Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Gray's Reef Expedition 2012
Mission Information
 

Saturday: May 19, 2012
Log Day 5

ENS Jamie Park
NOAA Corps / Ship Nancy Foster

ENS Jamie Park plots course on the bridge of NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

ENS Jamie Park plots course on the bridge of NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
(Photo: Debbie Meeks)

A day in the life of a Junior Officer aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster during a dive intensive project such as Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary is a busy and rewarding one. For this officer, the day usually begins around 0500 with a workout, followed rapidly by the first large cup of coffee for the day. Breakfast is served between 0700 and 0800, and is prepared by the best Stewards in the fleet. I have been assigned to Nancy Foster for just short of two years, and have yet to have a bad meal from the galley (hence, the 0500 workouts).

Samantha Martin assists small boat launch for dive operations

Samantha Martin assists small boat launch for dive operations.
(Photo: Debbie Meeks)

After a quick breakfast and cup of coffee number two, it is time to get ready for morning operations. As a Small Boat Coxswain and NOAA Working Diver, I either prepare one of the ship's three small boats to get underway to support divers, or get my dive gear ready to participate underwater. Operations begin at 0800 after an Operational Risk Management briefing (ORM) with each Coxswain and their respective divers, discussing potential risks (weather, equipment, mental and physical fitness of divers, among them) and ways to mitigate them. Once the dive parties have ensured that the boats are ready with all safety gear, dive gear and associated mission equipment (buoys for marking receiver moorings, coolers for scientific samples, water and sunscreen, etc.), boats are deployed via crane with Coxswains, Coxswain trainees, and divers.

Lunch in the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster dining halls

Lunch in the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster dining hall
(Photo: Debbie Meeks)

Operations are concluded for the morning around lunchtime. Lunch is served between 1100 and 1200, and the Mess Deck is a busy place with everyone trying to re-energize for the afternoon. Once lunch is finished, preparations are again made to get small boats back underway for afternoon dive operations. ORMs and gear checks are performed again, and since I am not out in a boat or diving in the afternoon, I spend this time on deck handling lines during deployments and keeping an eye open for things that could potentially become unsafe.

ENS Jamie Park on the bridge on NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

ENS Jamie Park on the bridge of NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
(Photo: Debbie Meeks)

After boats are deployed for the afternoon, I have a couple hours to attend to the collateral duties which have been assigned to me (cup of coffee number three in hand, of course). Keeping a ship operational takes uncountable hours from everyone onboard. Junior Officers are tasked with a wide variety of duties on top of being coxswains and divers. A few of mine include Navigation Officer, Imprest Fund Officer (the Imprest Fund is essentially the ship's petty cash fund, although it is highly regulated and only used in very certain circumstances), Training Officer, and Small Boat Officer. In addition to collateral duties, there are also occasional small ad-hoc tasks that are given by the Commanding Officer and Executive Officer that need attending to.

Transferring departing divers and gear to R/V Sam Gray

Transferring departing divers and gear to R/V Sam Gray
(Photo: Debbie Meeks)

At 1530, I find myself grabbing my fourth cup of coffee to head to the bridge for my bridge watch. On top of all collateral duties on Nancy Foster, the top priority for all Officers is standing safe navigational watches on the bridge. The normal watch schedule has each of us on the bridge for two 4 hour watches each day, with 8 hours between. My usual watch, as the junior-most qualified Officer of the Deck (OOD) underway is the mid-watch (0000-0400, 1200-1600). For this project, however, I am only standing the afternoon 1600-2000 watch, while our Operations Officer, LT Josh Slater, stands the morning 0400-0800 watch. The Executive Officer (XO), Chief Mate Donn Pratt, is standing the mid-watch, and the Commanding Officer (CO), LCDR Holly Jablonski, is standing the 0800-1200 and 2000-2400 with ENS Kelsey Jeffers, who is training to become an underway OOD. This unusual watch schedule has been implemented for this project so that LT Slater and I can operate small boats and dive in support of the mission at hand. To be quite honest, I really like this watch schedule and will be requesting to the Command to keep it as such for the remainder of the season (I'm sure it won't happen, but the response from the XO should be pretty priceless!).

Chevron fish traps are loaded onto R/V Joe Ferguson

Chevron fish traps are loaded onto R/V Joe Ferguson
Photo: Debbie Meeks

So from around 1545 until 1945, I am on the bridge driving and navigating the ship (quite a fun job, honestly). This can include anything from recovering small boats that are completing their diving operations for the afternoon to conducting CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) casts and running multi-beam survey lines while our Survey department operates our bathymetric mapping equipment. During this watch, LT Slater comes to the bridge to allow me a few minutes to go eat dinner, which is served between 1630 and 1730, and is always delicious!

After watch, I have another couple hours to call home for a few minutes (a very nice privilege on this ship!) before getting back to work on my collateral duties. After coming to a stopping point, if there is such a thing, I rack out (i.e. go to bed) to get rested up for the next day. This first leg of this project is 11 days, ending with a four night port call in Savannah, GA. We will then head back out to Gray's Reef for another twelve day leg.

All of the officers, crew and scientists work very long days during high operational tempo projects like this, but the work being done is significant and it makes the long hours worth it knowing that I am playing a small part in the success of the missions of the scientists, of NOAA, and the NOAA Corps. Plus, I get to see a lot of really interesting things that you just can't see on the beach. On Thursday, while talking with the XO in the afternoon on the bridge, we spotted what the R/V Joe Ferguson's crew confirmed to be a tiger shark that was about ten feet long with a school of cobia trailing along with it. Last year during the Gray's Reef project, I got the opportunity to help replace an old piece of equipment on the underside of the weather buoy inside the sanctuary with LTjg Chris Briand, the Vessel Operations Coordinator for the sanctuary. Our dive profile was 9 feet for 45 minutes, and it's the closest thing to a rodeo I have ever participated in. As the most tenured officer on the ship, I have worked with a large majority of the scientists on this project in past years and of different projects, and it is always nice to see familiar faces and hear about all the science they have been doing since we last met.

Sunset from NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

Sunset from NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
(Photo: Jamie Park)

At the end of the day, I love the sea and all of its wonders, and this career has put me right in the thick of it. Plus, the view from my office window is better than any I have ever had on shore.

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