Call of the Gulf: Pre-Cruise Port Days

28 March, 2014:  by Christine Laporte, Education and Outreach Coordinator, ECOGIG

Mandy and I arrive in flash-flooded Gulfport, and board the RV/Atlantis amidst a torrential rain, weaving through a steady flow of students and crew offloading equipment for the cruise.  Their determined shoulders are set against gusting winds..and against the ticking clock; the launch is set for 0800 Sunday!   All the contents of these countless boxes emerging from Uhaul vans must be stowed and secured in the Lab spaces.  Audible swirls of  human activity mix with the hum of mechanical elements. We quickly deliver Mandy's bags to her stateroom,  and she is off and running,  attending to her multiple priorities.  I attend to my tasks, trying to not be distracted by a view of the Gulf's waters merging seamlessly with the saturated horizon.

The ship's humming hive  entices exploration, and as good luck has it, Captain A.D. Colbourne is the first person I meet.  We discuss logistics  for  that afternoon's interviews with FOX and NBC, and for the dozens of press and guests expected tomorrow for our Media Event. He then graciously takes time to orient me to his ship, which is impressively steady even in this storm.   I am curious about all those who pass by,  each with a niche and roles to  fulifill in this floating ecosystem, this organism that is The Cruise.

Safety and  science are formidable drivers of purposeful human endeavor, as is the significance  of this Cruise's Mission:  22 dives in ALVIN ,  visually exploring and sampling near the Macondo wellhead and at many natural seeps. How  will  things  be different, or not, than in the 2010 sampling just after the Deepwater Horizon tragedy? 

And yet, amidst this palpable seriousness,  I also feel  the hum of inspiration behind archetypal portals and enticing doorways leading to passageways I don't have time to explore. Finally I meet and develop an instant crush on ALVIN, the Navy's premier DSV, newly re-designed and outfitted for expeditions in which the scientists and some fortunate students will actually be able to comfortably explore the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico!    I ask Bruce Strickrott an ALVIN's pilot for nearly 2 decades,  if ALVIN ever appears in his dreams, and am delighted  with his affirmaitive reply.  I share a very vivid dream I had about ALVIN just before my arrival. How I long to  join a dive, but am thrilled to at least descend into chamber, and dwell there for awhile among state of the art controls,  imagining what ALVIN's cameras, and window-eyes will soon reveal about the ocean I  so love. Touching vastness, illuminating depths.

Oceanography involves staggering amounts of preparation, collaboration, purpose  and expertise... fuelled by intellectual curiosity &  devotional fervor.  Add salt air,  serendipity, and dreams of a Deeper Understanding... and I am ready to stow away.  But my niche this time is on shore, getting the word out about what the scientists find in their explorations.  After a long day, I reluctantly leave as everyone  heads towards their berths or to resume their work.  In my  hotel room I dream of sunshine for our Media Event with dozens of participants,  slated for tomorrow.  The stories that  will emerge from this Cruise need multiple voices if we are to make a difference.  I am grateful to be one among that many.