Whether you are a cruise veteran or a first-time sea-goer, the experience of returning to normal life on land can be shocking both physically and mentally. There are of course, the first few moments as you step off the boat where the stability of the ground beneath you is off-putting. You may giddily jump up and down or stop your feet on the surface other than the ship’s deck. The sensation of once again moving through space beyond the confines of the ship-running or walking with the breeze rushing through your hair can be freeing. On land the sunshine is much more intense and you are overwhelmed by the complexity of sounds and smells compared to the consistent simplicity of those associated with your ship and the sea. As you drive away from the port your attention is once again torn by the overstimulation of driving, traffic wheezing by and the colorful 3-dimensional world of shopping malls and houses.
Returning to reality also comes with a slew of challenges and renewed responsibilities. Those texts, emails and calls you may have missed or neglected while at sea come flooding in once service returns and your email vacation responder runs out. You once again have to walk more than a few flights of stairs to get any one place. You’ll find yourself sitting more-at a desk or in traffic. The Pavlovian response you’ve developed for hunger at the fixed meal times of 7:30, 11:30 and 5 will remind you that there is no one there to cook you a creative new meal or do your dishes afterwards. Some have craved the return to this independent and involved lifestyle whereas others wish nothing more than to continue the compartmentalized focus of the cruise. Aboard the ship you may pour yourself into research, filling all the time between eating and sleeping with pure science.
Outside the ship your social circle and exposure to people expands dramatically. The familiar faces you’ve passed in the halls or sat across while eating in the galley are replaced by family, friends, housemates, and numerous strangers you cross paths with throughout your day. You are once again bombarded by the relentless onslaught of the daily news, with conversations turning from the morning net tow and agenda for the coming days to the latest international crisis.
Finally, you may notice subtle changes-things you’ve carried off the ship that you never knew you had picked up. You may reflect on the relationships you formed with your fellow scientists and crew, sharing a sense of camaraderie and knowing smiles as you pass one another in the halls. When groaning at the sound of the alarm you might pause when you recall the nights you woke up at 3 AM for the CTD cast. When the future is unclear, you may be surprised by your ability to stay calm and accept whatever you’re dealt-a quality that you learn to develop in the dynamic uncertainty of oceanographic fieldwork. Even for those eager to return to land, as time passes memories of the cruise gain a rose-colored tint which solidifies them in a place of fond nostalgia in our heart.
For the time being, we will be busy at our respective labs analyzing the hard-won data, sitting through classes and meetings, and soon enough dreaming once again of escaping out to sea.