Cruise diary

Sunday 27th July 2003

Dave writes...

"Last night Bob, the Bosun's Mate, kindly helped Sophie with her beastie-catching net. It came back broken from its initial trials. So Sophie got Phil to weld two steel rings which Bob lashed together with all sorts of fancy rope work. The net now looks really good but we will see whether it fairs any better than its predecessor. There has been some discussion as to where and how the net should be placed on the cable.

One thing that I have noticed about being on the ship is that it is never fully quiet, in the night there is constant creaking as the ship rolls about, the electric winch has a distinctive high pitched whirr. Occasionally in the night we are awoken by loud banging sounds which are waves hitting the side of the hull, these are often accompanied by the sound of all of my possessions falling from my desk as the ship pitches.

The time is now 5:20pm, we are currently in gale force 8 conditions heading into the wind. It doesn’t feel too bad now but the bridge predicts worsening conditions. We are sailing into the worst of it. So there has been some discussion as to whether we can continue dredging or not. It is possible that we will have to curtail the movement toward Somalia to explore the north western end of the ridge. Instead we may have to do more detailed mapping and dredging of the southern extent of the ridge. A change in course would however be unfortunate as one of the cruise’s main objectives is to examine the extent of interaction between the ridge and the mantle plume under Somalia. It is therefore important to measure as much lateral variation in the mid ocean ridge basalt’s chemistry as possible. In other words, we need to dredge as far NW along the ridge as possible and we can go as far as Yemeni waters. For now the original itinerary will remain as planned.

At the same time as all this discussion was going on a container ship passed us on the aft from port side to starboard. It was quite nice to be reminded that there is another world out there. The ship ("The Eagle Express") is a Greek owned, massive 28,000 tonne container ship, and is Bahamian registered. The Captain, Dimitri Kostopolus, hailed us a ‘kalamera’ on the radio as he passed by."

Dave and Andy on deck, waiting to see the passing ship

Tina writes...

"Today was the day of two dredges, our watch put a dredge in the water am and pm. The weather was challenging (blowing about a Force 8, with a large swell) but with Bob’s skills and our team tactics (these involve letting Bob tell us what to do) everything went very smoothly. However it didn’t stop us getting soaked both times, with surf washing over the deck as we lowered the dredge and equipment into the water. Rex has started wearing waterproof trousers, but they don’t always stop the water coming in his boots. When there is worse weather, the Master has to make a decision whether he considers the conditions good enough to dredge. Often he can’t tell until we have stopped (hove to) and faced into the wind. Then he gives us a yes or no.

Because of all the dredging, the day went very fast (with a post-dredge breakfast and a sleep in the day). The EM12 SIMRAD has been a little erratic, which has lead to us overshooting our target a few times and then turning around and using the multibeam swath to find the structure of the ocean floor beneath us. Turning the ship around in a circle is highly unpleasant for all, since it involves a change in the direction that the waves hit the sides of the ship. If you are asleep, you wake up wondering why all your belongings have launched themselves on to the floor. If you are moving around the ship, you find yourself being propelled in random directions at high speed. Usually the bridge gives lots of warnings so that we can tape things down to secure them, or hold on to something. I feel sorry for the galley staff though. Just before breakfast we took a big roll and there was a terrible crash and the sound of cursing from the galley. I suspect we will have dry bread and water for lunch as the soup and curry are probably on the deck.

The sports news today is that Sophie (reigning champion) was beaten in a hotly-contested game of ping-pong on the top deck. Jet (our chief engineer) is rather good, and now Sophie is looking for less gifted players to compete against. Other sports news is that Sophie and Andy have created a new activity of competitive knot-tying, inspired by Bob’s skill with the nets. Bob lent them a book that shows how to tie a whole range of useful knots. Andy’s favourite is the bowline (which you can tie without losing grip of either end and is the strongest knot known to man). The main lab has been host to several people tying themselves up in new and interesting ways.

The real excitement today was that we saw another ship! I was beginning to feel like we were the only lifeforms on the planet, but apparently there are still container ships. The ship was the Eagle Express, a Danvoas Shipping (Piraeus) 28078 tonne container vessel, making 15 knots. This looked very fast to us as she circled around to avoid our heading.

The Eagle Express: not stopping for coffee!

Bob and Sophie repair the net device (termed the bongo net by Phil)

Our leader Bram inspired us all by reading out the press statement about what we have found so far on the Ridge. It was quite a kodak moment listening to the report, I definitely had shivers. It does help that we are making a real contribution here, and the long broken nights and disorientating environment seem like small things in comparison.

During the morning dredge we did some damage to the MAPR, when the bottom jumped up and grabbed it, the pinger and Sophie’s pelagic net. Amazingly, all was recovered intact and the MAPR downloaded its data as normal. Sophie’s net didn’t take any biological samples, but it did act as a secondary rock dredge (we now suspect Rex had this plan all along). So we got some decent samples from the afternoon dredge, thanks to her. However the net is now an entirely different shape!"

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