Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Day 37: I can'ey do-it cap'n I've only got the power of 8,000 homes

One station from the end of the line, as we drank the last dregs of well mixed tracer blob from the Argentine Basin, the weather hits us. Winds over 50 knots. A growing sea. Foaming and mountainous. We can no longer drop CTDs. We could wait, bobbing and battered where we are. Better we make use of the time as the storm hits to begin the long steam home. We make a meager 5 knots into the wind. Walls of water crash over the bow. The ship goes from random walk generator to Martini shaker. Sleeping is boarder-line...if your bed has a boarder...if not...hold on.

Photo: It is fun to be in the bar and notice the windows being cleaned from the outside...and the inside if you don't hold onto your drink.

When a ship like this is in tough seas or trapped in thick ice, needless to say, it needs a lot of power. Yesterday the ship's third engineer, Mango (haven't figured out why he's called mango yet) took us on a tour of the ship's inner workings. It is difficult to imagine what lurks beneath. All we usually see are men popping up and down staircases and ladders wearing grease stained boiler suits. Are they greasing shackles? Shovelling coal?

Photo: Mango doing his best Mickey mouse impression.

The tour begins in the control centre. It feels and looks like a 1960's version of the future. Flashing lights, colour screens, countless dials and of course...red buttons! There are large machines down here, very large. Just the rudder has 4 motors powering it's movement. The propeller shaft spins at the rear of the boat and is as thick as a large tree trunk. There are desalination chambers for our drinking water, and everything is powered by 4 huge engines, two 3 Megawatt and one 1 Megawatt, 8 Megawatts in total. Wondering what a Megawatt is? The former president of Indonesia? 1 Megawatt is enough to power about 1000 American homes. So the force we need to move through ice and keep us alive (and quite comfortable) could sustain a small town.

Photo: See, told you!

It is fascinating how much of the ship has been modified for science. Water and air are transported in oversized pipes to prevent vibration. Parts in contact with the sea are designed so that oil and water come in rather than out to prevent contamination. Special power supply to prevent surges and static. The ship has huge compressors for seismic surveys. These send out a shock and the reflection tells us about the sea bed and the earth below it. They used to do it with dynamite but Mango says they never let him play with them.

If all goes well we'll get to within day a day of Stanley on the 25th. We will then squeeze in a few more CTDs near the South American Continental Shelf. There's got to be some tracer in them there waters!


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