R/V Polar Duke Farewell Tribute
in the Laboratory for Microbial Oceanography


The Cube
by Anonymous

Cube -n. a solid bounded by six equal squares...

Every oceanographer must surely have had one of those moments:  Working
at sea, you're at a critical point in an experiment, maybe filtering,
centrifuging, or inoculating, and 'Nature' calls!  You can't leave the
lab' for you can be sure that a piece of equipment, or part of the
experiment you're conducting will develop a mind of its own and wreak
havoc whilst you're gone, a situation exacerbated by the fact that the
'head' is always at the opposite end of the ship.

Just such a dilemma faced the Carbon Cowboys.  Working in the lab' van
on the Polar Duke's helideck at the start of a cruise, these brave,
selfless oceanographers endured untold pain and suffering as 'Nature'
repeatedly called.  In this case, She was one of those callers that
when ignored simply refused to go away!  Picture the scene if you
will:  Three dedicated young scientists pushing back the frontiers of
Antarctic research in the cramped lab', the lack of space presenting no
problem as they sailed past each other through different, but well
practiced protocols.  In fact, the whole scene was more reminiscent of
a well choreographed ballet since no participant 'bumped' another.
Enter 'Mother Nature' though, and the scene became chaotic, especially
when more than one cowboy was involved.  Near anarchy ensued as through
tear-filled eyes and a tense inner dialog, random movements interrupted
a previously perfect performance.

Now, visiting the head on most ships would be tedious at such a time,
but on Polar Duke the route from the helideck can best be described as
tortuous, involving three flights of stairs, a heavy steel 'sea door'
three high steps, and a distance all told equivalent to about two
thirds the length of the ship.  That was on a good day.  Throw in a
heavy sea, with waves occasionally breaking over the helideck or
amidships, a roll, high winds, and even driving rain, and visiting the
head became the least attractive option.  Priding themselves on being
innovative the Carbon Cowboys searched for an answer.  Visiting the
head!  Already ruled out.  A bucket!  Too unhygienic and just too prone
to being kicked, and in a heavy sea an uncovered bucket may share its
contents with the floor.  Over the side!  Dangerous and illegal.

In the middle of a stressful 'jig' late one night, and through clenched
teeth, a cowboy hit upon a solution (sic):  "A cube. We need a cube."
Two and a half gallon cubes, or collapsible bottles, were already lined
up under the benches, collecting 'other' wastes for retrograding, so
the only problem we had with this option was where to put another.  It
couldn't join the line as that might have lead to embarrassing injuries
viz. burns, and contamination problems, so the only reasonable place
was near the door.  This was of course asking for trouble since the
door could not be locked, but a vigilant watch kept through the small
window in the door was the best security we could provide.  Within a
couple of days each member (!) of the team had contributed to the new
waste pool, and the cube had begun to enter ship lore.  Visitors to the
lab' van, who had always stood outside anyway, now had added reason to
visit from a distance!

After the first couple of weeks of cube use, the challenge to the
cowboys became that of filling the said receptacle.  No mean feat
considering that this one would hold two and a half gallons and had
only been brought into service after some cruise time had elapsed.
Quick mental calculations based on long passed lessons in kidney
function, and more recent experience of factors promoting diuresis,
confirmed that this goal was just attainable.  The Carbon Cowboys
proudly borrowed a motto to encourage that team spirit, "One for all,
and all for one"!  With deep humility we are pleased to report that
through the ensuing days and nights of science and discovery, we
applied ourselves unflinchingly to this goal, with full success,
comforted throughout by the fact that we no longer had to run the
gauntlet of foul weather and dangerous seas.

Our success was not without obstacles, however, since we did encounter
a couple of serious problems during cube usage.  We will share these
experiences with our readers in the hope that future users of the cube
technique may benefit if forewarned:

Stability - Your cube should be firmly secured at a comfortable
height.  This would seem to be obvious, but such 'platforms' are rarely
available in a ship's lab'.  Space is always at a premium.  As our cube
was not located at a comfortable height we frequently encountered
problems with coordination.  These were compounded through the fact
that the said cube was also not secure, such that in a heavy sea,
particularly with the ship rolling, and with (at least!) one hand being
used to maintain the user's position, the cube had a tendency to
slide.  To lose grip with either hand is just asking for trouble, so
add a few feet of duct tape to the cube's base, and consider a funnel
to increase the catchment area.  Furthermore, as your cube approaches
capacity, another problem you may encounter on a rolling ship during a
heavy sea is that of spillage.

Privacy - For maximum user comfort, your cube should be located in an
area guaranteed to provide the utmost privacy.  This is particularly
important during a long cruise, and will allow you to avoid
embarrassing gossip should you be caught with your pants down!  Peering
out of the window to check that the coast was clear (!), we were
occasionally discovered by fellow expeditioners.  This of course
presented no problem when the visitor was a fellow carbon cowboy, but
in at least two instances known to the writer, the visitors were not
only 'strangers', but also... of the opposite sex.  The embarrassment
for both parties was palpable, since before opening the door the
visitor saw only a face at the window, albeit low and leaning at a
strange angle, but of course did not associate this with anything other
than the pursuit of science... which we would submit, it was, albeit in
a round about way.

Such tales of derring-do would of course have been impossible had Polar
Duke had a 'head' within commuting distance of the helideck.  For this
learning experience alone, with its moments of discovery in fluid
mechanics, its lessons in quick-thinking to avoid terminal
embarrassment upon discovery with our pants down, and for all the tears
we were ultimately spared, the Carbon Cowboys salute Polar Duke.

[Submitted anonymously to protect the not so innocent...]