Friday, 6 November 2015

Discovery Friday

We are currently crossing the Atlantic on the RRS Discovery. This is, in fact, the fourth ship to bear the name RRS Discovery. The original Discovery was the used by Captain Scott when he sailed to the Antarctic, attempting to conquer the south pole (although his ship didn’t bear the royal—RRS—moniker when he sailed her). The second was Discovery II—the first purpose built research vessel in the world. The third returned to the original name alone—Discovery—and served UK marine science for 50 years before retiring at the end of 2012. And now we cross the Atlantic for the first time on the newest incarnation of this prestigious lineage.

Over the next four Fridays, I will post a piece about each of these ships. The historical legacy of the previous Discoveries is nicely emphasized around this new ship with lots of old photos and paintings. I’ll post photos of a few of these with the posts. This week: RRS Discovery (2013) i.e. this ship. In some sense, this ship has the least photographs of all—vanity not being high on the agenda of this ship. One exception is the marvelous shot of Discovery being launched from Freire shipyard in Vigo.

Discovery is 100 m long and has over 6000 tonne displacement. The new Discovery has its propellers contained in two steerable pods at the aft end of the ship, unlike previous iterations that had traditional rigid screw propellers. This combined with two further thrusters toward the front of the ship (one tunnel, one steerable) allows lots of maneuverability for the scientific work, which often requires the ship to be nearly still (‘on station’) or maneuvering delicately. So unlike most ships, Discovery is designed for staying in one place well rather than just going from A to B quickly.

The crew on board consist of four departments: bridge, deck, engineering and catering. In command of the vessel is our captain, Jo Cox. Scientists and technicians make up the rest of the people on board. Us scientists work mainly in the laboratories on the upper deck, and are accommodated on the lower deck in single cabins. Three meals per day are cooked in the galley. Recreation on board is available in the forms of a DVD and book library, a gym and a communal bar/lounge; cards and darts are popular in the bar. Meals and recreation time provides a welcome rest from the intensive mooring work.

A scientist's cabin

Much of the heavy work on our moored instruments takes place from the aft deck—the deck at the back of the ship. This deck is jam packed with long wires (our longest mooring is 5100 m—over 3 miles long), buoyancy (glass and plastic spheres of different shapes that keep our moorings upright in the water). Over the cruise this will clear out and be replaced by the moorings that we recover. The moorings are deployed by technicians and deck crew. The scientists then check, calibrate and ultimately use the data. When mooring work is taking place the aft deck is a busy place: cranes dance around moving the heaviest pieces of kit, wires crisscross the deck as they come onboard, the railings at the back of the ship are down, meaning that the two men working there have only their balance and a safety harness keeping them on board.

The aft deck being readied for a  mooring deployment

Work days can be long and irregular on board so it’s nice to get a chance to relax. The forecastle deck—known to us scientists as the beach—offers some peace and quiet. This is the deck at the front of the ship, one deck down from the bridge. It’s a nice spot to read a book or sunbathe. Ships are noisy places and the foredeck is one of the few quiet spots away from engines, air conditioning units and Darren’s choice of music. The weather at the moment is calm and warm so the sea just laps and the clouds sit on a glass ceiling as far as the eye can see. With the view from up here—it’s not that bad a life, I guess.

"The Beach"

Written by Gerard (published by Darren)

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