Posted by: adorsk | January 22, 2009

Tasman Sea Transit

The Thompson left Hobart and began its transit across the Tasman sea to Lyttleton, New Zealand. For me the transit was a time to learn and adjust to a new ship. There was no science party on board and I had time to see how the ship worked underway.

Usually transits are quiet and regular. The ship follows a direct course at a steady speed. But sometimes things happen along the way that shake things up.

Adjustments

My transit began with minor adjustments, mostly from getting back to sea after being a shore for a month. The first few days there waves of 5-10 feet. Relatively speaking these were not large seas. They were just big enough to make the Thompson roll slightly. And to trip me up. The Thompson rolled and I bumped into walls. I had find my sea legs again.

Then there was my schedule. I had become nocturnal. I, C.S. (another tech), and R.H. (the lead tech) divided the day into two 12-hour shifts. I took the night shift from 22:00 to 10:00. It took me a few days to adjust as I tried to catch up on sleep.

The acoustics of my room didn’t help. My room sounded like an air force bombing range. Each time the ship encountered a wave there was a whooshing rumble, like the afterburner of a fighter jet. Then there would be a descending whistle, followed by a tremendous shaking crash as the ship rammed into the base of the next wave. The whole thing sounded something like “GrrrrrrrwwwooOOOSSSHHHH…SSSSSSHHLLLEWWWWW-**CHLMOMBBBSSSSSHHSRSC!!**”.

But I got used to it. This is something about going to sea that always amazes me: people can adapt to almost anything. I forgot about the rolling of the ship, I got used to having lunch at 1:30 in the morning, I learned to sleep through tactical air strikes. I adjusted.

The Thompson was starting to feel like a home. At work I was busy installing computers, developing a mental map of the Thompson’s systems. In my off-time I went up to the bow to play guitar or listen to NPR podcasts. I played around with my camera and started to see the details of the ship.

the Thompson from the stern

the Thompson from the stern

paint

paint

letter on the Thompson's small boat

letter on the Thompson's small boat

The sea was becoming familiar as well. The first few days of the transit had been consistent. Skies were mostly sunny with occasional ragged patches of clouds. The seas had been moderate. There were albatrosses and something I called ‘The Oreo Bird’ because of its black and white wings. The birds wheeled around the ship in the chilly Tasman breeze.

oreo birds

oreo birds

I reserve a certain awe for the albatrosses. They were fascinating to watch. From a distance they looked like a normal seagull. But then they would glide towards the ship and get bigger…and bigger. Too big, as if they followed different laws of perspective. These were expansive birds.

the albatross

the albatross

They were beautiful to watch fly. Sometimes they followed the contours of the waves. Other times they would slingshot back and forth behind the ship. They would coast up into the wind, make a long accelerating turn, and then whip back down as if shot from a cannon. They could glide forever. I watched them sometimes when they flew away from the ship. They would be out of sight before I ever saw a flap. I imagine that to be an albatross is to see wind, just as you or I would see a color or hear a sound. Remarkable birds.

Life inside the ship was no less fascinating. There are some amazing people who go to sea.

For example, there was RR the oiler who had traveled around Asia, who made ships-in-bottles, and could fix anything. Or the F the AB who told me about the night the ship was haunted by the ghost of a German sailor. Or T the cook who spoke Welsh and told raunchy jokes in her thick Scottish accent. If I pause to think of the sheer amount of story and skill on a single ship, it staggers me.

I was getting used to the Thompson, finding its rhythm and my own. The ship was making steady Eastern headway. I was busy putting in new computers. I felt like I had adjusted. And then the shake-up came.

The Shake-Up

On the fourth night of the transit the Thompson went into a gale. We knew it was coming but it still shook us up.

To me rough weather seems to appear suddenly. One minute things seem all right. If there is any weather I don’t notice it. But then it changes in a moment. A large roll makes me stumble, or my chair slides, or the door of a computer rack bangs open. With a single gesture the weather demands attention. It snaps its fingers and announces “I’m here!”. And then I realize that the weather has arrived.

The gale announced its arrival to me by knocking over a pencil holder. As I picked up rolling pens and pencils I suddenly heard the wind whistling outside, I felt it when a wave shook the ship. “It’s here”, I thought. I got ready for a long night.

There were sustained winds of 55 knots, with gusts up to 70. The mates on the bridge said waves were 30-40 feet. We had given up any pretensions of forward progress. We cut our engines back and prepared to ride it out.

The ship had become a laboratory for distraction. Professional tormentors, take note, straight from the ocean, here is how to inhibit all thought and focus:

Roughly every 7 minutes, do one of the following:

*tip over a chair loudly
*trip someone
*make cymbal crashing sounds (this one can be done every 30 seconds)
*make tables rattle

I got cranky. On some level I knew this was illogical. What good does it do to be angry at the sea? But I was not thinking logically that night. I wrote very little code.

Fortunately the gale only lasted for that night. By the morning the wind had died down and the sun returned. Seas were still a moderate 5-10 feet, but they seemed like ripples after the previous night.

It turned out that the storm delayed us by a day. This was not great, but it was not terrible. Things could have been worse.

We were fortunate to get calm weather for the rest of the transit. We steamed ahead for an uneventful two days and arrived just outside of Lyttleton harbor on the morning of the 27th.

Arriving at Lyttleton

New Zealand was an extreme place in many respects. This struck me as the Thompson approached Lyttleton. The clouds were extremely dark. The wind was extremely cold. The waves were extremely choppy.

approaching Lyttleton under dark skies

approaching Lyttleton under dark skies

But it was also extremely beautiful, and different. Lyttleton lay at the end of a long glacial fiord through ashy hills. The walls of the fiord were steep and crannied. Trees were sparse and patchy. The clouds hid everything beyond the hills.

a light near Lyttleton

a light near Lyttleton

A pilot boat led us into the harbor. The clouds were shifting and we could see more and more of the hills. Soon we were in sight of the harbor, and then we were at the dock.

the Lyttleton pilot boat

the Lyttleton pilot boat

the clouds shift

the clouds shift

the end of the fiord

the end of the fiord

Lyttleton in sight

Lyttleton in sight

chief mate J throws out a docking line

chief mate J throws out a docking line

Our transit was complete.

You can see all of my transit pictures here:
Tasman Sea Transit Pictures

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  1. […] Transit to New Zealand […]


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