The One With The Peanut Butter M&M’s

By Shimi Rii

Shimi RiiIn May, I embarked on HOT-252, (possibly) my last HOT cruise for my Ph.D. project.  I say ‘possibly’ because you never know what your committee may spring on you at the last minute. Inside, however, I felt a bit giddy but already nostalgic – there were many adventures that sprung out of these trips to our most frequently visited station in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (NPSG).

Leaving Honolulu harbor

Leaving Honolulu Harbor for a business-as-usual HOT cruise.

I have now completed a 2-year collection of monthly DNA/RNA and primary production samples within the Hawaii Ocean Time-series (HOT) program.  The HOT program is now on its 25th year of physical and biogeochemical measurements at Station ALOHA (22° 45’ N, 158° W), an ocean station representative of the NPSG, one of the largest ecosystems on Earth.  For the last 2 years, I had a duffel bag packed with acid-stained garb that was re-washed after every cruise, a mini toiletry set, my yoga mat, and my ukulele, all neatly set aside and ready to go each month.  On May 20, I folded my clean clothes full of pukas (‘holes’ in Hawaiian) and stowed away the empty duffel, hoping not to jinx myself.

Station ALOHA, site of the Hawaii Ocean Time-series, located at 22° 45’ N, 158° W.

Station ALOHA, site of the Hawaii Ocean Time-series, located at 22° 45’ N, 158° W.

I’m looking forward to the benefits of lab life: carpal tunnel syndrome on my pipetting hand, the ability to tell which centrifuge is on by its particular drone, being able to catch up on All Songs Considered podcasts.  But I will definitely miss the monthly trips to Station ALOHA – especially the ping-pong match of playful insults I’ve grown accustomed to throwing at my shipmates, playing Dominion until the wee hours when we should be sleeping, and the constant fight against motion- or food- or microscope-induced seasickness.

In truth, my shipmates have become my sea-going family.  Each HOT cruise is marked by a random exciting event that distinguishes one from another, much like a Friends episode: “The One With All The Fish” or “The One With the Mysterious Smell (you know who you are).”  We worked like a well-oiled machine, understanding each other’s looks, knowing when a Trichodesmium bloom would occur, and enjoying moments of camaraderie at 1 a.m.

A cruise that will forever remain warm and fuzzy in my heart is HOT-242, my first birthday cruise. Though I’ve sailed on research ships for over 10 years, I somehow managed to stay land-rooted on my birthdays.  I woke up to a bouquet of balloons on my stateroom door with a gift bag full of candy and a card signed by everyone on board.  It was just another birthday, but I felt special. This year, I wasn’t going to have Facebook greetings from high school classmates that I never talk to anymore.  Never mind that I had to wake up at 3 a.m. for my CTD cast; I was with my Station ALOHA ‘ohana (family) and it was going to be an awesome birthday at sea.

Balloons from the Station ALOHA ‘ohana on stateroom door.

Balloons from the Station ALOHA ‘ohana on stateroom door.

Science on my birthday cruise was nothing out of the ordinary, with every hour being accounted for and occurring like clockwork, as per usual on a HOT cruise.  The only thing different was an assignment to track down a rogue seaglider that was deployed a week prior.  This seaglider, an autonomous profiling instrument designed to give us real-time environmental data, decided to ignore all assigned depths and commands and it fell on our crew to bring the rebel home.  Unfortunately, this resulted in a spontaneous jaunt to Kaua‘i across the 72-mile-long Ka‘ie‘ie Waho Channel.

The rogue seaglider that went off track during HOT-242.

The rogue seaglider that went off track during HOT-242.

I had been feeling great for the first 4 days of the cruise, and by the time the ship started its channel transit, I was done with my work and watching movies in the lounge with a bag of peanut butter M&M’s.  Unexpectedly, that familiar, slightly acidic taste had developed in my mouth.  “You doing alright? Ready for your birthday cake?” My colleague teased, noticing my fear-filled wide eyes.  “Are you sweating?” He kept on. I glared and waved him away weakly, overcome with sudden shivering. The M&M’s were now sloshing around in my stomach, much like the water around the boat.  It was dinner time, and the smell of sautéed shrimp, normally my favorite, didn’t help. I took deep breaths and closed my eyes, determined to make it to my birthday at sea celebration.

Finally in the mess hall, I closed my eyes to concentrate as my ‘ohana sang “Happy Birthday” and presented me with my cake.  I can do this, I told myself. This day can still be awesome. I managed a smile and stood up to cut the cake, when the room blurred and started spinning.

Gulp. “Fernando, cut this,” I blurted out, shoved the knife in his hand, and ran to the nearest head (bathroom on a ship).

Thanks to HOT-242, it will be a long time before I can eat peanut butter M&M’s again.

Sara Lee birthday cake that I never got to taste.

Sara Lee birthday cake that I never got to taste.

Shimi Rii is a 5th-year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Oceanography at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.  Her current research looks at the diversity of tiny eukaryotic phytoplankton and their role in carbon cycling in the North and South Pacific Subtropical Gyres.  She enjoys creating things, relaying the awesome-ness of microbes to high school students, and practicing science writing. 

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