|Whitney, Kyle, Taylor, and me on Helideck with Boston in Background; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 11.2007|
My 8 Greatest Memories – Boston, Massachusetts Project:
1. Awaiting my first time on a ship:
Instead of asking the question, “Where do I go from here?” – “The Chosen Path Revealed; Epic Spring Break Adventure;” the question now remains, “What expectations do I have for my first official project?”
What should I bring? I was coming to Boston during the warmer months, but the colder days seemed to be creeping in a lot earlier than anticipated. Do I bring my warm gear or my cold gear? Should I carry both or leave a set of clothes behind?
A. How long will I be on the project for? I realized as I was packing the night before my plane departure the next morning that I was never given a time frame of how long I would be on this project for. I was unsure about set rotations – if I worked a month on and had a month off? Bottom line: I had no exact date when I was getting off the project. Which brings us back to the question, “What should I bring?” Now factor in the undetermined time when I will get off the boat – now you have what I like to call, “A large shamble!” Many undetermined factors does not equal any glimpse of certainty!
B. Limitations on what I can carry with me on the ship? During the Protected Species Observer (PSO) and Safe Gulf training I was briefed on arrivals to the ship in helicopters – “Welcome to a New Chapter; Shaping My Future as a Marine Biologist.” I was informed not to bring over 20 pounds of equipment and personal belongings when I would crew transfer via helicopter; however, I was never given proper instructions on arrivals to the ship at dock or in chase boats. Since this was my first project, I had purchased binoculars, steel toes, and a hard hat before my departure to the Texas Horizon. These items were all needed to work offshore and maintain a safe environment – the steel toes and hard hat mainly only had to be worn during safety drills onboard. As far as a camera is concerned, fortunately, the Ecoes office had supplied me with a small compact digital camera to take on the project with me. Would you believe that I never owned a camera until almost a year after this project? If you are one of my close friends and/or family member, this may shock you! Currently, I am notorious for taking pictures and have a deep appreciation for photography! Anyways, with all the business equipment that I had to transfer, this did not leave me a lot of space for my personal possessions. Regardless, I definitely over the 20 pounds, but lucky for me it did not make much of a difference because there was never a set amount of weight that could be taken onboard at dock or when you were transported by chase boat. Thank goodness, I do not know what I would have done if I was told to decrease my bag weight!
C. How are the weather conditions offshore? Any person that works in the offshore environment will tell you that there is a huge fluctuation of temperature changes offshore vs. onshore. I may have not needed a winter jacket onshore, but in the Boston harbor I could have easily used one. There really was no definite answer to whether or not heavier clothes were required – I had to make the decision based on what I felt was comfortable or not. To this day, I still pack both cold and warm weather gear – it is best to be prepared for all sorts of crazy weather conditions! You never know what to expect!
D. Did I bring enough toiletries with me? I will never forget when I started packing that I actually decided to place an entire bottle of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash – do you know how much weight this is? Good thing my first project was not a basket transfer (more on this later in this post) and it was done by chase boat or alongside the dock – the amount of toiletries that I had was a bit overkill! Reflecting back on what I threw in my Nike duffel bag, I feel embarrassed to say that I worked offshore. It is amazing how much weight is added solely by your personal toiletries. I never thought of the idea of using smaller 3oz bottles (the kind that are airport security approved) that potentially could last for a month or two. If only I was given a check list on what to bring! Lesson well learned!
E. I will be working with an assortment of crew members, will we get along well? There is nothing more intimidating than walking into a situation where you not only do not know anyone, but you also have no clue what to expect. I was unaware of if there were any other females working the project – maybe this is a little more intimidating than the previous statement. I have heard of miscellaneous stereotypes, but I have never heard of one about someone who worked offshore. Even the commercial fishing industry, I did not know what type of men worked on these boats. One thing was clear, I was about to be left on a ship for x amount of weeks (you probably had a better time frame for me than I did!) and placed into friendships that have previously been formed because they have already been working together. This young girl fresh out of college was about to find out what type of people work offshore, especially within this specific project – it was a shame I did not have a head’s up or any warning what to expect. I guess in the end, this is how I began the career filled with spontaneity, mystery, and adventure!
