10 januari 2019

Entering the cyclone season

As soon as we cheered upon 2019, the weather changed. Up until now, we had sunny days, gentle waves and warm, humid nights. But here we are in the middle of the cyclone season. Did you know that a cyclone, a hurricane and a typhoon are the exact same phenomenon? Depending on the ocean in which the swirling clouds and thunderstorms form, it is called a cyclone, hurricane or typhoon. In the North Atlantic and central-eastern North Pacific they are known as hurricanes, in the western North Pacific they are called typhoons and in the Indian and South-West Pacific Oceans, where we are sailing now on the RV Sonne, we are dealing with tropical cyclones. 

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Waves crash into the bow. © Philipp Brandl

Irrespective of the names of these storms, vessels and ships are prepared to encounter bad weather. The very first research vessels were converted, sturdy ships, holding scientific equipment for data acquisition, that could tackle bad weather. These very first vessels traveled around the world in the 18th century rather for exploration than for research, but nevertheless with a different aim than warfare or fishing. The most famous one was perhaps the HMS Endeavour, a vessel from the British Royal Navy that James Cook used to track the path of the planet Venus across the Sun. On their way to the Pacific Ocean they encountered some extremely bad weather and strong currents around Cape Horn, but the ship lasted and they made it, as second European ship, to New Zealand.

Arctic scientists would try to hitch a sail on whaling vessels that were headed north

In the 19th century there was a rush to explore the poles of our planet. These ice-covered parts were dangerous and treacherous and rather unexplored. One of the first vessels to collect data in the Arctic ocean was the Swedish Sofia, that set sail for temperature measurements and oceanographic observations around Svalbard. These vessels used for research were all converted ships. Scientists would try for example to hitch a sail on whaling vessels that were headed north. The Germania was such a ship, which in 1868 was used for the Second German North Polar expedition together with the Hansa. These expeditions were not without risk as the Hansa was crushed by the ice and didn’t make it back to Germany. On the other pole the former whale catcher Belgica was transformed into a research vessel with laboratories for biological and physical research. It was the first vessel ever that overwintered in Antarctica. Today, research vessels may still be converted ships, like the old RV Sonne. Build as a fishing trawler in 1969, she was converted to a research vessel in 1977. Nowadays she sails around the world under Argentinian flag as the ARA Austral.

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The water drained working deck with the airgun floats being prepared for the next deployment. © Philipp Brandl

Up until today, sailing remains an adventurous business. Just a few days ago our AUV team found a sunken vessel, with a similar size as the RV Sonne. We’re still speculating about its origin and reason for disaster. So storms come and go, sometimes unexpectedly. On the new RV Sonne we are in good hands. The captain, chief mate and officers know all about the route and weather conditions, the engineers are very knowledgeable and ensure that the engine is always running smoothly, the boatswain and his men make sure the ship is in good condition, the electricians and technicians take care of the power, if people get injured, the ship-doctor will take care of you and then there are of course the stewards and the cooks who make the most delicious food, even after weeks onboard. I would say we are ready for the cyclone season, the grey clouds and the shaky waves. If it really gets too rough, we can always run and hide behind one of these cute little islands in the Pacific that James Cook sailed by some 350 years ago.

This blog post was published as In the eye of the storm at the cruise's website on 7 January 2019.

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