentioned the ASA (Antarctic Support Associates) staff. How do you suppose that their jobs are different from those of the crew?
Well, it's about time to sign off for the evening. We only have two more weeks before the ship returns to McMurdo Station. I can't believe how quickly the time is flying by! I really enjoy corresponding with so many of you. Keep those questions coming! By the way, I'll be sending out some more pictures in a couple of days. If there is something in parcticular that you would like to see a picture of, don't hesitate to ask when you write to me! I'll be back tomorrow . . . . .
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