Saturday, 23 August 2008

Setting sail

I woke up at 7am when my alarm clock went off; half an hour later we were called into breakfast over the intercom system. I'll be the first to admit I'm not a morning person, so I crawled into the mess (dining room), conveniently situated about 10m away from my cabin and ate some toast, taking in plenty of coffee.

We decided that we should go into town and do some last-minute shopping. The Captain phoned the shipping agent to arrange a minibus to take us there; in theory, the driver should have been at the ship at about 10:30, but I think we only got on the road about an hour or so after that. The shipping agent's driver reckoned the Pavillion shopping centre was rather closer to the harbour than Gateway (which is actually just outside Umhlanga, the town to the North of Durban), so we got him to drive us there, which cost us (well me, as I paid) R500 for the return trip.

At Pavillion, we decided that we'd split up to do our own thing and then meet up again at 2pm where the minibus dropped us off. The Norwegian crew members went off to do their thing, and the South African contingent took in a greasy lunch at Spur. I then hared off and looked for the random things I wanted to get, including a European-style plug to South African-style plug adaptor (unavailble!), various extension cables, bungee cords, treat snack food, coca-cola, an ethernet cable, some blank CDs and DVDs in case we need them and so on. After that, we piled back into the minibus and then set to work on the ship.

Whilst the ship had been "packed" in Cape Town, it was "packed" like a warehouse, not a research vessel, so we had to move all the research supplies for the other 3 legs (and those for this leg for which there was insufficient room) to other locations on the ship. Lots of heavy and awkward lifting! At the same time, we started to set up the lab spaces for work, which is mainly complete now, tying down everything that was loose so the motion of the ship doesn't mean that we end up with things flying around the place, breaking things or injuring people. There was so much equipment, we ended up storing some of it out on the deck, suitably tied down so it doesn't end up blowing away.

In terms of setting up lab space, I usually find it takes a day or two to figure out the best arrangement for things (never quite ideal on a ship where you have the constraints of limited space, and also a limit to exactly where you can tie things down to). Until we get on station and start working (approximately two days from the time we set sail from Durban), we won't really be able to see if what we've done is suitable. My most cunning plan was to create a holder for the big roll of lab tissue paper, so that it was off the floor or potentially damp bench space, could unroll on demand and not go rolling off anywhere. Arrie helped me create the ropework needed, and we now have a handy paper dispenser. We also secured the massive chest freezer that was bought for this cruise to store dissolved nutrient and genetic samples, using some wood to hold it from sliding back or to one side too far, and string to stop it travelling in the other two directions. We trust its weight will stop it flying upward... Unfortunately, this freezer has wheels on, which concerns me somewhat. We thought about lifting it up off the wheels, but couldn't find any suitable thin planks. I'm sure it'll be fine now it's securely roped.

I've been asked to co-ordinate (i.e. do until I find someone else who's keen to do it - we're very short of people until we get to Madagascar, with just 6 guest scientists) the work of 2 other scientists, one looking at nutrients and chlorophyll in the water, along with wanting plankton samples, and the other wanting me to do his sampling for stable isotope analysis - both of those are pretty much full time jobs on their own. And of course, I'm also here to work on fish when we do any trawling (my background is in ichthyology, the study of fish). My schedule is looking rather full! I spent quite a lot of today hunting in boxes, trying to find the bits of equipment the other science work needed - it's quite hard to find things where there are about 100 potential boxes in which something might possibly be - far easier to find things if you packed the boxes and know where things are!

The original plan was to set sail from Durban at 8PM this evening. As you can probably see from the time on this post, and the fact that we're still tied up to the dock whilst I write this, it's clearly not going to happen that way.

Quite a few of the scientists had headed for bed when I started writing this post, just before 10. A little while after that, I was informed by Jens, the chief Norwegian scientist (Cruise Leader) on this leg, that the South African Customs officials wanted to see the faces of these mysterious scientists for whom the passports were on board the vessel. Of course, this then meant waking up those who had turned in for an early night, which fell to me. Surprisingly, the customs people arrived earlier than they had said, so a second round of wake-up (hurry-up?) calls ensued.

The customs people were on the bridge, so we all trekked up the stairs, past the Restricted Area - No Unauthorised Entry (unauthorised presence in this area constitutes a breach of security) sign which had always put me off checking out the Bridge, so I got my first look at it. (The engine room has a similar sign). It's quite spectacularly modern with tons of fun-looking toys to play with. The main (Captain's) chair in there is mounted on rails, so it can be moved left and right across the floor to get a better view out of the forward windows, depending on the conditions. Of course, there were plenty of radar and sonar screens, which were sadly off and a nice chart table section with about 5 different GPS and heading readouts. There is a well appointed radio room up there too. The customs people did their thing, and then we all went our separate ways again.

The Captain for this leg of the ship only arrived on board just before 7PM, and wanted to get familiar with the ship before we set sail, as he had never sailed on the Nansen before - he's also just come from a 30 hour journey from Norway. Apparently, the plan is to depart around midnight. Much as I'd like to hang around and wait for the vessel to set sail, the cumulative sleep deprivation of the last couple of days is getting to me, so I think I might go to bed.

On the other hand, we have two days of sailing time ahead of us, during which we won't be doing very much. Which is the perfect opportunity to do some updates to the website which I need to do (for instance, the main cruise page is now wrong because the dates have changed) and do things like put together a bit of a tour of the ship, and perhaps some little mini-biographies or interviews with some of the people on board.

Let's see what tomorrow brings!

Edit: 23:39 - it feels like the main engines might have been started, the ship is throbbing differently.

The gangplank was just winched aboard. I can feel the ship moving - we're currently using thrusters to push off from the dock. YAY! We're finally underway! :)
Waves. I feel waves. I suspect we're just leaving the harbour walls now.
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