Logo of the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt
Symbolbild "News"

Everyday life on a ship

31 May 2023


Position on 31.5.2023Current position (diamond shape). The circles are the positions at previous blog posts, the black line is roughly the route we took (base map from Opens external link in new windowggplot2).


Today, I want to tell you a little bit more about everyday life on the ocean. During the cruise, the "Sonne" is both our working place and our home. While the crew has predefined working times, the scientists mostly work according to the CTD station times. We can’t just work for weeks, of course, and also need free time, even though it’s not always easy to stop. Work and “not-work” are very close together while living at sea.

"Living quarters"
The "Sonne" is relatively luxurious, as most of us have single cabins with a small bathroom. This is not the case on all research vessels. Especially on older ships, there are often only two- or even four-berth cabins. As we also have to get up at night but not necessarily all at the same time, it is, of course, much better to have single cabins. Additionally, it is sometimes great to have some alone time. By the way, the cabins are cleaned once per week.


My cabin
My cabin …(Picture: Rieke Schäfer)


… and the bathroom (the toilet is in the corner next to the shower). (Picture: Rieke Schäfer)


Each cabin has a sign
Each cabin has a sign. (Picture: Rieke Schäfer)


Cleaning reminder
The day before cleaning, we get a reminder. (Picture: Rieke Schäfer)


My cabin is on deck 2 which is approximately at sea level. I can hear the waves lapping against the ship. The ship itself is so quiet that there isn’t much to hear except the waves while we are cruising. Luckily, the sea is still very calm, so the ship is hardly rolling.

As I have been asked how washing works, here’s my answer: there are laundry rooms with washing machines and tumble dryers where we can wash our clothes.


Washing machines
Washing machines and tumble dryers (Picture: Rieke Schäfer)

I already mentioned the meal times in a previous entry, so now I want to give you some more details about the food. Lunch is usually a traditional German meal: meat with potatoes and rice or pasta and some sort of vegetables. Our international cruise participants are definitely getting acquainted with all the different ways that potatoes can be prepared. Dinner is also partially a warm dish, additionally to the bread, rolls, cheese, sausage and different sorts of salads. They are taking good care of us. Surprisingly, we still have some fresh fruit and vegetables.

Drinking water is prepared from the seawater. We have bottles that we can fill up. The water has even got its own logo at the water fountain.


Drinking water supply.
Drinking water supply. (Picture: Rieke Schäfer)


On the tables, beneath the anti-slip-mats are old nautical maps. Based on the notes on these maps, they have been previously used on the "Sonne".


Dining room
Dining room (Picture: Rieke Schäfer)


Of course, we can spend our free time as we want to. The ship has a sauna and a gym, which are both frequently used. Additionally, a daily yoga session has been established and a table tennis and table football tournament organised. We have a small library which has some scientific literature but mostly novels. In the evenings, the library or the lounge are sometimes used to watch movies.


Trophy for the table football tournament
Some people on board even created a trophy for the table football tournament. (Picture: Rieke Schäfer)


Another option is, of course, to just enjoy the view. The weather is nearly always warm and sunny. Most days it is at least quite nice to be in the shade with some wind. Unfortunately, there aren’t many animals to see anymore. Both flying fish and birds are only seen occasionally, and even the mandatory whale watching in US waters ended without us seeing a single whale.


Library (Picture: Rieke Schäfer)


The lounge is always available for us to hang out in. It also has a collection of games. (Picture: Rieke Schäfer)


I am often surprised by how few people seem to be around. Someone is always working (also at night) and therefore somewhere, someone else is always sleeping. But even considering that, it is still surprisingly quiet.


Time zones
Finally, some words about time zones: we are sailing from east to west and accordingly the clocks are changed backwards by one hour each time we reach a new time zone. This means we’ve had several 25-hour days. We get the information about an upcoming change the day before it happens. As the biggest impact is on the meal times, this is enough. Nearly everything else is structured by the CTD station times. By the way, the crew’s watch time is twenty minutes longer for each watch on the days we change the time zone.

The time change is always during the night, independently of when we cross the actual time zones. As we don’t really interact with the regions around us, this does not matter, and changes during the night are much easier. The same was true for the date line. In total, we have crossed the line three times, because there is one kind of extra region, but we just ignored the first two lines. Friday, May 19, was the day we skipped. To make it easier, we just changed the day and not the time too. We directly switched from UTC-12 to UTC+12. Apparently, on one of the previous cruises, they changed both the day and the time and it confused a lot of people.



PTB doctoral student Opens local program for sending emailRieke Schäfer is blogging here directly from the RV "Sonne" on her way west from South America across the Pacific Ocean.