Friday, March 13, 2009

The Bridge, and What I Learned There

In the last two days, I’ve spent more time on the bridge than I have on all my other cruises put together. The bridge of a ship is like the cockpit of a plane: it has the best view, and it’s where all of the controls are. I was there to watch for solitons on the ship’s radar. I’ll post about solitons soon, but while I was waiting for them I learned so much that I had to share it with you.

Really cool thing #1 that I learned on the bridge: ships use flags to communicate.
We fly the United States flag, and when we’re in port we also fly the flag of the country we’re visiting, as a sign of respect. If we need a pilot we have a flag to request it, and if there’s already a pilot on board we have a flag to indicate that. If two ships pass each other at sea, they each lower and then raise their flags as a way of saying hello. We also fly the flag of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, which operates the R/V Melville. Here’s Ian, the second mate, holding the Scripps flag:
And here are some more flags, rolled up neatly:

Really cool thing #2 that I learned on the bridge: ships have secret codes for weather.
All over the world, ships record the weather that they see. In many places, those are the only records of weather, so they’re pretty important. But it would be confusing if everyone wrote about the weather in their own words, and it would take too long to read! So there’s a secret code for writing down the weather:

And here is a log sheet with the some of the codes written in:

Do you think you’d be able to keep track of all of those numbers? Ian says he’s been doing this so long that he knows most of them by heart.

Really cool thing #3 that I learned on the bridge: it’s fun to be on the bridge.
The bridge is located at the top of the ship. From there, you can see everyone out on deck and anything else happening in the water. The captain and the chief scientist were both came up too, and we watched for the solitons together and talked about our work. Here’s a view of the first way that I saw them: a line of dots on the radar:

The dot in the middle is the ship and the blue circle marks a distance of about 1 nautical mile (1.2 miles) away from us. That line of yellowish dots represents the first soliton that we saw. So what is a soliton? I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow.

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