Mission & Objectives
Scientists & Crew
Chief Engineer Ron Wheatley
Chief Engineer Ron Wheatley checking one of RV Melvilles
main engines. You will notice that Ron is wearing ear plugs. The Engine Room is very noisy, so it
is important that anyone who goes in there protects their hearing.
What did you want to be as a kid?
As a kid, I daydreamed about many of the usual occupations—railroad
engineer, doctor, scientist, fighter pilot, but what I really enjoyed
was reading and exploring the woods nearby. In high school, I just aimed
myself toward college, thinking that I would discover my interests there.
I enjoyed my university classes—particularly philosophy and literature—but
didnt excel in math and the sciences. By the time I graduated,
I still hadnt found a direction that was both compelling and practical.
at the Engine Control Center (ECC)—the place where all
the dials and controls for the Engine Room are located.
These allow the engineers to check and control all the
different equipment on the ship from this one location.
Describe one pivotal moment in your life that influenced where you are now.
After I graduated, I wanted to do something different for a while, so I left
Boston and spent several months hiking through Alaska and the Yukon Territory
of Canada. By the time I returned, I had decided that I would eventually go back
to college to continue studying literature. But, because I didnt have
money for tuition, I planned to join the Navy to earn the GI Bill (a program
of the US armed services that allows veterans to have their college tuition paid
for). While my application for Officer Candidate School was being reviewed, I
happened to read a magazine article about the US Coast Guard. The Coast Guard
seemed like a useful organization, so I signed up and was on my way. One thing
led to another, and here I am 25 years later. Its been an interesting
journey and Im lucky to have friends all over the world.
What are your main responsibilities during the cruise?
I am responsible for the effective and safe operation of all the engineering
equipment on board RV
Melville. This includes the propulsion machinery, deck machinery,
and the hotel services (things like water, electricity, plumbing
and sewage). There are ten people in the engineering department, and we operate,
maintain and repair most of that equipment. We provide many of the essential
services that people have ashore. We make our own electricity using generators;
we make our own drinking water from seawater; we have our own sewage treatment
plant; and we provide heating, air conditioning, refrigeration, and phone services,
to name a few. Each person in the department has a very important job to do,
and its my job to make sure that they have the tools, spare parts, equipment,
and support that they need to do their jobs.
at the electrical distribution center on RV Melville. This
is where all the electrical circuits are monitored and where power
What was the greatest challenge that you faced in your life and how did you overcome
The greatest challenge happened on the first cruise that I sailed as Chief Engineer.
I was nervous because I was keenly aware of my new responsibilities. An error
in judgment on my part could have serious implications -- and I wasnt
so sure that my judgment was up to the task! My imagination had a field-day tormenting
me with what-if catastrophes and worst-case scenarios! As luck
would have it, one of them came true -- the deep sea winch broke down so that
it would not haul in the wire. Over three and a half miles below the ship, a
very expensive side scan sonar package was hanging on the wire and the winch
refused to pull it in. We spent many hours tearing into the machinery and troubleshooting.
Most of us in the engine room were involved in one way or another. Finally, we
were able to coax the winch into running well enough to get the gear back on
deck. It was teamwork that got us through that challenge, and I learned a very
valuable thing -- I was part of a talented team that was up to tough challenges
-- so I could relax a little. There were also other smaller problems that trip,
including a main engine that broke down on the way home!
When you are not working, what do you like to do in your spare time?
On the ship, I do a lot of reading in my spare time. I also exercise and play
around with computers. Ashore, I spend as much time as possible getting away
from it all. I spend the summer months at my home in the mountains of north-central
Washington state, and the winter months exploring the deserts of California,
Arizona, or west Texas.
What do you like most and least about going to sea?
I really enjoy being underway on a ship; running at cruising speed, especially
for home port or for a place that Ive never been before. What I like best
though, is the camaraderie and friendship of my shipmates. When Im at
sea, I miss the simple pleasure of being able to go to a bookstore or a hardware
store and roam around for hours. But more than anything, I miss the peaceful
solitude of being in the north woods or in the desert.
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