Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The Perils of Deep Sea Sewing

Net-gate has at last come to an end. Have I explained about this? The captain let people know, in a deeply callous fashion, that I can sew. So one of the science crew sidled up to me and asked out of the corner of his mouth if it was true that I had a sewing machine. I'm afraid I walked right into it and let myself down. I said yes, fixed him with a beady eye and said "But no-one gets to use it other than me." Fatal, foolish words.

I was asked if I would mind, just a teensy favour, altering a net for them. Like a chump I said that would be fine. And then they expounded on the joys of the project. The nets look like a cone that's had the tip lopped off. They wanted me to reduce the length of the cone whilst keeping the circumference at the bottom and the top the same. Maths GCSE had nothing on this- the only possible way to do it is to increase the gradient of the cone. After looking at the fabric of the nets- like a really fine version of the mesh used in plastic tea strainers- I realised that there was no way that my little sewing machine was going to cope. Sea water would rot any cotton thread used, so the whole thing would have to be sewn by hand with fishing line as my thread. I snapped two needles and bent innumerable pins whilst torturing my poor fingertips. Eventually I realised that the best way to pull the needle through the fabric was using artery forceps (there's an unexpected use for them) and that wearing latex gloves meant that the latex got shredded and stabbed instead of my fingers.
The nets- my one is the one on the right!

My wonderful stitching- the green fishing line

More of my stitching!

We trialled it today and not only does it fit on the frame but the scientists also successfully went fishing with it! I am so intensely relieved. The scientists were deeply excited because they’ve hauled up some tiny wee beasties including our first krill. I think they were also relieved that they didn’t have to witness the spectacle of the doctor becoming apoplectic with rage as the net failed to fit or fell apart on the first trial!
Leopold the Happy Krill

Fishing operations off the back of the JCR

We’ve been doing swath work over the last few nights. Swath work means using an echosounder to map features of the ocean floor. This would be a very laudable notion were it not for the fact that we sailed into bad weather in order to do it! I woke up at 2.30 as the ship gave a tremendous heave and a groan before attempting to fling me out of bed. Foiled in this attempt by the presence of my sea survival suit propping up the mattress, the JCR settled for flinging the contents of my cabin about. Eventually I took everything off the shelves and put it on the floor, reasoning that whilst it might slide about, at least I wouldn't get hit in the face by a ballistic camera tripod. So my cabin looks like a bomb hit it and I am frankly exhausted. I read in my bunk from 2.30-4.00 because it was simply pointless trying to sleep. We were doing 15 degree rolls to each side- which adds up to a glorious 30 degrees of sway!

In a slightly tetchy frame of mind therefore, I inquired of our geologists what exactly we were looking at on the ocean floor. (Add expletives to taste.) And it was really rather exciting. Apparently back in pre-sonar days, ships used to map the ocean floor (because beaching your vessel is always embarrassing) using weights lowered down to the ocean floor on bits of wire. Now, this was very good in terms of a broad-brush strokes picture of the ocean floor and avoiding the aforementioned beaching scenario but didn’t really allow for much of an understanding of what was going on down there.

 Echolocation solved that problem. This device works in exactly the same way as an ultrasound probe does; beams of sound waves are directed out into the surroundings. When the sound waves hit something that has a different density –like the ocean floor (or a foetus if you’re looking at pregnant ladies)- then the waves bounce back and are picked up by the receivers on the ship. Because we can direct our beams from several angles- we get a complete picture of what the ocean floor looks like. A lot of this work is done nowadays by radar from satellites- but the satellites are a bit too far away to provide the fine detail needed for our geologists.

The geologists are curious about bits of continental crust that have ended up in the middle of the ocean floor. They wonder if perhaps these bits of continental crust represent parts of South America that peeled off in ages past and went off in a huff to sit in the middle of the Atlantic and Southern Oceans- forming islands like South Georgia for example. So the swathe work is vital to find these hills on the ocean floor. The geologists can then dredge up rocks from these lost bits of continental crust and determine if they actually match something in South America. If they do...then geologically speaking South Georgia may be a very far flung out posting of South America!

Regrettably our circuits classes have come to an end. The main hold is now stuffed full of things to be delivered to Rothera and there’s no floor space for the mats. I’ve been driven down into the science hold to do anything that requires mat work (I avoid the gym like the plague now). I’m using a TRX-type trainer which is fairly entertaining- the device consists of two long straps of alterable length that are suspended from the deck head (ceiling to everyone else). Using them is supposed to add instability into the workout with the idea that it really focuses on your core. Allow me to assure you that it does! Half of the exercises, I can barely do. Although I’m putting that down to the brisk motion of the ship and not the vast number of pastries that seem to be mugging my taste buds and forcing their way into my digestive tract.
The science hold and my gym. I skip in this space which is fun when the ship rolls.

 I’m also skipping in the hold. I’m slowly but surely getting better at this. Sometimes a whole 20 seconds can pass without whipping myself so hard in the back of the head that I see stars and seriously wonder if we need to divert the ship. The reason for this sudden fitness enthusiasm is that in a moment of naivety (read: stupidity) I said to my other half that he can pick the holiday when we get back to the UK. Why did I do this to myself? I have a horrible feeling that he'll pick something excessively active! And so instead of degenerating into comfortable sloth and size 24 trousers with a gleeful smile, I’m going to have to exercise so that I don’t die when I get home.

Anyhow, enough of my slightly manic caffeine fuelled maunderings. Have a lovely day my cherubim!


  1. the reality of shipboard life down south. Pity you didn't have any Monopoly thread with you - that might have saved your fingers.

    1. What's monopoly thread? I love the idea of anything that might save my fingers! Merry Christmas Helen from Hobart!

  2. Having just discovered this blog, it's been a joy to read. I'm not surprised you're up to exciting things. Loved the history lesson a few posts back. (Julia, whose wedding make up you did)

    1. Hey Julia! Great to hear from you- how are things with you and JP? What are you guys up to these days? Glad that you're enjoying the blog- I'm having so much fun writing it and taking the pictures for it. Hx