January 15, 2010

Days of Rage on the High Seas

Well, well. I guess we left the Roaring Forties only to be thrown into the Screeching Fifties. The first storm was just a mild blow compared to what we have just gone through—a fierce ocean that lasted a day and a half. While the first little tempest gave us 15-foot waves, this last one gave us storm-force 60-knot winds and monster white caps that rose 35 feet—higher than the bow of the ship.

Of course, before the waves got too large, I had to walk up the bow between the largest waves and ride the ship as if it were Titanic (without going into the little perch of course). It is up here that all the noises of the ship virtually disappear and one can only hear the sound of nature in all of her power and glory. Being all the way at the front of the ship allowed me to become completely enveloped by the scene around me.

Rough seas (Christina Riesselman / IODP)

Rough seas (Christina Riesselman / IODP)

It was as if I were standing on a perch, gliding above the sea, peering out at an outrageous scene. As I gazed out onto the Southern Ocean, the sea was transformed into a living, raging being that could easily consume me at will.  Winds that nearly blew me over more than once, thrusted up the seas into twisting mounds of water, shearing off the tops of the waves. These mountains of water rushing toward the ship  materialized from thin air, sometimes seeming to rise nearly as high as the bridge deck.

There was majesty in the ocean’s power, but in time the waves got so large and the winds so fierce that I had to retreat further back from the front. From there, I was able to continue to watch from a safe, relatively comfortable place. I may be adventurous, but I am also a careful and so stood back, with the only threat to me the river of water that came rushing down from the bow down the gangway like a little tsunami (mind you it was only about 6 inches high). But definitely high enough to make me jump up to higher ground. And as the waves crashed against the bow, it would often lift the anchor away from the ship, only to have it crash against the hull with a huge CLANG. My berth is fairly close to the anchor and so there were times that I would be suddenly jarred awake.

The captain ultimately decided to stop heading south (into the storm) and slowed the ship to the point that it was barely moving. We actually started to go in a west or even northwest direction to steer the ship directly into the waves—better than going south and having the waves broadside us. The result was that things that were even tied down with bungee cords started falling and sliding. The sound of crashing glass and such in the labs caused some alarm because the storm was forecast to have started to die down today and there is a lot of expensive equipment and chemicals there.

Within the ship, while the hull is thick, the fury outside made the ship rise up during a wave and then crash down into the sea, creating a loud thumping sound, as if the ship were doing a belly flop on the sea.
The JR website (with lots of up-to-date stuff from the ship)
About IODP and Expedition 318
Expedition 318 Daily Science Reports