HALIFAX, N.S. – Traveling aboard a Coast Guard vessel, especially one the size of the Louis S. St-Laurent (slightly longer than a football field), means learning the nautical ropes first. Even before we leave the Dartmouth harbor we've been through several safety drills from fire to first aid to familiarization with the ship's layout. We've also experienced the rather humbling struggle of donning an immersion suit. If you've never seen one, it's like sealing your whole body in a yellow astronaut glove, right up to your eyebrows. In an emergency, you're expected to wriggle your way into it in 30-40 seconds. It's all about surviving a dip in the freezing waters of the Arctic.
That initiation process includes deciphering "ship speak" – or risk looking like a landlubber. For example, there is no kitchen, there is a mess. You also don't eat in the galley since that's where the food is prepared. There are no floors, there are decks. The stairs are steps. The windows are portals. And hold the muster, you'd better figure out where your station is in a hurry. Confused? It doesn't take long, but don't even think about shrugging it off with a, "whatever." The crew takes its time at sea seriously and if you want respect from them it's best to be a quick study of all the traditions and rules. (Plus they'll be the ones who decide to throw you a life preserver.)
We had some logistical challenges of our own to deal with, including my luggage being delayed for 9 hours getting into the Halifax airport. Fortunately I won't have to get by with just a pair of jeans and a down vest since it finally arrived late Tuesday night. By then I was ready to settle into my bunk, which as you can see from the photos is basic without being uncomfortable. In fact, I had a very satisfying sleep last night (albeit short). I can't wait to look out my portal (see, I'm learning) and see glaciers or mountains nearby. So many adventures yet to come. Although our journey only lasts three weeks the ship will continue on through parts of the Arctic for nearly five months. That means a lot of bags of potatoes (I think I heard fifty 100-lb. bags were loaded at one point).
We also needed to jury-rig a satellite connection to send back these blogs postings, video, audio podcasts and photos along the way. So far, success. Between Mark (cameraperson) and me it took some wrangling but we're live and broadcasting with data speeds that date back to approximately 2000. Not bad. Besides, we've got a wireless network, too. (Though it doesn't do well through steel dividers.)
We're nearly on our way to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and tomorrow the scientists will make their first test drop of samplers and equipment. Lots more to learn along the way. We haven't even reached the tip of the iceberg let alone scratched the surface. But I'm ready for it. Right now it's off to check out the canteen. Know what that is?