Ship life has its privileges

Posted on Aug 24, 2013 | 2 comments

NMC Great Lakes Water Studies student Chris Horvath is in Iceland this summer on a Marine Advanced Technology Education Center (MATE) internship aboard Columbia University’s research vessel the R/V Langseth, doing research on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.  Chris is sending us periodic blog posts to update us on his adventure.  You can read the rest of them here.

It’s about 65 steps from my room to the lab, when the weather is good; or, somewhere in the neighborhood of 85 when the seas are unsettled.  The ship can be quite large if you don’t know where you are going, and 65 steps can very easily turn into 500+, which consequently is how I spent most of the first two days – aimlessly wandering the hallways, walking down the same pathways from different directions, and generally having a real hard time keeping a face like I knew what I was doing as I passed by the same deckhand for the fourth time.

horvath-bunkIt’s truly a maze of watertight doors and bulkheads.  To get from one place to another, chances are there are at least seven different ways to go about it, but only a couple that make sense.  The good news is that it’s only temporary, and with a little patience and some proper emulation of those in the know, you can figure out the errors of your ways in quick fashion.  Truth be told, once you know where you’re going, it can really be a small (small, small, small!!!) space.  But, let me not get ahead of myself, this is my home for 4.5 weeks and I am the new roommate, nervous to intrude on common spaces and make them my own.

horvath-commandcentralThere is an established order to things around the ship, and the Main Lab is no different.  There’s the Science Tech Lead, Bernard, son of an Irish immigrant and native of New York.  He works in the lab with Bobby the IT Tech, a Texan who lives in Jersey.  And, Rob the Temp Tech who usually works on a different research vessel, but was brought in for this cruise due to his experience with Kongsberg multibeam sonar systems.  Rob also is from New York.  I can sense a trend here.  Work on a research boat, and chances are you’ll be near NYC.  There are other options in Virginia or all along the West Coast, but I gotta admit that it’s kind of refreshing to have this New York attitude in the workplace.

My shifts have been set, and I’ve been able to settle into a rhythm quite nicely.  I work two four-hour stints in the lab, both from 8-12.  This gives me a fair amount of time to eat, sleep, clean, do some laundry, and a couple of hours to find peace of mind – which I’m finding is quite essential to maintaining a comfortable shipboard environment.


Beyond personal space, I’m finding that the little things begin to make a huge difference.  Hot water in the showers, ample supplies of bacon for breakfast, that feeling I get when I take off my boots at the end of the day, a working thermostat in my room, and an ice cold can of Coca-Cola that the cooks sneak me during dinner.  I cannot emphasize the meaning of the last item in the list enough.  A can of Coke is worth its weight in gold on a ship at sea.  You can horde it, drink it, trade it with other crew for any number of stashed luxury items, and with a little finesse – flaunt it.  Money means little out here, reduced to equals we share the same ambitions in life – eat, sleep, Coca-Cola.

horvath-grubSpeaking of the eating, the food has been very filling and pretty good.  It is a bit heavy, and so my appetite dwindles at times.  I’m beginning think that serving potatos and gravy with every meal is a national past time in the Philippines.  But, the ice box filled with Snickers Ice Cream bars kinda makes everything okay.  There’s Herwin, the Costa Rican chef who truly lives the ‘Pura Vida’ lifestyle.  And my main man June from the Philippines, who cooks great Thai food.

Whether it’s chili lime salmon with beans and cilantro, or a good ole American French bread pizza, where the cuisine goes – so goes the general mood of the crew.  And, let me tell you these guys are good at predicting what the crew wants.  Crave Philly cheesesteak sandwiches and chances are you will see its kin in the galley within two days.  The dark art of ESP is real and it’s being practiced openly in the presence of the pyre, and the townsfolk could not be happier.  Oil soaked torches ready to light timber become red and white cans raised in a unison, and accusations of witchcraft or black magics become songs of praise, valor, and jalapeño cheddar poppers.  And I revel in every last bite.


  1. Chris, just wonderful storytelling! And your pictures are great. Very proud of you, particularly excited about what you’re doing out there, and hoping to hear the stories in real-time when you get back.

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  2. Chris, I just wanted to let you to know that I’m really enjoying reading your posts and can’t wait for the next one. I’m a new Freshwater Studies student and it’s so interesting to see where this program can lead. You make me feel like I’m there!

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