Cruise diary

Friday 18th July 2003

Dave writes...

"After a long-awaited sleep we had a tasty breakfast. Then we discussed the optimum way of sorting and labelling the rock specimens (this is the bit I love). After that we fixed down any boxes and equipment so that it wouldn’t move around in rough seas. Once that had been completed, Tim and I took a wander into town and explored the market which had all types of fish, fruit, spices and local wares like sarongs and jewellery. A recurring theme is the coco de mer which is a large nut which only grows in the Seychelles and can be sold for over a thousand dollars each. They are the unofficial motif of the Seychelles. Tim bought his daughter a necklace made out of pretty pink shells. After strutting along the sea front Tim and I headed back to the ship for some grub.

Above: The mountains of Mahe and Victoria harbour
Above: The kind of perilous beasts we might encounter at sea (actually, it's Tina with Tim and Sopie in the background).

Once on board, Sophie challenged me to a game of table tennis. I did the only chivalrous thing by losing horribly twice. After a while I learned the horrific truth, that we would be split into three teams of three and that we’d be working in two four-hour shifts, eight hours apart per day. I learnt that I would be working with Rex and Tina on the 4am to 8am and 4pm to 8pm shifts. This kind of shift work is known as watchkeeping.

I was dead on my feet so I went to bed while the ship left port. I woke only when my shift was due to begin. My jet-lagged body wasn’t prepared for what ensued.

Watchkeeping involves taking a log of the ship's movements and relating it to any scientific activity. Also resetting the plotting machine once an hour which is in the top of the ship. During the night shift the ship was in a large swell which means it moves around a lot. I’m not very good with sea sickness so despite the fact that I had taken my sea sickness tablets, I was seasick once. Tina on the other hand was vomiting with alarming regularity. Sea sickness claimed a number of the science team, most notably Andy who was very ill but he worked through it, so all credit to him. Sea sickness is just like being really hungover - you stagger about with a really bad headache, then you’re sick uncontrollably and can’t eat or drink anything.

During the night we lowered the dredge which scours the sea floor and picks up sediment and rocks. The samples are then closely examined and partitioned into differing rock types. Also, it was my older brother’s birthday today so Matt - happy 24th birthday...I hope you had a good one!"

Tina writes...

"After a fine fried breakfast (it’s very easy to eat too much on board ship), we had a familiarisation talk with the Captain, known as ‘The Master’ on board ship. It’s Keith Avery’s last trip on the Darwin, and the first mate will be sailing her back to Muscat once this trip is finished. The briefing covered safety issues and ship’s protocol, with a tour of the decks and lifeboats.

After lunch, we were free to wander into Port Victoria from the docks, a short walk through leafy palm-lined avenues. There were misty clouds around the tops of the highest peaks, and the town was busy with people. I bought some necklaces (blue stones carved into the shapes of whales, an octopus, and a shark-tooth necklace) for 25 Rupees each (about £3). Then we headed for the only supermarket in town and stocked up on bottles of water and biscuits. I wrote out some postcards and tried my French at the Bureau de Poste to get stamps. French is the main language apart from English, but it is a dialect here with some differences from what you learn at school.

At 2pm I decided to head back to the ship (she was due to leave at 4pm, and we had to be back by 3pm). There was a small worry about where Dave was, but he was playing table tennis (losing to Sophie) on the top deck, so he was indeed on board.

We set sail successfully at 4pm, although there was some trouble getting the pilot (officer who steers the ship out of port) back on board his Seychellois boat. They managed to get him to step off on the windward side, whilst the ship was moving out of the harbour. We started steaming away, speeding up to 10 knots, heading NW. The air conditioning has been fixed on board, this diverts excess heat from the engines, so they were working very efficiently and we could keep to around 10 knots for most of the trip.

Beginning today, we are working 4-hour shifts twice a day and writing a cruise log at regular intervals. This can be invaluable when relating science to the events of the journey and the sampling. Each 2 hours, the line graph of the echo sounder has to be set to save the last packet of data. This involves a trip up three flights of stairs to the bridge level of the ship, in the ‘Plot’ room. When I got out of my bunk for my 4-8am shift, I was OK until I went up to the Plot room. By this time we had sailed into some rough weather and the ship rocks much more at the top than the lower decks. I was a little seasick on the way up to the Plot and then again on the way down and had to divert to the bathroom. I recovered in time for breakfast, where some members of the team were missing due to seasickness (Andy took a couple of days to find his sealegs, but didn’t miss a shift). After breakfast at 8am I went straight to my bunk and slept very soundly.

We sailed over a seamount (this was Waypoint 1, our first station) and then on to Waypoint 2, where we took a dredge. The dredge is the low-tech part of the science: a chain bag that is dropped 4000m below on to the ocean floor, with a bucket following behind. Both of these collect samples, which are then winched back up for study and storage. I wasn’t awake for the dredge, but Bram’s team collected some interesting rocks."

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July/August 2003
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