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The elated and the jaded...a mix of attitudes amongst the science party and crew

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Captain Chris "Rip" Curl

Karen Stamieszkin

For some individuals aboard the R/V Melville, this voyage is to be their first extended research cruise; for others, this is simply another six weeks on the job, like another form to file or another yawn to expel.  Many of the science party and crew have been at this type of work all year and have likely been at sea for more days than on land.  For others, like me, this is an exciting adventure and, rather than looking forward to the end, are looking forward to the journey.  I wonder what kinds of exciting things we might see…storms?  Big waves?  Some interesting creatures pulled up from kilometers below the sea surface?  Sea monsters?  What are some things that you think we will see out there?  Send in your ideas and we will post them on the Internet!! 

Person Profile: Captain Chris “Rip” Curl…favorite surf spot, Pasquales, MX

The first thing you may notice about Capt. Curl is his nickname.  Yes, he surfs, and has been surfing for the larger part of his life.  He began before the age of ten, while his family was living in Hawaii (surfing at Barbara’s Point).  Capt. Curl began his career of travel and world-exploration from birth, as his father was in the navy and moved with the family every four years or so. 

The second thing about Capt. Curl is his striking ability to make you feel comfortable and listened to, a trait that is also likely a result of his childhood of moving from place to place, always making new friends in new places.  These places ranged from Hawaii to Italy to Rhode Island (surfing at First Beach) to Southern California.  It was in Coronado, in Southern California, that Capt. Curl learned from his brother of the California Maritime Academy; before deciding to attend the California Maritime Academy, Capt. Curl had been relatively unsure of what to do.  He attended college for one year, and was a ski bum in Utah for a year.

It was only after some wandering that Capt. Curl decided to become a professional mariner.  One week after graduating from the Maritime Academy, he was hired by Scripps Institute of Oceanography as an Able-Bodied Seaman (a technical term, seriously).  It was after his very first cruise that he met his wife-to-be in Hawaii.  He has been working on Scripps vessels ever since, totaling 26 years to date.

Capt. Curl is responsible for every individual on the R/V Melville during this research cruise, science party or ship crew.  He is also the chief medic, and guy to whom everyone ultimately reports.  He mentioned that one of the scariest medical emergencies that he has had to deal with was an epileptic seizure; luckily, the ship was close to shore, and the victim was in the hands of medical professional very quickly.  The scariest weather Capt. Curl has ever experienced involved a rogue trough.  These form when wave troughs combine (the way waves combine to form a rogue wave) to create a monstrous valley in the sea.  His ship dove to the bottom of such a trough, and then plunged through the other side; seawater enveloped the stern of the ship, causing enough damage for the ship to be condemned upon return to port.  Luckily, the ship rose to the surface almost immediately after being submerged, and no one was seriously hurt. 

Being captain on a ship like the Melville is a lot of responsibility, but Capt. Curl accepts this with humility and quiet confidence.  He mentioned that the hardest part of his job is being away from his family (his wife, 19 year-old son Cassidy and 15 year-old daughter Chrissie), though communication is certainly easier now with Internet capabilities onboard.  The “coolest” things that Capt. Curl has seen at sea include a mom and calf pair of blue whales, surfing down a thirty food swell, bioluminescent doughnuts (most likely made up of bioluminescent phytoplankton) in the Sea of Cortez, and a baby sperm whale hovering in perfectly glassy water, so that it looked as though it were suspended in air. 

While Capt. Curl deals on a daily basis with shipping agents, customs departments, border control agencies, cranky scientists and nosy people like me, he take it all in stride; he sees these things as the means to reach a more fulfilling end.  Capt. Curl’s enthusiasm for his work stems from his spirit of adventure, love of travel, new places and cultures, and his desire to aid in the pursuit of a more complete understanding of the world in which we live.


Last updated: November 23, 2009

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