Report 16: Tying up loose ends
Steve Nicol, Voyage Leader
With the last transect finished on Tuesday all that remained of our business was to meander down to Davis whilst searching for elusive minke whales for Jason to record, and then effect the final end-of-summer pick up from the station. Despite finding minkes in abundance in the pack ice near the bottom of Transect 11, we were unable to extract a single squeak from them—a lone failure in the sea of triumph that has characterised this voyage.
As we enjoyed a celebratory BBQ on the helideck, we moved slowly to the west through more magnificent glacial scenery with scattered wildlife for company. We arrived at Davis at noon on Wednesday and as the ship's crew conducted lifeboat drills the incarcerated hordes leant over the rail gazing mournfully at the green fields of Davis where people were free to walk on dry land, stretch their legs, and drop into the bar for a last drink before joining us on our temperance crusade. Most people aboard did, however, get a quick spin around the icebergs as part of a safety exercise organised by the Captain and this proved most popular.
Helicopter operations began at 8.30 on Thursday and we rapidly began to fill the ship with new people and their gear. By lunchtime it was all over; we had put the helicopters to sleep in their hangar and had repositioned the laboratories on the helideck and were ready to sail again at 1500. The decks were crowded as everyone turned out to bid a fond farewell to Davis and to say thanks to John Rich and his small group who can now settle down to their winter together undisturbed.
We headed North in beautifully still conditions with light hearts and the satisfying throb of giant diesels beneath our feet. We had three small tasks remaining to complete and these passed almost uneventfully. Filling the minicosm tanks went by so quickly that no one noticed it had even been done. We sheltered in the lee of a gigantic iceberg as 40kt winds blew and completed our last (?) oceanographic task. True to form Nathan recalled an otherwise forgotten discussion several months previously where he had pointed out that this last CTD calibration was in fact two CTDs and not one—and no one was at all surprised. All that remained was one small krill trawl to fill the tanks so that we could bring a few hundred live krill back to stock the aquarium in Kingston. Of course, with a massed audience, and both shifts of crew and scientists to assist the trawl, it nearly went horribly wrong. As soon as one of the densest aggregations of krill we have ever seen wandered onto the echosounder screen, the computer that has faithfully opened and closed the net all voyage decided to take leave of absence. The whole procedure went on hold as cables were inserted into any available computer port in an effort to display the simple interface that says "Open net". Finally, following divine intervention by Kelvin, the net was lowered, opened, closed and then brought aboard with a bumper crop of about 30Kg of krill caught in just 3 minutes—not quite the record but more than enough for the krill team to declare it absolutely, finally and honestly the very last trawl of the voyage.
We've now got to that part of the voyage where the nautical equivalent of "are we there yet?" is a constant refrain from the back seats. Yes, it's time to play "when will we get to Hobart?" a game that all aboard can enjoy. Unfortunately the arrival time is always in the lap of the weather gods, and our speed at any one time is determined by the wind and the sea state so predicting an ETA is a fine art best practiced when already in sight of Hobart. Fortunately, however, we do have an advanced underway-data display system that can provide hours of amusement and which, when programmed correctly with the desired ship's speed, can come up with exactly the answer required. It's great fun; for example, when we stopped to do a CTD it predicted that we would be in Hobart in 500 days time but during a brief turn of speed out of Davis it somewhat erroneously suggested that we might have been in Hobart yesterday. All good clean fun and a fine way to while away an afternoon when all there is to look at outside is a low grey sky and snow flakes the size of pillows.