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Rolling in the Deep*

September 18, 2012
Big waves rolling in the deep

A big wave rolls past and crashes on the port side of the Nancy Foster

“Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer silently 
The derision of those who suffer not
Or to lose lunch bravely into a sea of troubles
And by purging end them? To die, to hurl,
No more — and thereby end
The bellyache and the thousand natural revulsions
That seagoing flesh is heir to, ‘tis a consummation Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep;
To puke; ay, there goes the grub.”

 ~Charles Mazel (Heave Ho! My little green book of seasickness)

The infamous “Mal de Mer”, seasickness, has swept over several on the boat, including myself this afternoon. The cause? High seas as a result of two low pressure systems moving east. Consequently we are under a gale warning. The waves and rocking of the boat were really quite impressive, all scientific staff and crew were kept inside because lots of waves and water were on the lower decks.

It snuck up on me suddenly during our post-lunch emergency breathing device training. I am happy to report that after a visit to the trashcan (twice), a nice longish nap, and a bowl of chicken noodle soup, I am feeling amazingly better. But what a strange malady!  J.T. Reason describes seasickness as a special case of motion sickness; a normal response of any healthy person who experiences unfamiliar movement of sufficient intensity and duration (Man in Motion: The Psychology of Travel- 1974). A few years later, Reason references a theory that Treisman (1977) first proposed: that motion sickness evolved as an accidental byproduct of an early-warning system for detecting the effects of ingested neurotoxins. Wikipedia does an excellent job of simplifying the language of his article: “The area postrema in the brain is responsible for inducing vomiting when poisons are detected, and for resolving conflicts between vision and balance. When feeling motion but not seeing it, the inner ear transmits to the brain that it senses motion, but the eyes tell the brain that everything is still. As a result of the discordance, the brain will come to the conclusion that one of them is hallucinating and further conclude that the hallucination is due to poison ingestion. The brain responds by inducing vomiting, to clear the supposed toxin.”

Eden and Zuk (1995) reassure us that “virtually no one is immune; individuals differ only in how rough the sea must be before they get seasick.” In spite of this they note that “motion sickness has largely eluded both theoretical explication and reliable practical solutions” (Well shoot! What are we supposed to do then?!) Fortunately they continue… “Although most seasickness research has been physiological and pharmacological, ‘behavioral adaptation’ has been discussed as a way of coping with seasickness. The best example of behavior adaptation is staying active to keep one’s mind occupied with work and off the unpleasant sensations.… Another way to combat seasickness is to maintain an ‘internal dialogue’ (Rolnick, 1984) in which one convinces oneself that the situation is not all that bad. One repeats such thoughts as “I can endure it” and “I must carry on for there’s no one else to do this job.””

And thus, I carry on with my internal positive dialogue (for inspiration read The Little Engine that Could) and the blog.

Reviewing wreckage footage (from the Gulf of Mexico)

Waves can’t hold back the enthusiasm of the archaeologists. Drs Rod Mather, Steve Viada, and Jack Irion review wreckage footage (from the Gulf of Mexico) even without the ROV.

Needless to say, today the seas were too rough to do anything overboard. Everyone got up early to launch the ROV at 06:00, but it was determined if we got it down, the recovery later on in the afternoon would be too risky, so the dive was scrapped. Not to be dissuaded by the lack of video feed from the non-existent ROV dive cameras, Drs. Rod Mather, Steve Viada, and Jack Irion simply revisited dive footage from one of Jack’s previous excursions to the Gulf of Mexico complete with a wreck map to reference and everything! It was spectacular footage, and I hope that we are able to capture equally enthralling views once the ROV is able to descend.

This morning started off clear (but windy), and a few of us watched lots of flying fish flitting away from the breaking waves on the bow of the boat. We hoped to see whales but were rewarded instead with a monarch butterfly! Twice! Both times I was too slow with the camera. This little butterfly seemed so fragile and foreign amidst, literally, an ocean of blue waves all around us. It fluttered across the bow of the boat, maybe attracted by the bright orange life preservers and emergency equipment. I looked but did not see any sign of a tag. I was hoping it would land, and daydreamed about how cool it would have been to report a re-sighting over the ocean! We reflected on how amazing animal migrations are- whether insects or whales or birds.

orange life preserver aboard the Nancy Foster

The skies were clear, but the wind was strong. Waves got bigger and bigger and eventually kept all crew and scientists inside for their safety. Maybe the bright orange of the life preservers on deck aboard the Nancy Foster attracted the monarch butterfly?

After lunch we had an emergency drill and everyone “mustered” in their respective places to practice putting on the “Gumby” suits which will protect us from cold waters should we have to go overboard. I’ll welcome the happy company of Esprit and Jack in my lifeboat in the event of an emergency. With only three fingers we are limited in the signs we can give each other: thumbs up, peace, and “we’re #1”!

Tonight we’re headed back in to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay to an area more sheltered from the strong winds and waves. Hopefully everyone will sleep off the lingering feelings of seasickness and we will awake to calm seas and a day full of scientific discoveries.

* Today’s theme song Adele’s ‘Rolling in the Deep’.

Three Gumbies

Three happy Gumbies assigned to lifeboat #2. From left, Esprit Heestand Saucier, Megan Chesser, and Jack Irion.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Brian permalink
    September 19, 2012 1:16 am

    Roll Megan, roll! Or to suggest an alternative theme song, Roll With It by Steve Winwood.

  2. lizbaird permalink
    September 19, 2012 6:38 pm

    Megan I hope the seas have subsided and you are able to get the ROV in the water this afternoon. Sounds as if the swells we were anticipating our entire leg gathered strength and hit you all full force! You are certainly earning your sealers on this mission!

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