by Jerrod Hozendorf, Chief Boatswain, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 28, 2018
The Bosun speaks...
The legendary Jacques Cousteau once said, “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” I couldn’t agree more!
My adventure and love affair with the ocean began as a small child, holding my grandfather’s and father’s hands while and being tossed about in the surf zone at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, during our summers there with my extended family who happened to be World War II pilots and active duty Naval Officers. To say the ocean is in my blood would be an understatement. Herman Melville said, “There is magic in it. Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries—stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all that region.”
As soon as I was legally able, I joined the U.S. Navy on delayed entry in the summer of 1988 and reported for boot camp three weeks after high school graduation in 1989. Six months later, I was on my first ship, the USS Blue Ridge, as a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed Radioman; and so began my career on the ocean. You could say I grew up on the Pacific and Indian oceans, as most of my time on active duty was spent in that area of the world – traveling all over Asia, Micronesia, Middle East, Africa, and down to Australia over the course of 10 years.
After a nine-year self-imposed hiatus away from the ocean, reconnecting with my family in Arkansas, I decided it was time to come back to the big blue. Although my background was in telecommunications and information technology, the only time I was truly happy at “work” was while I was out on the water. I started my career with NOAA as a general vessel assistant on onboard the “Mighty” Oregon II, homeported out of Pascagoula, Mississippi. In 2010, re-learning basic seamanship skills and equipment operations while bugging all of the scientists with a million and one questions about the survey work they were doing in managing the Gulf of Mexico and eastern seaboard fisheries, plus the snapper and shark population assessment cruises we were doing.
I came to NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer as an able seaman (AB) in 2010 to assist the deck crew during one of their longer in ports in Honolulu. I was asked if I wanted to stay onboard as a member of the permanent crew. Who could say no to working out of Hawaii with a trip out to Indonesia coming up? I’ve been onboard since then, slowly working my way up through the ranks, culminating in being selected as the Chief Boatswain in 2015.
My job these days is managing the deck department personnel, training our young officers in all things related to deck operations, and ensuring the exterior of the ship and all of our equipment is looking good and operationally sound. My primary concern at sea and in port is the safety of all personnel out on deck of the ship “in my world.” This includes ensuring all of the proper equipment maintenance is being done, keeping an eye on all things related to safety out on deck and in the common spaces throughout the ship. Constantly monitoring the ever-present corrosive effects of salt water on steel, keeping all of our interior common spaces clean and comfortable, and providing watch standers for lookout duties on the bridge. I work closely with the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) engineers, survey technicians, and our engineering department to ensure we safely and successfully deploy and recover all of the scientific packages onboard, as required to fulfill the ship’s mandate of exploring the deep ocean around the world. This really means we do a lot of cleaning, busting rust, painting, and maintenance!
I’ve always felt that choosing to live and work aboard ships is a life choice rather than a career choice. All of us out here are basically agreeing that we’d rather be out on the ocean, thousands of miles away from all things familiar and safe, than in a nice, comfortable office or life on shore somewhere. So, needless to say, it does take a special kind of person to make such a weighted decision. I’ve truly never looked back. Luckily, my decision to return to the ocean full time has given me the opportunity to understand the ocean and everything below the surface in greater detail than I could have while on active duty. I’ve always gravitated towards learning but never had the patience or any real desire to sit in a classroom. As Jacques Cousteau noted about his career, “I am not a scientist. I am, rather, an impresario of scientists.”
The primary reason I’ve stayed onboard this long is simply because I always look forward to what they will think up next when it comes to the technology on Deep Discoverer and Seirios. I am always amazed by the fact that these two ROVs were thought up, designed, and constructed by a small handful of bright, totally “smarter than me” kids, basically. Marveling at the discoveries found in the depths and helping the world understand the blue world in which we live keeps me out here, without a doubt.
To learn more about the duties of the Chief Boatswain, read this Mission Log from previous Chief Boatswain, Tyler Sheff.