North to South (6) Christmas and a Southern Right Whale


As I write, we are officially into the new year, Christmas was celebrated in
the traditional style of organised chaos. The day started off with waking up
to a 2m swell and realising that I had volunteered to make pancakes,
needless to say it was already a rather messy affair when the shout of
“WHALE!” came echoing down into the galley causing the whisk to be thrown in
 the sink and the galley was evacuated two steps at a time. We were greeted
by the sight of two beautiful rorqual whales surfing the swell just below
the surface, the clear water allowing us to see their pale flanks speeding
along beside us.

Christmas pancakes.

After pancakes for breakfast we spent the day with a slightly more relaxed
approach to the rota, everyone had their own little jobs to do in the making
of Christmas dinner and extraordinarily we managed to get a full vegetarian
roast out of the tiny little oven! Most of the praise has to go to Lynsey
who spent the morning organising the rabble (not an easy task) and slaving
away down in the galley as the boat rode the waves.



A flaming Christmas
pudding and Christmas crackers topped off the huge quantities of food
consumed that day. We entertained ourselves with a rather hilarious attempt
at playing carols on the whistles from the crackers, a rather competitive
girls vs boys pub quiz (girls won, obviously) as well as little Christmas
tattoos and the general hilarity of trying to do a traditional Christmas
while tilted at a 30 degree angle!

Charlie (beard) sporting his Christmas tattoo.

The next few days sort of passed in a post-Christmas haze and we had the
first in a series of turtle sightings, some we were able to identify as
loggerheads and some we have been unable to identify.
We had 2 days of glorious flat calm weather before New Year and we used
these opportunities to get a few swim stops in before the water got much
colder. In the calm weather we were also able to conduct some manta trawls
for plastic particles.

In the fine net towed behind the boat, we pick up more than the
microplastics we are aiming for, we also get a gorgeous sample of
zooplankton and phytoplankton which is also an interest of mine. After my
first carefully sorted sample promptly got thrown overboard by Charlie (I
still haven’t forgiven him) I managed to find and set up the light
microscope available on board and spent several hours after each trawl
pouring through the critters scooped up in our net. The variety of organisms
is simply astounding from tiny fish fry and glass eels, to small blue things
(that’s a technical term) that zoom around the petri dish and gelatinous
ctenophores that pulse through the water. I know that, should my university
lecturers read this, they will be horrified that I can’t remember the
difference between an amphipod and an isopod, and can’t even begin to fathom
where to start identifying some of the organisms.
New year was seen in with Kerry attempting to teach us some ceilidh dances,
but promptly realising that a rocking boat may not be the best place for
rookies! A cold can of beer and a chorus of Auld Lang Syne (don’t ask why
that is on my ipod) brought the year 2017 to a close before we staggered off
to our bunks thoroughly knackered.


The first day of 2018 was full of optimism and albatrosses!! We crossed the
1000-miles-to-go marker and saw two species of albatross, much to Lynsey’s
delight. From then, the sightings have just been getting better, we’ve had
several mystery cetaceans and on the 3rd January, just before dinner, we saw
our first Southern Right Whale!!! Other whales were also surfacing around
the boat, sleek and streamlined rorquals with high dorsal fins (possible Sei
whales), though what had drawn the different species together we cannot be
sure (Anna -suggests it because they eat the same type of prey – copepods).
Words can’t really describe just how happy we all were when we looked back
through the photos and saw the unmistakable dark body and callosities
(pronunciation still hotly debated) of the Right Whale, one of the cetaceans
most of us said would be a highlight of the trip. This one did not
disappoint, surfacing just behind the stern, it’s glistening dark body came
to the surface looking magnificent and, compared to the slender rorquals,
looking like a rugby player at a football match, in a totally different
weight class.

IMG_6694- crop
The following evening brought more delights and we soon had more blows
around our boat than we knew what to do with. I was frantically trying to
fill in sightings forms while keeping track of whose sighting was where, it
was happy pandemonium made better only by the call for dinner.
Talking of dinner; I have to say that the food on here has surpassed my
wildest expectations, even at this stage of the trip when I was expecting
simple dishes due to the limited supply of fresh veg, whoever is cooking
still manages to exceed expectations. From pizza rolls and super mac n
cheese, to delicious curries and vegetable crumble, every evening a
seemingly impossible amount of food materialises in the galley, and promptly


We are slowly but surely getting towards the end of our extraordinary
voyage, one that for many of us, is a once in a lifetime opportunity. While
none of us really want this to end, I think we are all in equal parts
excited and apprehensive about getting to land. I mean, what are we going to
do with our lives when we don’t have a rota, or a watch beeping every 15
minutes to tell us what to do? How are we going to cope with not being able
to have midday naps, or two sleeps! And I can’t even remember what it feels
like to walk on a surface that isn’t constantly moving or at a precarious
angle. But for now we are all savouring these last few days, the amazing
sightings of birds and beasts and the wonderful company that has truly made
this trip one of the best things I have ever done.


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