Imagine You’re Stuck on a Boat for 3 Weeks – What Would You Bring and Leave Behind?

This Wednesday I’ll be heading out on a three week research cruise to the northeastern sub-Arctic Pacific Ocean – or roughly somewhere around here:

The arrow marks Station P, or Papa: the station farthest east along a 1400km track – Line P – starting at the southern tip of Vancouver Island. Station P is as far west from Vancouver as Winnipeg is east, and would be similar to Winnipeg save for a few small differences:

  • Winnipeg has an established and enriching arts scene
  • Winnipeg doesn’t bank hard starboard and toss you out of your bed in the middle of the night
  • Winnipeg doesn’t require that you brace yourself while peeing standing up, or showering, or brushing your teeth, or generally when going about your daily activities
  • Winnipeg doesn’t have a hot tub on top of it
  • Station P has never been, nor ever will be deemed the murder capital of Canada
  • Winnipeg will likely be much warmer than Station P this time of year

There are a number of very interesting things I could now talk about: what’s the history and significance of Line P? Why do oceanographers go to Station P and study its waters? Why can’t you just send robots to do your job – the automobile industry has that angle covered – wouldn’t that be much easier? No doubt, all of these came to mind. You’re a clever bunch. However, as valid and interesting as these questions are, something else has been coming up over and over this weekend.

Three weeks on a boat in the middle of the ocean (OK, the northeast sub-Arctic middle) is a very different lifestyle than city living has afforded me. I love cities; I love the buildings, the garbage, congestion, asthma, the people of all shapes and color, and all of the humorous, odd, and novel things these people do around me. I especially like walking through it and being a part of it all. However, perhaps more than this, I like to sit down, watch it all go by, and stuff my mouth with a big, soggy, city-lathered hoagie.

Unfortunately, you can’t do this on a boat. On the ship I will be taking, there are 4 flights of stairs and a 30 meter hallway to pace. There’s no getting off this ride, and you can’t pick up your ball and go home. You’re there for three weeks, and there’s no getting out of it.

In order adapt to this rather abrupt change of lifestyle, most of the scientists bring a few comfort items with them. What are these? Well, think of something simple and portable that makes your smile – for some, it’s a bottle or two of their favorite beverage, while for others it’s a half pound of high quality 80% cocoa chocolate.

For me, its a great cup of coffee. So, before heading out on one of these expeditions, I purchase a pound of my favorite (and expensive) coffee beans that I normally don’t buy (this gig doesn’t pay, my friends). Every morning at sea, no matter how terrible I may feel or how busy the day may turn out to be, I get to spend at least 20-30 minutes reveling in a delicious cup of java made freshly with my french press. It is glorious.

Interestingly, this reminded me of something else I’ve been contemplating here on Terry*, namely what could the developed and developing world do without (with respect to pollution and carbon emissions) and still be content with their lifestyle? We’re very much used to getting all (or close to all) that we want with little reflection spent on how we actually came to acquire these ‘things’. Might we be perfectly content in an energy or carbon limiting world if we settled for a great cup of coffee, or a few squares of chocolate, an acoustic guitar, the entire Startrek TNG collection on DVD, or a deck of cards and cribbage board?

What would you take with you?

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Dave Semeniuk spends hours locked up in his office, thinking about the role the oceans play in controlling global climate, and unique ways of studying it. He'd also like to shamelessly plug his art practice: