Day After Day

Monday 3rd November 2008

Today is the 4th day on board R.R.S. James Cook and so far all is well. There are 45 of us on board: 21 scientists and 24 crew. We arrived in Cape Town, South Africa last week and met up at Quay 6 on Friday the 31st of October. Quay 6 is right in the middle of the Waterfront district, a big development on Cape Town old docks and South Africa's main tourist attraction. So there was the R.R.S. James Cook, blending surprisingly well in the mists of cafes, restaurants and shops!

Friday was mostly about getting to know the ship and finding our way to our cabins. What struck us most was the spaciousness of the ship. She has a slight air of cruise liner but saying that, we also seem to have all the tools needed for the science so we have no excuse not to work hard! Friday was also the day we had our 1st science meeting memorable in all minds. It went on for hours, a proper brainstorm and afterwards, a handful of us made it for a last night on dry land. Saturday we had time to get a bit of work done and also run into the shops for last minute goodies. Once the fuel was loaded and our pilot present to guide us out of the port, we left Cape Town. It was late afternoon and a bit grey; people stood on the forward deck to watch the city disappear as we headed into the sunset.

The ship started rolling gently with the swell immediately after we left port and on Sunday, quite a few of us spent most of the day in their cabins not feeling too good while the rest were busy installing equipment and testing instruments. The swell and wind got progressively worse as the day went and reached peak activity in the evening. A few of us working on the back deck saw the moon swing wildly in the sky while mounts of water seemed to be gliding towards the ship. Nothing out of the ordinary however!

So far we have seen whales, seals and birds though the birds are the only ones truly loyal to the ship and that might be partly due to the excellent food we get on board... but lets leave that for the next entry...

Amelie Meyer

Thursday 6rd November 2008

We are now at sea for almost 6 days and after feeling a little dizzy and seasick in the beginning, we now have all found our sea legs more or less, even though the swell is quite heavy at times. The atmosphere on the ship is fantastic. We are being looked after very well by the crew and aside from the labs and instrumentation on board it does not feel like being on a research ship at all! There are always generous amounts of food and drink ready and waiting for us, in form of immense breakfasts, excellent three course lunches and dinners and more than enough snacks and nibbles to last us in between too! There's even a small shop on board with (hopefully!) a large enough chocolate stash to supply our cravings for sweets.

The cabins are spacious and the beds are really comfortable, there is enough space for rolling over one and a half times, hence they are quite fall-out proof and certainly have hotel quality. Even though we are all obviously hard-working scientists, there is still time for a bit of socializing, especially since we do not plan to start our watches until about lunchtime on November 11th. To pass our free time on the James Cook we have a choice of a TV room with a large selection of DVDs, a well stocked library, a gym to keep us from becoming inactive during over 50 days at sea and a spacious bar and lounge area to get together after work.

One of hopefully many landmark social events on our cruise was held in the bar yesterday, celebrating the outcome of the U.S. presidential elections with a "change" party, which was aptly hosted by Kurt, our resident U.S. citizen on board. We contributed to "change" in form of either coins or a promise of change, and had a very pleasant time celebrating. Soon we will begin our shifts and will probably start to disappear from each other's eyes, as we will be working and sleeping at too different times for all of us to get together like this for a while.

Maria Broadbridge

Saturday 8rd November 2008

As the map nicely shows, we are still not at our study site yet, but it's only about three more days steaming away! During this rather long time until the science really starts (well, apart from the odd float deployment...), we keep ourselves busy preparing and testing equipment. Flotation for the moorings were assembled, floats prepared and deployed, the VMP put together (and taken apart and put together again, several times to various degrees) and dipped in the water to test the buoyancy, and the CTD made ready for the first test cast yesterday. And then there is all the underway data, data that are collected continously during the entire cruise.

Part of the underway data are data from the acoustic instruments. Because the RRS James Cook is so new and not many physics cruises have been done yet, there is still a fair bit of testing and trialling involved to find out how best to run the various instruments. All of them send out pings of different frequencies and strengths and in various directions, and wait for the echoes. And all this pinging can produce interference and false bottoms, which makes a nice challenge for finding the setup that gives the best results!

The Cook is a fancy ship, and some of the instruments (e.g. the ADCPs) are on so-called drop keels - keels that are about three and a half meters long and can be lowered below the hull. There are two of them, one on the port and one on the starboard side. By lowering the keels, we hope to get the instruments below the layer of air bubbles in the water that usually appears underneath the ship's hull when steaming. Unfortunately, the ship speed is restricted to 10 knots when the keels are down, so for the passage they are up and we get a chance to test the ADCP data quality in that position...

Angelika Renner

Sunday 16th November 2008

Finally, on the 12th of November, we reached the mooring deployment area and had only three days to study the deep sea topography and choose the right location to settle down the 5 moorings involved in our cruise. It was not an easy task and some of us did not sleep much during these 3 days. As it was not possible for the crew to work on the mooring during the night, the night shift had the opportunity to lower the CTD and the VMP profiler. The VMP profiler is likely the master piece of the cruise. It is an expensive instrument that is able to give us high resolution data. Its nose is made of several sensors which are very fragile. The recovery of this type of instrument can be very delicate when the waves reach several meters (which is often the case in the Southern Ocean).

After a hard night of work, it is good to observe the sun rising upon the ocean and to realise that the bit of work that each of us is doing here will help to understand our world on a larger scale. As for the Albatross that I can observe from my cabin, I do not think it is the interest in Science that has guided them to follow us since the beginning of our voyage.

