Well hello there. Over the next three months I'm going to be going from Japan to Australia and New Zealand... via 2 months spent on a big boat in the North Pacific. I'm part of the scientific team for IODP Expedition 324, which aims to sample deep basement rocks from a giant underwater volcanic-plateau called 'Shatsky Rise'. Should you be interested, you can follow what I'm up to here...

Monday, 30 November 2009

I left my heart... in San Fran-Zealand...

Goodbye New Zealand, you were awesome.
Be seeing you again soon I'm sure.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

This week I have mostly been...

. Throwing myself on the Australian docks and kissing the dusty concrete like Kevin Costner in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves when he got to Dover after the Crusades.
. Enjoying my first beer (and my second beer, and my third beer, and my...) for 2 months. (Sorry liver, you thought I'd grown up there for a minute didn't you?)
. Dancing like a teenager at a full-moon-party on a tropical beach.
. Getting up-close and personal with the Australian wildlife...

. Letting the Australian wildlife get a little too up-close and personal with me...

. Not getting a tan.
. Experiencing feelings of sadness, shortly followed by resignation, about the fact that I didn't get a tan. And probably never will.
. Being too hot.
. Flying to New Zealand and being too bloody cold. 9C plus windchill are you kidding me?
. Deciding to go even further south to see penguins and seals tomorrow despite being almost too cold... to.. type.
. Seeing more spiders in 6 minutes in NZ than i did in 5 days in Oz and being a bit confused about that.
. Not calling any of my relatives despite numerous promises to the contrary. Sorry guys. I'm fine. Speak soon x

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Astronaut vs Samurai

It's the celebrity death match of the year.

East vs West
Past vs Future
Cardboard Vs Foam

Who will wins this battle of the titans?

Astronaut is winner!

Thursday, 29 October 2009

A dirty Pollywog no more

Avast ye landlubbers!

We be sailing past the first land, us salty shellbacks have clapped our weary eyes upon for many a month.

Pinipel and Barahun off the port side, with New Britain, that tropical beauty most rare, off the starboard bow!

I did indeed espy a lone salty coconut floating past this fine ship this very morn, perchance a wee umbrella and yella straw protruding from its hairy side.
A pina colada I did crave.

Townsville, that most salubrious and welcoming of ports, does await us within the week...
We be hoping they be keeping their beer cold and their menfolk hot, in anticipation of this great vessel's imminent arrival. Onwards, to Townsville!

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Meet you in the middle

On a slightly less high-brow philosophical note; we're about to cross the equator and I'm really starting to wish I wasn't a lowly Pollywog...

By way of explanation, over the last week or so posters have started to appear in the hallways with overtones which range from the jovial:

(Our esteemed (and usually very pleasant and genial) captain pictured to the left

to the downright sinister:

Apparently it's a big deal crossing the equator at sea for the first time, and there seems to be this whole horrific initiation thing-doubtless inherited from old naval traditions- planned for Wednesday, where all the newbies are made to "pay due homage to King Neptune".
Until you cross you're known as a (lowly, pathetic, useless, squirming etc etc) "Pollywog", before hopefully being accepted into the order of the (mighty, all powerful, worshipful) "Shellbacks", after your ordeal.

Seriously guys, when you're at sea you've gotta amuse yourself somehow!

This is a pretty big event-week actually. We've got crossing day on Wednesday and Hallowe'en on Sunday, which is also incidentally Julie's 30th birthday.
Some of the yanks have been thinking about their costumes for months. I'm taking the more British approach of hmm-what-have-i-got-in-my-wardrobe-that's-clean-hmm-nothing-ok-i'll-just-wrap-myself-in-tin-foil-and-go-as-a-baked-potato-then.

So, yeah anyway, could get messy.

See you on the other side...


p.s. I've made it pretty clear that If anyone so much as looks at my hair with a sideways glance and a pair of clippers, I'll be throwing the first punch. Hopefully this has not drawn undue attention to me which..would...be......bad........oh dear...

Friday, 23 October 2009

A thousand million twinkling lights

You’ve never seen stars like it.
I’ve never seen stars like it.
It’s breathtaking.

