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24hrs in the life of a science party watch keeper

Whilst there is lots of incredible science going on around me 24hrs a day, it’s not all work here aboard the James Cook. Before I joined this cruise, I had no idea what to expect from my time and so I thought I’d use this post to dispel some of the misconceptions about research cruises and give you my best possible guided tour of the ship.

11am – My days have a particularly late start, no such thing as 9-5 office hours for the science party. I am on the 12-4 shift and have adapted to something of a nocturnal lifestyle. I wake up and venture to the galley for breakfast. Whilst everyone else is tucking into big hot dishes, I stick to my cereal and fruit for breakfast.

Midday – I head down to the main lab where I’ll be on watch for the next 4hrs. Depending on what part of the survey we’re at the main tasks might vary. At the moment we are recovering OBS from the second survey line. Once the technicians have had successful communications with the OBS and they’re released we have a pretty accurate estimated time that they will rise to the surface. 10 minutes or so before the surface ETA I head up to the bridge to be ready and waiting for when the instrument pops up. There is a very competitive league going on at the moment for who can spot the OBS first, but seemingly no one can keep up with eagle-eyes Tim!

No matter what is going on with the seismic acquisition, there is a 16 screen set up where we are regularly monitoring the acoustic instruments as well as the gravimeter and magnetometer. Acoustic profiling is looking to map out the topography of the sea floor and when going across some parts of this system, for instance, the ridges, the water depth can change quite substantially, so it’s important to check the instruments are measuring in a suitable depth range.

All the instruments and monitors we need to keep an eye on during watch.

4pm – My shift is over for the afternoon so it’s time to soak up the last of the sunshine and head outside. The front deck is free reign during the day time and crew are often spotted taking a quick shut eye in the resident hammock on board, during rest hours.

5:30pm – Every evening there is a huge buffet style dinner, prepared by Head Chef, Darren, and his team. 3 courses, side salads, the works! He’s also very good at catering for the vegetarians amongst us, as I get a specially prepared veggie main every day! After 4 and a half weeks of three course dinners, cooked for me, and dishes cleaned for me – going back home is going to be a shock to the system!

6pm – The galley often decants into the bar next door after dinner is over. There is a strict two beer maximum daily on board, and as many people still have a night shift ahead of them a can of coke and a packet of crisps is often the order of the day. Today I’m feeling particularly productive so I take myself off for an hour or so to put some of the blog together and work on my poster for my MSci project at university.

7pm – Trivial pursuit: a favourite pastime for many of the crew in the evenings. The question cards are from the early 1980s and so many of us born in the mid-90s tend to spend much of the game baffled by the questions, but all the same I’ve learned a lot of pub-quiz knowledge on this cruise!

9pm – Time to hit the gym. With no weekends, being awake strange hours in the day, and having access to a whole array of snacks in between meals it can be easy to get complacent and spend a lot of time napping between shifts. I head to the gym every day, and at this time I’m normally on my own so I can put whatever I want on the sound system. The gym is equipped with a treadmill, exercise bike, rowing machine and weights. Safe to say the added challenge of the pitch and roll of a ship makes the treadmill an interesting experience and nothing faster than a 5 minute kilometre is advised!

The gym and sauna on board.

10:30pm – I’ve got an hour and a half until I’m back on shift again. Fortunately, on the mezzanine deck there is a cinema room with surround sound and more DVDs than I have ever seen. Starting to feel sleepy and as the ship seems eerily quiet, I opt for another mid-noughties rom-com that requires minimal brain power, and sip away at my coffee to stay awake until next shift.

Midnight – I’m back on shift for the next 4hrs. Shortly before starting I’ll take a mish-mash meal of fruit and toast in the galley along with other technicians and deck crew who are also preparing to start their night shifts. Although the sleeping pattern was hard to overcome to start with, I have grown to love the nightshifts. You feel like part of a funny little club who are still ticking away working at 3am and the deck crew and officers never seem to run out of great stories from previous cruises. The night time shift is quite quiet whilst we are recovering OBS as they take approximately 2 hours to rise to the sea surface, so this is a good time to catch up on some work for university.

4am – Bed time at last! Just as a whole new batch of crew start their early morning shifts it’s time for me to hit the hay. As much as we like to keep to schedule, I have no idea what lies ahead in my shift tomorrow morning but that’s half the adventure really!

My home for the 34 days out of dock! Not uncommon to see OBS floating outside window during recovery as the starboard deck is just above my room.