Very few of us are fortunate enough to have opportunities to explore and discover the world, and I certainly consider myself to be extremely privileged to have the full time job as Captain of the research vessel Golden Shadow, living a life at sea. Twenty years ago, I started my career at sea, and with over half a million sea miles under my weathered feet, I find myself sitting on the navigation bridge of Golden Shadow at anchor in the lagoon of Rangiroa; a far cry from my first trip at sea as cadet, walking up the gangway of a large gas ship in Japan.
Many things have changed in the 20 years of my life at sea.
The equipment and conditions for one have improved tremendously. Internet has changed the world for everyone, but especially so for the humble sailor working at sea. In my earlier days, communication to loved ones was carried by letter, taking 2-3 months sometimes to reach home depending on which corner of the globe I found myself in. Now, with a few touches of my thumb, I can relay a simple ‘arrived safely, kiss the kids goodnight from me’, and my message is home within seconds from my mobile phone. Some of my younger crew members look at me as if I have two heads when I tell them that I used to write hundreds of pages whilst I was away, as there was no Internet or cheap mobile phones. Writing letters is an art that is sadly being lost to our blogging, tweeting and Facebook generation.
Modern day technology makes the job of the ship Captain so much easier and safer. For centuries past, the weather has always been a constant threat to vessels both large and small, but nowadays, we have such advanced weather forecasting systems, ship Captains can avoid the destructive forces of seas, swell and wind. You learn very quickly when working at sea that mother nature is a force to be respected.
Satellite imagery and electronic charts help pinpoint the position of our vessel to within a few metres. We do, however, still like to blow the dust off the sextant, of which we have two onboard, and test our skills at ‘old school’ position fixing. We put the trusty sextant to good use last week to observe the partial eclipse of the sun in Papeete.
This year alone, Shadow has travelled over 12,000 nautical miles and explored the pristine waters of the Bahamas, Jamaica, Colombia, Galápagos and the French Polynesian Society Islands. We transited the Panama Canal (not so pristine waters!) and now we find ourselves in the Tuamotu islands. Not bad going in 10 months.
Apart from navigational tools, a ship Captain relies heavily on a good crew. I don’t have that. I have an excellent and first rate crew. From the chefs and stewards that are cooking, preparing and serving nearly 100 meals a day, to the engineers and deck crew that oil and lubricate the finer workings of the ship, they all have a vital role to play. Proficient and efficient, they all work tirelessly to ensure that the ship is well maintained and safely operated. I take this small opportunity to thank them all.
I also take this time to thank the science team making up the Living Oceans Foundation. With this being my 13th mission since joining the Golden Fleet over 5 years ago, there are many familiar faces that we share a camaraderie with, and this is equally contagious among our new members.
Our working at sea requires planning, coordination and a good amount of logistics to mobilize a team in the middle of the Pacific, but this is what the Golden Fleet and LOF do best. With thousands of safely completed diving operations behind us, it is a true team effort to be able to say that we’ve only used our onboard Hyperbaric chamber for training.
I’ve lost count of how many people have said to me over the years that ‘you have such an amazing job’. It’s true.
A few days ago I found myself in the Golden Eye seaplane, flying over the stunning atolls that we are now finding ourselves researching.
Navigating the ship into the lagoon of Rangiroa, with the sun rising behind me and a school of dolphins escorting us in makes me appreciate the simple things in life. I’ve seen many sunrises and sunsets during my life at sea, but there is always another one equally breathtaking over the horizon.
As the majority of the working world steps into their cars and faces the agony of fighting their way to and from work, I simply take a stroll up to the bridge, with a cup of coffee in my hand, and I have arrived. My office window resembles a panoramic picture postcard.
To all of those land-locked teachers and lecturers around the world, I ask you all to tell your students that we have one life, and one world. Encourage our youth to get out there to discover and explore. I have 41 other people onboard Shadow today that would echo this message as well.
Whether you want to dive, sail or explore the World’s Oceans, I can definitely recommend a career at sea.
(Photos by: 1 Brian Beck, 2-7 CAPT Steve Breen)
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