This Page Contains Some Sea Stories From My Years at Sea on Research Ships and Expedition Voyages--Some of the Names Have Been Changes to Avoid Litigation
Sea Stories
Research Ship Stories:
In 1974 we sailed aboard R/V Atlantis II from Woods Hole Oceangraphic Institution on a cruise to northwest Africa. We had a big Irishman named Matrin Smith as Third Mate and he love practical jokes. We also had a messboy named Chris Pope who was a kid from Falmouth who had really never been off the Cape. Chris was, as they say downeast, "almost smart." Later that year the ship was going into the yard in New York and Chris was already worrying about how he would make it in the big City. Martin told him not to worry, that he had been in that yard many times and the secret was very simple. He said that near the yard was a very fancy bar and that Chris should just go in there and sit down at the bar. Eventually someone would strike up a conversation and sooner or later they would say, "What do you do for a living?" Now that was the key question and when he heard it he should take a long drag on his cigarette, stare slowly off into the corner of the ceiling, count to 10 and then say, "I follow the sea." That would really impress the person who would then say something like, "So how do like your work?" Chris should then take another drag, stare at the ceiling, count to 10 again and say, "The sea is a cruel mistress." Martin told him the person would be so impressed he would take him out, buy him dinner and everything and the evening would be a great success. For a couple of weeks you could see Chris practicing these lines, smoking his cigarette and mouthing the words. One day Martin and I arrived early for lunch and Chris was standing by the galley door, so Martin said, "Hey Chris, what do you do for a living?" With a flash of recognition, Chris took a drag, stared off in the distance and said, "I follow the sea." So Martin said, "Oh yeah? How do you like your work?" Chris took another drag, stared off again and said, "The sea is a tough broad." Two weeks of practice and that was as close as he could come!

Aboard R/V Mellville from Scripps Oceanographic Institution, I sailed with Captain Larry Davis to Peru in 1977. Larry was a very self-effacing guy and whenever someone would come up to the bridge and ask him a question about what was going on or what we were going to do next, Larry would say, "Don't ask me. Go ask someone who knows. Ask the cook."

Aboard R/V Thomas G. Thompson, the primary Research Vessel of the University of Washington, we once sailed with an AB (Able-Bodied Seaman) named Willie Walsh who was a little pixie of a man and a drunken Irishman if there ever was one. Willie had been a hard-hat diver among other occupations and they all seem to get a bit dingy after while. We were in Peru and Willie was working days rather than standing a watch, so every afternoon at 1600 when he got off, he would buy a bottle from the "old man," Captain Bill Clampett, take it down to his berthing space and procced to drink it. Eventually at dinner time he would arrive on the mess deck reeling all over the place, cussing out the old man and everyone else and then stagger back below. It was pretty obnoxious so the Captain started logging him, writing down what he did and what he said every day to build a case to fire him. 
When we returned to Seattle, the Captain took the log book over to the Marine Superintendant's office. Now the Marine Superintendant, Captain Frank Bean, was a wonderful man and he had a secretary named Alice who was about 60 and was always the picture of perfection--very well dressed, never a hair out of place, and a wonderful gal. Captain Bean called Alice in and asked her to take the log book out and excerpt the passages about Walsh to build a chronology to be used in the case agianst him. She left with the log book and Captain Clampett stayed to talk a bit with Captain Bean. After a short while there was a gentle knock on the door and Alice stuck her head in and asked, "Excuse me Captain, but is 'motherfucker' hyphenated?"

On anotherThompson cruise in Baja California, Willie Walsh came on board with an ancient pair of dress loafers as his only footwear. They were probably nice once, but but now they were falling apart. The soles were held on with duct tape and they were covered with every color of paint on the ship. As we were docking in Ensenada, the Chief Mate, John Swenson, a big Swede, looked down at Walsh's shoes and said, "Walsh, I don't care what you do in port, but I want you to buy a new pair of shoes because those are a safety hazard to you and your ship mates." Walsh said, "Yes sir, I will." Three days later as we were letting go lines the two of them were on the foredeck together and the mate looked down and saw that Walsh was wearing the same old pair of shoes. He blew is top and said, "Goddam it Walsh! Didn't I tell you to get a new pair of shoes?" Walsh said "Yes sir you did." The mate said, "Well did you?" Walsh said, "No sir, I didn't--but I got these shined."

We had a Cajun Third Mate on Thompson named Don Armand, who eventually became Master of Los Alaminos, Texas A&M's Research ship. Don was a classic Cajun--never had a problem in his life. When I would go to the bridge and ask Don where we were, he would look out the window, look around the bridge and then say, "Oh hell, my pole can't touch bottom, my radar can't touch the beach--
I don't know where we are."