Peggy Courtois

Wednesday 19th November 2008

Today we are about halfway up the western transect and we are trying to stick to our watches and our stations, although the latter is a little difficult lately due to the weather. If the sea is too rough and it is too foggy outside, we do not dare to deploy the VMP in case we will not find it again!

Deploying the VMP is a bit of an adventure anyway, and recovering it even more so! Once the VMP is safely deposited in the water; that is without dropping it too early off the winch and without banging it against the ship; we set it free to dive by itself into the deep blue. We have to trust it to drop the weights, which are attached to its nose at just the right time (not too early to get as much data as possible, and not too late otherwise it crashes into the seabed), and then it will float up to the surface for us to find it. At this point as many of us as possible run more or less panicky up to the bridge and stare out to sea, hoping to spot the precious VMP.

During dark hours the VMP has a little light that flashes and helps us to find it in the darkness, but during daylight hours there is nothing really helping us except the red and yellow markings, which are not all that visible in the open sea. So it can happen that we are standing up on the bridge with binoculars for quite a while (which I am sure must be quite amusing for the staff!) with Kurt standing up on the Monkey Island holding the radio finder into the approximate direction of the VMP waiting for reassuring beeps and blinking lights.

To help us spot the VMP in the water, David has invented the aptly named Stevens Locating Device (patent pending) in form of a bright orange pirate flag, but unfortunately it did not survive its first dive. Apparently it did come up to the surface (although it was only spotted by David with his binoculars), but on the way back to the ship the flag mysteriously disappeared. We blame the trophy-hunting birds! We will keep trying to find other flag alternatives in the hope that one lasts longer and is easy to spot from far away! (At the time of writing the flag has the form of an orange Sainsbury's bag fixed with bright red tape to the VMP.) Once the VMP is in sight it is escorted back to the ship by various birds who land around it a soon as it surfaces and pick at it (hence the high probability of flag loss!), and we can sigh with relief that its safely back in our possession.

Maria Broadbridge

Thursday 20th November 2008

VMP Flag Version 4.0

As it has been mentioned, there is a bit of a battle going on between the albatross and the VMP's flag. The surfacing of the VMP attracts quite the gathering of birds (we are grateful for this as they are our most reliable recovery aid), but what we don't appreciate is their ruthless devouring of one of the other recovery aids we rely on, the flag we stick on top of the VMP to help us spot it in the endless blue. So far it is albatross three, us nil, but today Steve the CPO entered the game for team VMP and I sense a change in momentum. The latest flag is a fine specimen of handiwork made of durable canvas with inset washer reinforcements and double stitched edges. Try to eat that, you ravenous albatross! Thanks Steve!

Stephanie Waterman

Sunday 23rd November 2008

Windy conditions have unfortunately slowed our work over the past couple of days. During the nights, many of us were woken to find items flung from shelves and desks as the ship pitched and rolled. In one case, a draw was even flung out of a desk across the room. We ' ve also had to be a bit cautious at meal times - don't fill your soup bowl or half its contents will end up over the table. The maximum roll was recorded as 15.9 degrees, however it certainly felt like more than that. Watch duties then consisted mainly of taping or strapping down anything that could potentially move!

After keeping a close eye on the forecast, with all fingers crossed, the weather luckily improved enough for us to put both the CTD and VMP in the water yesterday evening. However, for those of us on the 4am watch, we were a bit surprised to wake and find that the VMP was still not recovered, only just on its way up... It turned out that it had got stuck at the bottom of the ocean at 4500 m depth for 3 hours, but luckily managed to somehow break free! When it was finally brought back on to deck, only a little ball of muddy evidence was found tucked up its nose - all other traces from the depths having been lost on the journey to the surface.

Jennifer Graham

Friday 28th November 2008

This update is brought to you by those of us lucky enough to be assigned to the night watch. After a few days getting used to it, keeping watch whilst everyone else is sleeping has its advantages. We get to catch a glimpse of sunrise almost every morning before we go to bed, and our VMP spotting duties are made that much easier in the dark because its strobe light can be spotted quite literally a mile away.

We try hard to keep morale up during some of the longer nights, Dougal keeps us entertained with selected readings from the RDI WHM300 technical manual, and if that fails to amuse then we can always enjoy unsupervised access to the dining room, and the ice cream freezer therein.

We rest comfortably in the knowledge that our ARGO floats have been deployed with pinpoint accuracy, thanks to Malcolm's excellent countdowns, and not even a spot of accidental gravity coring with the VMP is enough to tarnish the wonderful experience of keeping watch at night.

Peggy spends quite some time locked in the dungeon with only the salinometer for company (it's not a very good conversationalist, mostly limited to whirrr, whirrr noises). Andrew, Mirjam and Gillian are generally tied to computers, processing data and producing pretty plots in Matlab (with occasional breaks for water sampling, VMP spotting and polystyrene cup decorating and crushing. And, of course, ice cream.)

Andrew Dawson

Monday 1st December 2008

In the spirit of things:

The weather has been kind, long low flat seas. On some days over the last week the ocean is without even the slightest ripple on its surface. On these days the birds sit in the water rather than make the effort to fly.

The mood of crew and scientific party has changed. The voyage is more than half done. We have passed hump day, as the Aussies call it.

Today is my birthday. A magnificent double chocolate cake and a birthday card hand crafted by Maria and Mirjam. Since I give the weather briefing each day, a present wrapped in the weather charts. I was touched by it all...

No time to rest though, we press on with the CTD and VMP program. Equipment and weather problems have conspired to make the scientific program a little late, after all this is a 24 hour operation.


Saturday 20th December 2008

The End...

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