We switched off most of the lights onboard for the transit, plunging the boat into inky blackness at night for the first time.
The whole sky from unseen watery horizon to horizon was a black sphere, stretching up infinitely into the cosmos, peppered with the glowing orbs of the brightest stars.
At first, just the familiar ones you occasionally see through the orange-stain of the city back home; The Plough, Orion’s belt, Cassiopeia and so on. But as your eyes adjust to the gloom and you stare ever deeper into the blackness, your familiar friends are joined by more and more points of light, appearing as if they were winking into existence for the very first time tonight.
Until the whole sky is aglow with them.

In the city, or most other places on land I’ve ever been, there’s just too much light-pollution to appreciate that stars have a unique shine of their own.
“Starlight” is just a trite expression without meaning.
But they really do glow.
On a dark, moonless night in the Pacific, you can start to pick out the top of the white-capped waves and the faintest hint of storm clouds in the far distance by the starlight alone. The heavens appearing to rock gently back and forth above you, until you grasp that it's not the sky moving but the boat riding the Ocean swell beneath you.

And every once in a while, a shooting star will streak across the sky leaving a trail of white burned on your retina.
A glorious final hurrah for a little piece of space rock, having spent an eternity spinning alone through the solar system before disappearing in a blaze of transient glory in our atmosphere.

As if I didn’t already feel tiny and insignificant enough floating in the middle of the largest ocean on Earth, for the first time -peering into the depths of our Galaxy, which is after all, only one of millions of galaxies in the Universe- I realised how much we don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

Lord knows I’m not a religious person, but that was pretty transcendental.
I guess night-shift has its perks after all...


Sunday, 18 October 2009

Flora and fauna

The JR seems to have turned into a giant biological snowball, picking up cute little hitchhikers on its way south.

You've got to remember that apart from the occasional fishing boat or container ship, we’re the only solid thing within a 1500 mile radius out here, so we attract anything that’s looking for a meal or is too horribly lost and exhausted to fly any further.

Because we stay in the same spot for a few days while we’re drilling we become something of a transient atoll, offering food, shelter and (probably) entertainment to the many denizens of the Pacific we pass on our way. We throw our food leftovers overboard (after very carefully extracting all of the burnables/recyclables/anything not biodegradable or edible) which attracts lots of little fish looking for shelter and a quick snack.

Unfortunately for the little fish, word soon gets out about the bonanza and predatory Mahi Mahi are swiftly on the scene looking for a light meal… These guys are really cool looking though; up to a metre long, bluey green with electric-blue side fins and faces like a caved-in whale.

They’re hard to photograph well from the ship (this one was taken by Amber), but I’ll try and get a photo if one “commits suicide” and throws itself onto the deck, (fishing isn’t allowed on the JR in case one of the lines gets tangled in the propellers or the drill string…).

I feel sorry for the little flying fish, it seems like everybody wants to eat the poor things -in fact I’ll admit to being one of them. I’ve seen both Mahi Mahi and orange squid chasing them down and devouring them whole during my daily 2.30am fresh-air break from the lab.

We’ve had a permanent gang of big ocean-going birds circling the boat from the get-go. Huge brown things with razor sharp wings, gliding effortless just above the water. They get really active just as the sun’s coming up, swooping up and down in the pink glow as if to say “we made it through another night. Boo yeah!”

We also have our regular little visitors; the ever so cute but ever so stupid Storm Petrels.
These little guys are ocean-going too so they should be out here in the middle of the ocean I suppose, but unfortunately they seem to have a problem understanding that the JR is made of metal and is therefore quite hard
They regularly crash-land onto the deck at night, then sort of flollop about on their spindly little legs until someone take pity on them and throws them back overboard.

I found this little guy the other night looking truly pathetic, wobbling about on the smoking deck. So I picked him up, took him to the edge and threw him into the air (probably whilst yelling “fly my pretty, fly!” if I know myself at all).
Obviously about 6 seconds later, the wretched little thing did a full 180, swerved back towards the light, thumped into a wall and slid back down onto the deck.

So I tucked him up in the corner and left him to work it out by himself.
I ain’t no Florence Nightingale.

