Fulfilling a childhood dream

After many years I finally went to sea on a research ship

Me, on a research ship, on the Atlantic

Ever since I read about the research vessel Polarstern in the children’s magazine Geolino I wanted to do research on such a ship. I still remember how 12 year old me was sitting in on the sunny floor and imagined myself into the freezing arctic on an important research mission.

But I was little and it was just a dream, unachieveable, nearly forgotten over the years. That is, until one day towards the end of my Bachelor’s, I came to talk about childhood dreams with a friend of mine, who had a seafaring friend with some good advice. Once I knew where to look it was easy to find lead scientists going on cruises but this wasn’t a normal year, this was spring 2020 … cruises were put on ice, travel was restricted, and I instead turned to fundraising for the Red Cross and preparing for my Master’s in Utrecht.

In the following years I tried again and again, but Covid measures made planning difficult, administrative hurdles were raised, and cruises clashed with important dates from my study. Finally, in 2023, I started again in earnest and searched for dozens of cruises and tracked down the lead scientists. It was the work of days. Answers began to trickle in, but spots are hard sought-after and cruises filled for many months in advance, so mail after mail was a no. I was almost ready to expand my search to international ships, when I opened one more mail, expecting yet another friendly rejection and best wishes, but it wasn’t. That time, it was an offer.

An assistant had cancelled and they could do with a helping hand. Just weeks after I began this last search, but more than a decade after a boy began to dream, I headed to the port and got onto a ship. A large research vessel. To do science on the ocean. It was geophysics instead of biology and the Atlantic instead of the Arctic, but that didn’t matter. I made it. After all the effort and failures. Achieving this dream had become so important to me that finally setting foot on the ship felt more like the end of a journey, rather than the beginning. It felt a bit unreal.

Therefore, I feared that during the single-minded effort to secure a spot on a cruise, my expectations for the journey might have grown too much, but luckily they hadn’t. We were putting out measuring devices and monitoring the ship’s own ongoing measurements of the seafloor and it all felt properly exciting and significant. The topic was far off my expertise, but I learned quickly about the intent behind our research and got interested in the preliminary results we were seeing. To do all this on the ocean was a very peculiar feeling. Surrounded by just water, confined to a ship, it feels as if the world has become very small. It is just the ship now, and just these people. Everything else feels like a vague possibily in the distance. The day is dominated by the routine of the ship. The outside world is far. The usual worries of life diminish. As if the ship was in its own dimension. A subtle, but very curious experience.

I want to believe that even this last part is something my 12-year-old self intuitively felt, when he dreamed himself on this ship.

An attemtp to convey the feeling of the ocean-dimension

Felix Schweigkofler
Felix Schweigkofler
Research Assistant, MSc

I would like to know how living works