20th Jan 2019
On board Spanish Polar Research Vessel RV Hesperides.
Crossing Drake Passage.
Commanding Officer: Emilio Regodon
Drake Passage, next to Cape Horn, is the roughest crossing in the world so I have been preparing to experience the ship’s bows smashing down onto crashing waves and surging swells tossing and rolling us as we make our way towards Deception Island.
Due to weather reports of waves 6 – 10 m high the Commanding Officer delayed our start time by 12 hours avoiding the tail end of one high wind cycle and making sure that we will be travel ahead of the next. As a result of his brilliant captainship the waves we are experiencing are 3 – 4 m high, not to be sniffed at but certainly not the high seas I was expecting.
Even with these measly waves there is a fair amount of disruption to life on board. I write from the upper mess, much nicer than the windowless lower mess which smells like a boys changing room. Clara the ships doctor and one of the crew are quietly playing the Ukulele and at the long table there are a group of scientists with laptops and folders and charts. They are talking about the data they will collect for their studies on clouds.
Every now and then the ship rolls more than usual and everyone’s chairs slide down the right side of the table and then back again. It makes me chuckle to see everyone just carrying on regardless. I have joined the end of the table and I too am now nonchalantly sliding from end to end, four of us sliding in a row. The table is nicely polished so that my notebook goes with me.
On the wall is a brass instrument with degrees marked on it and a heavy pointer hanging free, the pointer swings with the movement of the ship so you can see the degree to which we are leaning. Things begin to slide at 12 degrees. The most we have tilted since I have been watching is 19 degrees.
It’s quite difficult to walk around the ship, you have to take one step and then wait, plan what you are going to hang onto next, then launch yourself in the right direction. Everyone is lurching around from pillar to post wearing back packs because you need both hands free. Going to the loo is difficult.
Many people have been feeling very sick, some have to lie on their bunks and can’t get up at all and others appear from time to time looking rather wild with their faces various shades of green. I thought that I would probably feel sick but so far I have been lucky, I’ve been trying to keep busy so this morning I went up to the bridge to visit Commanding Officer Emilio Regodon and see what was going on.
Woooooaaah, we have just slanted to 26 degrees! Everything has fallen on the floor, all the chairs are in the corner and the fridge door has come unhooked, Lemon Fanta cans rolling everywhere.
Anyway, up on the bridge there are lots of people busy doing important navigational things, looking at charts and graphs, following predicted weather patterns and plotting our course accordingly. They are also listening to Spanish pop music and eating sweets, everyone seems very jolly so I assume all is well.
Ships in the Arctic collect data about Polar Bears, they report when and where they see one and they have a special chart so they can accurately decide how fat or thin it is. In the Antarctic the ships report information about ice and clouds for scientists who are investigating climate change. There are posters with pictures of different types of clouds and ice formations so that you can name what you see even if you are not an expert.
At the bridge there is always someone with binoculars scanning the path ahead. Growlers are what you have to look out for; growlers are a type of ice I came across in the Arctic. They are very dense nuggets made from the ice which has been compacted for a long time in glaciers and icebergs. Growlers don’t show up on radar, they are dark blue and float low in the water making them difficult to see but they could easily make a hole in the side of the ship or fatally damage the propeller.
Even with all these amazing electronic systems the crew still use a paper chart to plot the position of the ship. If everything goes wrong they can navigate using a pencil and a compass.
The tube sticking down which looks like a periscope is a periscope – the compass has to be kept away from magnetic interference, as the whole ship is a lump of iron, it is housed high on the roof furthest from the engines. When you want to look at it you peer through the periscope and you can read the dial through a system of mirrors.
I’ve just been to check what they write in the log book, here is the information they record…
Date Sunday 20th January 2019
Millage: 218 Nautical Miles today
True course heading of ship 162° (Where 360° is North and 180° is South so we are heading South East)
Speed: 11.5 Knots
Position latitude and longitude 57°28,6S 065°06,6W
Wind speed 16.2 Knots
Wind direction 287 North West
Air Temp 10°C
Sea temp 8°C
7/8 Cloud coverage STCU (this means the cloud type is Stratus (ST) Cumulus (CU) according to the cloud chart)
(It is now 23rd Jan and just fyi it is FREEZING and v windy and sleeting and horrid.)