On a more cheerful note, apart from being a petrel-graveyard we’re also a floating oasis for any unfortunate passing land-creatures that really, really shouldn’t be out here. In our second week we even had a group of about 10 giant brown dragonflies, that surely belong in someone's pond and not out here in the big blue sea?

Our cutest little stowaways were blown in last week when we had a spot of bad weather though...
We were working away in the lab on the night shift, wind and rain howling all around, when there was this imperceptible little tap at the window.

Closer inspection revealed this poor bedraggled little ball of fluff looking through the window with some kind of workhouse-orphan-please-sir-may-i-have-some-more expression.


Even this grizzled old sea-dog’s heart was touched.

We discovered that there’s actually a flock of 10 of these little finches living on the boat now. Hoping around amidst the drilling equipment and the cargo boxes. If you sit on the top deck on a sunny day and squint a little bit, you can almost convince yourself you’re in a park.

I sort of imagine they’re like the characters from Lost. Crash landed onto a strange foreign island full of exotic beasts and uncomfortable social situations. Having to form a new society out of the ashes of the old one.

I think I might be cracking up actually.

Anyway, we also picked up a more spectacular guest the other day; some kind of big-ass heron!
You know, the tall spindly things you’d see standing in the Serpentine looking for little fishes in the shallows. Well that poor chap really shouldn’t be out here. Sure he’s got long legs but they’re definitely not 3600m long...

My sympathy dwindled somewhat when someone told me he’d found a source of food after all…. The little finches!
Poor little guys.
Survived the storm and the epic journey across the ocean, only to be laid low by a giant heron on a drilling boat. What are the odds? (This story get’s more Lost-like, the more I think about it actually. Hmm.)
So anyway we’re down to a flock of 7 and counting now.

Hopefully there’ll still be enough left on board once we get to Australia to start a new colony and cause an ecological disaster of biblical proportions.

If anyone asks… it was wasn’t us ok.


Friday, 16 October 2009

Over the hump and out of the grump

Ahoy shipmates!

It’s 3am on a Friday night. Perfect time for a quick blog!

-My last beer in Yokohama. It was so cold there were actually beautiful, tiny, ice crystals beginning to form in it… sigh.

We had our “hump day” party two weeks ago to mark getting over the mid-way “hump” of the expedition. (As someone, rather ambiguously, stated at the time: “It’s all downhill from here!” -which I guess you could interpret one of two ways).
It was actually really good fun and a chance to let off some steam.

Fyi I joined this party at 12.30am; 45 minutes after waking up for the day and 15 minutes after eating my “morning” muesli.
So to put this in context, it was a bit like rolling out of bed at 7.45am, eating breakfast at 8.15am and by 8.30am being at your office, stone-cold-sober, throwing shapes to Intergalactic by the Beastie Boys, and not stopping until 12.30pm… when you had to go back to work.
Interesting experience.

It’s the 6th week of the expedition now and we’re currently finishing up drilling at our very last site (Site U1350, on Ori Massif, Central High of Shatsky Rise - should you be terribly concerned by the details), where operations are supposed to stop for good in about 3 days time.

The first three sites had plenty of interesting sediments, which didn’t please the igneous guys all that much, but certainly kept the three little sedimentologists busy…

Basically my life has been reduced to this:

Laptop full of unfinished work: check.
Plastic tumbler full of super-sweet American cereal to get me through the night: check.

Then there’s the fact that in three days time “we turn into a carnival cruise liner!” (as our eminent chief scientist put it) with the beginning of our 2 week transit to Australia.
Wooooooo hoooooo!!

Hopefully this will be an opportunity for some. Much. Needed. Rest. And. Relaxation.

So I’m hoping there'll be time for hanging out with these guys:

And time for some of this:

-initial enthusiasm about life on the ocean waves during the transit, (all well and good until i realised i was lounging about 1m away from the massive radiation source that is the satellite uplink pod. doh).

and a chance to see some of these:

- a whale!

and more of this:

and less of these:

-even though some of them are really pretty…

So, wish me luck on the final push.


Sunday, 27 September 2009

Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink…

…well almost.

Two days ago I had my first sober birthday since I was about 13, which was surprisingly good fun.
I hit the big 25 (which felt fairly momentous I have to say) and yet still managed to be the second youngest person on the whole ship. Ah youth.

