Friday, April 5, 2019

Setting sail - by Giuliana V.

View of Cape Town from the TGT, with Devil's Peak (left), Table Top Mountain (middle) and Lion's Head Mountain (right). Ph. by Isa Rosso

Pilot boat leaving (ph. by Isa Rosso)
It's just about 4 pm on April 5, which means the R/V Thomas G. Thompson has officially been underway for a full 48 hours. Over the last two days, we have left the beautiful Cape Town skyline behind, ventured out along the southwestern coast of Africa, and found ourselves caught amongst 4-5 m waves as we rode out the remnants of the most recent Antarctic squall. 

The seas were almost glassy as we left Cape Town harbor two days ago.  As the pilot's boat pulled away, we had the odd realization that he was the last new face any of us would see for nearly six weeks (a pilot is an experienced sailor, often a retired captain, who knows the harbor like the back of their hand and steers other ships safely into and out of it).
Our ship track gave us beautiful vistas of Table Mountain, the 12 Apostles, and the Cape of Good Hope as we began to make our way south. 

Giuliana (Caltech) and Max (Caltech) enjoying the last view of the South African coast (ph. by Isa Rosso)
Those of us who stayed on deck as we left were even rewarded with our first wildlife sighting of the trip — spouting whales, far in the distance.  The rugged coastline made for a beautiful backdrop for the first of many marvelous sunsets to come. 
Beautiful sunset (ph. by Isa Rosso)

However, the smooth seas belied what lay ahead, and by the time of our fire drill yesterday morning, the swell was large enough that the call came over the PA to secure the deck (that is, stay inside) due to dangerous weather.  Slowly but surely, my shipmates began to drop back to their cabins as seasickness overcame them, and our meals because conspicuously more and more poorly attended as the day went on. The ship was eerily quiet throughout the day and those few people that I did see moving about were like bouncing like pinballs off the walls of the ship.

Relief came accompanied by bad news: one of the engine pumps on board the ship has failed, forcing us to make our way back towards Cape Town to await a spare part from Seattle. This means undoing the last day's worth of southward progress and a delay in starting our science.  

Bonding time (ph. by Isa Rosso)
On the bright side, the seas have calmed considerably and even the most seasick among us has resurfaced today. Pristine blue skies and relatively still waters meant that many of us have spent hours so far today lounging in the sun on the back deck — playing guitar, reading, or just soaking in the warmest weather we are likely to see for the next month and a half.


  1. What a nice piece of writing. Wish i were there. BGDGBWHF

  2. Beautiful words and photographs - thank you!

  3. Making the best of it - good for you! Hope the part arrives soon , the science goes well and the time passes quickly.

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