How to have multiple birthday celebrations on the same day

by Jen Clarke, PhD student at University of Southampton

As the clock struck 12 in England I received my first birthday wishes from home via email, even though my birthday hadn’t quite reached the boat. An hour later my fellow carbon teammates wished me happy GMT birthday, and then finally 3 hours after the initial birthday email, my birthday aboard the ship really began!

It can often be a strange experience being aboard a research ship with other scientists and the ship’s crew, and birthdays are no different. Most people whilst on land choose to spend their birthdays celebrating with family and friends, on a boat the other scientists and crew become your family even though you might not know everyone particularly well (yet!). There is generally a homemade card and gifts either made craftily from spare lab supplies or in the form of a drink in the bar. This is my first birthday at sea and had no idea what to expect.

My birthday really began with my roommate Hannah serenading from the door from the main lab (where she works with the nutrients team) to the wet lab (where I work with my underway carbon sensors). Other scientists all then trickled in and wished me happy birthday. 12am is shift change so there were a fair number of people around (those getting off shift and those just about to start). Everyone then slowly seeped back to the main lab (or so I thought). My friend Carolyn came and gave me a picture collage she had made me, and encouraged me to go to the bar with her. I walked in to most of the scientists looking at me and it soon became apparent they were waiting for something or someone. A few minutes later I was presented with a homemade card signed by all the scientists, and a chocolate cake made by the wonderful Paddy, the second cook, and was serenaded yet again (but this time by a whole choir of scientists).

I unfortunately had to pop back down to the lab to tidy a few things up and make sure everything was safely stowed overnight, (only after eating the cake and chatting in the bar); When I returned to my room- the birthday fairies had been and put a birthday card from my boyfriend and some chocolate on my bed for me.

We were woken early by a phone call, not only was there sea-ice outside, but it was clear enough for us to see Greenland! Birthday fairies had also visited during the night – on the ladder to my bunk was a birthday present from my roommate Lilo (chocolate!) and another from my boyfriend. After visiting Monkey Island to take lots of photos while it was sunny, I checked my emails and got ready for my shift as usual but with a spring in my step –my birthday at sea so far was turning out to be much more than I was expecting with both the sea and weather cooperating to give some great views from my cabin and my lab!

My first job of the day was then to locate the chocolate bars the birthday fairy had hidden in my lab and open the present one of my instruments had managed to wrap and address to me overnight (I think the carbon team might have had something to do with that one!). Each of the chocolate bar birthday presents I received has had a story or a message from my friends on board taped to them, which makes them seem extra special.

However, my birthday is not the first on this cruise. We welcomed in Eithne’s birthday last Saturday with all the scientists who were around, surprising her at the end of her shift (handily midnight) with her favourite hot chocolate and singing happy birthday. The Nutrients team and the others on the night shift then decorated the lab with balloons (blown up sampling gloves), a sign with lots of hand drawn pictures and filled sample tubes and gloves with chocolates bought from the bar ready for the start of her next shift. She came prepared an invitation to pre-dinner sloe gin and Spanish chorizo for everyone, as it is customary for the birthday person to buy everyone aboard the ship a drink to celebrate.

As I come to the final hour of my first birthday at sea I feel like I have had 3 birthdays rolled into one, the first being with the birthday wishes from home and my teammates, the second at the end of my shift yesterday and all day today. Everyone aboard made my first birthday on the waves so fun, in particular Paddy for making me a delicious cake, and Hannah, Lilo and Carolyn for being the best birthday fairies- making me cards, hiding my presents, persuading scientists to sing to me more than once and generally making me smile all day!

Images: First celebration at midnight, birthday cards and presents for Jen

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