Discovering Oneself at Sea
Cruise Blog and Bio by Jack Payette
My first time aboard the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer (EX) was September 2009 in Astoria, OR. I had just received my bachelor’s degree in Earth Sciences with a focus in Oceanography from The University of New Hampshire (UNH) in May 2009. Attending UNH, I had been invited to the cruise after meeting Mashkoor Malik, a physical scientist who works with the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) at the Center for Coastal Ocean Mapping / Joint Hydrographic Center (CCOM/JHC).
The cruise out of Astoria was unfortunately cancelled after I arrived on the ship. A few months later I received an email from Mashkoor inviting me back. It was hard to believe I would get a second chance to sail on the EX. On my second try we mapped the Necker ridge off the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. This was the first time I sailed aboard an oceanographic exploration or research vessel on an open ocean cruise. It was one of the best experiences of my life because it was the first time I became directly involved in oceanography. It was also my first opportunity to apply my degree after graduation.
This set me on a path to join further oceanographic research cruises. After the EX, I sailed on the R/V Melville from Australia to Tahiti doing trace metal chemistry work with a group from the University of Hawaii. Next, I worked with a NASA research group on the NOAA Ship Delaware II on a cruise from Woods Hole, MA to Norfolk, VA. I also did several cruises with The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) investigating ‘Red Tide’ and Harmful Algal Blooms out on Georges Bank, the Gulf of Maine, and the coast of Cape Cod. Currently I have plans to join in on another ‘Red Tide’ cruise with WHOI this fall.
With the completion of the EX1005 cruise from Guam to Hawaii in September 2010, I have logged just under 100 days at sea on 6 oceanographic cruises in the span of only a year. Growing up in Boston included spending summers on Cape Cod as a kid. I learned to sail at a young age, so I have always loved the ocean and being out on the water. I never realized how much I would like it though, and what a different experience it is being on the open ocean – where there is nothing on the horizon but blue seas.
At present, my plans involve returning to graduate school to continue studying oceanography. Experience with oceanographic exploration and research at sea has given me invaluable hands-on experience. These cruises have exposed me to many different institutions, groups and researchers, immersed me in a variety of projects, and helped me better understand and hone my own scientific research interests. Chemical oceanography and marine microbiology are the disciplines that I have found the most interesting to study. Being out at sea has also helped me learn more about myself on a more personal level.
Without a doubt, all of the cruises have all been fun and enjoyable experiences. The people you sail and work with make it worthwhile. It’s hard to describe or explain to people who haven’t sailed offshore for a significant period of time, because there is really nothing like it. When you are isolated, working, and living in harsh conditions with the same people every day you develop a special camaraderie.
One of my favorite things about the EX is that its design and its mission are oriented to bring exploration and research to those ashore. The EX and its program are not just geared toward outreach—unlike anything else, the EX fosters active participation in the missions. I can’t thank everyone enough for such a valuable opportunity; I have come to feel like the EX is a second home.