Seven-Tenths: Love, Piracy, and Science at Sea - David Fisichella Free ARC through

Normally, I love this kind of book: part nautical adventure, part memoir, part romance. What more could one want. The author, an unemployed and disaffected engineer, sets out on a research ship voyage with his girl-friend (she is visually handicapped) in the Gulf of Aden.​

In 1992, bored with his job as an engineer for a defense company trying to persuade customers to redesign widgets, he ran across an advertisement looking for people (volunteers) to sail as guides for the blind -- in a regatta. He met Amy, legally blind, who happened to be a physicist working (soft money) for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. They struck up a friendship that blossomed into more and he was invited to volunteer for a trip on the R/V Oceanus. The Oceanus is a rather ungainly looking ship and is known for being "wet," which is why most of the 12 crew and up to 19 scientists stay away from the rail during anything other than calm seas.

Their purpose was to study the NADWBC, the North Atlantic Deep Western Boundary Current, which, in part, replaces water flowing along the Gulf Stream. Amy is a forensic physicist who uses "traces" (pollutants, salinity, etc.) to measure current flow, where water circulates, its properties, and how it might interact with the air to affect climate. Tracers can be bizarre. "In Boston Harbor, scientists studying the dispersal pf treated sewage from a new outfall pipe used caffeine as a tracer. The source of the caffeine? Eastern Massachusetts's morning cup of coffee."

The author notes in passing how the WHOI must struggle with grant funding every year to keep people employed and the research going. They get about $200 million out of an NSF budget of five-and-a-half billion dollars. "The company I had just left helped to build the Peacekeeper (MX) missile. The total cost for this program was more than $20 billion. In the end all fifty missiles produced were scrapped. The entire government funding of ALL scientific research in this country was less than the cost of this one mothballed weapons system."

The amount of water circulating around the globe is immense and can't be measured in gallons so a unit called the Sverdrup was created. It's defined as "one million cubic meters of water passing a given point in one second. That's 265 million gallons every second. . . one Sverdrup would fill the inside of the Empire State Building with water in one second.

In contrast to the calm voyage on the Oceanus, their next trip together was on the WHOI ship Knorr. Again the purpose of the trip was to measure ocean currents and water components, but this time along the east coast of Africa specifically off Somalia. Now, I don’ t know about you, but was it really necessary to measure water currents off Somalia given the unstable political conditions and the constant threat of pirates? This also created a disconnect in my mind, a development of contrasts between the haves and have-nots and how we spend our money and put our resources. Only the well-fed rich can worry about ocean currents while children are starving just onshore of the location of their ship.

If you like books about ships, the ocean, or oceanography, you'll probably enjoy this. I wish the author had decided what kind of book he wanted to write. It’s a little memoir, adventure, social criticism (of the defense industry) all mixed in together, but lacking a focus.

Disclaimer: I received this book free as an advanced reader copy.