Mission & Objectives
Scientists & Crew
Ron Comer geared
up in a working life vest ready to lower the DSL-120 sonar
fish over the side.
How did you get your start in marine studies?
After graduating from high school in Las Cruces, New Mexico, I decided to
leave the high desert and join the Navy for the high seas. I stayed in the
Navy from 1963 to 1970 and served aboard 2 ships for 5 years. After the Navy,
I decided it was time for college and entered San Diego State University
(SDSU), where I graduated with a B.S. degree in Marine and Environmental
Geology in 1975. I then went to work in the oil patch for the
next 2 years, working offshore and in different oil producing areas in Southern
California. While I was at SDSU, I wrote a paper on ferromanganese nodules
and won a National Sea Grant Award to Scripps Institution of Oceanography
(SIO) for 1 semester of work study in my chosen field. They immediately put
me on a ship named the RV Agassiz in the North Pacific for 6 weeks,
which was pure agony! The rest of my time was spent studying and working
on samples in the sediment lab.
talks with Jim Charters, the Scripps shipboard computer technician
in the Main Lab. on RV Melville. Ron is the interface
(or liaison) between the Scripps shipboard technicians and
the ships crew, and the scientific party.
When did you come to Scripps as a technician?
When I decided to leave the oil business because I was never home, I contacted
people at SIO that I met during my studies there. I was immediately hired,
and 10 days later on a plane to Singapore. I was told to get on the RV
Thomas Washington and stay on it until it got back to San Diego, some 3
1/2 months later. So much for being home more often! That was in 1977, and
I have been sailing as a Resident Marine Technician ever since then.
What are the duties of the Resident Technician on board a Scripps research
We are the primary liaison between the science party and the ships crew.
My duties include loading and stowing the scientific equipment for this expedition,
and unloading and shipping the equipment out of Mexico at the end of the trip.
I serve as the deck Safety Officer, and I am in charge of the launching and
recovery of all over-the-side equipment. This includes rock dredges, rock corers,
CTDs, and associated towed camera and mapping systems. I am also responsible
for all samples and data; and ensure that they are archived and safely returned
to their respective universities. This particular trip we have a new Resident
Technician, Randy Dickau, who will be learning how to do all of these tasks.
all the deck operations to make sure they are done safely
and efficiently. Here, he is giving instructions to Craig
Elder during the recovery of Argo II. Craig is holding a
line that is wrapped around the capstan and leads to Argo
II. The line helps keep Argo II steady while it is lowered
on to the deck.
What type of cruises do you enjoy the most?
Geological sampling cruises usually are the most enjoyable. A lot depends on
the weather and the people involved. My most memorable cruises took place in
the late 1980s and early 1990s with Dr. Harmon Craig. We did
much work on islands and volcanoes throughout the South Pacific collecting
rock, gas, and water samples from fumaroles inside the volcanoes. Many of these
islands are uninhabited and you get a real sense of excitement wondering if
you were the first person there. Rock dredging has also provided some interesting
finds of unique sulfide and rare minerals, as well as 2 live lobsters dredged
up in the Indian Ocean (no -- we didnt eat them!).
How much time do you spend at sea in a year?
A typical year will include 6 or 7 cruises on any of Scripps four ships;
that adds up to 150 to 180 days at sea. We have 7 technicians in our group,
and SIO policy is that a Resident Technician must be on board for each cruise.
We also hire out as technicians on other institutions vessels or even
on foreign ships.
What are your duties on shore?
Unlike the ships crew, we dont earn time off for being at sea,
so it is back to work on our return home. We maintain a shop where our ships
are docked, and we are constantly loading, unloading, and storing equipment
for various cruises. We maintain all of SIOs geologic sampling equipment
and a large amount of other sampling gear. We perform maintenance, sea preparation,
and actually design and build some of our equipment. We rent out a lot of gear
to scientists around the world for use on other research vessels. So there
is a lot of shipping and receiving. We also stage equipment for upcoming expeditions.
We operate cranes, fork lifts, and winches at sea and on shore. We spend a
lot of time in preparation, meetings, and correspondence in planning cruises
with individual scientists so they can make full use of the ship time that
they have. We also maintain a number of small boats, and operate them for various
tasks at sea and around San Diegos bay and shoreline. We also scuba
dive for bottom inspections, and to install or remove equipment that is attached
to the hulls of our ships.
Could you relate any amusing incidents that happened during your many cruises?
I remember, quite well, the time when we landed on the remnants of an old volcano,
which is now a series of protruding rocks making up 7 or 8 very small islands,
just NW of the Gambiers, an island group in the South Pacific. I was the first
one out of the Avon boat, and positioned myself with one foot on a boulder
and one foot in a tidal pool about 18 inches deep. I was preparing to receive
the equipment from the boat when I felt something grab my leg. I looked down,
let out a large yell, and jumped about 2 feet in the air! Evidently, I had
disturbed the home of a 2 1/2 foot octopus. When I jumped, he let go and climbed
up the rocks out of the water. Unfortunately for him, we later captured him
and the cooks served him for dinner! Another time, we were on an active volcano
and we could not get off due to the tide rising during the day. The small boat
that came to pick us up could get within only about 30 yards of the rocky shore
line. We were prepared for this problem if it came up. The Bosun in the boat
threw us a line with 2 inner tubes attached. The problem we didnt foresee
was his report of 7 to 10 reef sharks swimming under the boat! Two of us finally
mustered up our courage, waited for the proper moment of an incoming wave,
and jumped into the sea. We were holding our rocks and equipment, and had the
inner tubes tied together and around our waists. We made it okay, but after
witnessing our escapade, the other 2 scientists waited another 45 minutes before
they would take the plunge. All turned out fine and we were off to new adventures.
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