Everyone was really nice, and they even baked me a cool cake with hearts and everything:

I particularly appreciated the "we love u" that the nice kitchen boys put on there. See, it pays to smile and say thank you from time to time :)

Coincidently, it was also the co-chief (head honcho) Takashi’s birthday too, so here we are enjoying our moment in the sun:

It was also a fun day because we were doing a bit-change for the drilling process (bear with me, the fun part is coming….).

Basically the bit (the sharp thing on the end of the pipe that cuts the rock) needed changing because it had worn out (well you’d be worn out too it you’d been cutting through 250m of basalt for 3 days straight).
So, this necessitated bringing up the whole drill string (that’s 4km of pipe down to the seafloor plus the 250m that’s in the hole), changing the bit for a new one on the ship, reassembling the whole thing and lowering it all the way back down, and then getting it back into the hole.

That’s right; in the total darkness 4 km below you, you have to get the drill bit on the end of your pipe, back into the original 30cm diameter hole on the sea floor.
30cm in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean.
Oh and the pipe is really bendy like a straw (even though it’s made of steel), and there are currents pushing the whole thing (including the boat) around.

To put this in context, this is like me giving you a reasonably stiff noodle somewhere in Regent’s Park and asking you to thread it through a polo mint somewhere near London Bridge.

Do you think you could do that?

Well these drilling boys can.
Frankly, I’m in awe.

To be honest, they do have the slight advantage of having a “reentry cone” (like a big funnel) to guide them in when they get close enough and a B+W camera which they lower down to help them see where they're going and to “re-enter the hole” as it's often described (to much tittering).

So here’s a video from the bottom of the ocean….

It's a bit grainy, but you can make out the pipe and the cone. (The pointy thing to the left is just a phenomenally useless compass).

And here, finally, is the fun bit.
Are you still there? No? Oh well, your loss.

The fun bit is we all got to decorate some polystyrene cups with whatever we like (i thought i'd better stick with the "i'm on a boat!" theme), then we tied the bag of cups to the camera they sent down into the abyss and let the phenomenal pressure of the deep crush them!

This is my cup before it was sent down:

and here is it afterwards:

cool huh!

And here’s a selection of other people’s cups with an unmutilated one for scale...

And here is a picture of me looking extremely smug about the whole thing.

Pretty neat birthday present I reckon.
Not often you get something you can put on your shelf that’s been to Hell and back…

Over and out x

Friday, 25 September 2009


The "moon pool geyser" during the storm, as promised.
(Please excuse the slightly unhinged laughter; I was wearing flipflops and a cardigan during a typhoon, was getting absolutely soaked and was clearly high as a kite).

Before the storm rolled in, the night-shift science gals went up on the top-deck to see how windy it was getting up there...

Not a recipe for a good hair day methinks.

The cloud was so thick that it felt like nighttime all day long. The rig looked particularly spooky in the stormy afterglow.

The calm after the storm.

The big mass of cloud in the background is the typhoon moving north (to the right) as we were heading south (to the left). (You might say were were "ships passing in the night", if you were the sort of person who liked terrible word-play like that, and was as tired as i am right now).

So for now, no more weather-related drama.
We're at our next site on the Southern Rise, have been successfully drilling for two days and have recovered an absolute ton of sediment. I have more mud than i know what to do with and i'm THRILLED.
(The sad thing is, I truly am thrilled).
Ah well, it takes all sorts to make a world :)

Toodle pip

Monday, 21 September 2009

Taunting the tempest

Ever wondered what it’s like trying to climb into the top berth of a bunk bed, on a boat, in the middle of the North Pacific, as the arse-end of a super typhoon like this one passes by?

Well unfortunately I’m now in a position to tell you.
It’s tricky. Real tricky.

We've had a couple of days of pretty rough weather out here, due to the remnants of typhoon Choi Wan passing by to the east of us (you can see it approaching Japan in the satellite image above). It started out as a category 5 hurricane (fyi the scale only goes up to 5...) with 156 mph winds in the Central Pacific, but luckily by the time it got up to the latitude of Japan where we were, it had been downgraded to a trifling "tropical storm" with paltry 70mph winds.
A mere gust!

