by Erin Loury, Ichthyology
Klutzes like me have to look lively when boarding a boat. The first rule of thumb is to mind your space, because it’s at a premium! Heavy equipment, sharp things and moving parts can be around every corner, people are hurrying past you to get to their stations, and to top it off, the whole shebang is typically rocking under your feet with the waves.
Last summer, I spent 10 days at sea aboard an 85-foot fishing boat as part of a trawling survey for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Just getting on board was something of an adventure. The whole “Mind the gap” philosophy definitely applies when jumping from pier to boat, to boat, while ducking under railings and passing gear over a narrow-but-steep drop to the water below. And I quickly learned once I stepped inside that there’s generally not a lot of personal space. Three scientists, three crew, and one bathroom (or head, as you’d say on a boat) – you do the math.
Surprisingly, bathroom time was not much of an issue, but the sleeping arrangements sure were cozy. My bunk became even smaller once I wedged in my bulky survival suit – about the size of a large sleeping bag – so that it would be handy to grab should any Titanic-style drama ensue. Fortunately, except for one safety drill, there it stayed and provided something of a lumpy backrest.
My first night at sea was probably the roughest. We left port about 4 pm and were steaming through the night to get to our first trawling location on the southern California coast. The way the bunks were laid across the boat caused me to rock slightly from head to toe like I was lying on a seesaw – not at all conducive to falling sleep. I found myself suddenly commiserating with immigrants of yesteryear crossing rough seas to the new world, enduring seasick nights in their crammed quarters. Oh dear, I thought. This is going to be a long 10 days.
Luckily, after my first full day at sea, my nerves – and my stomach – quieted down. Between the crew rapping on the walls at 3 am to switch out their turns on watch, to the 6 am wake-up as the winch let out a hydraulic squeal to set the first net, I was more than ready to fall asleep at the end of each long day. And never once did I tumble out of my bunk in the middle of the night.