This morning three researchers from Rhodes University and I drove down to Port Elizabeth where we boarded the Algoa – our home for the next month. The ship is just over 53 meters long and holds 12 scientists and 23 crew members. It is designated as a marine and coastal research vessel, and is thus fully equipped with both a wet lab and a dry lab, a computer station, along with several other facilities for various projects.
Because I have never been on a boat of this scale before I don’t really know how my first impressions compare with those of people who are used to spending their days at sea, but I must say that claustrophobic people would not have a good time on a ship. Every hallway is short and thin and one walks down several flights of stairs just to get to the cabins. And everything is made of steel so one must be very careful when walking through the four foot high hallways not to hit their head! Once we boarded and walked down to our rooms, I was a bit overwhelmed by the tininess of everything and I felt a brief wave of nausea hit me, almost like my body was making me sea sick before we even went out to sea! But after going through the boat a number of times as we loaded our stuff I began to get used to the tight spaces and now I’m completely comfortable with the ship. This is a good sign as I didn’t want to be the one throwing up over the side the entire time we were out at sea. We are currently docked in the harbor scheduled to head out at 7am, and although we are sheltered from the brunt of the waves, the rocking of the boat is still very noticeable when one is sitting still. I can only imagine what it is going to be like once we’ve left the calm harbor, but in a way I’m kind of excited to head out to the rough waters along the coast. At least I say that now while we’re still stationary and close to land…
Our course will take us from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town – a distance of about 700km – in just over 26 days. There are several research projects going on (with 12 researchers on board) including one on sea birds, another studying whales, and one on general oceanography, but I will mainly be helping out with three projects that are being carried out by Rhodes post-docs here on the boat. The first is looking at suspended particulate matter (SPM) along transects and at different depths, another is looking at the distribution of mussel larvae throughout the coastline, and the third is measuring the abundance and structure of the microbial communities in the bay areas.
Although we have yet to start collecting samples and gathering data, I have already been told that the work is quite difficult, especially in rough seas. The shifts are from 12pm-12am so the hours are a bit odd and my sleep schedule might be thrown off for the next month, but nevertheless I am still very excited to head out and start with the research. The crew seems very nice and most of the scientists on board have already been on several research cruises so I am the newby here, but eager to learn how things on a boat are operated and what life is like out at sea. Should be quite an adventure! Oh and apparently they feed us like mad because we are working such long hard hours, so maybe the ocean is where I was meant to be all along!