So, even though the JR is a tough old girl and us hardy sailor types (ahem) are grizzled enough to take anything Neptune can throw at us, it wasn't deemed the best idea to stay connected to the seafloor by nearly 4 km of steel pipe during such a big storm. So we finished coring (having successfully punched a hole over 50 m into basement), pulled up all that pipe in double-quick time and prepared to scarper.

The eye of the storm was predicted to pass over our drilling position on Monday, traveling at about 24 knots. Well the JR can only do 13 knots on a very good day, so... you do the math. We needed a headstart. So by midnight on Saturday we were on our way south as Choi Wan thundered past us in the opposite direction.

And even though we deliberately avoided the full force of the storm, we certainly didn't escape the huge swell that it sent in our general direction. At one point on Sunday we were caught between another weaker depression to the north of us sending waves down south, and choi Wan to the south east sending even bigger waves towards us, leading to some pretty intense rolling and pitching.

Let's just say living and working in these conditions when things are rolling off the table and you can't walk in a straight line is challenging to say the least.

I had to jam myself into my bunk with my extra pillow and some jumpers to stop me rolling about in the bed, and there were lots of occasions when my feet were above my head as we pitched up and down. (If that thought makes you feel a bit sick just thinking about it, imagine trying to sleep like that. yikes).

Needless to say i've taken enough drugs in the last few days to sedate a bull elephant. I was watching the waves with a sort of bemused interest rather than the more appropriate terror. It brings to mind that bit from Fight Club where they're looking at the airplane safety manual and everyone in the illustrations looks blissfully unaware of their plight.

"Oxygen gets you high. In a catastrophic emergency, you're taking giant panicked breaths. Suddenly you become euphoric, docile. You accept your fate. It's all right here. Emergency water landing - 600 miles an hour. Blank faces, calm as Hindu cows."

I decided to go out on deck just to see how bad it was out there at one point...well, I'm not sure "rough" really sums it up.

25ft waves.
No really.
That's 7.6 metres of angry grey and white foaming water lashing the side of the boat, soaking the deck and rolling us from side to side.

And in a strange additional quirk, because we're a drilling boat we actually have a square hole about 2x2 m called the "moon pool" in the bottom of the boat, all the way to the deck, which is permanently open to the ocean.
(Yes you heard me right, there's a big-ass hole in the boat.
Evidently we still float (although this computer room is below sea level so i can hear waves above my head right now, very strange...) which is something to do with buoyancy or something. I guess it's like how one of those inflatable doughnut things you have in the pool still floats despite having no middle? I don't know, what do you take me for, a scientist?

Annnnyway, about every 2 minutes yesterday whenever we went over a particularly large swell, the water whooshed up through the moon pool like a geyser at Yellowstone park! It was phenomenal. I'll post some pictures when my camera dries out.

In the meantime, the weather has calmed down considerably and we've already arrived at our next site on the Southern Rise where we'll hopefully stay for the next 11 days or so. It seems no sooner had we got started on writing up the findings from the last site, than the new cores from this site were already on deck! These drilling boys are pretty amazing when the weather is cooperating.

So that means another round of hectic work is about to begin. It's 3.45pm here, and well past my bedtime. I wonder what inscrutable conundrums tonight's cores will provide us with..?

I guess "Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise".

No doubt, but this girl needs her sleep.


Thursday, 17 September 2009

Core on Deck!

** Disclaimer: This post has lots of actual geology stuff in it, so feel free to skim over that part straight to the pretty pictures at the end. I won’t take it personally**

Hello again.

Well, we’ve all been incredibly busy the last couple of days which hasn’t really left any time to do anything except work and (try to) sleep, and as you can see, I’m spending my only spare half-an-hour this week updating this blog.
I hope you all feel special.

We finally arrived at our first drilling site early Monday morning (it’s Friday afternoon now), five days of full speed and fine weather from Yokohama. I’ve managed to more or less get the seasickness under control with a combination of hardcore drugs and shear willpower.
Boo yeah.

Our first destination is “Shirshov Massif” which is the northernmost part of the area we’re here to sample. (Yellow blob nearest the top of the map).

Shatsky Rise is basically an ancient, giant, underwater volcano* about the size of California. Yeah, so pretty enormous then.

