The bridge is an open, well-lit and quiet space with a 360-degree view from on high. It is the command center of the ship, and it is manned 24 hours a day while we are at sea. Each of the three officers (the first, second, and third mates) are responsible for a 4-hour watch twice a day (that’s a typical watch schedule for much of the crew: “4 on, 8 off” round the clock). Interestingly, on RV Sally Ride, the captain stands watch from 4-8 am.
While we continue our transit to San Diego, Cameron, the second mate, was kind enough to give us a tour of the bridge.
“The windows are the most important thing on the bridge,” Cameron said. He also noted that while we were talking with him, completely unnoticed by us, he kept his eyes on the horizon about us at all times.
Cameron explained that the fundamental goal of the bridge is “the safe navigation of the vessel.” Sounds simple, but the list of activities involved is long: navigation, maneuvering the vessel, monitoring and communicating with nearby sea traffic and shore, evaluating weather and sea state conditions, and overseeing upkeep of the vessel, to name a few. Add to that list: oversight of the engine room, deck operations, the mess and everything else, and it becomes clear why it takes years of study and experience to become a mate or captain licensed to operate a vessel like RV Sally Ride.
In addition to standing watch on the bridge, each of the three mates has a specific area of responsibility. As second mate, Cameron is the navigation officer. This involves, for example, building the routes and working with the science party to navigate the ship where they want it to go (and occasionally catching errors in the coordinates that the scientists give him, calling down to the lab to ask: “Did you really want us to go way over there?”).
There are several consoles on the bridge with communication, navigation and operative controls that make the “conning station” on the bridge. There are also two wing consoles on each side that came in handy for precise and careful maneuvering during the rescue. Everything seems quite sophisticated, from the radar screen and the “dynamic positioning” system to the compact levers and steering wheel used to drive the ship.
We asked Cameron how he became interested in this line of work. He said that he always loved the sea; he grew up in San Diego; he was a lifeguard in high school; and his father had a brief stint in the Navy. He also said he really loved to travel to exotic places. Though he considered becoming a paramedic, a friend was studying at a marine academy, and the more Cameron heard about what his friend was learning, the more intrigued he became. He ended up enrolling in the California Maritime Academy in Vallejo, California (a four-year program, but he graduated early) and earned a degree in Marine Transportation. His very first job, in 2014, was with Scripps – he always had an interest in marine sciences – was as second mate on a smaller Scripps vessel, RV New Horizon. In order to explore other parts of the maritime industry and to gain experience, he worked for several months a commercial cargo vessel with about 5000 shipping containers. This long voyage took him across the North Pacific where the ship made many port stops including Dutch Harbor, AK (where they loaded tens of millions of dollars worth of fish), Pusan, South Korea and a few dry dock days in a small town in China. Cameron returned to Scripps in August of 2016 and has been sailing on RV Sally Ride since.
In addition to showing us the electronic equipment on the bridge, Cameron brought out an old and beautifully crafted wooden box that holds the ship’s sextant. A sextant is an instrument used for celestial navigation (used before the days of GPS).
All mates are required by the US Coast Guard to know how to determine their position using a sextant, and Cameron gave us a demonstration – first taking a reading and then doing the calculations and plotting to determine the ship’s position.
This particular sextant has a wonderful history: it was originally on the Scripps ship RV Melville, and when the Melville was retired, the sextant was transferred to RV Sally Ride. A bit poignantly (for those of us who sailed on the Melville), there is an inscription on the sextant’s wooden box that reads “From Mel to Sally.”
Cameron is also interested in ship design, and before we left the bridge, he showed us different bow designs and described their applications. Thank you, Cameron!