F. Will I be able to maintain communication with my good friends and family? I never regretted moving to Cape Canaveral, Florida and never once looked back; however, this does not mean that I wanted to lose my connection with my dear family and good friends – “Last Destination Florida; the Road Trip down The Chosen Path.” One of the biggest concerns I had was managing to maintain these great relationships that I have formed throughout the years – the only way to cleverly do this was to be able to have a daily or weekly conversation. During my PSU years, I had begun really communicating with all of my hundreds of friends through facebook and email. At least if there was no phone connection available, I would have the chance to log onto facebook and chat with some friends through this social network. Honestly, thoughts of having a good internet connection and using facebook made me feel a lot better before leaving.
|Sailboat Passing; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 09.2007|
A. This is a step into the right direction on my chosen path – “The Trek to the Unknown; First Footprint on a Ship.” Reflecting back to the previous years, no matter what happened or what obstacles managed to strategically place themselves in front of me, I still was able to push through and arrive where I am today. I have come a long way of educating myself on saltwater organisms all throughout high school, and taking the initiative to involve myself in water based courses at PSU – “Trip into the Past; Icthology Lab: Favorite College Course.” Most importantly, I moved out of Pennsylvania in pursuit of accomplishing my goals. I, Jessica Renee Benford, traveled to a location that I have only been to once before and made the plunge to dive into my new career. I have always tried to set a good example for my younger brothers, be a positive influence on my friends, and demonstrate my independence to my family members with respect. This was the moment where I wanted to show everyone how one person can not only pursue their goals, but how they can successfully accomplish each one. I was taking this chosen path where I was driven by my own dreams and now I have the chance to prove to myself that I can be recognized as a successful and respectable Marine Biologist.
My odds were not very good, but the self-assurance that I kept seemed to push those uncertainties away. Sometimes a walk into the unknown or a ride on a mysterious path will present a journey for a new adventure and provide an award far greater that you can ever imagine. Risk-taking enables you to develop confidence, self-acceptance in the face of setbacks, learning from mistakes and the chance of achieving important goals. Decision-making also involves being creative, which invites you to suspend temporarily your critical faculties while you let your imagination soar. Goals are the desired outcomes or results that you want for yourself. With risk-taking, decision-making, and goals these all led me on my chosen path. My chosen path directed me to this particular ship – this was all I needed; my uncertainties vanished!
2. Observing the North Atlantic right whale:
There are some moments in your past life that you tend to forget, while others remain close to your heart. This particular moment when I first observed the “v” shaped blow and the lack of dorsal fin was one of the best moments that I have had in the Marine Biology field – “My Favorite Bostonian Cetaceans; Dive into a World Different from Our Own.” I observed hundreds of cetaceans, but that one moment that I viewed the North Atlantic right whale for the first time was indescribable. Have you ever had that moment in time when you realize at this particular second everything leading up to this moment was worth it? Many bad things could have happened, but for that instant none of that mattered; what mattered was that at this moment the world was on your side and you were untouchable. In all honesty, that moment when I first looked at the North Atlantic right whale – that was the moment when I realized the entire 4 months that I spent on this project was well worth it! The purpose I was on the Texas Horizon was to carefully observe the North Atlantic right whale when it was sighted. With only 2 sightings of the NARW during the full length of the project, I was extremely lucky to have seen it when I did!
3. Identifying my first Humpback whale:
Every Marine Mammal Scientist will tell you about their very first sighting. A few of us ever remember all of our sightings or have logged them in our own personal journal at sometime or other – I would fall into this category. I can still remember the time of my day that my sighting happened, what side of the ship I was on, and who was with me at the time that it happened. I had no idea what to look for at first, I was strategically placed on a side of the ship and told to look for “white splashes.” I must have carefully examined every little ounce of activity that I had witnessed, but still no sign of marine mammals. It was not until a few days later that around sunset I recognized some white splashes on the horizon – “The Humpback Whales in the Sunset; a Mission for Marine Mammal Preservation.” I will always cherish my first sighting, along with future sightings to come!