*Strictly speaking I guess it’s not really a “volcano” per se, (“igneous plateau” might be better perhaps?) but it’s made of the same sort of rocks (basalts etc) that you’d find coming out of somewhere like Hawaii, so for the sake of argument lets call it a volcano.
p.s. Can you tell I’m not an igneous petrologist?

Anyway, the aim of this whole expedition is to core right down into this volcanic rock, get some samples (cores) and figure out how the thing erupted. Simple.

“But what on Earth is someone who’s interested in proper sedimentary rocks like you, doing on an igneous expedition?” I don’t hear you cry.

Well, fortunately for me (and unfortunately for all the poor igneous bods), the ancient volcano has been underwater for so long that a thick succession of sediments has built up on top of it, covering up all of the volcanics under a snuggly blanket of interesting sediments. So to get to the volcano you have to go through the sediments anyway.

Alas that’s where the good news ends; because sediments are not the primary focus of this expedition we’re only actually coring the bottom 50m or so of the sediments and just blowing a hole through the rest of it.

Well a little bit of rock is better than no rock at all I always say.

So, for the last 5 days we’ve been hovering over the same featureless spot in the Ocean, lowering drilling-pipe through 3654m (that’s 3.6km) of water, and drilling into the abyss.

Because I think some of you might have trouble imagining this, here is a diagram I made earlier:

Boat not to scale. Duh.

So, (to cut a very long and complicated and impressive story disappointingly short), we made a big hole by drilling 70 meters into the sediment, then we started collecting the rocks deeper than that and bringing them back up to the deck for study.
And what do ya know, they’re really interesting!
So for the last four days, I have spent 12 hours a day: staring at them/ scraping them/dissolving them/describing them/ hating them- loving them- it’s a thin line.

And, very occasionally, I get to go outside and watch the sunrise and the rainbows for ten minutes or so. And I like it. And it’s pretty.

Unfortunately there’s a super typhoon heading our way, so we might have to get out of here pretty soon. “Choi Wan” is a huge category 5 hurricane and it’s predicted to brush just a little too close for comfort in a few days time.

The predicted track^ takes it just north of where we are now (160 degrees longitude, 38 degrees N latitude) so I think we’re going to have to pull pipe and run away like a bunch of little girls.
The swell has already started to pick up...I’ll keep you posted...


Sunday, 13 September 2009

Time is a fluid concept

Day and night don’t really have any meaning on the JR.

Because the running costs of keeping the ship out here are so astronomical (on the order of 100k a day apparently), we can’t afford to work normal office hours.
The JR has to be kept ticking over 24 hours a day, or it’d take an extra two months to achieve our drilling objectives. And you guys - the taxpayers - probably wouldn’t be too keen on that…

So we’ve all been split into two shifts, either the day shift (12 midday to 12 midnight) or the night shift (12 midnight to 12 midday).
A few lucky souls get the 6am to 6pm shift, and a few very unlucky souls get the 6pm to 6am shift (yuk), but most of us have one of the equally awful 12-12 slots.

Standing on deck in the middle of the night is a bit scary. The hum of the engines, the strangely lit catwalks and dark rushing water all around. Makes you very aware that if you fall in… well, you’re not coming back… ::gulp::

I’ve been put on the night shift, which is requiring a total reorganisation of my body clock. And the poor thing has already been shifted all over the shop in the last fortnight…

Firstly, the 8-hour time difference between London-Tokyo and the associated jet lag, meant that I basically rolled from one daytime straight into another one without a proper sleep. That was fun.
Then we lost an hour two days ago as we steamed east into another time zone. So we went straight from 11.59am to 13.00, which meant eating lunch in double fast time!

And now, my working day starts at midnight; which means I try to go to bed at around 3pm in the afternoon, wake up at 10.45pm, shower and eat breakfast at 11-ish and then get into the lab at about 11.45pm to do the handover from my counterpart in the day shift.

And it feels weird. Really weird.
I guess the major perk is that I’ve got to see the first sober sunrise of my life. And way out here with no buildings or trees, it’s truly spectacular:

I’m finding it especially hard to make my body go into shutdown mode in the middle of the afternoon, when it’s really bright outside and I feel like sitting in the sunshine on deck. I think the trick may be to just go straight to bed after your shift ends without going outside, but then you wouldn’t get to laze on deck whale-watching….

