This post is written by Jonathan Lawrence, University of Southampton, who is studying for a PhD in oceanography using complex computer models to investigate ocean processes in the Arctic.
There’s something special about leaving port for your first cruise; the moment at which the pilot boat returns to the harbour and you continue outwards. This is added to by a mixture of excitement and apprehension. Excitement at being on a sub-polar transatlantic research cruise. Apprehension because it’s the first time, because at that moment 7 weeks suddenly seems like a long time to spend on board, and because I’m not entirely sure what I’ve let myself in for.
It took me a few days to adjust to life at sea: the rhythm, the long shifts, the pitch of the boat that rolls you around as you’re trying to get some sleep. The first few days are harder work as you’re sequentially introduced to new tasks and sampling techniques that require a lot of concentration at first (and the rest of the scientific crew are re-finding their own feet), but now nine days in, things have become more routine and relaxed and you get used to the continual gentle pitch of the boat under your feet.
Days blur easily, especially with rolling 24 hour watches where everyone is in different stages of their day. My markers for which day of the week it is revolve around food: fish and chips on Friday and curry night on Sunday. One of the other big challenges (especially if, like me, you’re sharing a cabin) can be the lack of personal space on board: from when I first wake up in the morning to after I’ve fallen asleep there are almost always other people around.
Certain other things are still quite strange and have an anachronistic feel: being waited on at lunch and dinner, and shirts for dinner (only really essential if you’re sat near the Purser). Other things you pick up after being on board for a few days make for an all round better time, such as knowing when the biscuits turn up in the duty mess (every two days, in time for the engineers mid-morning break; they don’t last long), and what’s best avoided from the generally good galley food on offer.
Images: Jon at work (in the yellow jacket), and the view down the starboard deck at lunchtime today.