Thoughts from a first-time research cruise participant: it is, and is not, like a family vacation – Aspen Reese

Filtering water samples with a view. (Image credit: Abigail Bockus)


Once in my youth, I went on a family cruise near Baja; this was really my only frame of reference coming into the Chief Scientist Training cruise. My field work mostly keeps me on land moving about by car with the occasional plane or (once) helicopter thrown in. It turns out, though, in more ways than one might expect, that a research cruise is not so unsimilar to what I remember from that long-ago trip.

True, there are no water slides or towel origami animals on the Kilo Moana, and there is definitely no happy hour. There are however quite good buffets and, perhaps even better, stocks of late-night snack foods for in between trawls or instrument deployment.  There are bunk beds in each cabin with—an improvement that Carnival might consider integrating—great little curtains around each bunk to help you sleep during the day. Tucked in amongst the sleeping quarters are a conference room and a gym and a lounge for when you need to feel like a normal person for a bit. You can even do laundry. The boat is much smaller than a cruise ship, but still I got lost going everywhere the first few days. And, as is true on any boat, the best place to be is up on the deck watching the waves go by. Scientists get just as excited as tourists when a pod of whales appears.

There is a lot new though. So much vocabulary for instruments and techniques and spaces. Unlike on a tourist cruise, sometimes the crew fish off the stern while the boat is parked taking water samples. They take meals with us in the mess and help with engineering problems (and crossword puzzle clues) too. There are whole rooms of freezers and incubators and seemingly endless equipment for filtering seawater. We spend a lot more time in those rooms than in the lounge. We wear hard hats frequently; swim suits never.

We have to return to Hawaii on Monday for the next group of researchers to load up. Everything must be finished before then, so we cram it in at all hours of the night (hence the need for all those snacks). It is tiring, and we look a bit worse for the wear. We’ve gotten to know each other quite well for having only met a week ago though. There are long conversations about our upbringings and now many inside jokes mixed in with the science. At the end of the day everyone is really excited to be here, for all that it is not a vacation and would never be mistaken for one. We appreciate seeing the waves outside the portholes, but then look back down at the bench and get to work.