By Lauren Frisch
Growing up, playing in the ocean was John French’s favorite hobby. It is no surprise that French has dedicated his career to working on ships.
John French is one of two bosuns on the R/V Sikuliaq, which is the head deckhand. He is responsible for all things happening on the deck, including anything having to do with anchoring the ship and handling mooring lines. He also helps launch the small boats used for off-ship operations and is in charge on deck when deploying and recovering science equipment.
French was born in Colorado. At the time, his parents were taking turns working and putting the other through college. In 1969, French’s father received his engineering degree, and shortly after got a job in Honolulu. “As a little kid in a big city with no place to go, I ran to the water, surfed, and played on boats,” French said. “It was this initial draw to the ocean that later led me to a career on the water.”
Four years later French’s family moved to American Samoa. After graduating from high school in Samoa, French got a job working at a boat yard and fish processing plant in Oregon. He jumped around to a few different jobs, but knew he wanted to work on boats. He had a goal of saving money to attend a fiberglass boatbuilding class on Woodby Island in Washington.
“When I met my wife, I didn’t have a steady job. So I got the idea that I would join the Coast Guard for four years, then take my GI bill to go to the boatbuilding class,” French said. He ended up spending 27 years working for the US Coast Guard. Seventeen years were spent at Coast Guard stations driving the small boats, and the rest were spent on larger ships.
“By the time I was done working with the Coast Guard, I knew I wanted to stay at sea. I had been on boats my whole career.”
French got his merchant marine document, which led him to a job working for the Alaska Marine Highway as a seaman for a couple of years. The job was reliable, but did not have enough variability in tasks or locations to satisfy his adventurous personality. French jumped at the opportunity to work as a bosun for the R/V Sikuliaq, and joined the crew before the ship was delivered in 2014.
He enjoys the variety in both location and day-to-day operations that the Sikuliaq has to offer. He explains that the work style on the Sikuliaq, where everyone onboard has a number of different duties that they are called on to perform, is similar to how the Coast Guard works, and provides the kind of diversity he thrives on.
French has enjoyed getting to know the new ship along with the rest of the crew. “It has been interesting, although somewhat frustrating, and a lot of fun to getting to know a brand new ship like this,” he said. “There have been a number of extra projects that crew members have had the chance to be part of, including woodworking for the bridge and the crew lounge. It is amazing to see all of the exceptional skills that our crew have when we get together to do work outside of our normal duties.”