Antarctic Astronomy Diaries 2002/03

   

   
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Monday, December 30, 2002

New Year's Eve

Tuesday, 31 December 2002

During the night it became considerably rougher. Just after breakfast the captain changed course to put the ship parallel to the swell, in order to reduce the pitching. This allowed one of the crew to install steel covers on the outside of the windows at the corners of the bridge. Although the bridge is some 8 metres or so above the water line, apparently there is some concern about large waves breaking the windows.

Jon and I stood in the bridge and watched the waves break across the bow, and tried to get some good photos. However it proved difficult to get a good shot through the window, and so we went out onto the landing beside the bridge. No sooner did we get outside and the ship dived head-first into a 7-sigma wave, dumping a couple on tonnes of sea water over us. Drenched to the skin we hurriedly retreated back inside - much to the amusement of the captain. We headed down into the bowels of the ship, leaving a soggy trail behind us, to see if it has a washing machine and drier (fortunately it does).

However, this disaster pales into insignificance compared to Tony's head injury, sustained in the line of duty as apprentice cameraman for "Totally Wild". It appears that Tony head-butted a steel staircase. It's not difficult to do if walking around the ship while it's rolling - especially if you're Tony's height. The ship's doctor has put Tony's head back together with sticky strips and there should not be any lasting effects, although he may have a fashionable scar on his forehead
that will become a good conversation-starter at parties.

After lunch I went down to the "Carbon Lab", which is a container in the hold of the ship fitted out as a chemical analysis laboratory. It is surprisingly like the AASTINO inside, although it does have the advantage of not being full of fuel tanks and engines. While the ship is travelling along, the Carbon Lab sucks in sea water and fresh air, then analyses both for carbon dioxide and other things. The water is filtered and various little creatures like plankton extracted and counted. My room-mate Andrew and two French PhD students (Emilie and Emmanuelle) are in charge of keeping the whole thing running. They've come down on this voyage, will cruise up and down the coast of Antarctica for two weeks, then go back to Hobart. Not a bad life, really.

Life on the ship has settled down to eating meals, wandering around, or sitting in either the bridge or the lounge. In the lounge are a TV and video, plus an extensive collection of video tapes (almost all in French). Those that are in English are the usual unwatchable Hollywood trash. Most folk are also spending a lot of time asleep, partly a side effect of the anti-nausea tablets and patches, and partly because the rolling of the ship is so soporific.

It's now New Year's Eve. Naturally a celebration is order, so we started with pre-dinner drinks (mainly fruit punch) and nibbles in the lounge, then proceeded to an impressive dinner of half lobster, magret de canard (duck cooked in goose fat, with an apple and mushroom sauce) and buche de Noel (log cake), washed down with a rather good Ninth Island pinot noir and Janz bubbly. We were even able to negotiate a main course "sans champignons" for Jon.

We were already feeling totally contented when we wandered out onto the deck after dinner. The conditions there were quite magical. The wind had disappeared and the sea was completely calm, save for a gentle rolling swell. With the sun dipping low towards the horizon, the sea was bathed in a golden glow. The boat swayed lazily as the undulating sea caught the last rays of the sun. It was as if we were all on a gigantic water bed.

The remaining couple of hours to midnight were enjoyed watching "Le Cerveau" ("The Brain"), a sixties French comedy notable for the fact that it's hilarious even if you don't understand a word of it. The captain had invited us all to see the new year in from the bridge, so with a few minutes to go we headed upstairs. The sun had set but was only a few degrees below the horizon, lighting up the sky ahead of the ship in a mystical twilight. The bridge itself was bathed an eerie glow from the instruments and the green radar screen. At exactly midnight (according to the previously mentioned very snazzy GPS), the captain sounded a couple of long blasts on the ship's horn (to hell with the neighbours!) and cracked the champagne. In burst several of the ship's crew wearing tinsel wreaths and wrapped in heets as roman-style togas.

Someone put on some disco music. However it was soon realised that no reasonable person actually likes disco music, and so the disco party was rather short-lived. Some Latin music followed, inspiring people to form a crocodile chain that headed out of the bridge, around the forward deck, and back to bridge again, giving the ship's bell a good thumping on the way past.

Right on cue, at about 15 minutes into the new year, the sky lit up with a ghostly green aurora extending from almost the zenith to the western horizon. It could not have been better. If New Year's Eve was anything to go by, this will be a great 2003.

And a Happy New Year to all our readers!

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