Diary of a Co-Chief Scientist: Sailing by the Florida Keys

The Walton Smith set sail from RSMAS this morning around 7:30 am (11:30 GMT) into clear, sunny skies. On the way out we encountered a national landmark, Stiltsville, an area of houses on the channel out of Miami that (you guessed it) are built on stilts.

Stiltsville, Florida
Stiltsville, Florida

While eating breakfast, all of us were glued to the weather channel with news of a storm currently causing havoc in the Gulf of Mexico, which we are keen to avoid. The forecast indicates that we are behind the worst of the storm and should not experience rough seas, but we may get caught in a thunderstorm or two. Good news is no one on the science party suffers from sea sickness!

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In today’s episode of Unexpected Co-Chief Scientist Jobs: patching a plankton net!
NWS Gulf of Mexico
NWS radar of the Gulf of Mexico

Mid-morning the science team went through the safety drill, learning where to muster and what to do in emergencies. Everything from a fire, man overboard to abandon ship is reviewed so that the entire team (science and crew) is prepared. Lab was unpacked and set up, and now we wait as we steam through the Keys and into the Gulf of Mexico. My unexpected chief scientist job for the day was to repair a hole in a MOCNESS net, and I’m glad to put sewing skills to work! [Just as an aside, if you don’t know how to sew–learn. It’s one of the most practical skills to have and is extremely handy on deep-sea cruises!]

Later in the afternoon the science team gathered to assemble the MOCNESS plankton nets, with everyone working to attach the nets to the actual opening and closing mechanism. It sounds easy, right? Wrong! There is a whole method to the attachment process, and any slip up could tear the net or mix up the release order and compromise the entire plankton tow. By the time everything was finished it was dark, so we’ll wait to test everything in the morning to ensure MOCNESS is ready for its big moment in the ocean.

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