Making Dreams Come True

by srosengard

If Revelle had five anatomical senses, the ship’s bridge would be its sight. The bridge is the room that sits on the highest level of the ship and houses the eyes of the vessel. For scientists like me, it’s a novelty to spend time in this room. Although it is slightly tricky for the newcomer to find his/her way there, it is not all too complicated. As long as you keep finding a stairway going up, you will end up at the bridge.

Night visitors will be initially engulfed in darkness on their way up. The official inhabitants of the bridge (the Captain, the three Mates and the Able Bodied Seamen) must be on constant watch for other vessels on the sea, and more commonly in the Southern Ocean, for icebergs. At night, the ship is its own source of light pollution in the open ocean, so everyone on the bridge works in near-total darkness.

In fact, the only lights that do exist at night are the dim red digits and blinkers on the control panels. This is because the bridge also happens to be the functional brain of the Revelle, where the principal navigational decisions are executed. The controls reveal many insights about the ship’s track on what is perhaps the most visibly confusing part of Earth’s surface. Among the many features on the bridge are two radar panels that detect icebergs, other ships, and even storm events at varying resolutions. Other displays show the ship’s track and coordinates. Most surprisingly, there is no steering wheel. The ship is completely propelled by three thrusters at the port stern (back left), starboard stern (back right) and bow (front), each of which has an individual control. Direction and propulsion, therefore, are controlled by just the right force on each thruster.

Heard Island

I wish I had a picture here of Aurora Australis. Unfortunately, its sight is so fleeting and my camera is so unfit for the darkness that is unlikely I ever will capture it. However, here was yesterday’s daytime spectacle: Heard Island, a well-protected island of Australia (not near Australia, just owned by it). You can just discern some peaks below the cap of clouds.

Because the windows of the bridge offer almost a 360-degree view of the open oceans, news of important sightings originate here—and for some, our Southern Ocean dreams come true, day and night. In the daytime, these dreams have included our passage by the Crozet Islands and Kerguelen Islands, and two sightings of pilot whales. At night, these include the stars of the Southern Hemisphere, and most famously, the Aurora Australis (the Southern Lights). My New Year’s Resolution for 2011 was to see the Northern Lights, which I failed to achieve by 11:59 p.m. December 31. My first experience of the Southern solar phenomenon came last night—green, wispy and true, which surely triumphs this failed resolution.

In the realm of celestial phenomena, there are two more visions that the bridge might be able to provide over the second half of our cruise. The first is to see color in the Aurora. The second is to see the seemingly mythical, but actually existent (according to several first-hand sources), green flash that sometimes occurs on the horizon at sunset. For those confined to a set square footage for 5 weeks, perspective and visions of bigger dreams are an essential part of the cruise that I believe the bridge has to offer.