Learning to Become Ship-Shape: An Explanation in Photographs

By Imbi Simpson, University of Tasmania

For many of us this is our first long voyage at sea, and our first time aboard a research vessel. After arriving onboard on Sunday afternoon, and spending a pleasant and rather relaxed evening, unpacking and getting settled in on the ship, we ventured off on Monday morning. We woke early hoping to hear the sounds of the ship’s emergency siren, but not because we wish to sink in the Derwent River before we have left, but because it is a sign of our time starting on the ship, and one of the many safety inductions we would have ahead of us.

Sunset over the city of Hobart, Tasmania as viewed from RV Investigator parked at the CSIRO wharf the night before the ship departed for the CAPSTAN 2019 voyage with 18 students for 10 days of hands-on marine science training.
The last sunset in Hobart before we depart for our adventure!

One of the many things on the ship that we all had to get used to, now that we are on board, is finding our way around! The doors, passageways and staircases all begin to look the same, and it can be rather easy to get lost! One area that people always know the location of is the dining mess area, (but this could just be because of the amazing food and ice-cream fridge!) and the lounge area, which is always nice to relax in when there is some downtime. We have currently started our 12-hour shift rotations, where half of the student cohort is working from 2am-2pm, and the other half 2pm-2am. For some it was a great shock to the body clock, and for others it fitted in well with the poor sleep patterns of young academics!

A serving table in the mess of the RV Investigator after dinner has a fruit bowl, some nuts, and chocolate eclairs with a selection of cereal below.
Some of the food options on board the ship!

We sometimes still get a bit lost on our way to the labs, but we sure won’t in the next few days!  We are currently on our way to our first station, or data collection point. Until we reach this point we are having safety demonstrations, tours around the ship and labs, and starting our shifts. Once we arrive onsite at 700 am, data collection will begin, and not only will the labs become full with rich data to observe and understand, but also our brains will become very full from the next 24-48 hours of data heavy work!

Black and white image of the view from one of the outer decks of the RV Investigator including a life raft and an outside staircase taken on a cloudy day on the Great Australian Bight during the 2019 CAPSTAN student marine science training voyage.
The ship has beauty hidden in secret places.

In trying to get a hang of my sea legs, I’ve been exploring the ship trying to find the lesser known areas (that aren’t off limits!) and discover more of what is onboard. Although we haven’t been able to view land for a large majority of the time we have been at sea, it hasn’t been a scary or isolating feeling. This could be due to the ship being approximately 100 metres long and feeling like its own city out on the sea.

Indoor staircase leading from the bridge up to Monkey Island, the observational deck on RV Investigator is lit by red lights as to not interfere with night vision.
Favourite place at night: the spooky stairs to Monkey Island.

From the moment we left Hobart, the ship has been collecting bathymetry data and mapping the seafloor, which is very exciting as only 5% of the total seafloor has been mapped!

CAPSTAN students and trainers gather in front of the large tv screen in one of the lounges on RV Investigator for a presentation on the kasten core before over-the-side operations began.
Informational meeting about the Kasten core with trainers prior to the safety ‘toolbox’ with the ship’s crew

As the sun rose on Wednesday morning, it was the beginning of an exciting day ahead (and a sleep in for some), as it was day one of two of operations. Operation days are the times in which we deploy equipment into the ocean. This equipment includes:

  • CTD (a device that measures conductivity, temperature and depth of the ocean, as well as collecting seawater samples)
  • Kasten core (collecting cores of sediment samples)
  • Bongo Nets (collecting plankton at shallow depths over the side of the ship)
  • Smith Mac grab (a mouse trap-like device that collects sediment from the sea floor)
Decorated styrofoam cups - on the left a full sized cup with an Ode to Drake's "In my Feelings" with "In my Sediments" written on the side.  On the right, 6 shrunken decorated cups (each about the size of a shot glass) in stacks next to a coffee mug for scale
Styrofoam cups: A full-size cup decorated as an Ode to Drake’s “In my feelings” (left) and a demonstration of the power of pressure with the shrunken cups next to a coffee cup for scale (right)

Before getting to station and while we have been acclimatising to ship life, we have been decorating Styrofoam cups to send down with the CTD, so we can have a hard analogue of the amount of pressure in the ocean. The cups were placed in an onion bag and sent down at the first station, attached to the CTD. With a smile and a swipe of a sharpie, they were on their way to 1700 m below sea level.

The sedimentology laboratory on RV Investigator is full of people once the first kasten core is brought inside.  CAPSTAN trainers and students look on as the core is secured and opened as part on the on board marine science training.
First sediment core brought into the lab!

The rest of Wednesday was a packed day, where we had our first sediment core (from 1700 m) arrive into the lab, and analysis began! We took the time to carefully log the core, drawing and writing comments about what we saw in the mud/sediment before we began to sample it. Wednesday evening lead into the deployment of the Smith Mac grab, just as the sun was setting over the sea, and seals were millings around the ship. Before we knew it, the popcorn and beanbags were out to view the live stream video from the camera that was placed down into the ocean.

A cluster of crustaceans is visible in this screen shot of the live feed from the vertical drop camera lowered 500 m through the water column off the RV Investigator as part of CAPSTAN's at sea marine science training.
A live view of the ocean!

Ending the day in the operations lab, seeing the seafloor bathymetry progress, the promise of a new exciting day of science lies ahead!

Sunset over the ocean taken from the deck of RV Investigator
Beautiful sunset on Wednesday evening.

3 thoughts on “Learning to Become Ship-Shape: An Explanation in Photographs

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