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5 March, 2000

Leaving land behind; Interview with Captain Warren

Question 15: What separates the Southern Ocean from the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans?

Late last night the Gould left the Strait of Magellan and headed south towards the tip of South America. Around noon today we will travel between Tierra del Fuego and Isla de los Estados (States Island) in Marie Strait, then leave land behind for a few days. It is another beautiful day. When we reached the end of the last strait, brown mountainous land was clearly visible on both sides. There are Greater and Sooty Shearwaters dodging gracefully around the waves. They beat their wings for a bit, then glide along the surface. We also have seen Black-browed Albatross cruising past the boat; they are not such confirmed ship-followers as the Wandering Albatross which we should see once we are out in the Drake Passage. All of these pelagic birds are skillful at using their long narrow wings to make use of minute air currents to skim the wave crests and troughs. "Pelagic" means having to do with open ocean water and includes both surface and subsurface. It is usually contrasted with the term "benthic" which means on or near the ocean floor. After we said goodbye to land, I made my way up to the bridge. With only about 35 people on the ship, passengers are welcome on the bridge at any time. We just can't get in the way of the controls. Captain Warren was on the bridge but not on watch. There are three mates who stand four-hour watches. Their daily shift is four hours on, eight hours off. Watches are 12-4, 4-8 and 8-12. Captain Warren does not have a specific schedule, but he is always on the bridge when the ship is near shore or during equipment problems or if the seas are especially bad.

The back wall of the bridge has a display case with Coast Guard rating certificates for many of the ship's personnel. Captain Warren explained that he has two different types of Master's licenses. One is for a 1500-ton vessel, adequate for the Gould which is officially 1499 tons. The other is an Unlimited license which would allow him to captain a vessel of any size anywhere in the world. He said that one of the things he likes most about his job is that "anyone, male or female (although the crew was entirely male), black or white" could go into it out of high school and get their Unlimited Masters license in around 7 years.

There are several levels or ratings that everyone goes through. Moving on to the next rating requires a certain amount of sea time as well as passing the appropriate tests. There are also two different categories of licenses. There are a variety of levels based on maximum ship tonnage that the license would qualify someone to work on/operate--50 ton, 200 ton, up to 1500 tons. Then there is the unlimited license. Most sailors getting into offshore sailing work towards either a 1500 ton or an unlimited license. Many of the mates on board the Gould have ratings in both.

To become a captain, someone would first spend time on the deck crew. The next step is mate. There is only one level of mate for all licenses except unlimited. On an unlimited license track there are Third, Second and First Mates before someone reaches his or her Masters rating. Captain Warren estimated that it takes between one and two years to go between rating levels, primarily dependent on how much of that time was spent at sea. He knows people who have gotten the requisite number of hours in as little as seven months.

For those curious souls who asked, the bathrooms on board the Gould are not much different than ordinary US bathrooms. All staterooms have their own; there are also several public use ones on each level. Our bathroom door has a holdfast it attaches to if we want to keep the door open. It has a perfectly normal sink, mirror and lighting. The only difference here is that instead of a shelf to put stuff on, there is a metal tub over the sink to hold things (also one of these in the shower for bottles). The shower has a railing on three sides of the interior to grab onto and heavy-duty, rubber, lattice matting for maximum traction while allowing for water drainage. The fourth wall of the shower has an eight-inch lip around the sides and bottom to keep water from sloshing out. When the ship starts moving more extremely, water backs up in the bottom of the shower because it is over the drain for only a short period of time as it sloshes from one side to the other. Again because standard plumbing depends on a stationary gravitational pull to work properly, none of the toilets have tanks. Instead of a flush handle there is a valve handle that, when pulled, puts a large amount of water straight through the toilet bowl down the hole. No chance for the water to fail to swirl in bad seas.

Answer 14: Research Vessel.

A typical bathroom aboard the R.V. Gould.

Greater Shearwater.

Last view of South America, Tierra del Fuego.

The Captain

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