Report 7: Turning East (and North) - one down ten to go

Tourists take in the bergs on the scenic route to Transect 2
Tourists take in the bergs on the scenic route to Transect 2 (Photo: Steve Nicol)
Sunset over transect 2Captain Ahab on ice watch
Steve Nicol, Voyage Leader

Early on Tuesday morning we completed the first of the meridional transects at 69° 18' South in the shadow of a continental ice shelf, and the ship headed eastwards for the first time to find a route through to Transect 2 at 35°E. Transect 1 was a great success; we achieved all our sampling requirements and collected volumes of valuable data that are being worked on feverishly, and turned into wallpaper as we make our way eastwards. After the hectic sampling schedule at the bottom of Transect 1, where the stations were spaced as little as 2 nm apart, the long transit period to Transect 2 was a welcome break for most aboard. And it was an extremely scenic break. For about the first time since Fremantle, the skies cleared and we sailed through fields of giant tabular bergs in the brilliant sunshine looking for a clear passage East. There was quite some pack ice in the area but the Aurora cut through that easily and with Scotty, the Captain, making a few ascents to the masthead checking for leads ahead, we found open water close to the continent and an easy passage through. At around midnight we threw the net into a patch of open water and began Transect 2 with a catch of the coastal species of krill which were found exactly where they should have been, leaving another theory intact for a few more days. The sun almost set over the bergs then rose again as we began our first northwards leg.

These legs are not sampling transects and the ship steams at 10 knots collecting data, particularly acoustics data, as we progress northwards. Occasionally the ship is turned around to investigate an object that has been identified on the sounders, and a trawl is carried out. These trawls are useful for confirming that what we can see on the sounder is krill but are probably more useful when they inform us that the echosounder records are, in fact, from fish or other pelagic species and we can then subtract these records form our krill biomass estimate. Each of these acoustic sections will take about two days and gives people who have been working on the CTD data time to catch up before we start coming down the next southwards transect and they have to begin sampling again. So by Thursday night we will have completed a complete cycle – comprising the two longest transects and the connecting legs – only another five of these to go.

It is strange being back into the open water again but the ship settles down into its easy rhythms and life aboard continues its routines. Life on the ship is a very auditory and tactile experience and after a few weeks at sea it is possible to understand what is going on just from the sounds and feelings of the vessel. The underlying rumble of the ship's engine is the foundation pulse upon which all other sensations build – if the engines are shut down everyone notices and questions are asked. There are two engines and there are subtle differences in feel when the big engine is being used as opposed to the small one and you certainly know it when they are both being used, particularly on the trawl deck which rumbles and bangs impressively when the ship is at speed. Around the ship are other constant sources of noise and vibration – the funnel, the cooling vents, the air conditioning and you become used to a high level of ambient noise. Even the vacuum flushing toilets can break the sound barrier and everyone knows for several cabins away when one has been activated – there are no secrets on the accommodation decks! You also begin to be able to pace your work by the sounds of the machinery – the CTD winch has a subtly different note to the whine of the trawl winch, and when you can hear the CTD coming in it's time to go and prepare for a trawl. The trawl is deployed from a gantry that makes an ear-splitting impersonation of a London underground train under heavy braking and this signals the time for the krill buckets to be readied, unless So Kawaguchi is doing the sampling in which case one very small bucket is all that is required!

Today is Australia Day and luckily most people will not be sampling, which means that they can take some time to relax a bit and have a few traditional lemonades over a BBQ. This is the first Australia Day celebration since the ship went dry, and there are some rumblings about it being positively un-Australian to celebrate our national day without a beer to assist the process, but celebrate we will. Social life aboard is somewhat fractured because of the shiftwork but it is possible to have some relaxation time and this exercises the mind of our Party Organising Officer (POO), Sarah. So far we have had a quiz night, a backgammon tournament, an interesting-hair night and even a guess the krill biomass sweepstakes – we do live dangerously out here at Australia's most western outpost. Birdo Andrew has an amazing assortment of obscure rock documentaries which he rations out on Friday nights and Toby has also organised surf movie evenings which for some obscure reason attracts a crowd who like to watch people sliding down vast walls of water whilst we sit on a ship sliding down vast walls of water. Still, it keeps Toby away from the instrument room where his trigger finger has been even more twitchy over the last couple of days to the point where the officers on the bridge flinch each time there is a call from the instrument room for fear it is a cheery request for yet another target trawl. Another member of team acoustics, Natalie, hit the local headlines with her inaugural involvement in the krill sampling effort. First the net failed to open, then on her second attempt the cod end broke and we were treated to the bizarre vision of Luke using a dustpan and brush as a sampling device. It was obvious from his performance that Luke has little experience in using these delicate pieces of scientific equipment. A consequence of this fiasco is that Nat has been exiled to the instrument room and there is general agreement that statisticians should never be allowed near a data-collection device again.