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You are here: /main/research/NOWRAMP 2002/journals/chances/


Ship Logs

Take Your Chances
Written by Carlos Eyles
Underwater Photography by Jim Watt
September 24, 2002

Sunrise at Midway Atoll.This morning's sky breaks in shades of chimney sweep grays. To the north the clouds compress to unmannered weathered that charcoals the horizon. Storm clouds heavy with impure thoughts loom out of the east, obscuring the sunrise. As I write these words it begins to rain. The west and south hold the same ominous cards, ready to cash in their hands. Far better we are still at Midway, within the safe embrace of the atoll than out on the ocean holding aces and eights.

We were scheduled to depart Midway last night, bound for Kure Atoll, but a medical emergency aboard the research vessel Kaimikai `O Kanaola, prevented our leaving. Far out to sea a research scientist became quite ill, and the Rapture having, in Doctor Overlock, the only physician within a thousand miles in any direction, they, quite naturally, headed our way. En route, they lost power in one engine, and are now limping toward Midway. Plans are being made at this moment to evacuate the gentleman out of Midway on a plane flown in from Honolulu.

This delay only serves to remind that we are treading in dangerous waters, not because there are sharks out there or some other denizen that will wreck havoc on us, but because we are so far from medical attention should the need arise. Life, in the village of man, is, for the most part, taken for granted. You get in a car wreck, you slice your finger off dicing tomatoes in the kitchen, or you acquire an eye infection while watching too much television, whatever the malady you are able to be whisked away to a state of the art medical facility and given treatment. Out here we do not enjoy that luxury. What we are doing is rarely out of harms way. Simply loading and unloading the tanks and dive gear from the zodes to the Rapture in big swells, causes grave concern for all, near misses on a daily basis keeps us keenly aware of our vulnerability to mishap. We have all seen SEAL teams do this sort of thing on a regular basis, via the television; they make it look easy. We, none of us, remotely resemble SEALS; there are young Galapagos sharks at Maro Reef.woman aboard and middle aged woman who do the same job as the men. As an example, our Documentation Team, including a 26 year old safety diver, is fifty-one, fifty-five, and sixty-one years old. Disclosure agreements prevent me from revealing exactly who these AARP guys are, needless to say we are so old they wouldn't let us serve lunch to SEALS, much less emulate them. Never mind the hazards of diving, again, not sharks, but coral cuts that turn sour, fatigue that causes a misstep that breaks an arm or a leg, a miscalculation of a boat driver, one mistake, and the entire team is in jeopardy. We do have a decompression chamber on board for diving accidents, and that is a huge asset that underscores the liability of a three tank dive every day for weeks. But anyway you look at it; we are constantly dancing out of danger's long reach, and more significantly, a very long way from any medical facilities.

Once, a very long time ago, I was on board another ship on a twelve day trip in the Sea of Cortez. I had had a minor cold three weeks before the trip, and when we were two days into the voyage, the eustachian tubes in my ears filled with fluid due to some deep free dives. I was in a kind of pain that is difficult to explain, it dominated me it a way that occupies every waking moment of your existence. It continued to build and by the end of the third day, I was a certifiable mess. There was nothing anyone could do; I was unable to sleep for the pain was so great. On the seventh day I was dropped off at a landing strip with the hope I could be flown back to the States to receive treatment, but could find no one to take me. I endured the full twelve days and was taken back to enter a hospital. The Doctor who checked my ears and saw the distended ear drums wondered out loud why they had not ruptured. They gave me a shot and the pain went away, though I was totally deaf in one ear for three months, and my hearing never fully recovered, the other ear suffered less damage, but suffice to say my hearing or the ear has never quite been the same. The episode wasn't life threatening, but it felt that way, and the intense and infinite pain was something I'd rather avoid the next time around. My point being that on land I would never have had to endure those torturous ten days; at sea, you take your chances.

Anytime one puts out to sea they are placing themselves in a hazardous situation that rarely exists in our culture. The ocean is the last grand wilderness that is readily accessible to almost anyone. Therein lies its attraction and thus its risk; so peaceful one moment, so dangerous the next, and I for one am grateful for REA Team at Midway.its danger. I say grateful, because it is the awareness of danger that conjures up a sense of alertness that I cannot summon up on my own. One has to pay close attention out here; every foot fall and hand hold, every movement is done within a delicate balance, always feeling the roll of the boat, and syncing the bounce of the small zodes to the heaving ground swell of the Rapture. Simply going up and down stairs that we all do twenty times a day requires concentration. Such levels of alertness are a gift, given by the sea. Out here I am not careless or lazy in my step, or in my mind, all senses are on their sharpest focus, out here I am the best that I can be.

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