Thursday, 2 January 2003
Today we all set our clocks back 1 hour, and are now on Dumont d'Urville time. Tomorrow morning we will arrive at Dumont d'Urville, and the sea leg of our journey will be over.
Once a day while on the ship we've been sending off our email via Iridium and checking that the outside world hasn't disappeared. A typical email session goes like this:
1. Climb stairs to bridge and plug antenna into Iridium phone, and plug phone into Ding-dong.
2. Observe French captain edging closer. He has learnt that these email sessions are an excellent opportunity for him to update his knowledge of contemporary Australian expletives.
3. Switch on the phone and Ding-dong. Ding-dong freezes on start-up, as it is wont to do. Restart Ding-dong. The phone reports that it can see satellites all over the place and is receiving strong signals. Ding-dong starts properly on the second attempt.
2. Launch "Outlook" (an email program) and then the "Apollo Iridium phone controller". The phone makes contact with the world and confidently announces "You are connected". We close our eyes and see dollar notes leaving our wallets, like a flock of homing pigeons released from a coop, heading across the world to the Iridium company's bank vaults.
3. Attempt to send message. Ding-dong tells me I do not actually have the modem driver installed that I am trying to use.
4. Remember I have to launch Apollo and *then* Outlook. Switch off Ding-dong, and start again. Ding-dong comes up with a blue screen explaining that my IRQL is greater than or less than it should be. Restart Ding-dong. Decline thoughtful offer presented by Ding-dong to send an error report to Microsoft.
5. Eventually get message underway to UNSW. Halfway through sending, the phone drops its bundle while switching from one satellite to the next and has to redial. For some reason this is unsuccessful, even though the phone says it can now see more satellites than you could poke a stick at. Tell phone to forget it and log out.
6. Phone refuses to reconnect to satellites. Remind phone that the Iridium satellites cost a couple of billion to put into orbit and that they're not just up there to look pretty. Phone stops sulking and reconnects.
7. Try to send message, only to be told again that my modem driver doesn't exist. Threaten Ding-dong with watery grave. Ding-dong suddenly remembers where it put modem driver and hastily connects to phone.
8. Outlook says message is "100% sent", but experience shows that this is pure bluff. In fact, the Iridium display of "bytes sent" is still ticking over like an arthritic taxi meter.
9. Close eyes and try not to think of dollar bills or homing pigeons. Eventually email message disappears from Outlook "outbox". This means message really has been sent.
10. Log off Iridium connection and imagine slamming door of pigeon coop shut.
11. Switch everything off. Wonder whether Shackelton ever had to put up with this kind of stuff.
This afternoon the sea was reasonably calm. However it was very foggy, with a visibility of only a couple of hundred metres. The captain has turned on the radar, which will help us avoid clobbering an iceberg and "doing a Titanic". We've already seen a nice big one (1 km x 1.2 km) on the sea radar, but it was 4 nautical miles away and lost in the fog.
Tony and Jon spent some time with Vanessa interviewing various members of the crew and some of the other scientists. They probably have enough material for several documentaries now, and for some absolutely cracker episodes of "Totally Wild". They were also kind enough to get some French and Italian interviews for me. I hope to use these in a multimedia multilingual blockbuster I'm going to produce.
The Italian interview was with Barbara, the sole Italian speaker on board. Barbara hails from the University of Siena, and is doing a PhD on fish larvae. Barbara has the best job of all. Once the l'Astrolabe has unloaded the UNSW team and all the other unnecessary things at Dumont D'Urville, the ship will cruise up and down the coast for two weeks. Barbara will trail a net, catching little creatures which she'll pop into a bottle for later analysis. Barbara seems to be unaware of
the basic scientific fact that astronomers are supposed to have more fun than anyone else.
Once the l'Astrolabe has finished its coastal cruise it will return to Hobart, taking back Emilie, Emmanuelle, Andrew, Stephanie and Vanessa. Barbara will hang about in Dumont d'Urville catching fish from a little boat until the l'Astrolabe returns once more, then go back to Hobart on the same return trip as Tony and Jon.
This afternoon's highlight for the UNSW team was a guided tour of the engine room. (Readers who find ships' engines boring, or just plain too big, might like to skip this bit.) It turns out that most of the bottom half of the ship is full of engines (the rest of it is fuel - 640 cubic metres of it). There are two main engines, each of which drives its own variable-pitch propeller. The engines are 8-cylinder in-line turbocharged diesels, with four valves per cylinder. Power output of each one is 2750 kW at 900 rpm. The engines use a glycol cooling loop with a heat exchanger to sea water. Once we arrive at DdU and stop the engines, the coolant loop will be heated to keep the engines at 60C. Starting is by compressed air. The air compressors are electrically powered and there is a separate emergency backup compressor in the event that all the electrics fail.
Electrical power for the ship comes from three separate 300 kW Caterpillar diesel/alternator sets. Normally only one of these is running, as a typical electrical load is only 100 kW when cruising. However, when the 370 kW bow thrusters are used they need at least one of the others up and running.
Fresh water comes from two evaporators. Only one is being used at present, and we are using about 5 cubic metres per day.
The l'Astrolabe was built in Scotland in 1986 as an Arctic supply vessel. Two years later she was refitted for her present role. Her bow is 30 mm thick steel plate, while the rest of the hull is 20 mm thick. She can break through ice up to about 60 cm thick. At 85% power we are cruising at 12 knots. That doesn't seem terribly fast and indeed it is not; however we will get there in the end.
Tonight we had our last dinner aboard. Tomorrow - Dumont d'Urville!