Rocking around a rocking ship

March 7, 2009

Delicate instruments and glass jars of chemicals were not designed with stability in mind, but stability is important while on a rolling ship at sea. The first day of the cruise has been calm; we are passing south along the southern end of Argentina, and the land provides protection from waves and wind that cause the ship to roll. The calm will not last, however, so we spent the day tying down every movable object on the ship. Sensitive instruments sit on air-cushioned pads that protect them from bumps and rolls that knock them out of calibration. No tools are left on the counters where they can slide off; all are locked inside of toolboxes, which are themselves tied to the walls. Large instruments like the towfish and the ROV are strapped tightly to the ship so they do not shift.

Photo by Christine Huffard.

Photo by Christine Huffard.

To secure all of this equipment, a small repertoire of lines and knots are important for every seagoing person; so far, two knots are being used in abundance on the ship. The first is the bowline, which creates a loop at the end of a piece of line. The loop, or “eye,” is used to tie two lines together, can fasten a line to a hook in a wall, or provide a means for hanging lines off of objects. The trucker’s hitch is an important knot for cinching down objects tightly—many boxes were secured today with trucker’s hitches. This knot can be pulled very tight, creating a secure hold-down without the need for buckles or straps.

Another important knot is the butterfly or alpine knot, which creates an eye like the bowline, but in the middle of the line instead of at the end.

All of these knots have been used at sea for hundreds of years, and are still being used to stabilize our gear for the rough seas ahead. Sleeping quarters are arranged for rolling seas as well. Beds are aligned starboard to port, ensuring that people don’t roll out of bed in rough seas. Showers have handles to grab onto if the ship starts to lean, and handles line the hallways for stability as well.

Finally, a good rule of thumb is for each person to remain aware of their own stability: “one hand for you, one hand for the ship at all times.” That means that one hand must always be free to grab for the walls or a stable surface in case the ship rolls or pitches unexpectedly. If someone is carrying something that requires two hands, it is safer to ask for help from someone else so that one hand can be free, if necessary.

—Amanda Kahn