Underway

By Donal Griffin   @donalgriffin88

At this time of the year, when Christmas festivities are well and truly over and January blues are largely forgotten, routine and repetition begin to rule the comings and goings of my life. Things once put off and postponed until ‘I get a minute’ are finally dealt with, at least in some fashion. I both hear and say the phrase ‘quare stretch in the evenings’, far too often, and that is when I know spring is coming.

Last spring I found myself arriving back in Ireland from a long trip spent marine mammal monitoring in the North Sea. I arrived home at St George Best airport (that’s what I like to call it), with the hard work done, I had clocked off before I even set foot on the crew change helicopter. Six long weeks looking for whales and dolphins, either out on deck or in the instrument room using passive acoustic monitoring equipment. It so happened we had zero detections the entire six weeks, a result of rough weather and dodgy equipment for one, and a documented lack of many cetacean species in the region for another. This was unfortunate and frustratingly boring, but when you are at sea, you make do. Replacements or repairs are often difficult to install or carry out, whereas starting from scratch, as is too easy on a Word document or even in a laboratory situation, is certainly out of the question. The weather, the unknown factor in all field studies, becomes your best friend in flat calm, glassy conditions and your high school bully when you’re being heaved across your cabin at night as you await the abandon ship alarm. Seven short blasts and one long blast of the ship’s horn in case you’re wondering what that might sound like.

60 knots of wind and 12m waves in the North Sea, February 2014
60 knots of wind and 12m waves in the North Sea, February 2014

Once again I find myself gearing up for a busy field season at sea, this time on board AFBI’s research ship the RV Corystes. The thought of having research to carry out for which I am solely responsible is a scary thought indeed. Equipment failure and adverse weather are just as much a potential problem, but I can no longer use them as a valid excuse in my post survey report. Whilst industry accepts the fact that a persistent north westerly during the project made sampling difficult, these excuses will not cut it for my PhD thesis. This added pressure is the source of my apprehension and I suspect I am not alone in this, certainly amongst the other first year PhD students. The extra responsibility and pressure to obtain ‘good’ data is very real. Important decisions must be made on the spot when time is always a constraint. Do you sample less frequently in all your sites, or more frequently in less of your sites? Who knows which option is for the best!

The RV Corystes (AFBI).  Underway, or Under Way is a nautical term describing the state of a vessel. "Way" arises when there is sufficient water flow past the rudder of a vessel that it can be steered. A vessel is said to be underway if it isn’t at anchor, aground or drifting.
The RV Corystes (AFBI). Underway, or Under Way is a nautical term describing the state of a vessel. “Way” arises when there is sufficient water flow past the rudder of a vessel that it can be steered. A vessel is said to be underway if it isn’t at anchor, aground or drifting.

As I start to think about preparing and organising for my first trip, I can’t help but think, the buck stops with me this spring. As ever, I will go out and give it my best, and pray to Poseidon that sampling goes well. Whether he listens and things do indeed go well, I shall wait and see, but I do know that this time there is no ‘clocking off’. When I disembark the RV Corsytes, my work will have only just begun. There will be no welcome home dinners or celebratory drinks this time. Instead, I will make a beeline for the lab to process my jellyfish samples, before they turn… well, even more jelly like. On the upside at least, the laboratory won’t sway from port to starboard, bow to stern, and I can go buy a burrito whenever I feel like it.

I look forward to seeing the rest of you field biologists in the lab, post field. We can swap battle stories, compare war wounds and compile ways in which to make it sound like everything went precisely how we wanted it to in our write ups. By that time there surely will be a stretch in the evenings, and despite my nerves, I cannot wait to get stuck in. Bring on the spring and bring on sampling season. There’s lots to be done!

One of the perks of being at sea, the beautiful sunsets. In this case being interrupted by the ship’s bell.
One of the perks of being at sea, the beautiful sunsets. In this case being interrupted by the ship’s bell.

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