Some early questions… answered

We’ve been at sea for three whole days now, so we are (of course!) seasoned sea dogs already.  Or, at least, I’m learning to walk around my state room (bedroom, for any landlubbers out there) without crashing into the furniture.  And there are certainly things I wondered about that I think I now know the answers to.  Although I suspect that my answers will be totally different after another few weeks…

How much room will there be?

We are sailing (this is still the term, apparently, even when there aren’t any sails in sight) on the R/V Kilo Moana.  This is a twin-hulled vessel, which means it is very wide – so there is plenty of space!  Of course, due to my highly elevated status as a postdoc, I got a room to myself… Still, compared to the tiny New York City apartment I normally call home, the storage space is phenomenal.  There is also a range of communal spaces – including a well-stocked library, a lounge with a big TV and a whole wall of DVDs, and a conference room. And then there are all the labs – we are only using the computer lab, although there are several others designed for things like ocean chemistry.  Indeed, it is so large (and with most doors firmly shut to keep noise down for people who’ve been on watch and are sleeping at odd times of day) that even when you want company, it can be hard to find other people.

How bored will I get?

This cruise is designed to look at a pretty flat bit of the ocean floor.  No volcanoes means no nearby land (the closest is the Marquesas, several hundred kilometres away), which means very long transits on either side of the instrument deployment.  The chief scientists of the expedition have very kindly set up a reading group to discuss scientific papers and keep us from getting bored.  I’m sure we’ll be more glad of it in a few weeks’ time, but as it stands, many of us are being kept incredibly busy staring out to sea. It is far too easy to stand out on the bow all day (and we have the sunburn to prove it!) and be hypnotized by the clearest, brightest blue waves that you’ve ever seen stretching off into the horizon in every direction.  Of course, it helps that on our first full day at sea, three separate pods of dolphins came to play around the hulls.  And that every so often, a flying fish or three or twenty will leap out of the water – a dazzling blue mythical-looking creature elegantly gliding up to perhaps 100 m over the surface of the ocean, sometimes skipping along the top of the water like a well-thrown pebble before crashing back into the waves.  I’ve even seen a few turtles, which everyone is surprised are out this far to sea, before remembering the sea turtles riding the big ocean currents in that well-known documentary, Finding Nemo.

How ill will I feel?

The Kilo Moana is built to be quite a stable ship so that it can make very good measurements of bathymetry (which is just what we call “topography” if it’s under the water).  More importantly, equatorial waters tend to be pretty calm.  The fear of seasickness was very firmly impressed upon us before we left to make sure that we all brought enough medicine and took it pre-emptively, prepared to wean ourselves off it very slowly.  (It is very difficult to take any oral medication, of course, after you have already started being sick!)  However, I think that many of us (myself included) are already feeling absolutely fine without any medication.  Not too surprising when the biggest waves around are from the wake of the ship…  But let’s hope the weather continues to be kind to us!  Especially as the food is so good on board that it would be a real shame to lose your appetite.

What temperature will it be?

We are still quite a long way north, so I’m expecting it to get hotter and muggier as we get closer to the Equator (the crossing is expected early afternoon on Saturday).  However, as it stands, it’s been surprisingly cool.  The interior of the ship is kept highly air-conditioned (in large part to keep the moisture in the air low enough that it doesn’t affect the electronics), so many rooms are almost too cold to sit in for any length of time.  Outside, the breezes and the relatively cool oceanic air belie the strength of the sun (hence the many red faces and necks among the science party).  And, of course, it can get positively chilly if you stay out too long stargazing, which it’s easy to do when there are so many stars in the sky it almost makes recognizing the constellations harder.

What’s the most unexpected thing about ship life?

I would say I have been surprised by all of the answers above, but the thing I have been most (pleasantly!) surprised by is how friendly the crew are.  I imagined they would be a bit fed up with the science party, all wet behind the ears and curious about the most mundane things.  However, all of the crew who I’ve talked to over meals or in the halls have been without exception welcoming, generous with their time, and fascinating. In the past three days, I’ve heard stories about terrible storms with the deck at 50°; about beautiful calm days waiting on a job where everyone goes swimming in the middle of the Pacific; about working on ships that have been repurposed and oddly Frankenstein-ed back together; about how mattresses are the best things to plug a leaking hull; about working on tall ships from the 1920s that are still going strong; about being taken hostage (for the third time!) and how it’s really more of an inconvenience than anything else…  I can’t wait to hear the stories I’ll be told tomorrow!

Stay tuned for more updates as we wend our way south!

Emily Hopper

We dubbed this sunset, on the third day of the voyage “Portal to Heaven”. Sunsets are seriously nice out here in the middle of the Pacific.



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