Blog contribution from Susan Adkins
Friday, January 13
Life on board the Thomas G. Thompson (The Tommy)
The Tommy replaced an older ship of the same name. The original ship was sunk by the Navy last year as target practice after serving the ocean research community for over 40 years. The new ship was delivered in 1991. The vessel is 274 feet in length and has a 52.5 foot beam (the length across). Her draft is 19 feet, which is the length from the water line to the bottom of the ship. The Tommy has a maximum speed of 14.5 knots (or miles per hour) which seems quite slow. But she was built for holding a position at low speed, important for scientific experiments. The two “z-drive” engines which power the ship were designed for stability and maneuverability. The Tommy can hold her position in weather and current situations with these two powerful machines and turn in a tight radius. The propellers for the “z-drives” are under the hull to avoid conflict with instruments and cables towed from the ship. An additional method for controlling the ship is the bow thruster, large vents or water jets which take in sea water and discharge it to “push” the front of ship in the required direction. The heavy weight of both the engines acts as ballast (weight) for the hull, another method of creating stability.
Because voyages are lengthy and in distant places it is important to carry supplies and spare parts in holds, or storage areas of the ship. (There is no Home Depot in
The ship is nine stories tall. The main deck/floor holds all the science labs. Above this are five floors which consist of:
Below the main deck is:
There are a variety of outside deck areas around the ship. The fan tail is at the stern (back) of the ship. It is a storage area for large equipment and is the launching area for most scientific instruments. There are several large cranes and winches for these procedures. The bow (front) of the ship has two very large decks which are open and uncluttered. We all enjoy these areas for watching the sunset, observing whales and sitting in the sun in two very popular hammocks.
The Tommy was built by the Navy as a research vessel, so the laboratories on the main deck are much more open than you would see on a refurbished or remodeled ship. The biggest science lab is equipped with large work benches, computers, microscopes, towers glass bottles for filtration of sample seawater, chemicals, freezers, etc. The lab floor is covered with various bolts to allow scientists to reconfigure the tables and equipment for their specific needs.
Across from the main science lab is a room dedicated to computers and electronic devices. Screens provide current information on our location (latitude and longitude), the water depth, the speed of the ship, weather, sea temperature, salinity, wind speed, etc. There is a graphing device (the EM-300) which is a multi beam sonar that maps the ocean bottom. This room is kept at a cool temperature to protect the fragile equipment from overheating.
Several smaller labs are found along the passageway equipped with sinks, venting hoods, compressed air and climate control chambers for samples or specimens. Some of the students use their rooms for data analysis. I found Pam Maynard in her darkened cabin counting bacteria with a microscope yesterday. She needed a quiet atmosphere to do this tedious and delicate work.
Problems working aboard
Working on a ship presents a variety of difficulties for the scientists. All equipment, computers, and chemicals must be securely tied down before the Tommy leaves the harbor. Lab work on a moving vessel can be challenging, as the movement from the wind, waves and tides compels scientists to be aware of balancing themselves while performing delicate operations.
Even eating and cooking onboard can be tricky. There are bolts to tie down chairs if the seas should become rough. The stoves and ovens in the galley/kitchen are specifically designed with side rails so that hot pots of soup won’t topple over, and cakes will be balanced in the oven to be baked as a flat cylinder rather than something which looks like a skate board park platform.
When scientists and crew need to perform operations on the open decks they must be particularly cautious. Everyone must wear a hard hat and life vest when assisting putting equipment into the ocean or taking it out. The deck/floor can be slippery and much of the equipment used, especially the CTD, can be heavy and awkward. If you are not careful it would be easy to smash your fingers or become tangled in one of the many ropes used to raise, lower and steady this equipment.
We practiced a safety drill the first evening on the ship. The first mate asked everyone to wear the life vest located in their room. Each life vest has a whistle and flashing strobe light attached. These are critical in the event that you fall into the water and must be located for retrieval. The tropical waters off the Galapagos are warm, but on other voyages of the Tommy, such as up to
A system of bells and whistles warns crew and passengers of an emergency on the ship. Everyone reports to an assigned area for instructions. The emergency could be fire, flooding or sinking. In addition to meeting in a central location a roll call is taken to be sure that everyone is safe.
When Blakeley and I arrived at the ship we were assigned a private room, or cabin. We share a double metal bunk bed, which is quite comfortable and cozy. The gentle rocking of the ship at night has added to getting a good night’s sleep. We also have two closets, a desk, many locking drawers to stow (put away) our clothing, and a sink. A door leads to a small room with a toilet and a shower which we share with another cabin. Doors on both sides lock, so we must remember to unlock the room when we finish our showers. (The first few days there was a lot of banging on doors when we forgot.)
Perhaps the most popular spot on the ship is the galley (kitchen) and mess (dining room). The chefs cook three meals a day for the 50-60 people on board. It is similar to a small restaurant with many choices of food at each meal. Cooking begins at to prepare for our early start. Breakfast (7 8 am) includes hot cereal, eggs, sausage and bacon, pancakes or waffles. There are many kinds of cereal (including my favorite Captain Crunch) and fruit. Lunch ( ) includes soup, several hot entrees (today it was bratwurst or bbq sandwiches), salad bar, and fruit. Dinner ( ) is another hot meal with multiple choices (steak, kung pao chicken, fish) and always a delicious dessert.
Because scientists and crew work 24 hour a day the mess is well equipped with snacks, milk, bread and peanut butter. No one goes hungry on the Tommy. The kitchen cooks 40 pounds of protein a day, equivalent to 160 quarter pound hamburgers.
The library/conference room is a popular community meeting place located next to the mess. Not only is there an extensive collection of books for pleasure reading, but games (scrabble, dominos, puzzles, cards, Trivial Pursuit) and computers to e-mail home to family and friends. This is also a good place for meetings or just a casual time to talk with new friends. Across the hall is an additional lounge for watching movies. The Tommy has hundreds titles in their collection.
Near the laboratories on the main deck is a small gym with exercise equipment. Although we spend lots of time walking up and down the stairs from cabins to labs to the deck to meals the ship allows little opportunity for exercise. The crew, who may be on a voyage for three to six months, are the most active users of this equipment. The main science lab includes a ping pong table, which provides a great opportunity to let off steam after spending hours at the lab tables. Both scientists and crew find many outlets to work off excess energy. At last night, during a prolonged experiment, several Ecuadorian scientists gave salsa dance lessons to their American counterparts. There always seems to be music to break the intensity of the work.