Anchors Aweigh!

Greetings from the roaring forties!

The SA Agulhas II left port and made for Antarctica late Wednesday evening with a few very sunburnt individuals, including myself. My nose is still redder than Mars, much to the amusement of Steve who’s been calling me Rudolf whenever the opportunity presents itself. Apparently leaving late on these voyages (we were meant to depart at 14:00) is something to be expected. In fact, we left rather early based on accounts of previous cruises.

It’s now been five days since leaving port and we’re into a different time-zone, GMT+1, and set to change to GMT+0 at midnight. One tends to lose track of time and of the distinction between days when working on shifts, though. One day you’re doing a shift from 21:00-02:00, the next you’re on from 03:00-08:00 and everything in between. Sleep can be rather erratic as you might imagine, but fortunately stormy seas afforded us the privilege of a night in bed rather than on the poop deck. Now, a poop deck is always at the aft (rear-end, pun slightly intended) of the ship and is so named because of sailors answering nature’s call at the aft of the ship and chumming the waters on olde ships where no toilets existed.

Sunrise on the high seas.

It’s difficult to explain the feeling of rough seas on a ship to someone that’s never experienced it for themselves, but I’d imagine it’s kind of like being in a treehouse. As soon as the wind blows, the tree begins to bend and sway this way and that. If you can imagine that kind of swaying in a very tall tree and a very big treehouse that you can walk, sleep, shower and eat in then I think you can kind of get the idea. You’ll know it’s getting a little crazy when you contemplate rather sitting than standing when using the toilet.

Also, when I say rough seas I don’t mean that the sea is choppy. I mean that the sea is big and fearsome. You regularly experience that ‘leaving-your-stomach-behind’ feeling, especially at the stern (rear) where most of the vertical displacement occurs. It looks and feels like you move up and down the height of three to four stories in just a few seconds. Any photos and videos really don’t do the experience any justice except in the more extreme cases.

Rough seas off the stern.

The rolling (side-to-side) and pitching (back-and-forth) of the ship is something that I relish. Corkscrewing, a combination of both pitch and roll, is even better. It gets people sick and makes ordinary tasks extraordinarily difficult, but the feeling is unparalleled. As soon as we were pitching and rolling out of port I had a big smile on my face. It brought back the memories of being on the ship in July. Sleeping with the rolling and pitching is also so pleasant—unless you get thrown out of your bed, of course. It’s a clear reminder of the power of the ocean and how we are at its mercy.

Our XBT and Argo launches take place on the poop. The XBT (expendable bathythermograph) is a hand-launched device which measures sea temperature with depth. We launch every hour unless sea conditions are deemed too dangerous—as they are now. Argos are a kind of float which measure salinity, temperature and pressure and are borne by ocean currents. We have nine to deploy at pre-determined latitudes. As it stands right now, we only have two more left to deploy—at 49º and 53º south.

Steve launching an XBT.

The team is doing well. Ehlke went through a short bout of seasickness and Caroline is struggling with the sleep deprivation (we’ve twice seen her sleep between shifts in a supernatural, prayer-like seated position with her head in her own lap). Steve and I have felt good despite being a little tired. As soon as we hit ice our oceanographic ops come to an end and we help those, including Ehlke, who are doing ice ops until we reach the shelf. So we’ll be busy until then.

We aren’t far from reaching the ice either. We should soon see the first icebergs sailing by. Air temperatures are around 3ºC outside at the moment. That’s pretty cold! But where we are heading it will be much much colder.


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