|Common Nighthawk Sitting; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 09.2007|
|Pine Warbler Sitting on Steel; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 11.2007|
|Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitting on Rope; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 10.2007|
|Bat Resting on Step; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 11.2007|
|Herring Gull Soaring Over Water; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 09.2007|
|Red-breasted Nuthatch Resting on Rope; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 11.2007|
|Pine Warbler Sitting on Rusted Fence; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 11.2007|
|Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitting on Pole; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 09.2007|
|Bat Hanging on Step; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 11.2007|
|Butterfly Sitting on Pole; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 11.2007|
|Butterfly “No Hats”; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 11.2007|
|Butterfly Sitting on Steel Rope; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 11.2007|
|Barn Swallows Sitting on Rusted Fence; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 10.2007|
|Northern Saw-Whet Owl Sitting on Steel; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 09.2007|
|Spooked Northern Saw-Whet Owl Sitting on Steel; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 09.2007|
4. Surrounding ourselves within avian species and insectivores:
When there were no marine mammals in sight, the avian species and insectivores were plentiful. We had an assortment of avian species ranging from warblers, sparrows, cormorants, gulls, owls, and nuthatches. When it came to the insectivores we had an ongoing supply of horse flies, beetles, moths, butterflies, and grasshoppers. One of the most amusing stories had to be right before Meghan departed the vessel in early September. I was going about my daily business outside on the port side of the ship when I noticed a Red-breasted nuthatch landed on a rope below me. It was chilly day and I had my trusty American Eagle beanie on. Meghan came outside to head over to the starboard side of the ship; I stopped and asked her if she could observe a particular patch of water because I kept viewing white splashes. I wanted to go get my camera inside so I made my way to the door. As I opened the door I heard this small thud, not thinking anything of it I went inside. Meghan came in excitedly and told me that a Red-breasted nuthatch just darted into the window where my face would have been. Slightly confused about the situation, I came back outside to find a stunned Red-breasted nuthatch sprawled out on the concrete deck. I felt horrible for the poor guy so we grabbed him some crackers and water for when he woke up. Would you believe that he did not come out of his “coma” until 45 minutes later? Good thing he was not able to aim for me, he could have done some severe damage! Maybe he was attracted to my colorful beanie or maybe he was having a bad? Whatever the case was, that Red-breasted nuthatch had quite the surprise!
|Harbor Seal Swimming Towards Ship; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 09.2007|
|Harbor Seal Up Close and Personal; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 10.2007|
|Harbor Seal Saying Hello; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 10.2007|
|Harbor Seal Resting; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 11.2007|
|Harbor Seal Sleeping; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 10.2007|
|Harbor Seal Swimming Near Propeller; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 09.2007|
5. Watching a Harbor seal playing:
One of the coolest mammals, that were not a whale or dolphin were the Harbor seals. When the project would get into much shallower waters, the Harbor seals had swum around us in pursuit for catching their food for the day. The hodgepodge of food consisted of fish, mollusks, and crustaceans. The Harbor seals were really entertaining to watch; especially when they would sleep with their eyes closed and head out of the water. Harbor seals were super adorable – at one time I contemplated in bringing a seal home with me! Not that I would ever do this, but for a second I imagined what it would be like to have one as a pet. Humans have monkeys for pets, why not a Harbor seal? Throughout the sunny days when I had watched them play, I had begun a greater appreciation for the Marine Mammals in the Massachusetts Bay.
