ON THE PACIFIC, Day 10: In the belly of the beast

From June 25 to July 9, UO geophysicist Dean Livelybrooks and a team of national scientists on board the Atlantis research vessel will recover earthquake-monitoring equipment in the Pacific Ocean. Follow tweets and other activity at @uocas and #uoshiptrip. Visit explorationnow.org/atlantis to follow the action live. To read previous dispatches from the Atlantis, visit http://around.uoregon.edu/cascadia-initiative.

I’ve been reading Philip Hoare’s “The Whale” in my down time.

I’ve had a lot of down time lately. With winds at 40 knots, the Pacific is hinting at its power: Mountainous wave after mountainous wave, sending us high into the heavens and then down into the depths, over and over again. My stomach rises and falls unpleasantly with each, and as we are more than 24 hours into this pattern by now, I’ve retreated to my bed.

I’m told I’m not the only one undone by Atlantis’ constant heaving up and down. Even the crew is grumbling.

Hoare’s book is a faithful companion. It’s a beautifully written but disturbing history of whaling and the whale, interwoven with passages from “Moby Dick.”

One topic in the book has special resonance for me right now: Accounts of men eaten whole by whales and, if the accounts are true, living to describe it. I feel, at this moment, that I’ve been swallowed by the Atlantis, and by the Pacific itself.

In my room deep in the bowels of the ship, with the curtains drawn around my bed, I’m entombed in total darkness, in a space only slightly larger than my person. As the ship lurches forward, climbing each wave and sliding down the other side, the motion and the sounds suggest some watery leviathan: The high-pitched roar of Atlantis’ metal hull slicing through waves could be the call of the humpback as it hurtles to the surface and breaches.

Occasionally, Atlantis falls squarely on top of a wave, sending an explosive report throughout the vessel. The walls around me shake and the ship creaks in complaint, but I’ve long since given up the fear of catastrophe.

It reminds me, however, that I’m underwater, albeit surrounded by tons of metal that sustain me. Submerged deep in the Pacific, I’m hearing sounds I haven’t heard before, as our tiny vessel makes its way delicately along against a vast, uncaring ocean.

The sensation is foreign to me, being so completely enveloped by a force so powerful, even lethal. But as I close my eyes and drift back into sleep, I know I'm lucky to be experiencing it.

- by Matt Cooper, UO Office of Strategic Communications