Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Dip In The Pool

Waiting for a ship...
For the past month I've been languishing in the "pool", the informal name for the MSC Customer Service Unit--East. Essentially a union hall, it's where Mariners report and stand by whilst waiting for a ship assignment. We talk (complain!), read, play Scrabble and Settlers of Catan and Risk, and otherwise occupy ourselves as the Detailers work to find US work.

Not a lot of fun, though we try to put the time to good use--one of my Shipmates is completing his Distance Learning course in Mandarin, another works on his book, and I am completing renewal paperwork for Mariner's documents.

There has been talk of a "virtual" pool, where we can stand by at home whilst waiting for assignment, but I doubt that it will come about anytime soon. I'm not counting on seeing it before I retire from the sea.

This is NOT the best part of being a Mariner, but it certainly whets the appetite for the feel of a deck beneath one's boots and spray on one's face; after a few months in this "working" environment I think most of us would accept orders to 'Titanic'!

Monday, December 28, 2015

In The Observatory

The Abbitt Observatory

I spent Saturday morning at the Virginia Living Museum (VLM), where I volunteer on weekends when not actually away at sea.  On these rare but happy occasions I man the dome of the Abbitt Observatory, trying in my way to present the wonders and amazements of the sky to guests of the Museum. I answer questions and do my best to instill in them the same feelings of awe and delight that I feel when I contemplate the heavens.
Really, this is my other job, perhaps even the one where I feel most comfortable and productive.  Beneath the curving roof of the observatory dome I am privileged to be able to communicate with people from both the local area and afar; I can let my enthusiasm and love of astronomy have free rein as I show guests (safely, through filtered telescopes) the roiling photosphere of the sun by day, the rugged surface of our Moon or delicate jewelry of Saturn's rings and satellites by night at the Museum's monthly public Star Parties.

The 16-Inch Meade Telescope

I've been volunteering in the VLM's dome since 2004 but my relationship with the Museum goes back much farther.  I can remember visiting the Peninsula Nature  and Science Center as a young boy in the 1960s; many times walking along the railroad tracks that lead from behind my family's old white-brick house in Hidenwood to the dark, wet culvert under those tracks leading to what to a young man seemed a wonderland of mysteries and discovery. 
The original Museum building, now the Education Center 
The facility was much smaller then; a single building which contained planetarium, observatory, aquarium and gift shop (plus, I suppose, the offices and other infrastructure that supported them--though as a boy I hardly noticed such essentials!). That building still stands today behind the massive edifice that the VLM has grown into over the decades; the lesser structure still supports the planetarium and classrooms under the aegis of the Education Department.

The new building, commissioned in the early 2000s, has allowed the Museum to expand its scope and horizons, though I'm happy to say that growth hasn't gone to the VLM's metaphorical head; our mission remains one of education and outreach.  From the tremendous aquaria representing both coastal and inland environments to the aviary, coastal touch-tank to alligators basking in their shallow ponds, red wolves to otters to sea-turtles, the Museum continues to showcase Virginia's tremendous biological diversity and natural beauty to hundreds of guests a day.
The current Virginia Living Museum
And I'm pretty well thrilled to be a small part of this experience.

But back to Saturday in the Observatory...

The sky was completely overcast--which can make it difficult to use telescopes effectively--so I prepared some "static" displays of the dome's equipment, a demonstration of the Earth-Moon system and computer presentations of current solar activity.  I wasn't expecting a large number of guests as it was the day after Christmas, and so relaxed in the cool, moist morning air as cold "steam" rose from the metal roof of the Museum, enjoying the solitude of the moment.

A "Vee" of geese passed overhead; even as their honking faded into the southern overcast I could hear the sounds of voices from the elevator leading to the Observatory deck.  I straightened my hat and made one last check of the dome's interior; first impressions are so important.  The door opened and a young family--father, mother, and two girls--emerged blinking into the watery light of day; I stepped forward to greet and welcome them to my Universe and to invite them to consider it theirs as well.
After all, it's big enough for all of us to share, isn't it?
What it's all about!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Basking Shark in the North Atlantic

Just some pics of a Basking Shark I saw a while's amazing what you can see whilst standing lookout on a cargo ship! Just one more reason why I love the sea!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


Slowly--SO slowly!--recovering from a case of Bronchitis. A course of Antibiotics and inhalers and about three hundred cough-drops later I am beginning to feel human once more, though I suspect the coughing might go on for a while yet.

Lucy has I think been considering moving out--or perhaps having ME move out due the combination of coughing and snoring from my side of the bed. (Odd that I never seem to have trouble with the ZZZZZZZ from HER side!) Perhaps now we can get back to some normalcy...

Of course my star-gazing and photographic pursuits have been on-hold for a while. I'm hoping that things will settle-down enough by Saturday so I can go out into the cold for some deep-sky observing with the Back Bay gang. I'll let you know how that goes!