CU People: Carlos Gutierrez

Who He Is

Mechanic on the R/V Marcus G. Langseth, part of the Earth Institute’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Years at Columbia


What He Does

Gutierrez operates heavy equipment on the National Science Foundation research vessel, which is operated by Lamont’s Office of Marine Operations. Wearing a harness that tethers him to the back of the ship, Gutierrez deploys its seismic recording system: four 3.7-mile-long cables that are pulled behind the ship to capture 3-D images of the ocean floor with sonar waves released from a series of pneumatic sound sources. He makes sure the equipment is working properly. “You don’t want a bad air gun in the water,” Gutierrez says. When he’s not working with the ship’s scientists, Gutierrez helps paint, remove rust and generally keep the Langseth shipshape. He spends an average of four months each year on board but is sometimes out longer, such as the 14-month voyage he made on his first trip as ship’s mechanic.

Road to Columbia

Born in Barranquilla, Colombia, Gutierrez followed an older brother to Queens in 1969 looking for adventure. “I got my first job at a handbag factory making purses,” says the 68-year-old Gutierrez. His interest in electronics soon got him transferred to a job working on the factory’s machinery, and he decided to pursue a degree in electronics at what is now TCI College of Technology. His first job after graduating was as a data processor for Lamont-Doherty, where he also did some electrical work on its first research vessel Vema, a 235-foot-long three-masted schooner. He soon found that he preferred working aboard a ship to sitting in an office. Although his initial ocean voyage in 1973 wasn’t what he expected, he persevered and eventually got used to it. “Because Vema didn’t have a ballast tank, it couldn’t stay balanced,” Gutierrez recalls. “I got really sick, and I needed the noise of a fan to fall asleep.”

Image Courtesy of Carlos Gutierrez

Best Part of the Job

Being at sea. When the Vema was retired, Gutierrez continued to work on Lamont-Doherty’s successor vessels, including the Robert D. Conrad and the Maurice Ewing. For the past seven years he has been a crewmember on the Langseth, which has taken him all over the world. His last vacation was in Madrid, Spain. “Traveling is an opportunity other jobs don’t have,” Gutierrez says. “I’ve been to so many countries that I wouldn’t have seen if not for this job, like Fiji, Taiwan and Greece.”

Most Memorable Moment

“Once we went between Africa and Europe and we saw an opening between the continents’ plates” in 2-D underwater images of the ocean floor, Gutierrez says. He also remembers a moment of fear: when storm-driven waves blanketed the deck in 5 feet of water

In His Spare Time

Gutierrez relaxes by reading the Bible, watching telenovelas and listening to salsa and Colombian folk music. His current voyage, which started in November, will likely be his last, as he plans to disembark the Langseth in March 2016 to explore Chile for several months. “I want to spend time in a Latin American country,” he says. “Then I can go home”—to Port St. Lucie in central Florida, only a few miles from the Atlantic

—By Walyce Almeida

November 16, 2015