Featured, Maritime, Science

Sikuliaq Recap: Life Aboard an Arctic Research Ship

by Kelley Lane for Seward City News-
Ethan Roth of Seward, aboard the R/V Sikuliaq this past summer. Photo courtesy of Ethan Roth.

The R/V Sikuliaq, which is homeported in Seward, spent most of July 2017 docked at the south end of Seward. The $200 million ship, owned by the National Science Foundation, is operated by a year round crew of mariners and scientists. Back in July, Seward City News was invited aboard for a thorough tour of the ship and its facilities. From the University of Alaska dock, I watched in awe as a shipping container full of scientific equipment was expertly loaded onto the ship, under the watchful eye of Boatswain John French. During the course of the tour, we passed through the kitchen, where Chef Mark Teckenbrock was preparing a meal of Mexican food, with a plentitude of produce contained within the meal. While I appreciate the scientific research done by the ship, the part that I could immediately relate to was the food. As a food enthusiast and lover of understanding how logistical challenges are solved, food presents both a problem to be solved and a wonderful way to physically nourish the ship’s crew.

Fortunately for Seward City News, two members of the R/V Sikuliaq’s crew got to spend time in Seward during the month of December. This allowed time to talk with both of them. Ethan Roth, Marine Technician, is based out of Seward, although he spends most of the year with the ship. Mark Teckenbrock is also a core member of the Sikuliaq crew and had spent most of the year with the ship, as it traveled between San Diego and the Alaskan Arctic. Teckenbrock counts Seward as one of his homes.

The Sikuliaq spent most of the later summer in the Arctic. The scientific equipment that was loaded in Seward in July made the trip out of town with them, through Unimak Pass at the end of the Alaska Peninsula and up to Nome. In Nome, the ship picked up the first set of scientists. At the same time, they loaded a resupply of food. While the food was loaded in Nome, it originated in Anchorage. As explained by Teckenbrock, who is responsible for ordering food for the ship, orders are placed through a food purveyor based in Anchorage. This company arranges for the pallets of food to be air cargo delivered to Nome. The ship can carry stores for up to 42 days, including fuel. Nome presents particular challenges for loading equipment and supplies, which is the main reason that the scientific equipment had been loaded back in Seward. According to Roth, when the food arrives to the ship, “we all work together to ferry the food through the ship to the freezers down below.”

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In Nome, the Sikuliaq found themselves docked next to a fellow icebreaker from South Korea. While Nome is known as a challenging port, due to its shallowness, the Sikuliaq’s relatively shallow draft of just 19 feet allowed it to use the docks. When asked about how the Arctic was different this past year, Roth pointed to the above average number of ships in Nome and the surrounding areas. He mentioned that ships working on the Quintillion fiber optic cable were in the area, laying connector lines to villages in the area. “We wanted to stay away from the cable so as not to damage it,” he added. While there are always obstacles to avoid when boating, the fiber optic cable was a new thing of which to be aware.

Research Equipment aboard the Sikuliaq in late summer Arctic waters. Photo Courtesy of Ethan Roth.

When asked about favorite meals aboard the ship, Teckenbrock said that the crew has a tradition of eating pad thai at 73 degrees north latitude. Another favorite is sticky rice bowls with fried eggs and pork. When scientific crews are aboard from out of state, he cooks more meals featuring Alaskan seafood. “They groove on it,” he said. While in Seward, the Sikuliaq was able to obtain seafood through Resurrection Bay Seafoods. The ship provides “three squares,” or meals, per day, for its crew and scientific crews. In addition, they provide a cupboard of easily preparable meals for night operations, such as instant noodles and lunch meats.

Both Roth and Teckenbrock emphasized the importance of staying active both physically and socially while aboard the ship. The ship has workout equipment and a sauna, as well as a large tv room and an ample public dining area. “You can rot in your room or go stir crazy,” said Teckenbrock. Roth spoke of the joy of spending time in west coast ports, of being able to go out to dinner and enjoy a beer on land. But he also was adamant that “we all do it because we want to be at sea. There’s nothing worse for a sailor than to be tied at the dock.”

The Sikuliaq is currently in San Diego, undergoing routine maintenance and awaiting research season to begin. This is the time of year when crew members are able to visit their families and spend time in their offices. The Sikuliaq will be making its way back up the west coast in the spring, with stops along the way. They have three planned stopovers in Seward for this coming season. You can follow their progress at https://www.sikuliaq.alaska.edu/track/ or contact their home office, located at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Seward office at 907.224.5261.

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