Cruise diary

Thursday 17th July 2003

Dave writes...

"The flight was arduous and long, very long. On the approach to Mahe, the main island, we flew through the multi-layered clouds which were immensely beautiful as the sun hit them and penetrated through the darkness. When I first caught sight of Mahe I was astonished to see that the island was so mountainous. Steep grey granite fingers protrude from the dense vegetation, and the mountains were ominously shrouded in low cloud. When we landed, the cool air conditioned cabin was in stark contrast to the humidity of the runway.

Once we got through customs we were met at the airport by a bus that took us directly to the Charles Darwin. My first impressions of the vessel was that it was smaller than I’d expected it to be and the ship was far rustier than I had anticipated. When I thought about it the rustiness of the ship stood testament to the fact that the ship had been around for some time and hadn’t sunk, so it was kind of encouraging in a bizarre way!

The Darwin has a crew of about 18 chaps, all of whom I met and are very nice. Most of them had been at sea for over three months so a fresh influx of people came as a welcome relief. I instantly made friends because I brought a copy of the Independent newspaper with me and gave it to one of the chefs - he seemed well chuffed with it. It is strange the amount of pleasure that can be attained from something that most of us take for granted.

Once aboard, we unpacked and sorted out our stuff. Bram, our fearless leader, organised a couple of the smallest soft top jeeps in the world to go touring round the island. So we drove off into Seychellois landscape - we took a steep winding road that took us over the middle of the island form the east coast to the west coast. The west coast is far less built up than the east, so is less spoilt. The beaches are just fabulous. The water is azure blue and really warm, the sand is fine and white. The beaches are bordered by palms and other colourful, exotic plants. While on the west coast we stopped at a small restaurant in a small village that looked directly onto a lagoon.

We had the local beer and ate extremely well. Most of us had the local fresh fish dishes and we all tried the bat curry which was a bit like lamb. It was a good chance to get to know everyone - the rest of the team already knew each other. After lunch we went swimming in the sea...the blokes in the group played keepy uppies and we managed 16 between us which is not bad considering we were using a beach ball! It started to rain so we got back in the jeeps and drove round the isle to the south where we went swimming once more.

We then headed back to the ship for dinner which was surprisingly good, I expected school dinners, but the food is very tasty! After tea we headed off into Port Victoria where we were looking for somewhere to have some drinks. Victoria, considering its size has remarkably few bars. We eventually found a bar called the Barrel bar/disco - quite small with an American pool table. The local beer, Seybrew, is a reasonably tasty lager. Bram and I allowed Sophie and Carla to win at pool. I also started a conversation with one of the local chaps who had been to college on the Isle of White so he knows Southampton quite well, it’s a small world after all."

Tina writes...

"I love flying, so I was happy about the 10 hour flight from Paris to the Seychelles. As we flew in to the islands, we could see the highest point, a vertical block of granite called the Morne Seychellois. It seemed as though we were very close indeed to the mountain as we curved inland to the airport. When we landed, the change from the cool airplane environment to a warm, humid tropical atmosphere was dramatic.

I didn’t know much about the Seychelles before I got here, so here are a few facts: Port Victoria is the main town of the largest island in the Seychelles, Mahe Island. The Seychelles are a group of 115 islands, about 1600 km off the coast of East Africa. They have only been inhabited for a few hundred years (apart from a few shipwrecked Arabian sailors) and were owned by the French for most of that time. The culture is still very French, with Creole traditions and cooking, and a mainly Catholic (and slightly voodoo) religion. The British took over the islands, but since the 1970s they have been independent.

Above: (l-r) Rex, Sophie and Andy on the deck of RRS Charles Darwin.

After we landed, we were taken to the ship to stow our belongings and report in. Seeing the Charles Darwin for the first time was amazing, she looks like a real ocean-going vessel, complete with seafaring crew and oil and rust. She also comes complete with a lot of heavy engineering: cranes, A-frames and winches. Most of the scientific work is done on deck, and in the adjoining main and wet labs. Dredges can pick up rocks from 4000m under the sea, and these will then be cleaned and sorted for shipping back to the SOC.

My cabin is the smallest on board (the cosiest) and I love the top bunk bed. I can see through my porthole straight into the ocean. In rough seas, the porthole has to be nailed over with a metal plate, because sometimes the glass can fall out as the ship bends and flexes!

Above: The view through my cabin porthole!
Above: Top bunk in my cabin

After we unpacked, the science team got into hired jeeps and drove around the island sightseeing. The Darwin won’t be ready to sail until the 18th. In case we felt guilty for enjoying our work so much, we called this a team-building exercise. I know most of the team from the SOC, since I have been working there for a year now. Rex and Andy both work in my research group, and Bram has projects that involve using our instrument labs. Dave, Carla and Sophie are PhD students at the centre, and Tim is a geophysics expert.

When we found a beach, we parked the jeeps and got out to swim and sunbathe on the white sand and beautiful aqua blue sea. The scenery around the island is fantastic, lots of beautiful quiet coves and twisting mountain roads. There are a few hotel resorts, but most of the island is unspoilt and natural. The sand is pocked with warrens that contain crabs. These are red and black robber crabs that frighten easily and crawl back into their holes as soon as you approach.

Above: The view from the restaurant at lunchtime.

At the beach, Carla went snorkelling and the rest of the team swam in the sea while I sunbathed. Then we went to a beachside restaurant with a view of the bay. Our lunches were cooked fresh, and we had seafood and rice from the choice of fish and crab, lobster and shellfish. We also ordered a plate of fruit bat curry, for the more adventurous of us to try! It tasted like pork, in case you want to know. Currency is a bit confusing in the Seychelles. They have a local currency (the rupee) but also take US dollars, UK pounds and Euros. We paid our bill in all four!

There was a brief but torrential rainstorm at 3pm, so we sheltered under the palm trees and then got back into the jeeps for the drive back to Port Victoria. In the evening we had dinner on the ship (the food is very good) and then found a bar in the town for some Seychelles beer and conversation. The Barrel Bar is pretty much the only open bar in town, and the locals were friendly. Sophie and Carla played the lads at pool and won. At around 11pm we made our way back to the ship and spent our first night on board. The gentle rocking motion was peaceful and I slept very well… I’ve been told it won’t be so comfortable when we set sail. The weather forecast for tomorrow is moderate to stormy weather...."

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