My name is Sienna Blanckensee, and I am currently an undergraduate student at the University of Queensland, studying for a Bachelor of Advanced Science. Through this degree, I have found an interest in oceanography. So, when my supervisor, Dr Helen Bostock, presented me with the chance to gain experience at sea for a month, I jumped on the opportunity.
The very first thing I learnt on this trip is that the R/V Falkor is a ship, not a boat. You can not mix the two up, or a crew member will promptly remind you of the difference.
“You can fit a boat on a ship, but not a ship on a boat!”
Since this crucial lesson, I have discovered that keeping this ship on the move is a much more complex job than I imagined. The 22 crew members on board have many different roles among them and are like a second family to one another. After interviewing all the crew on board, I have compiled a short summary of what everyone on the Research Vessel Falkor does.
Captain & Officers: This team is responsible for looking after and steering the ship, maintaining the safety equipment, organising safety drills, and collaborating with the science team to plan routes for the cruise. As one officer eloquently put it, “We are Uber drivers that follow geographical reference points rather than roads.” Each officer is also responsible for something specific, e.g., navigation or medical issues. These officers are ultimately in charge of the ship and the people.
Marine Technicians: A marine tech’s role involves working with the science team to achieve the scientific goals of the expedition. This team looks after the scientific instruments on board such as sonars, meteorological equipment, sea surface instruments, the CTD, and data logging computers. This often involves a lot of troubleshooting and fixing gear. They also do quite a lot of outreach, explaining the different technology on the ship to school kids and the general public.
Engineers & Fitters: This team is responsible for maintaining the engines, the sewerage system, the internet, and most importantly, the coffee machine. They also manually wield and create objects, ensure that water continues to come out of the taps, make sure that the ship is moving in the right direction (and not sinking).
Bosun & Deckhands: This team works to maintain the deck as “a clean ship is a happy ship.” This involves keeping the deck clean, regular painting and maintenance, operating the winches, cranes, and workboats, and ensuring equipment remains functional.
Purser: If you are trying to figure out how to get home after being on the ship for ~2 months, what is happening with pay this month, or need something cleared at port, the purser is your friend. They are essentially the on board HR person.
Chefs and stewards: This team is responsible for keeping everyone on board well-fed, healthy, and clean. The chefs never fail to provide an abundant range of options – including vegan – making everything off the top of their heads. The ship has a laundry service that could make a luxury hotel jealous: you drop off laundry and come back at the end of the day to freshly folded clothes. They look after us very well.
Within the crew, there are those that always envisioned themselves working on ships and those that fell into these roles by chance or accident. They are a very diverse group, coming from a range of backgrounds and countries. Of the 22 crew, four are female, and the rest are male. Throughout the year, this crew works two months on the ship, followed by two months at home, where another crew comes in and replaces them.
When asked about their favourite part about the job, many enjoy seeing the world while working, learning from the science crew, the lifestyle, and the mission of Schmidt Ocean Institute. Oh, and you cannot forget about the regular karaoke. However, the most common response was the relationship this crew has with one another – their family away from home.
Before embarking on this voyage, I had never heard words like purser or bosun. I didn’t even know what roles existed on a ship. But in my short time on board the R/V Falkor, I have observed a close-knit group of people who flourish in an environment many may never experience. The science team and I are very grateful to the captain, officers, and crew for welcoming us on board the ship and making us feel so at home over the last few weeks. I have learned a lot about ships and ocean science, having lots of fun along the way.