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Life on Board

By Kira Homola

Do you enjoy large amounts of delicious food three times a day? Playing ping-pong when the floor is moving beneath you? Watching movies and playing games with your friends? Reading a relaxing novel while staring out over the beautiful ocean?

Then life aboard a research vessel is for you!

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Fine company for the R/V Thomas G. Thompson.

In between shifts of logging, piloting, fixing, navigating, and sampling, the shipboard residents of the Thomas G. Thompson still find time for fun, relaxation, and, occasionally, laundry. We live two to a room, four to a bathroom. Each room is equipped with ample cabinet space, chairs, a sink, a mirror, and two lovely bunks with individual reading lights. Between every two rooms is a bathroom that includes a toilet and shower, difficult to use during rough seas, but thankfully there is an emergency handle handy.

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Kim Wallace prepares the temperature probe array for deployment at Barkley Hydrates.

On board, we are divided into three groups: crew, science party, and the ROPOS team. The crew is in charge of keeping us on course, helping with the launch and recovery of instruments, and making sure the ship is running perfectly. The science party can be divided into the engineers and the ROPOS lab team. The engineers are stationed in the main lab and spend their time preparing instruments for deployment, and repairing, maintaining, and downloading data from the instruments we recover. The ROPOS lab team, the chief scientists and us loggers, communicates with shore, logs events during the dives, streams video life to the internet, and takes photos. We are also the ones who take and process samples, including everything from boxes of sediment to bottles of water to tubes of mud. The ROPOS team spends their time maintaining, deploying, recovering, navigating, and piloting the ROV. Overall, the sheer amount of activity on board is amazing: you can walk into any lab in the middle of the night and there will still be a group of tired people working away. Our 24-hour operations keep us very busy, but watching the dives and handling the samples is fascinating work, so I don't mind.

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Maryann with samples of mud.

Personally, rocking boats put me to sleep, so I'm rarely wide-awake during my actual working hours. My leisure time is about half sleep, but that still leaves a bit of free time for socializing. While on board, I have had my rear end handed to me playing scrabble against the head cook and other members of the crew, science team, and ROPOS team. I have also been taught Cribbage, a bad game to learn while only half awake: it's very hard to add to 15 sometimes, people.

As everyone on board is very friendly, the ruling ping-pong champions have taken the underling players (such as myself) under their wing. After my first few days of falling, tripping, hitting myself in the face with the ball, and serving like a girl, I have been transformed into a hard-core, intense, spin-balling ping-pong champ. Not really, but I can actually get the ball into the right box most of the time, so that's quite an improvement. I especially enjoy the occasional doubles game, played to the intoxicating sound of our Chief Scientist's accordion. A very difficult instrument to play, I now realize, but one that is very fun to listen to.

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Ping pong and accordions: What could be better?!

We are not lacking for musical talent on board, as a matter of fact. In addition to our accordion queen, we have a stunning flute-playing Able Bodied Seawoman on board, who can also spell better than anyone except the cook, as well as a guitar playing chief engineer. Satellite radio is always blaring from the ROPOS corner of the ship, accompanied by the sometimes questionable singing voices of the ROPOS team and, from time to time, myself.

For those of us that work in the ROPOS lab, we spend 8-12 hours a day staring at more screens than I've seen in the same room my entire life, including the TV store. Apparently watching undersea footage just can't compare to Talladega Nights, though, as everything from Will Ferrell to old westerns are playing around the clock upstairs in the lounge. Not counting the VHS movies, there are exactly 1008 numbered DVD's in every genera available for viewing. Across the hall in the library are 5 floor-to-ceiling bookshelves full of novels ranging from Ann Rice and James Patterson to an autobiography by a Country-Music-Singer/Comedian and a tour book about Tahiti.

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The Control Room.

In conclusion: being on board and unable to walk down a hallway without feeling like a yo-yo is a complete blast. Though everyone on board slightly resembles a zombie at this point in the cruise, we are all enjoying our science and our play, but most of all, our food and our sleep!