Mission & Objectives
Scientists & Crew
Interviews: Chief Mate Eric Wakeman
Eric climbs to the top of the communications mast.
When a monsoon started off the coast of Samoa one day in February, Eric
Wakeman was along side the RV Melville, but none on board saw he had
returned. He opened up the engines on the Boston Whaler full throttle and
drove in circles near the ship. The speed kept the boats bow up, allowing
the rain to drain out the stern. He didnt have much time. The small boat
was taking on water quickly. Then the engine died.
At 278 feet, the Melville needed to anchor at the deepest end of the Samoan
harbor. Eric used one of the ships two smaller boats to travel between the
ship and shore, about a 10-minute commute. Coral reefs outlining the bay
protected the smaller boats from heavy ocean swells. Currents passing the
mouth of the harbor brought nutrient rich water to the shallow marine life.
Without the engine, Eric knew he was drifting away from Melville and toward
the coral reef. He could hear the waves breaking, but the rain masked the
view of anything beyond twenty feet. He didnt panic - yet. He began
thinking through what he had learned at the Maritime Academy. He started
rowing with the oars, when one of them broke leaving him rowing
Gondola-style. That didnt work, so he looked around and found a pickle jar
full of tools. He began to bail.
|Eric plots our course on the maps of the Galápagos
I got the first bail of water in the jar. But, when I went to dump it out,
I accidentally let go and the jar flew overboard. He then tried to signal
the ship. I sent a flare out and accidentally shot it into the water
instead of the air.
He started walking back and forth in the small 15-foot boat with more than
a foot of water trying to figure out what to do next. I was debating
whether to jump or stay with it, the boat was so full of water it almost
tipped over. I realized no one was aware of what was happening to me and if
I was separated from the boat they may not find me, or I would get cut up
on the coral reef or eaten by sharks. Thats when he began to panic.
Strangely enough, I had just bought a pocket survival guide for all sorts
of situations, but it didnt include the situation I was in.
Just as the rain let up, he tried one more time to use the flare gun and
succeeded. The crew on the ship saw the flare in the sky and rescued Eric
using the other boat. Those five minutes stranded at sea is the only time
Ive really been scared in the last 10 years, Eric says.
|The chief mate must ensure all the scientists and crew know what to do in the event of an emergency. Here Eric talks to us about the abandon ship procedure after a weekly fire drill.
Eric grew up skiing the slopes of Tahoe and the Sierra Nevadas a couple
hours drive from his home near San Francisco. He is the oldest of three
kids. In 1988, he joined the California Maritime Academy in Vallejo,
Calif., for one reason: snow. Someone told me a long time ago you could
work for six months as a mariner and have six months free to ski in
Switzerland. I have never skied in Switzerland. But I do have about four
months on and two-and-a-half months off from work.
After four years of training, Eric was able to leapfrog to the position of
Third Mate. The purpose of the Marine Academy is to quickly get a Third
Mates license, something that would take about 10 years of working at sea
starting as an Ordinary Seaman. It took Eric another year of inquiring
about a job as a deck hand at Scripps, before they hired him. They kept
telling me deckies are a dime a dozen and then finally they were worth a
He had persisted with Scripps, because he liked the idea of working on a
research vessel rather than a tanker. For one reason, research vessels
didnt have a tendency to blow up. I was leafing through Life magazine one
day and saw a two-page picture of a 1,200 foot tanker exploding. The
photograph was titled Tanker on Fire and was taken by a friend of mine
who had graduated a year earlier. It was his first ship. He was also
enthralled with the potential travel opportunities on a research vessel. I
saw the list of places Scripps ships were going and half the time I didnt
recognize where the country was on the map. My friends who went to tankers
travel up and down between the coasts of Alaska and California, and thats
all theyve seen in the last 10 years.
As part of his official duties, Eric meets the Ecuadorian customs official on our arrival at Santa Cruz.
Eric began working as Chief Mate on Revelle two months ago. We have a
talented and self-sufficient crew, so my responsibilities are actually
pretty minimal, he says. Eric monitors the routine maintenance of the
ship; takes a leadership role during emergencies, fire and boat drills; and
administers any first aid or medical attention if needed. In the evening,
he takes his turn standing watch in the bridge.
When asked his advice about a career as a mariner, Eric responds: The
marine industry comes and goes. Find something that you want to do and have
as a job. I dont think I could handle a daily job at shore, I have two
commutes a year to and from the ship. My job is more a hobby I enjoy.
Decide early what you want to do and have fun, and as someone once told me:
do it while youre young.
As Eric would say: Rodger Doger.