Greetings, friends! It’s me again, your friendly neighborhood Artist-at-Sea-on-a-Research-Ship-with-WiFi-in-the-Middle-of-the-Pacific.
This week we’re doing something really fun: a live Q&A on Google Hangouts! I’ll be sharing illustration work from the voyage so far on R/V Falkor, talking about the joys and challenges of drawing comics at sea, and answering YOUR questions! If you want to ask something, fire away in the comments on this post, on the Facebook event page, or on Twitter. I’m collecting questions all week.
You can also hop in the chat box during the call to ask questions in the moment, but the more I know about ahead of time, the more I can prepare to show you, like my mobile drawing setup:
It’s all happening this Friday, January 13th at 11am HST/1pm PST/4pm EST. You can RSVP on Facebook here, or just join the call directly by clicking this link when the time comes.
I’m writing today from the outer lounge of R/V Falkor, the research vessel I’m currently working on as an artist-in-residence. At this very moment we’re motoring through the middle of nowhere, but thanks to our Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) there’s satellite Internet on board!
The science team on board are surveying the ocean floor using multibeam mapping, and I’m doing my darndest to learn all I can about their methods and draw a summary comic for the Schmidt Ocean Institute during our 3-week transit from Guam to Honolulu.
We’re collecting data all the way, but our specific area of focus is the seafloor around the Johnston Atoll, which has never been mapped using this particular technology.
So far the trip has carried us across hundreds of miles of the Pacific, with roaring trade winds tossing the spray into white crests around the ship. I’ve never done an open-ocean crossing like this one before, so it’s been even more of a thrill than usual to scramble up the companionway every morning to drink in the view.
The crew are very welcoming and ready to assist with the science operations, and we’ve been having daily lectures on subjects like the Mariana Trench and its surrounding islands, the history of sonar, and the intricacies of multibeam data.
Since it’s not every day you find yourself on a state-of-the-art research vessel, I thought I’d answer some general questions from Twitter! Here’s what everyone was curious to know:
How loud are the engines?
Quite loud on deck! My berth is two decks down, so it’s fairly insulated from the noise when I’m sleeping at night, but there’s a general rumble at all times. Between the rush of the wind and sea and the roar of the engines, you have to speak up to be heard when you’re outside.
How are day-to-day tasks different here than on a sailing ship?
Unlike previous trips where I’ve been embedded with a tall ship crew, there’s not much for me to do here from a vessel maintenance perspective. There are no lines to haul or sails to furl—the crew generally keep themselves occupied with navigation, engineering work, and watchkeeping duties. There’s still lots for them to do, but a lot of it is outside my area of expertise, so I’m getting on with the drawing work.
The science team is monitoring the control room as we map the ocean floor to get a sense of what we’re passing over, the marine technicians are processing data and making sure the systems and sensors stay online (you can even follow live cruise data here), and the housekeeping staff do an amazing job of keeping everything spick and span. The vessel is more of a floating research station than anything, so there are more departments with greater specialization, rather than a collective team who all take turns handing various tasks.
This leaves me somewhat at loose ends—I’m used to being more active—but I’ve got my work cut out for me when it comes to creating this comic, so I’m taking all the time I can to draft blog posts, work on outreach projects, and script the story that will explain our time here to the outside world.
How does the vessel handle?
Given that we’re motoring against the trade winds, the ride has been a little choppy. We did adjust our course to a lower latitude so that the wind is coming at us aslant rather than right on the nose, which means we’re not being slowed down quite as much. In the next few days we’ll turn north toward the Johnston Atoll.
There are stabilizers on board, which help keep things relatively level, but we still make liberal use of Non-Slip Shelf Liner—just like I do back home on my angled drawing board!
How are you getting along with the scientists? Was there any friction to start?
The science team are fantastic! We have a wide range of specialties, so I’m learning a lot about the terrain we’re covering from various angles (oceanographic, geologic, etc.). They’ve all been very patient with my barrage of questions about how things work and the lengthy time it takes for me to work out anything mathematical.
Is there a lot of turnover in the research crew?
Different research teams join Falkor every time there’s a new cruise. This particular trip is unique in that it’s a hybrid Transit Cruise. The ship needed to get back from Guam to Hawai’i, and John Smith (our lead scientist) applied to piggyback some of his mapping research on top of the already-scheduled travel days. All three of the science crew have been aboard Falkor before for various other research trips, so while there’s a high turnover from trip to trip, the overall pool of people associated with the vessel is pretty well-connected.
There are five of us “outreach” crew members: myself, Andrew (Graduate Student from Guam), Brocks Jr. and Sr. (Ambassadors from 11th Hour Racing, a program of the Schmidt Family Foundation, and Sail Martha’s Vineyard, a maritime training program benefitting underserved populations on the island of Martha’s Vineyard), and Jena (High School Teacher from Hawai’i).
Is there an initiation rite for new crew?
I’ll get back to you. So far nobody’s covered me in krill.
What’s the best part? What’s the worst part?
Best: Working on deck with the whole world swaying and the air whipping around like warm silk—especially after months of Pacific Northwest winter.
Worst: Trying to draw straight lines in a rough seaway.
What’s everyone eating?
Our chefs, Peter and Greg, are magnificent. Before I arrived a lot of the shoreside support team were cooing about how lucky I was to be going aboard because of the food, and now I see what they were talking about. In addition to a steady supply of snacks and treats, we get really magnificent meals three times a day (with an extra late-night meal for those standing watch). I mean, just look at this New Year’s Day feast:
Wait, I thought pigs were bad luck on boats?
