Interviews: Ordinary Seaman Lorna Allison

allison1Lorna helps Victor Barnhart, Bosun, to inspect the lifeboat.


Tape? Check. Knife? Check. Thread and needle? Check, check. A loop of the mooring line is hefted onto Revelle’s picnic table. The braids show signs of stress, wear and tear. Tape is wrapped around the middle of the loop where a clean cut results in two ends. The operation quickly becomes a team project with scientists and crew swapping stories. The seamen wrap one of the braids in the line with red tape, another with yellow. Lorna Allison, Ordinary Seaman, is getting a lesson in splicing.

Once the different braids of the line are identified with different colors of tape, the braids from the two ends are interwoven together, sections are overlapped and the frayed parts weeded out of the line. When the splicing is finished, the loop of the line looks brand new. “I’m learning how to splice lines, paint, operate a crane and how to assist with the mooring lines when docking and leaving port,” Lorna says.

Lorna's job can be a messy one, here she selects paint for the crane.
This is her first trip at sea as a seaman and she is learning a lot. “I have very few deck people and I need them to be proficient in all aspects of seamanship,” says Lorna’s boss and Bosun, Vic Barnhart. “Normally, the Bosun wouldn’t put an Ordinary Seaman up in a crane, but I trust Lorna, she’s smart.”

From the cockpit, Lorna shifts the gears that raise the crane out of its cradle. She lifts the boom up and at the same time lets out the wire so the hook stays about three feet from the end of the boom. From the deck, Vic signals each move. Once the boom is up he greases the gears. Lorna then drives the crane in two circles each direction to apply the grease evenly, slowly at first and then fast.

During the last fire and boat drill, Lorna suited up and filled in for one of the seaman who was supposedly “down” after pretending to inhale poisonous gas. “We muster in our designated areas, mine is in the mess deck, to do a count and see who’s missing. The fire team communicates with the bridge via radio. The principal investigator checks out the situation with a portable air mask and tank, but he doesn’t dress in a fire suit. If he sees smoke he’ll come back and let the fire team know.”

Learning how all the machinery on board works is all part of being a seaman. Lorna is learning to use all the cranes and winches on board the Revelle.
Lorna went to sea as a mess attendant on the University of Washington’s RV Thomas G. Thompson last year, after four years of teaching sea kayaking and marine landscapes in Baja, Calif. She has always been drawn to the outdoors. She grew up in Seattle with her parents and older brother, Dan. During her time as an undergraduate, studying art photography at the University of Washington, she would take time off to travel on road trips to the southwest. “The deserts of the southwest are totally different from Seattle - warm and dry instead of wet and green,” Lorna says. She enjoyed her trips by herself more than her art classes and when she learned about the adventure-education courses at Prescott College in Arizona she moved south.

“I didn’t feel I was participating fully in life until I went to Prescott,” Lorna says. The private college offered the students a course in natural history, marine landscapes, navigation and sea kayaking in Baja, Calif. When Lorna graduated she co-instructed the course with her professor Robin Kelly. “We would paddle mostly between Loreto and La Paz, and camp along the way. The only time we were ever inside with air-conditioning was when we were grocery shopping.” The trips would last for about a month and Lorna divided her time between Baja, Seattle and Prescott, Az. She spent the fall and spring seasons in Baja, either teaching students or leading tourist expeditions. “By May the air would be well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but the Sea of Cortez would still be cool and refreshing.”

Lorna and Kate Buckman help to finish the splice in a mooring line.
When she tired of the sun, she moved back to Seattle where she knew she wanted to sail. The Thomas G. Thompson didn’t need a seaman, but they could use a mess attendant. Lorna washed dishes and filled snack bins on board the Thompson for six months along the coast of Washington, Oregon and California. In February she checked out the Scripps research vessels and looked into joining the Revelle on its expeditions to the Galápagos and Easter Island. “My whole life, I’ve wanted to go to Easter Island,“ she says. “The people of Polynesia have a history of incredible navigational skills with no instruments, only the waves, the color of the sea, the smell of the water and land around them and the position of the stars.” After our current expedition ends, Lorna will cross the equator again, as an experienced seaman or shellback, and sail with Revelle to Peru and on to Easter Island.