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Dispatch 25: A Final Note of Gratitude

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Peter Lourie

October 16, 2016

As if to say goodbye, today we headed into the morning sun.  All day equipment and winter gear were being packed up, samples made shipping-ready.  Once they get to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, they’ll go overnight to scientists’ labs, not reaching their final destinations for almost another month.  

Tonight a few lucky ones were able to join the Captain and senior officers in the Senior Officer Dining Room for that once-a-week special event.  Some captains have these every Sunday.  I popped in for a few photos.

Few experiences in my life have felt so full and rewarding as this past month aboard the famed 1969 icebreaker CCG Louis S St-Laurent.  Now I’ve begun to learn a little about the oceanography of the Arctic, about the men and women who come to this hauntingly beautiful place to study the seas.  I’ve learned a little about icebreakers, and I’ve learned some Newfoundland accents and cuisine. Newfoundland people (“Newfies they call themselves) who make up 4/5 of this crew are kind and warm and always display decency and respect. 

Laughing the other day on the foredeck with Bill Galliot and Kirby Vatcher, I felt I was on my way to making some real friends.  I said I was going to miss them.  I even said, “I don’t want to go all sentimental on you, but…..” To which Bill said, “Oh Jeeezzz, don’t do that!” I was feeling that damp-eyed privilege of having this chunk of time to mix with such happy and hard-working people.  Crew and scientists alike.

Never have I seen humans work as hard as they do aboard an icebreaker.  All the scientists work every waking hour. Mike and Sarah and Glenn who after one of the last rosette casts were working through dinner to fix a few hardware issues on the Niskin bottles.  And the whole science team taking turns waking each other up for rosette casts and then working for hours collecting and preparing the samples to be studied either onboard or, more likely, later in some lab across the world. 

Never have I seen a more dedicated and self-confident group than the WHOI buoy and mooring crew, Will as leader, Jeff, Cory, Rick and Chris so adept with heavy-duty equipment outside in all conditions.  And the crew working right alongside them as a team, always with good cheer flowing back and forth.  From the captain and the officers on the bridge keeping the Louis steady during the long mooring days, to the engineers and oilers below the waterline where I made multiple trips to observe the loud and multi-leveled guts of the beast, to all the logistics, the cooks and the stewards and the storekeepers…Wow. Everyone brought me into their working lives and shared good-hearted stories of what it’s like to be on an icebreaker, to work in the Arctic summer and fall with scientists for so many weeks and to miss home not able to communicate all that well from the ship, and then to now be only 11 more days until they are back (after we get off in Kugluktuk, they will take the Louis through the Northwest Passage to Baffin Island where the new crew will spell them and they will fly back to St. Johns), and when they get home they’ll have real quality time with their families before they’re off again on another 28-day stint in the St. Lawrence.

Meanwhile a few tried to teach me some of the gazillion Newfie accents (What ya at, b’ye?) so varied from each Newfoundlander who hails from every little harbor and village across the island.  Each with its own special old-country twangs.

I know where I want to go next.  I’ll rent a car and visit Newfoundland; maybe I’ll meet some of my new pals along the way.  They’re all certainly welcome in Vermont anytime.

And one more thing that has amazed me and made this such a rich and rewarding trip – the mother cow of the rosette.  I didn’t get to work on her the way so many scientists did for the month.  I was busy filming.  But the rosette is the thing, the sina qua non for most of the oceanographers aboard.  So much of the important data collected on this trip has come from those 24 Niskin bottles that go every day into the deep dark below to bring back samples that are telling the modern story of the Beaufort, the Arctic and the planet.  To see the rosette come streaming up the side of the Louis and get plunked onto a dolly and rolled into the shack, then the doors closing and then men and women of science in an orderly fashion but seemingly chaotically bending to fill their jars and bottles is to witness the milking of the Mother of the Mother of Ocean Data. 

Data that now is just starting to be compiled and viewed and which will go on public databases for anyone in the world to share and use in the great learning about the Arctic oceans.

I can’t write this without chills.  The only thing for me left to say is Thank you thank you, everyone, for having me along, a fellow who actually has never had chemistry and can hardly add or subtract.  Thank you for explaining your work so well in words a layman can understand. 

Now I know why as a boy I always wanted to be an oceanographer!  This is a very cool kind of fieldwork. 

And the full moon rose on our port side as the seas stayed calm into the night.

To learn more about Peter Lourie click here.

Last updated: October 7, 2019

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