Sunday, July 26, 2015

Rachel Kaplan: All the Ocean's a Stage

RB-1504 is my first real oceanographic cruise, and the biggest lesson I've learned so far is that a cruise is a piece of theatre. The 33 aboard the Ron Brown comprise the cast of a play on an eternal loop, complete with:

Lines: The most common ones are "standby," "all stop," and "how long til the next station?" The most beautiful I've heard is a glacier described as looking "like where God lives."
Stage directions: For example: 1) cross from main lab to science deck, 2) move three steps upstage as the boom comes out, 3) run to the galley before lunch is over.
Costume changes: Indoors, anything goes (as long as it's not a slipper or flip-flop)--an "in" look at the moment is the shorts, long underwear, and Xtra Tuf combination. If you're heading outside for an instrument deployment, pause in the main lab for a costume change into a hard hat, life jacket, warm layers (at least at night--at last count, I was wearing seven), and foul weather gear. Foulies are especially important, in case of rain, sea spray, or your fellow samplers pouring rinse water (see below CTD post) on you.
Props: No Ron Brown actor would be complete without a travel coffee mug, or perhaps an illicit open mug from the galley. Everyone also has their own individual prop, key to their work: a special clipboard, pipette, instrument, or tool. Cameras must be at hand for when the ship comes within sight of the gorgeous Alaskan coastline, or when wildlife appears.

Like in a play, time on a cruise is vastly different than in the real world. I'm on the night shift, from midnight until noon. Sometimes those twelve hours are buoyed along by a constant stream of science that is unbelievably productive and exhausting, leaving almost no time for a break. Sometimes there's time to have snack with your fellow actors (what do you call a meal at 3 am?), hear about their lives in the real world, and maybe even play a practical joke.

Despite moments of drama, the way time runs on a continuous loop has me convinced that we're in a comedy. We'll complete a station and have that great feeling of accomplishment: "we've done everything!" only to hear the stage manager (or NOAA officer) call ten minutes to places--the play is about to start again.

Now that we've been at sea for two weeks, we've got our parts down. As we sink deeper and deeper into our self-contained world, the musical numbers and dance routines have started to come out as well. Who knows--by the time we make it to Kodiak, RB-1504 may have evolved into a full-fledged off-off-off-off-off-off-off-Broadway musical.



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  2. Fabulous writing Rachel. If this whole science thing doesn't pan out you have a clear fallback career as a commentator.