Night Watch: A Storm is Here!

We are running 24-hour operations during our OBS recovery cruise, which means there is always someone awake and working in each department. Some departments (like the WHOI OBS team, Geoff and Peter) are running 12-hour watches, while the Apply to Sail participants are running 8-hour watches. Zhenyang and I are the 10pm – 6am shift.

There are a lot of strange things about working the night shift. Of course, it means completely changing your sleep schedule on top of any jet lag you were already experiencing. I still don’t feel like I have a normal schedule going, even a week into the cruise. Our watch is especially strange because there are no true meals that fall inside of it and it is dusk or dark the entire time. Of course, I often either wake up for dinner or stay awake through breakfast (and there are snacks to be had 24/7), so I am not deprived of food or sunlight! The strangest part for me is that I never know what day it is. I go to bed in the morning when everyone else is waking up and wake up to work in the evening of the same day! I say, “Good Morning!” to everyone I see when I come down, even though it is actually 10 pm.

Left: Waiting to tag an approaching OBS to bring it on board.  Top Right: OBS flasher middle left, crescent moon the top right, moon jelly bottom right.  Photo by Geoff Abers.  Bottom Right: Approaching an OBS for recovery!  Photo by Zhenyang

Even with all the things to get used to, I really enjoy the night shift.  The ship is very quiet, and the internet works just a tiny bit better (which still isn’t much) as generally only the people on watch are awake.  Total darkness adds an extra element to the challenge of locating an OBS when it pops up at the surface.  Each OBS is equipped with a radio beacon and a flashing light to help locate them.  If the light is working it almost seems too easy, but it is still exciting to suddenly see a light flash on the surface and know it is there.  For the first few stations, the flashers on the OBSs we recovered at night were not working (only a few on daytime stations when we don’t need them!).  Even if the bridge got a radio signal, it was still a bit of a game/challenge trying to scan the horizon for a reflective orange flag as the bridge moved a giant spotlight across the water.  While we are waiting and searching out on deck, we also get a great view of any creatures swimming in the beam of light in the water below.  The most abundant sea creature by far has been jellyfish (mostly moon jellies).  We pass through blooms of hundreds as we are making our way toward each OBS!

This was a medium size wave breaking over the starboard side.  These were roughly 15-foot waves, overnight they got even bigger!

For the next few days our OBS recoveries are on pause and instead we are running new multibeam lines over an area with little or no past coverage.  This will give us a much clearer and more complete picture the seafloor and its features across the trench.  The timing worked perfectly, as we got to this stopping point right as we intersected with a large, strong storm.  During today’s night watch (Saturday into Sunday) the wind speed was 30-40 knots and waves were over 15 feet.  Em and I enjoyed peering out the porthole windows in the OBS lab and watching as occasional waves spectacularly broke over the side of the ship and across the deck, as pictured to the left.  Don’t worry, we are all safe and dry inside!

It has been a rough night, with lots of (sometimes extreme) boat movement and varying degrees of sea sickness to go around, but we are hoping to get through the worst of it by Sunday night and be back to much calmer sea conditions for most of next week.


– Heather Fisher, Apply to Sail participant, Educator at Science Fun for Everyone



1 thought on “Night Watch: A Storm is Here!

  1. Wow! Such interesting (and challenging) work…please keep up the posts for all of us landlubbers keeping tabs on your progress. The pics are great too! I wish you all a safe and successful journey.
    Have fun and be well! xoxo


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