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Oct 12 - Trials as we head South

Sunday 12th October 2008
Position report at 13:00 GMT:

Latitude: 32 32.5 N
Longitude: 031 38.9 W
Bearing: 223°T, 433 Nm from Ponta Delagada
Cruise Number: JR218 trials
Distance Traveled: 234
Total Distance Traveled: 2159
Steam Time: 19.9
Total Steam Time: 188.93
Average Speed: 11.76
Total Average Speed: 11.43
Wind: Direction WNW, Force 2
Sea State: Slight
Air Temp: 26.4°C Sea Temp: 24.6°C
Pressure: 1022 Tendency: Steady

When approached earlier in the week to be asked if I would take on the responsibility of maintaining the JCR web diary, I felt quite honoured. I was told that the ship's doctor always writes the web diary because the doctor is on-board for longer than everyone else, is always enthusiastic about the new environment in which they find themselves, and is perceived (incorrectly, I hasten to add!) to have ample free time. It is only now as I sit in front of the computer, for a considerable length of time, re-writing this first paragraph again and again, that I realize why nobody else offers to do it: how does one capture, in an interesting, humerous and accurate manner, and in just a few paragraphs, all the goings on aboard this vessel? As you see, I am stuck at the very first hurdle!

In Dry Dock
In Dry Dock

Nonetheless, I shall give it a go: I arrived to join the ship on 1st October. Somehow I managed to wangle getting my luggage delivered to my cabin by crane,which saved a lot of carrying up and down stairs, so my family (the would-be pack horses) and I were most grateful - though I suspect I may pay the price for having been spoiled like this when it comes to dishing out charges at the "crossing the line ceremony" (more about this in a few weeks). I did, however, regret balancing my cornet on the un-netted pallet as I watched all my worldly goods make their way precariously high above the dock and then on-board, but happily, such is the skill of the people involved that I need not have been alarmed, and all was delivered intact.

Loading possessions
Loading possessions

The next day I proceeded to make myself hugely popular with the crew and officers by sticking needles into each and every one of them. Sorry guys - this was not my idea. I was forced to do it! Again, I'm sure they'll have their own back as we cross the line.

Our journey began on 3rd October in a cold and windy Immingham dock.

Leaving Immingham
Leaving Immingham

Aware that the ship would take us through some of the roughest seas on earth, including Drake's passage, I had been a little apprehensive about seasickness. What I had not anticipated was that the nausea and vomiting would begin immediately as we sailed out of the Humber into a severe gale force 9. Despite having access to various pills and potions, I did not escape. Suffice to say, after a week at sea I am fast becoming something of an expert in medicines and remedies to cure mal-de-mer!!

View from the Bridge
View from the Bridge

For those who (unlike me) were able to function in the rough weather, there was much work to be done. In addition to the general running and maintenance of the ship, its being a research vessel means that a lot of scientific work takes place. For this first leg of the journey (Immingham to the Azores), this includes testing of equipment, collecting samples of sea-water at various depths and times, mapping the ocean floor etc etc. More detail to come in next week's diary entry (by which time I hope to understand a little better what it is that the scientists are doing!).

Scientists at work
Scientists at work


Scientists at work
Scientists at work


Scientists at work
Scientists at work

And for those of us who needed to spend a lot of time staring at the horizon (helps the nausea), our look-out has been rewarded by visits from dolphins and whales.

Sperm whales - photo by Jo Hopkins
Sperm whales - photo by Jo Hopkins

On Friday 10th October, we arrived at the Azores where five of our scientists deserted us (we're very sorry to see them go, but look forward to seeing some of them again later in the season). I had until this point, not considered the at-sea-disembarkation technique; ignorance is bliss. When I learned that I too would, in Antarctic waters, have to climb down a rope ladder and jump backwards when the little boat is at the top of a wave, I was not best pleased.

Disembarkation at sea
Disembarkation at sea


Adios amigos
Adios amigos

I wonder if it is my position as doctor (whose job it is to sort out the aftermath once accidents have occurred) which is making me increasingly neurotic about any degree of risk-taking. I would be much happier if I could clothe everyone on board with a thick layer of cotton wool. This was exemplified yesterday when everyone on the monkey-island (top deck) was issued with a handful of factor 30 sun-cream, to be applied liberally, like it or not!

Looking for dolphins
Looking for dolphins


The third mate in his element, sewing flags from the monkey island in the sun sporting a good layer of factor 30
The third mate in his element, sewing flags from the monkey island in the sun sporting a good layer of factor 30

So, we're now making our way down to the tropics, stopping twice daily in the name of science, and generally enjoying ourselves as we go. In next week's diary I shall concentrate on the life of the ship's scientists.