Day one: Penguins, sheep, playing pirates … and a faulty bubble detector
51° 54.0823 S
58° 26.2095 W
Life on board ship is tidy, organised, and packed into ingenious corners. We're still in port, but the ship's rhythm is already sinking in. It feels familiar and friendly. I'm finding it odd that we're stationary – I'm used to this environment moving constantly, and I love being rocked to sleep by the waves.
Our two days on board have been spent moving boxes around, unpacking, allocating space and, most importantly, finding out where the tea supplies are. Our scientific gear left the UK six months ago with the ship, and it's a relief to be reunited. But not all reunions are happy. Six months is a long time for a lonely cargo box to be lifted up, put down, shoved into corners and rocked around. Someone always finds that stuff that worked when they put it in the box doesn't work when they take it out. On this occasion, it was me.
Things started well. We got our moment of playing pirate when we climbed the mast to install some equipment to measure CO2 and tiny particles in the air. I had a safety harness instead of an eyepatch and a bag of spanners instead of a cutlass, and it was horribly windy – any parrot daft enough to accompany me would have been blown away in no time flat. Still, we now have the means to measure the ocean breathing. Eat your heart out, Jack Sparrow.
Later that afternoon, large boxes containing my bubble measurement apparatus emerged from the depths of the hold in a cargo net. Underwater bubbles are tricky things to monitor, and the usual way to detect them is to use sound. The beautiful thing about bubbles is that they vibrate by rapidly expanding and contracting (known as a breathing mode, for obvious reasons), and that means that bubbles behave like bells. Big bubbles ring with deeper notes, and small bubbles ring with higher notes. They also absorb sound at those frequencies. The device that I've brought with me, called a resonator, is like a portable echo chamber. As bubbles pass through, they change the echoes at different frequencies, and so by listening to those echoes, you can count the number of bubbles of each size that are getting in the way.
I plugged in all the things that needed to be plugged in, ran a bath in the sink for the resonators and switched it all on. And there were no echoes. It was a bad moment.
After dinner (food on ships is very punctual and doesn't tend to wait for you), I came back and spent two hours problem-solving. It was actually fun, even though it probably shouldn't have been. Each small "aha!" moment is very rewarding: "Oh, so it works when this is unplugged, but not when it's plugged in." The outcome is that I worked out how to get data from one resonator, but not both at the same time. That's a considerable improvement on nothing, so I was pretty happy. However, it limits my experiments. I've sent some emails for advice on whether we might be able to fix it at sea, but I'm reluctant to risk my one working resonator by messing with it too much. I'll carry on with what I've got for now.
Today was a better day because it included penguins. We went for a walk along the coastline and found a huge white isolated beach. Some way along it, small black and white figures were waddling from the sea, over the beach, up the grassy slope on the other side and along to a large patch of mud next to some sheep. It had never occurred to me that I'd ever see sheep and penguins in the same place. It looks quite a lot like Dartmoor round here, except that it's got ocean and penguins. We could have watched them for hours, and if you were judging by the number of photos that we took, you'd probably think that we had.
We got back to the ship to find everyone else pretty much settled in. A few people had made a last trip into Stanley to top up their supplies of chocolate, and the rest were checking their gear. We sail tomorrow morning, and everything must be strapped down by then. It's amazing how anything left loose will find its way on to the floor and will often set off down the corridor, even in calm weather.
The weather forecast is for steady winds tomorrow, an easy start to the trip. It's still and calm now. I'm eager to get going after all this preparation. Tomorrow will be an exciting day.