One aspect of fieldwork rarely mentioned in cruise blogs, or indeed at work, is the personal preparation we need to make when we are going to be away from home for several weeks. Seagoing scientists and technicians are, of course, just ordinary people with the hopes, worries and attachments that we all have. It can be mentally tough to spend a significant amount of time away from home, often under stressful conditions, without your personal support network around you. When you are several days’ travel from home, worries about family or pets or friends can amplify in your mind, although equally, time away can give you a new sense of perspective and clarity about some situations.
I have two children, and an important part of preparation for a long cruise is bracing myself for being away from them, and getting things in place to help their dad manage while I’m at sea. Having organised some extra childcare (which can be harder than it sounds) I am now feeling reasonably ready to go. This time I’ll be away for significant events like a birthday, and an end-of-primary-school performance by my daughter’s class, and I will miss those early morning cuddles and evening bath times with the kids. A couple of years ago I was unexpectedly too late for Christmas because a delay in the ship programme meant I got home 3 weeks later than planned. But we cope with all of this because we send each other emails and photos, and they tell me about what they are doing on the phone, or sometimes in short voice recordings sent by email.
At their worst cruises can be very lonely times, but more often than not they are a lot of fun. At the same time that we miss our families (or pets, or gardens, or friends) and find it hard to be away from them, we can also make enduring friendships with people we sail with. You get to know people very well when you spend long hours at sea together and this can be very rewarding if you happen to get on well. If you are lucky you can form a new support network around you, because you really are in the same boat.
Finally, I have discovered a slightly surprising personal benefit of being a sea-going parent; it turns out that my children feel pretty cool because their friends think that I am a cool Mum because of my job. Me – cool! – something I spent many years failing to achieve in my younger days. Who’d have thought it.