One night in Ensenada, Don had the watch until midnight. The rest of us were out on the town and about 0015 we were in Hussong's Cantina and Don came in. We were all happy to see him so everyone started buying him drinks. About a half hour later a taxi driver came in, pretty upset, saying Don had told him to wait but then never came back. I paid off the driver, and later we went to several more bars. Every time we went to a new bar Don immediately fell asleep. We finally got back to the ship in the wee hours. In the morning we were working on deck off-loading gear, I was working in the hold and Don was operating the crane. About 1030 we took a beak and I was talking to Don and I told him he owed me five bucks. He said, "What for?" I told him I had paid of his cab at Hussong's. He said, "What do you mean?--I didn't go on the beach last night!" I said, "Of course you did--you were witth us for four hours." He said, "But I didn't spend any money." I explained that at Hussong's, I paid his cab, we all bought him drinks and that he fell asleep at everyother place we went. I thought it was an interesting way to try to recollect your activities of the night before.

Because Coastal Upwelling is a seasonal phenomenon we were usually at sea in the Spring. I used to like ot have an Easter Egg Hunt to break up the shipboard routine of a research vessel. One Holy Saturday night we were hiding eggs all over the ship. One of my programmers, a wonderful guy named Eric Pollack, who died way too early, was out hiding eggs and came into the lab all excited saying, "I just found a place that no one will ever look!" His face was completely covered in soot from the stack where he had just climbed up to hide an egg. We all agreed with him that no one would ever figure out where he had been!

On Thompson we had an Assistant Engineer named Craig Hodgert. Craig had two daughters in the late teens or early twenties who were always getting into trouble--it was usually drugs or pregnancy or something. One night at dinner Craig was sitting between the Captain and the Chief Engineeer in the wardroom and he launched into a story about one of his daughters getting arrested for marijuana possession. He was telling the story very loudly, so we could not help but hear it, and he said that he asked his daughter why she smoked marijuana. He said, "She said because it makes sex really good. So me and the wife," he continued, "got us some marijauna and we smoked it and them we had sex."After a long pause, he said, "The thing about marijuana is...you think you're having fun...but you're not." No one knew quite what ot say after that!
Expedition Voyage Stories:
Once in the British Isles we had a guest named Thelma. Thelma was in her '70's and was from New York and was a very stereotypically loud New Yorker. She had peroxided blond hair and was not very attractive but was a real character. She lasted about 10 minutes ashore wherever we landed. At Iona, one of the most sacred sites in all of Chistendom, she lasted about 15 minutes and was back on the dock before all the other quests were even ashore saying very loudly, "Where are the boats, where are the boats?" Well Thelma was travelling with a young man named Kevin who was about 40 and who hardly spoke a word the entire 2-week voyage. One night I was at dinner with Thelma and a group of other guests. For some reason Kevin was not eating with us. One of the ladies at the table asked Thelma, "Is that your son that you're travelling with?"  Without batting an eye, Thelma said, "Oh no, that's my lover. In New York they have a phone number. You call it up and they send one over." Then she added conspiratorially, "The young ones are a lot better!" The poor lady that had asked the question it was so glad she had brought it up!

Once on a voyage up the Atlantic Ridge, we had a guest speaker, a prominent filmaker, who arrived with his very young and very voluptuous Chinese girlfriend to join the ship at Ascension Island. The first night they were aboard, Tiger Lily, as she soon came to be known, showed up for our barbecue dinner on deck wearing a skin-tight, flaming-red floor-length dress that had a full length zipper in front which was unzipped at the top down to about her navel and from the bottom up to about her crotch. She brought her dinner over from the buffet and sat down next to me. I was talking to the radio operator, and old Swede named Sven, who was sitting across from us. As Tiger Lily sat down, Sven was starting to raise a forkload of food from his plate. His gaze was tranfixed by the apparition across the table and as he raised his fork he completely missed his mouth, hitting the side of his face with the load of food. It was classic!

Once on a recent Sea Cloud cruise in the Aegean, one of our guests came aboard and was shown to her cabin. She asked, 
"Do you have any cabins that aren't so close to he water?" I had to tell here, "It's a ship. They're all pretty close to the
water."


Those of us who work on expedition ships are there to, among other things, answer questons from our guests and we are happy to do so. Some of these questions are a bit of a challenge however. Memorable ones include:
"Why do the birds always sit on the white rocks?"
"Does the water go all the way around this island?"
"Does the crew sleep on the ship?"
"Do you generate all your own electricity on this ship?"