Southward Ho! (Written on Jan 04, 2014)
The midnight weather reading for the ships log and the VOS (Volunteer Observer Ship) program with the BOM, noted the following, the air temp (AT) is 3.20C and the SST read 4.80C, we seem to be going the right way – it is getting cooler each day!
I had a nicely busy 12-3am watch with the weather observations straight away and then a sonobuoy drop at 1230 which lasted for almost 1 and a half hours. By early evening last night the windows in the wheelhouse were fogging significantly, so the window heaters are on. I kept hanging my head out of the wheelhouse door like a dog out of a car window! I hadda cool down! The systems on this vessel are exemplary and in fact, have been designed and built beautifully for tropical and polar venturing. It is all about the insulation and we have plenty of that.
Rhythmical sounds, broadband by nature were heard yesterday and identified by Rob as sperm whale calls, dominated this midnight recording, also infrequent squeaky whistles filled the wheelhouse with my Barra deployment. A possible blue whale call with lots of energy boomed across the ocean and our computer screen. The water is alive! It is great to have the outside sounds inside!
Our small, but well-oiled crew has totally got into the swing of our at-sea polar life, given its’ brief existence thus far! People consult the Crew Schedule and when they begin to gather and don paraphernalia, such as gloves, beanies, jackets and boots, you know they are “on watch” as a Visual Observer for cetaceans and critters from the fly-bridge. With the weather being so lovely, we are doing all the visual watches from the top deck. We can see 6nm in an unencumbered view, although of course, sightings are and can be made from inside the wheelhouse, due to the 1800 viewing of the window layout. We rotate personnel through ship watch-keeping, visual observing, acoustic monitoring or data recording for one hour at a time, to keep people fresh and not too cold. Our bird observations for 10 minutes every hour from the quarter past the hour have us peering in binos and taking and checking photos to confer with the id books. Today, we have confirmed that the huge flocks seen resting on the surface or flying were indeed Short-tailed shearwaters, we have seen these before, but in the large flocks they remained just beyond our recognition for most of the morning. Clear underwing, beak and feet shots are crucial to making the positive identification. Yesterday, a black-bellied storm petrel dropped to the sea and began eating something gelatinous, perhaps squid tentacles, seen from the photo. It was interesting to id the individual, as well as see it’s feeding behaviour. The power of digital photography with the possibility of the instant look, has revolutionised our world.
Speaking of life-changing features in our world, communication has undertaken major radical changes, even in the last ten years. Explorers of old would plod along on their expeditions and rely on photos, diaries and notebooks presented upon return, to the sponsors of such brave activities to encourage further adventures. Modern-day exploring has been turned on its’ head with incredible changes in communication. Nowadays, adventurers and scientists can detail through words, photos and video their experiences in the field, in real-time or with very short delay, thereby engaging would-be armchair travellers and interested persons along the way. One can bring our beautiful world across the world, providing education and entertainment. Subtly, there is also a hidden safety aspect, as current positions of the expedition are known by all. Sharing experiences can in fact heighten the experience. The descriptions, explanations and revelations made fun for family, friends and interested personnel alike. I scribble words down in my notebook throughout the day and hit the keyboard a few times as well to bring you this little chat. On a thumb drive, Inday adds photos from the day to my words and packages together in an email to Micah, whom posts the blog next morning. It’s magic! Micah has been passing on the lovely comments from the blog posts and we greatly appreciate the interest and kind words.
While doing my exercises, I heard the radio message we all want to hear coming into the wheelhouse, “We have just seen a dorsal fin, not sure what species…” Immediately, Curt slowed Whale Song and changed direction. Enough exercises done, the next exercise was to begin the clothing layering process. With the Air Temp 2.40C and the SST 4.40C, a few more layers may need to be engaged. The swish-swish-swish of our pants is a give-away of approach, no sneaking up on anyone now! Also the clump-clump-clump of our warm boots is hardly subtle. Sadly, Indays’ whale did not surface again and we resumed our course southward. Close to an hour later, I saw a dark head and dorsal fin of a minke whale surfacing heading away from our vessel. Doing a two-step jig “Minke whale, minke whale just there!”, Curt quickly responded, slowing and heading towards it. Unfortunately ,no photos were taken of this animal either, but a good view was seen by Curt and I to identify it as a minke whale.
Noon Observations Jan 04, 2014
Lat/Long: 540 03.2 S 1450 31.3 E
Dry Bulb Temp: 3.80C
Wet Bulb Temp: 3.40C
SST (Sea Surface Temp): 3.90C
COG (Course Over the Ground): 1800
SOG (Speed Over the Ground): 7.1 knots
Beaufort SS (Sea State): 0
WS (Wind Speed): 2-3 knots
WD (Wind Direction): SW
Swell: 1 m
Wildlife: Shy Albatross, Wandering Albatross, Black-browed Albatross, Short-tailed shearwater, Black petrel, Fairy Prion and Black-bellied petrel
WT: RWBT – 7.5
Antarctic Fact: Since no country indisputably owns any part of Antarctica, there are no national parks. But the Antarctic Treaty System does offer protected areas. Antarctic Specially Protected Areas (ASPAs) are designed to protect special ecosystems and natural features.
Antarctic Slang: Banana belt = warmer part of Antarctica, especially the Antarctic Peninsula.
Hot steaming bowls of chicken and vegetable soup with lightly toasted baguette from Restys’ galley, our favourite local restaurant, warmed the cockles of our hearts as a mid-day sonobuoy was deployed. Many more sperm whales were detected and also seal sounds. The afternoon became very sunny with the blue sea and blue sky deceivingly warm-looking. As quickly as the cloud cleared, the cloud returned and by 1400, 7/8 stratocumulus cloud covered the sky. A series of panorama shots showed the difference of an hour.
Whale Songs’ position at 1600 was 460 nm due west of Sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island. Also at this time, the afternoon sonobuoy was full of sperm whale clicks to our north, in fact, where I heard them last night and also energy detected in the exact frequency zone characterising Antarctic blue whales. Looks like we are heading the right way and it certainly feels like it as the thermometer readings are falling. Better get your earmuffs ready, there will be a racket when we see our first blue whale!
Back inside after visual observations and immediately de-robing several layers, (for fear of over-heating), the delicious smell of Tas and Resty’s roast pork tantalised! Indays’ accompanying special apple sauce has become the standard with roast pork, roast potatoes, sweet potatoes and salad at our Whale Song restaurant. How lucky are we? An amazing ride, wonderful food and a great working team too!
Given the SST as noted in the Noon Obs, there is no doubt that we have crossed the Antarctic Convergence, we are getting there! The ETA to our waypoint, near the ice-edge is 3D 2H (3 Days 2 Hours) away. We are more than half-way to our destination with 754.5 nm travelled from Hobart and 577 nm to go! Roast pork with a celebratory G and T is our “over halfway party”! Yahoo!
With Wandering Albatross circling a “snow-filled” sky,