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Message in a bottle: Glen Walker, bosun

When the ship hits the fan:

“I normally read sea disaster stories believe it or not. I love ‘em. I just like the idea of people surviving out at sea and I hope that if it ever happened to me (touch wood it doesn’t) that those things I read about would help me survive.”

Glen Walker is the bosun aboard NIWA’s research vessel Tangaroa currently exploring the waters around Antarctica. His reading list is exclusively sea disaster stories.

For those not familiar with titles on a ship, the bosun is also known as the boatswain or deck boss. Essentially his job is to oversee everyone on the deck. So, it is understandable he spends his spare time aboard absorbing survival techniques to keep his crew safe.

Almost all the research conducted in the Ross Sea involves putting equipment over the side of Tangaroa. DTIS, CPR, ROV, CTD: basically an alphabet soup of scientific instruments requiring winches, line and skilled deckhands.

On calm clear days, it is like watching a ballet where the dancers are constantly yelling jokes at one another.

However, when the Antarctic shows her cruel and unrelenting side, equipment hanging from a winch looks like a wrecking ball - so the trawl deck becomes a serious and quiet place.

“If we are doing something new, I may lie in my bunk the nights before and think about it. My job is to work out ways of doing things and doing them safely.”

Glen has enough experience at sea to fill his own books. At 15 he hated school so followed his father onto the path to become a bosun by boarding an inshore fishing boat, Dauntless. At 16 he joined the much larger Otago Buccaneer, spending weeks at sea fishing.

 “You learn when to shut up and when to talk. A lot of the time you just don’t talk.”

With NIWA Glen has been to Antarctica 13 times, all over the Pacific and criss-crossed the seas around New Zealand.

 “This is one of the best jobs around, places we go, great crew.”

Spend any time with Glen and you will know how important his crew are to him. This can be seen in his number one recommended sea disaster book “Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage” by Alfred Lansing.

“Shackleton knew he could get to the pole but turned back because he wouldn’t get back alive with his crew, he looked after his men.”

Glen’s wife and family are also incredibly important. “I have a very understanding wife. I miss a lot of things. But I am there for a lot of things too. On my time off I am there.” When Glen first met his wife, he was away for 10 months of the year so working a month on - month off is a dream for them both.

“If you want to be a deckhand just get out there and do it. It can be tough at the start being a decky-learner, but you get to go to some cool places.”

A huge shoutout to Glen and the amazing work of the deck crew aboard Tangaroa. Thanks for keeping us safe.


Check out more updates from the 2021 Antarctic voyage