Interview: Bosun Wayne Bailey
Wayne is in charge of all deck activities on R/V Atlantis. He oversees the movement of heavy equipment on the deck, and uses a variety of hand signals—a closed fist means stop—to communicate clearly when crewmembers using the crane can’t hear his voice. Wayne started sailing on the Great Lakes, but has spent most of his 53 years on the ocean.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up 22 miles (35 kilometers) from Cleveland in Fairport Harbor, a fishing community surrounded by Lake Erie on two sides and the Grand River on another. It was close-knit and small town; I have fond memories. I was swimming there before I could walk so I caught the water bug young. When I wasn’t fishing I was playing football. I went to Kent State as a linebacker on a football scholarship. But I got banged up, and dislocated my left shoulder and left knee when a wide receiver clipped me. So I left after about one semester.
What happened after your injury?
It was 1973, and I was about 20 years old, so I decided to go to work. I had worked summers on the Great Lakes as a coal passer. My job was to feed coal into the boilers of the ship eight hours a day. It was hot, dirty work. But I liked it because it paid well. I decided to go big time and try out this blue saltwater pond in the Gulf of Mexico. So I shipped out on a Florida tanker. I worked as a bedroom steward, doing laundry, making beds, and cleaning heads (toilets). We ran from Florida, Louisiana, Texas, South Carolina, and Virginia.
How did you make the move from tanker to research vessel?
Once I came to Woods Hole on a relief trip, aboard the R/V Knorr. I thought “well, those scientists are doing interesting work.” I went back to the tankers, but I thought about what they were doing, the sampling and studying of life in the deep sea. In 1982 I joined Atlantis II as an able bodied seaman, then as a relief bosun. I assumed the regular bosun job in 1988. When we retired the Atlantis II in 1996, I came aboard this ship.
What is a bosun, exactly?
There are a bunch of different spellings: bosun, bos’n, boatswain. The name is derived from “boat” and “swain,” which means servant. The bosun is the deck foreman who runs activities happening on the deck. It’s my job to make sure equipment that goes overboard comes back safely. I’m also in charge of six seamen, and together our job is to make sure the ship is cleaned, painted, greased, and oiled.
I often see you tying knots in lines on the deck. How many knots do you know?
I know about 80 types, but if you know four or five you’re in good shape for rigging, loading, offloading and securing gear.
Where’s home, when you are not on the ship?
I’m out here 8 to 10 months a year. A lot of these guys are family to me. I just sold my house in California, so I’m footloose. I plan to drive around the country on my next vacation in my new truck and camper.
After sailing for more than three decades, are there moments that stand out to you?
Visiting the South Pacific and the Polynesian Islands. I love Scandinavian countries, and Scotland. The weather is crummy but the people are great. I especially liked being part of the first dive using Alvin on the Titanic wreck, since it was such an historic event.
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