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At-Sea Detection: About that Axe outside Your Stateroom Door

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Funny thing about living on a ship. There are lots of weird things that you notice at first and gradually become normal. I thought about this because Amanda sent around an email list of ways you know you’re on a ship and not in a dormitory. One entry states “In the event of a fire, for your safety and convenience, gas masks are located in your room and outside the galley are racks of firefighting gear.” It’s true! Here’s our gas masks and some more elaborate versions from down the passageway. There’s much more outside the galley.

Then there’s the axe directly outside our stateroom door. It hasn’t yet featured in a dream, but I figure it’s only a matter of time. One would presume it’s for firefighting, but since most everything’s made of steel, I’m not quite sure what one would axe. Not a bunkmate, I hope, even to keep her from burning.

And the labels and warning signs. Many more things are labeled than you’d expect. The extra warning labels on this door to a stairway (aka ladder) make it clear that this is NOT the one for us. The door for general use just has the standard four labels: a descriptor, instructions, a single warning, and the direction.

This arcane device, on the door to the electronics lab area, looks like it’s from a 19th century chemistry lab. The instructions, largely unreadable when the device is in place and rather lengthy for reading in the event of an emergency, suggest it’s for grounding live surfaces, but my guess is it’s being stored pending delivery to a museum.

You probably know from movies and books (or even your own seagoing experience) that many ship parts have different names than their dry-land counterparts. Stairs are called ladders, fairly appropriately, given their steep gradient.

The mess is where we eat—apparently from some Latin meaning table or that which is put on the table. Left is port, right is starboard. Found this explanation online: The name is a very old one, derived from the Anglo-Saxon term Steorbord, or Steering-board. Ancient vessels were steered not by a rudder amidships, but by a long oar or Steering-board extended over the vessel’s right side aft. This became known, in time, as the Steering-board side or starboard. The term “stern” also comes from steering, this time the Norse version. Much more interesting story for the toilet, which is called the head on a ship. Googled this one, although I’ve also read it in Tony Horwitz’s excellent book “Blue Latitudes,” which Robyn read on this cruise. “Head” in a nautical sense referring to the bow or fore part of a ship dates to 1485. The ship’s toilet was typically placed at the head of the ship near the base of the bowsprit, where splashing water served to naturally clean the toilet area. In our toilet area, the cleaning methods fall to the four users.

Finally, a source of endless fascination in Kelly’s and my otherwise faultless stateroom (that’s sea for bedroom) is the desk lamp. It was clearly designed and installed by a sadist. Note the sharp edges. Note the handy location of said edges, directly adjacent to where one’s head is while working at the desk. Swivel in chair to say hello to someone and presto! A new knot on your head. After 12 days at sea, I still catch it frequently. Actually, I whack my head on metal parts everywhere on the ship pretty regularly—not sure why hard hats aren’t required at all times.


Author: NOAA Marine Debris Program

The NOAA Marine Debris Program envisions the global ocean and its coasts, users, and inhabitants free from the impacts of marine debris. Our mission is to investigate and solve the problems that stem from marine debris, in order to protect and conserve our nation's marine environment, natural resources, industries, economy, and people.

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