I hadn’t heard that one before! (Most of my interest in pigs has been around their history as a good luck tattoo.) A cursory Google suggests that pigs are considered bad luck specifically on fishing vessels, which might explain why I hadn’t heard of the notion before. If anyone has anecdotal evidence: leave a comment!
What are the bathrooms like?
Ahh, the perennial question. Like everything else on the vessel: SUPER NICE. I’m so impressed by the standards of cleanliness and design everywhere on this ship. The heads (that’s what they’re usually called on board) are relatively small, but well cared-for, clean, and modern. I’m used to the old torture-chamber-type pump action heads, but these ones flush with the touch of a button like a standard toilet.
The major restriction: only toilet paper can go down them—absolutely no chemical cleaners—because the waste system is biological! The bacterial colonies responsible for breaking down waste in the blackwater tanks are very sensitive, so we can only use a special cleaning solution for the toilet bowls. I’ll see if I can’t snag the chief mate and find out a little more about how this specific system works, since I’m curious myself.
That’s probably enough for today, so I’ll get back to sketching this very complicated-looking hydraulic sea crane. If you have more questions about life at sea, drop me a line in the comments or on Twitter at @LuBellWoo! You can also read up on the rest of the cruise outreach by following #MappinTheFloor on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
This trip with OHP was a great opportunity to refine my practice of joining organizations as an embedded cartoonist, merging the duties of a deckhand (line handling, climbing aloft, maintenance, etc.), educator (teaching classes on scurvy and nautical trivia with Baggywrinkles as my de facto textbook), and artist (frantically sketching the students and their activities at every turn). Each trip I take I feel like I’m getting a better handle on this format, and how best to adapt it to different kinds of experiences.
While I completed all the artwork during my time aboard, getting the scanning, cleanup, and formatting squared away in-between all my traveling from August to November proved tricky, hence the lengthy lagtime. I’m thrilled to finally have it all put together. Here’s a look at the trip in photos:
The Oliver Hazard Perry is America’s newest sail training vessel. You can learn more about her and her programs at OHPRI.org.
Big thanks to my supporters on Patreon for making this comic possible! If you want to join them and get a behind-the-scenes look at these pieces as they come together, head on over here.
Fittingly, I’m writing this blog post from the deck of the Oliver Hazard Perry, a new tall ship in Rhode Island that I’m currently working aboard as a visiting artist. But that’s secondary to the following exciting news of the day: I’ve got a new comic up on The Nib!
For the last few months I’ve been researching and illustrating this brief introduction to the modern world of sail cargo—a movement driven by environmentalism, optimism, and countless volunteer hours. There are a surprising number of operations around the world working to convert tall ships into viable cargo-carrying vessels—or build new ones from the ground up.
It’s a trend I find deeply fascinating, and my only regret was not being able to fit more of my research into this introduction. The sailors working on these vessels are the embodiment of enthusiasm and dedication, and I really enjoyed talking with them during my research.
Of particular interest right now: Sailcargo Inc. are launching their Kickstarter to build a dedicated cargo vessel (Ceiba) from scratch in Costa Rica! Keep an eye on their website for details on the launch.
Fairtransport are also making great strides in building a coalition of sail cargo vessels around the world. Their website has a wealth of information, including vessel tracking and more. View all the ships in their network here.
Of course there are also efforts being made to implement modern sailing technology on existing container ships at a grander scale. To learn more about the DynaRig technology behind parts of that movement, check out this article. There’s some fascinating stuff afoot, and even though it’s moving slowly, progress is being made.
I’ll have more news after my week aboard the Perry, but until then, enjoy the comic!
Ahoy, friends! I am so, so excited to announce that Baggywrinkles: A Lubber’s Guide to Life at Sea will be hitting Kickstarter July 20th.
What is Baggywrinkles, you ask? Why, it’s my educational, autobiographical comic series about living aboard an 18th century tall ship! You can read the first five issues online for free, and check out new content from the series every week on Patreon. I’ve been working on these short stories intermittently since 2010, and I’m finally ready to bring the whole bundle together under one cover.
So next Monday (July 20th) I’m launching a campaign to fund the printing of a 100-page, 6×9″ softcover collection featuring Issues 1-5, the never-before-seen-in-print Issue 6 (all about the history of scurvy), and a host of other exclusive goodies. Take a look at the finished cover design!
I’ve been hard at work with a team of stellar professionals to make this collection something you’ll all be proud to own—we’re talking French Flaps, patterned endpapers, high-quality matte paper stock, and deliciously thick covers.
I’ve also got some really neat extra rewards. Like remember this giant guide to sailors’ tattoos I drew for the Vancouver Maritime Museum?
Well, I’m gonna turn it into a super fancy two-color, limited edition letterpress print in collaboration with the fine folks at Twin Ravens Press in Eugene, OR! And there’s more extra rewards to come.
This post is your official warning to watch this space (or follow me on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and Instagram) for the campaign launch next week, and to keep your eyes peeled because I’ve got a very special stretch goal that I’ll be announcing once the book goes live.
Another week, another new comic over on The Nib! I decided to settle the matter of people always asking me about these perfectly innocent nautical terms. Seriously you guys, there’s nothing dirty about a Lubber’s Hole at all. Read the comic and all will be revealed.