(I am approaching 86% on the how-much-does-your-life-resemble-The-Life Aquatic-scale. No Jaguar Shark as yet though…).

Meals are served four times a day at 5am-7am, 11am-1pm, 5pm-7pm and 11pm-1am. And you can get a choice of delicious meals at pretty much any of those times.

However, it was quite baffling being asked – 25 minutes after I had woken up yesterday evening and was trying to get into morning mode – “so do you want a steak young lady?”
A steak, for breakfast?
What do you take me for… an American??

You, and doubtless the whole of Blighty, will be pleased to know I declined and plumped for some toast and a pot of raspberry conserve instead.


Friday, 11 September 2009

Sunsets, whales and space stations

There are, of course, massive perks to being out here in the great blue expanse of the Pacific, which I have no intention of glossing over.

For starters, it’s absolutely gorgeous:

It’s the strangest feeling of my life to be surrounded by water in all directions.

Normally if you’re taking a ferry or going on a leisure cruise somewhere, you’re never really out of sight of land, even if it’s just an inky smudge on the horizon. Out here, everywhere you look it’s just the white-topped swell on the watery blue of the ocean, with the grey-blue sky bleeding into the horizon.

My eyes and brain just aren’t used to it.
Especially having gone straight from the sensory overload of London, Tokyo and Yokohama, it’s like stepping onto the moon. If you stand on the top deck above the bridge, all you can hear is the wind, the sound of the boat cutting through the waves and the distant rumble of the engine at the back of the ship.

It’s even too far out for most seabirds. We saw a few hardy seagulls swooping in the distance yesterday, low over the water looking for fish to snack on.

But it’s not totally barren out here.
You have to remember that there’s plenty of life beneath the waves that we don’t see at the surface. We’ve already seen lots of flying fish jumping out of the bow-wake at the front of the boat. They’re really cool and look like silvery darts hovering above the water for an impossibly long time, until they plop back into the deep. Really strange but definitely an interesting addition to the scenery.

We also had a tantalising glimpse of larger life out here yesterday evening... the spout from a distant whale and some silvery fins on the horizon!
I was so excited I actually lost the power of speech for a minute or two. Hopefully we’ll see some more cetacean action before the cruise is done ☺

I decided to try and catch the sunset last night, as I’m migrating to the night shift tomorrow (12 midnight to 12 midday), so it might be the last one I’m awake to see.

This turned out to be a good decision:

Words cannot describe.

And later on, when the sun had slipped beneath the ocean and the stars had come out, and Jupiter was hanging huge and red, we saw the International Space Station whizz overhead, chasing the Space Shuttle toward the horizon.

The seasickness was worth it.
This. Is. Awesome.


Dimenhydrinate is my new best friend

Ok, sorry about all the sickness-related moaning earlier.

I’m not usually such a big drama queen, but I really did think I was going to die the other day, and the thought of spending two months draped over the side of the ship like a big useless lump was not an appealing one.

Anyways, you’ll be pleased to know that I’m now totally medicated up to the eyeballs, and no longer feeling so poorly. Hurrah! Unfortunately if you think I’m a tad rambley and incoherent normally (and lets face it, I do tend to waffle on sometimes), you really ain’t seen nothing yet.
Being on Dimenhydrinate is like conducting conversations underwater… when you’re drunk. Kinda fun for me, but must be maddening for the other scientists I’m trying to communicate with.

“Kate, as one of the shipboard sedimentologists, what’s your take on the sedimentary database setup we’re implementing here?”
-“Er well… yeah….it’s good…by which I mean…I think we should put the…er… you know…um…sediment size table…sorry I mean size column thingamy…to the left of the whatsa-ma-call-it…::trails off forlornly::”
“Right….thanks for your input”.

We had a lifeboat drill yesterday, which was pretty fun (and of course very necessary and important, ahem). Everyone dressed up in their lifejackets and hardhats preparing for the very worst!

But I’m not worried. The JR may rock and roll a bit on the ocean waves, but she sure is built solid. Built in 1976, refurbished in 2008, still going strong.