Posted by: Jill | August 26, 2011

Day 1 in Brazil

After a late night of team-building over cervezas and muqueca, a typical dish from northeastern Brazil, we got an early start to pack the boat and depart for the islands. The Titan is a dive boat turned scientific vessel, with a compressor on board and plenty of room for stowing tanks and dive gear. The crew is skilled and the food is excellent, and although there’s no espresso machine on board, I’m finding Brazilian coffee with leite (milk) to be quite a nice way to start my day.

It takes about 4 hours to reach the Abrolhos islands from the mainland, and since this is humpback whale season we turn off the boat a few times to drift quietly and watch mother and calf swim past. Fortunately, even though this is the stormy winter season, the weather agrees with us and it is smooth sailing for the entire trip.

Preparing for my first dive has me scrambling: my gear is packed in 3 different suitcases in separate compartments all over the ship, and every time I search for something below deck I have to stop at my bunk, find my head lamp, move a suitcase, unlatch a trunk, rummage around, put the suitcase back on the shelf, return my headlamp, and bump my head on the stairs on the way up through the galley. Sheesh. We get our act together and hop into the dinghy to motor to the dive site, only to realize … I have left my fins on board. No matter: Brazilians are laid back, low pressure, and happy. We make a quick trip to pick up my forgotten fins and — finally! — jump into the water.

When the team surfaces after this first dive, I immediately notice a difference in our group dynamics. In addition to our scientific goals, one of the primary purposes of this trip is to build effective collaborations between American and Brazilian scientists. The special experience of diving together is a great way to build trust and respect. The atmosphere is relaxed, people joke around with each other, and when we settle in for lunch, the seats around the table are filled with a mix of Brazilians and Americans.

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