The start of our adventure in the subpolar North Atlantic

We’re off! Our adventure has truly begun now that we have sailed out of the protection of the beautiful harbour of St Johns in Newfoundland, and into the slightly surreal world of cold calm seas, wispy grey mist and the spectacular icebergs of the Labrador shelf sea. After several days of mobilising we are itching to get started with the survey and much as we have enjoyed it here, we are pleased to move on.

This morning, before sailing, the scientists were taken through an extensive safety briefing in which we learned to recognise and know what to do if we hear various alarms on the ship. There are several disaster scenarios we might anticipate, from small fires through piracy or bomb threats, to any catastrophic disaster that might mean getting into lifeboats. Naturally we hope none of these actually happen, but the training and drills hopefully mean that we can protect ourselves and each other if something bad does unfold. The physical process of going to muster stations, doing the roll call, putting on our life jackets, and climbing into the lifeboats will help us remember what to do when we might be full of fear or panic.

The potential for disaster or injury can be those large and scary things that the lifeboat drills prepare us for, but more relevant every day are much smaller things that we need to keep in mind to keep us safe. All of these boil down to one issue; the ship moves around a lot and that movement can cause all sorts of problems if you are not careful and mindful of it. I like the neatness of the saying “one hand for yourself, one for the ship” which basically says always keep a hand free to steady yourself.

Work on the ship takes place all day and all night. To manage this we work in shifts (called watches), and this in turn means that at any time of the day or night someone on the ship is trying to sleep. There is a need then for everyone to move quietly about the ship whatever we are doing. This means no chatting in the alleyways where people’s cabins are, no slamming of doors, no loud music in your cabin. The walls between cabins (the bulkheads) are paper thin so we even need to close our drawers quietly. Happily most of the lab spaces are away from the accomodation alleyways, so our need for loud music, singing, talking and laughing can be met there instead.

The excitement of the start of the cruise for me and many others is tinged with green. I always get seasick as soon as we leave the harbour – this has happened to me on every cruise since my first one and it is no fun at all. Seasickness is personal to each one of us; for me it is extreme nausea, desperate tiredness, sometimes a migraine, and a brain that appears to have gone on holiday and left me unable to think. It usually lasts 2 to 4 days, depending on the ship and the weather, but I always recover, and I never get sick again during the same cruise even when the conditions get rougher. Fingers crossed that it wont be too bad this time!

All entries in the blog so far, including this one, have been written by me, Penny Holliday, a physical oceanographer in the OSNAP project. Now we are underway there will be daily posts by me and other scientists, and we will sign each post.

Images: RRS James Clark Ross leaving St Johns through “the Narrows”, and a grounded iceberg appears out of the mist.

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