|Renae and I during Snowstorm on Helideck; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 12.2007|
6. Being part of the crew:
When I had given my passport and work certifications to the captain when I first stepped on the Texas Horizon, he stated, “Welcome onboard, you are officially part of the crew here.” I did not know what “part of the crew” actually meant until that following evening. I was approached by some of the guys onboard before dinner and asked to watch a movie in the mess room with them later. To be quite frank, I had no clue where the mess room was yet! As I got lost on the ship searching for the infamous mess room that night, I thought to myself that this was really sweet of the guys to invite me to chill with them for the evening. At that time I was positive that this was going to be a good rotation – I could not been more right! Though there were only 2-4 females onboard at any given time, the ratio of 200 men really was not that bad. There was your usual “flirting” that they guys did with us girls, but they were neither aggressive nor obnoxious about it. Most of these guys were very respectful and created a positive environment for me to work in. Various ages were onboard, ranging from 18 to 65 – the majority of nationalities were American and Filipino. I will never forget the moment when I was transferred to the Megan Miller and how upset the guys were to see my departure from the ship – they were uncertain when and if I was ever coming back. I ended up coming back a month later and our reunion was onshore – my night onshore was free of charge! Free beer for me! I guess you could say I was accepted as part of the crew! Along with the crew, I also had the privilege to work with some fantastic colleagues, friends, and Biologists offshore. When I first begun working with Whitney, we never actually felt like we were at “work” – “New Friendships Created; Reuniting Old Ones.” I felt like I was hanging out with one of my good friends from back home – we had amazing cetacean sightings, fabulous girl talks at night, and incredible sunsets. I never had felt more comfortable than I did working on that project. Whitney defined the value of a true friendship – whether or not we were bonded by our sisterhood in Phi Mu, I believed that our paths would have crossed eventually in life. We were/are too good of friends and individuals to never have met. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed working with her! Not to mention that Kyle, Renae, and Annya were a good mix to the group as well!
7. Viewing a world of brilliance and color:
The sunsets over Boston, Massachusetts were absolutely stunning. I had begun waking up early to view the sunrises every morning. Your first ocean sunset is magical – the vivid colors mixed with the countless clouds were quite a spectacle. Here is a review of some of the most fabulous vibrant scenery that was shown – “A Compilation of Cool Oceanscapes on the Water; a Glimpse into a Effervescent World.”
|Personnel Basket Transfers; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 10.2007|
|Personnel Basket Transfers Close Up; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 10.2007|
8. Surviving personnel basket transfers:
What is a personnel basket transfer you may ask? A personnel basket transfer or basket transfer are used to transport a worker to or from a crew boat or supply boat to a jackup oil rig, offshore platform, semi-submersible or other structures. I was being transferred via personnel basket transfer from the Texas Horizon to the chase boat. These specific basket transfers occur on every oil rig or vessel around the world, whether is intended for routine transfers or reserved for emergencies. The main issue with these special transfers is that they need to be completed in a safe manner without unnecessary risk of injury or death to the worker. With this being said, most of my transfers were done in calm seas with low swell. Occasionally we had medium swell, but we were still transported with high safety precautions – this made one heck of a bumpy and scary ride! There is nothing like a good flowing of adrenaline pumping out of your system in the early morning as you are moving above the water and over the ship! The reason why I said “surviving personnel basket transfers” were for the following reasons: Crew members are often injured in falls, drops and impacts during transfers in personnel baskets. Various injuries include serious back, neck, spinal cord injuries and even deaths from falls and from heavy or hard impacts onto the dock or deck of the boat or vessel. Some workers are injured as a result of an impact occurring when the basket actually swings or rapidly falls into another stationary object and structure. Other workers have been trapped, crushed, and struck by the falling or swinging personnel basket itself. In conclusion, this personnel basket transfer has made grown men terrified – I was there to witness it!
I have probably hundreds of memories about this specific project; writing all this down would be difficult. The top 8 greatest memories are only a taste of what I experienced. I have had the pleasure to not only build a professional reputation in the Marine Biology world, but also establish many great friendships along the way. It has been a little over 3 years since I was last on that project and I still remain good friends with many of the crew members, colleagues, and locals. This project exceeded my own expectations and had given me the confidence in the identification and research of cetaceans.
|Kyle, me, Taylor, and Whitney with Superintendent Mike; Atlantic Ocean: Texas Horizon 11.2007|
One of the best lessons that I learned on the project is entitled “Foundation of Friendships.” When you place a group of mixed nationalities living on a ship, confined to small quarters, and the same situations are, well, experienced – this is a great foundation for a friendship to start. I noticed that while working on this project, I had become close with colleagues in only 2-3 weeks time. When you are onshore, you tend to not really get to know someone until a few months into knowing the person. There is something magical about working on a ship in tight quarters and making new friends that you have to experience for yourself. It really is life-changing!