It’s a new year

Wow, haven’t posted anything in a long time though I have been writing. The remainder of 2009 was indeed a year of a lot of changes and a lot of shit. Reading back over my meager and depressing first posts, I am glad to report that I have indeed become better at living a life of emotions. I unblocked something and am now able to cry when I am sad as well as experience and express anger and disappointment when I feel them. In turn, I am positively giddy when life is good, which honestly is most of the time. Now that I have a new job I am free of whatever odd force was exerting itself on me, making life a bit of a drag. I haven’t identified everything that needs sorting out yet, but I am working on it. Working toward the life I want, realizing it’s all inexplicably within reach and, you know, doing stuff when I want to. Hopefully I will be better about posting here. A lot has changed. I now work at SIO at my dream-for-now job. I am currently in the South Pacific on a research vessel, having been away from San Diego for three and a half weeks already, I’m not due to return for another four and a half. I copy here an email I sent out to friends and family that is the best travel update of my time spent in Tahiti and life aboard the RV Melville so far. It’s already a week old and there’s more to report, but for now I’m technically on my work shift and should get back to the lab 😉

Friends and family! I wanted to send out an update of the last 2 and a half
weeks, it’s been pretty amazing. I left San Diego on December 26 for
Tahiti, French Polynesia. It was the day after the attempted attack on a
plane in Detroit so security and changing planes in LAX was definitely a
bit hectic, thank goodness for long layovers I guess. The flight to Tahiti
was 9 hours from LA, an overnight. I ended up with an exit row with plenty
of space and free red wine (yay Air France!). I meant to sleep but they
also had like 50 movie options so instead I caught up on films I missed
seeing from the past year. Needless to say when I arrived in Tahiti where
it was 6am on a hot, humid summer morning, I was very disoriented. The guy
from the hostel picked me up and drove me there, about 10 miles down the
eastern coast. The hostel was about a 10 minute walk from the beach that my
guidebook said was the best on the island. About 300 meters from the
shoreline is a high reef so the waves break out there and everything
between that and the beach is a calm gorgeous lagoon full of coral, fish,
eels, clams, etc. So snorkeling was amazing and I got some great underwater
shots with my Pentax camera as well. Can’t attach anything to this email,
unfortunately, since there is limited bandwidth out here. Anyway, I stayed
at that hostel for a week using it as a base for exploring the island both
above and below water. Rented a car with a British girl named Kate for 2
days and we drove around the island, boogie-boarded, and went hiking to a
series of waterfalls, one of which we swam under. Absolutely amazing.
Tahiti reminded me a lot of Hawaii, Oahu in particular, though on a smaller
scale. There is beautiful vegetation and jungle and amazing water for
surfing, diving and anything you could want to do. Many people live in the
city or only visit there, but there are hidden treasures in smaller
communities all over the island that many people never see. The main
difference on Tahiti is that it’s basically France. Topless beaches, people
smoking all the time everywhere, etc. And I don’t know much French and they
seem to be the only people I’ve run into on my travels who are annoyed when
you attempt their language. Everywhere else I’ve been they are pleased that
you try and many speak English anyway. But in France and in French
Polynesia they are just pissy about it. Oh well, I should have spent more
time learning some basic things before I got there, I got good at the
basics by the end of my stay there which should help on the trip I hope to
take to Belgium in the next year. French breakfast every morning at the
hostel as well, baguette, butter, jam, nutella, etc plus lots of fresh and
interesting fruit, all of which I tried except for the pomplemousse which
is a green grapefruit that I am no doubt allergic to. One in particular I
must try to find in the states, it was complicated to eat, like a
pomegranite with the flesh around each individual seed – but it was soft
and tasted like cinnamon apples! Can’t remember what it was called but it
was great and I was very proud of myself for trying new things. I went
scuba diving 4 times with a great company run by very friendly and helpful
French people who had lived in Tahiti for a decade. French citizens can
move to Tahiti and pay no taxes and live and work, same with many EU
citizens as well. Many of the people I met at the hostel were young French
men who had bought a one way ticket there and were looking for work and to
live there for a few years. Pretty good deal. Anyway, for someone who get
scuba certified in Monterey and has only dove recently in San Diego, Tahiti
was a thrill. No wetsuit needed and tons of bright ocean life. Highlights
included picking up pieces of broken coral from the bottom to feed a
hawksbill sea turtle, watching as the guide followed and was repeatedly
inked by an octopus before it decided to rest all wrapped up around his arm
for like 10 minutes as we swam along, huge parrot- and trigger-fish, garden
eels, and many other species that I see and work with in my volunteer
capacity at the Birch Aquarium. I took an underwater disposable camera with
me on each of these dives, hopefully the pictures come out. I will get them
developed and posted once home in San Diego.
The research vessel Melville, based at Scripps Institution of Oceanography
(my employer) in San Diego was to arrive on January 2 to refuel and switch
out some members of the science party and crew. It had left Brisbane,
Australia in mid November. I arrived in city of Papeete on January 3 and
saw the ship right there in the port by downtown. I must say that it was a
wonderful sight! Knowing that I would soon be onboard and meeting many new
people, all of whom spoke English, was a much-needed relief as I at this
point hadn’t spoken a full sentence with vocabulary for quite some time! It
was easy enough to tell the ship people apart from everyone else in the
city, for the most part they were the ones drinking at the bars (the ship
is dry). I spent the next few days sleeping on board in my bunk, working in
the lab to get up to speed, drinking in the city with new friends, and
going on a few more dives, one of which involved diving with about 100
sharks: black-tipped reef, grey and one REALLY big lemon shark that they
told us afterwards was definitely large enough to be dangerous to us.
