Malama Monk Seal Voyage #1: Departing Honolulu

For the next few weeks, this is home: the Oscar Elton Sette.

NOAA ship Oscar Elton Sette
Oscar Elton Sette

We disembarked Pearl Harbor yesterday at 0900, and a small pod of spinner dolphins, a spotted eagle ray, and several turtles wished us bon voyage as we left the calm of the harbor.

The skies were blue and the sun was bearing down on us when one of our crew paid us a visit, letting us know to expect rough seas as we crossed the open ocean channel between O‘ahu and Kaua‘i, so we all scrambled to pop motion sickness pills or attach patches behind our ears.

The Oscar Elton Sette is named after a man known as the father of modern fisheries oceanography, and was originally built for the U.S. Navy in 1988 and later transferred to NOAA for scientific use. The big, white ship is 224 feet in length and 43 feet across. It has a draft of 15 feet and a cruising speed of 10.5 knots. And a maze of passageways and decks in which I am constantly getting turned around. If I go left, will that take me toward the bow? And Do I go up or down to get to the mess hall? By the end of three weeks, I hope I’ll have all the secret passageways down.

The Oscar Elton Sette comes equipped with three small outboard driven boats; wet and dry, hydrochemistry and computer labs. Plus, a few things which I know are important, but I’m not entirely sure what they are like: an acoustic Doppler current profiler; and two deep-ocean winches, two J-frames, one A- frame, a net reel, and deep-sea trawl winches.

It also comes with a mess hall for eating three square meals a day and three cooks to make that happen; a movie room with Lazy-Boy recliners and hoards of DVDs, some new movies, some old; a gym with treadmill, a Stair Master, and rowing machine. There is a ship’s store with t-shirts, hats, coffee mugs, and other stash emblazoned with an outline of the ship.

There are 12 single staterooms, 10 double staterooms, one four-bunk stateroom, and a single six-bunk stateroom for a total of 42 berths. I’m sharing one with my friend and Moloka‘i monk seal coordinator Diane.

Each bunk is outfitted with a comfy-sweet mattress and blackout curtains, because when you’re on a ship that runs 24-hours a day, some people are sleeping when I am eating my second meal of the day. I use the curtains at night, because they create a nice cocoon in which to sleep. Reminds me of my fort-building days as a kid. Plus, I can read without bothering Diane.

The day’s objective was to traverse to Ni‘ihau, about a 12-hour journey, and put us in ready position for the next day’s assignment: monk seal survey on the islands of Ni‘ihau and Lehua.

While we cruised, we kept busy attending briefings—one about the ship, one about Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, and a mission briefing about the next day’s monk seal survey.

We also conducted drills—a fire drill and an abandon ship drill. In the latter, we had to don a “gumby” survival suit in under a minute. I am sorry I didn’t take any pictures of this. If we run this drill again, however, I most certainly will.

Sarah wearing a survival suit at sea
Got the Gumby Shot!

As I crawled into my bunk last night, we plowed through some good-sized waves. I could feel the boat climb up and slide down the waves’ backsides. The ocean was definitely moving but without wind, it was like cruising down an undulating highway in the foothills of some mountains. I’m no sailor, but I think this is what’s called smooth sailing;-)

13 thoughts on “Malama Monk Seal Voyage #1: Departing Honolulu

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