Alex Dorsk

Information Systems Associate
Former Oceanus SSSG Technician
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution


I recall the first time I saw the Oceanus.  It was in the summer of 2002.  I was boarding the vineyard ferry and saw a sleek blue-hulled ship tied up at the WHOI dock.  It seemed like there was a lot of energy coming from that ship...the crane was moving around, people were pushing boxes around the deck.  Trucks were coming in and out to drop stuff off.  I was fascinated by the whole scene.  Little did I suspect that I would sail on her several years later.

My first Oceanus cruise was OC-439 in the Fall of 2007, a CLIMODE mooring recovery cruise.  Bob Weller was the chief scientist.  I was sailing as the ship's SSSG technician.  I had just started sailing as an apprentice tech  earlier in 2007 on the Knorr, and this was my first time sailing as a solo tech.  I was excited to be on my own, but also somewhat apprehensive.  What if something broke and I didn't know how to fix it?

On that first cruise I learned that I was never truly 'on my own' on Oceanus.  Very early on I got the sense that the entire crew really wanted to make things work for science and would do whatever they could to make it happen.  If I needed help I just had to ask.  And that was generally true for the science parties that sailed on Oceanus, too.  It really was a ship where people worked together.

On that first cruise I also learned never to go on deck without my sea boots.  The Oceanus rode much lower in the water than the Knorr, as I found out just a few hours into the cruise when a relatively minor wave cascaded through the chocks and soaked me from the waist down.  You could say that the Oceanus had a very intimate relationship with the sea.

I was fortunate to have numerous excellent cruises on Oceanus.  I sailed with great science parties and excellent crews.  Some of my favorite cruises were the Red Tide cruises in the Gulf of Maine led by Dennis McGillicuddy and Bruce Keafer, and the cruises during Oceanus's 2008 voyage to Saudi Arabia and back.  There were many other great cruises and I regret that I can not describe them all here.

There are countless specific memories I have about life on the ship.  One was that when the ship was traveling near cruising speed in calm waters she would emit a musical tone near concert 'D'; sometimes after dinner I would play guitar for a few minutes.  I could gauge our speed by how much I had to tune my guitar strings.

I can remember the sensation of sitting in the library just before dinner.  A kind of warm cloud of steam and spices and sound seemed to waft down from the galley into the library.  There would be clinks and clanks from plates and silverware, sizzling and hissing from the stove, the aroma of baked ham or turkey, the light chatter of the steward and messman with the engineers passing through.  Sometimes these days if I'm outside in the cold, I just think about that sensation and I swear I feel warmer.

I also remember what it was like to see pure joy.  I'm talking of course about the times when AB Leo Fitz would catch a fish.  I have met no one who loves to fish more than Leo.  When he spied a Mahi swimming near the ship it was almost like a switch clicked.  His hands would start to shake and he would race to get his pole.  When he hooked a fish he would whoop and shout, and would positively glow if he successfully brought it aboard.  

One last memory.  In mid-November of 2008 the Oceanus stopped in Gibraltar for a day on her way back from the Red Sea. I and Jeff Avery, the steward at the time, had gone up to the top of the Rock of Gibraltar.  It was a perfect fall day, cool and breezy and bright.  Clouds which looked like they had been painted by Goya were streaming over the Rock.  The sun was just beginning to set.  I remember looking down from Rock to where the Oceanus was docked and thinking how small she appeared.  It struck me then- it was a miracle that this tiny blue steel box had carried us across the Atlantic, and that we trusted it to carry us back.  That this tiny ship had been sailing and doing science for longer than I had been alive.  That the ship was alive because people maintained it, navigated it took care of it. That I was a part of this ship.  A miracle.

I don't mean to sugarcoat what it was like to be on the ship.  There certainly were difficult times, times when I thought to myself "I must be crazy!  What was I thinking in coming out here?!".  Frequently those times came up whenever the waves were bigger than twenty feet.  Coincidence?

But overall it really was a very positive experience.  I feel like I have received an education, a store of memories I will cherish for life.

I am grateful to the Oceanus and the men and women with whom I sailed.  I am particularly grateful for my time with Captains Larry Bearse and Diego Mello, mates Ethan Galac and Logan Johansen, Steward Jeff Avery, Engineers Moose Morris, Gary McGrath, and Mike Thorwick, Bosun Clindor Cacho and AB Leo Fitz.  I wish the best of luck to them all in the years ahead.