The Thing Not Moving

August 19

We had barely begun the mooring recovery when I returned to the lab to grab another dozen rolls of film. Weeks now into the cruise and my daily planning has gone janky. If tomorrow I have a battery fail mid-operation, I won’t be surprised. I tell Celia how I’ve just burned through sixty photos, and the mooring is still far out in front of us. It is barely a bright speck of dust to get caught in the eye. For twenty minutes, we’ve watched the buoy on the surface, dragged under one ice floe after another. Marion on the rescue boat is gunning it between the floes and doing donuts in every parking lot he can find. Betty also drives, but she’s the one with the hook to snag the buoy when the time comes. The third mate can stretch his legs for a spell—the ship takes time to maneuver into position and to wait for a hole big enough in the ice to conclude the recovery. The weight of the mooring prevents the rescue boat from dragging the thing back to us.

While we wait, I can’t for the life of me remember what that one photo was of. Breakfast seems such a long time ago, like the distance all the way back to the start of the cruise.

The day was slow to start, because of the fog and the ice and the ship trying to find a good place to fish and then moving on to collect the mooring. And at some time near lunch—before or after, who can tell—I heard the ratcheting of a socket wrench coming from the Baltic room. I got a little excited. Until then there hadn’t been so much as a table tennis match to photograph.

In the Baltic room, Mike was working on a mooring we will deploy near Barrow Canyon on our way west back through the Chukchi and the Bering Seas. We have the hardware recovered earlier in the cruise, and it appears to function well on deck and to be up to another year’s service under water and under arctic ice. We take the opportunity to redeploy hardware to record the yearlong physics and to listen for belugas in a neighborhood where the whales have been spotted before. Because of the currents, the area is typically ice free in summer, and there are ships of opportunity that will be able to collect the instruments many months from now.

Tonight, we recover the short-term mooring we deployed on the 8thof August. While we waited for the ship to draw close, huge, rounded mountains appeared to the east. Phil said that through binoculars from the bridge, he could see the details down to the trees and the leaves on the trees. I asked him if he could see elk. There are no elk here, and there are no mountains, only cold water, warmer air, and a heavy fog sculpted by the wind as if it were a series of towering sand dunes or massive ocean swells.

You can also follow the R/V Sikuliaq @rmtopp@Sikuliaqon Twitter and @toppworldon Instagram and @R/V Sikuliaq on Instagram and Facebook. To further chart the course of this August 2018 expedition, look up Arctic Winds, Fish, Fins, and Featherson Facebook.

—Thanks to the R/V Sikuliaq, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, and the National Science Foundation.