Saturday 15 September

Our first day at sea feels like a Caribbean cruise, with calm seas and bright sunshine providing a welcome introduction to ship life. It’s an auspicious start for many of the scientists who are testing their equipment, some for the first time, to make sure everything is working before we head out into the Southern Ocean.

Among the instruments tested were the Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) rosette to measure various seawater properties, a trace metal rosette to measure the concentration of iron in seawater, and a Fast Repetition Rate Fluorometer to measure the photosynthetic capacity of phytoplankton in the sea ice zone.

We’re currently drifting off the east coast of Tasmania and I can see the distinctive outline of Maria Island in the distance. If our equipment trials go smoothly we’ll head south on Sunday night.

Most people are taking the opportunity to set up their cabins and working spaces while the seas are calm, some are out on the heli-deck reading and playing music, and others are relaxing in their cabins after many hectic weeks of preparation.

The Director of the Australian Antarctic Division, Dr Tony Fleming, welcomed us on board on Friday night. He gave a short speech reminding us that we follow in the footsteps of Douglas Mawson, who was part way through his own Antarctic expedition 100 years ago. We received briefings from our voyage leader, our Captain and our doctor. Then we had a tour of the ship and instruction on how to put on an immersion suit in the event of an emergency. We cast off on schedule at 10 pm and my two cabin mates and I spent the next hour trying to fit all our gear into a very confined space.

One thing I’ve noticed is the noise on the ship. There’s the snap of doors opening and closing, beeps and bongs from the bridge, winching noises from the trawl deck, the groan of the ship as she wallows in the swell and of course the constant engine noise. At meal times it’s hard to hear the person next to you amongst the 50 other conversations.

Our social club has formed and will plan some special events to keep us entertained after work. In the meantime we are all enjoying the calm weather and preparing to face the 6–8 metre seas that we have been assured lie ahead.