We set off in the afternoon of January 5, a 3 and a half day steam south
back to the research line of 32 degrees. I spent much of that time in the
lab learning the ropes and getting the machine up and running again. Dan,
my officemate back in San Diego, is on both legs of the cruise. He’s been
very good about teaching me and I’m relieved now that I know what my duties
are and that things are running smoothly so far and, most importantly, my
data looks good. I work noon to midnight, and he is on the opposite shift.
I’m trying to get into a routine, waking up at 10:45am, having lunch for
breakfast since it’s at 11:30am and then getting to work. When everything
goes smoothly I have a few 1-2 hour breaks during my shift. So far that’s
been nice for catching up on email and journal. Dinner is at 5pm, and the
food is always excellent. We still have fresh fruit and salads, not sure
how long that can last though. Some of the guys put fishing lines over the
back when we’re on station and we had fresh mahimahi the other day. After
my shift is over I try to stay up until 2 or 3am. There is a lounge with
tons of movies and a Wii, there is a library with books, we’re allowed to
go up and sit on the bridge, there’s a salt water hot-tub out on deck as
well, and the last 2 nights the stars have been absolutely,
life-changingly, amazing. I’ve been sleeping quite well, the rocking is
very comforting most of the time though inevitably once or twice each night
there’s a swell large enough to wake me up. My room is actually quite large
compared to the other boats I’ve been on. I share it with a girl from
Scripss, she is on the opposite shift so we’re only rarely in the room at
the same time. There is a sink and mirror in the room and a bathroom
between ours and the adjoining room. There is a small closet and drawers
for each of us, so really quite adequate. I’m on the top bunk so have
shoved blankets under the outside edge of my mattress so that I’m angled
into the wall and hopefully won’t roll out of my bunk while asleep.
Everyone on board is very nice and so far there has been no drama,
hopefully it will stay that way. There is nothing on the horizon and
probably won’t be until we’re 10 or so miles from Chile, an arrival
scheduled for February 11. Currently our location is 32 29.9991 S 136
59.6722 W, we’ll be running the 32nd parallel due east, stopping every 30
nautical miles or so to send down a rosette of bottles, each one tripped
and filled with water from a specific depth. Then it gets sampled and
tested in about a dozen different ways. I do nutrients: nitrate, phosphate,
silicate and nitrite concentrations. There are others doing salinity,
dissolved oxygen, alkalinity, pH, etc. I get to help with sampling every
once in a while, it’s always fun to be on deck. I do have a porthole here
next to my work station at least. So far the weather has been good, it’s
been mostly cloudy with maybe 6 foot swells. There are definitely some
bigger waves every once in awhile that send things flying and falling,
though the important stuff is all tied down. When it’s sunny the water is a
gorgeous shade of purple. Haven’t seen any other life out here since we got
out of French Polynesian waters, except on the end of the fishing line. I
hope to see some birds, dolphins, etc but not sure if that’s realistic.
My spirits are good! The 9 days on Tahiti were a great thing for me, the
first few days I was basically alone with people who spoke French. As soon
as I was getting a bit lonely, a Brit and another American showed up at the
hostel and were good company. Since I’ve been on board I’m just ecstatic to
be here, still can’t believe they’re paying me to do this. Don’t tell them,
but I’d do this for free 🙂 Hopefully I’m still blissed out in 6 weeks when
I return to San Diego. After a few days of packing up and offloading in
Valpariso, Chile, I’ll be on vacation for another 8 days. Am still reading
my guidebook and deciding what to do but am quite encouraged by my Tahiti
vacation success. I only had a flight and a place to stay sorted out before
arrival and it all worked out. In Chile I will probably end up renting a
car and traveling around to see sights, it sounds like an amazing place,
only about 100 miles wide but ranging the equivalent of the Pacific Coast
from Baja to Alaska so an amazing diversity of habitats. Must see penguins!
Well, I’ve been putting off writing this email for a few days now as I
didn’t think I’d have much to say. Clearly not the case 🙂 The co-chief
scientist is keeping up a public blog at and I think some of my pictures will
end up on there. You can also track our progress and see some photos from
cameras mounted on the boat at
And please keep in touch! I’m definitely a
bit homesick sometimes and reminders and stories about “real life” going on
are nice. Our internet access out here is surprisingly good, though it
depends on which direction the boat is facing. During eastern transits
there’s no issue but sometime sitting on station we rotate and it goes out.
I’ve been trying to keep up with Facebook and Twitter as well. From here on
out there may not be too much to report as my days are pretty similar to
each other. But I will send out at least one more update during the cruise
and then another from Chile hopefully. Feel free to forward this along and
remind me of anyone I missed. Love you all, and thanks for being such a
wonderful support structure for me so that I can go off and do things like
this and know that I have a lovely life and home to go back to.