Malaspina expedition: Life on the inside

This is day 4 of an enforced wait aboard the Hésperides. The ship ran into a windstorm south of Madagascar over the weekend. We experienced it as more pitching, which sent some folks to their bunks to recuperate from seasickness and sent at least one scientist’s breakfast back into his bowl in the dining room. It also confined the scientists to less of the ship. The top photo shows a handful of them waiting around at the service door. They’re not allowed on deck without a Navy escort during high seas so I’ve decided to show a few photos of windows and portholes, which are the way most of the scientists see the ocean most of the time.

This photo is from one of the laboratories. It looks astern onto the port side of the poop deck. That corner of the ship contains a bunch of incubation pools and tubes. During all this down time, laboratories aren’t entirely empty: I usually see one or two scientists in them when I walk my rounds of the ship. They’re often washing out filters or shuffling data from their lab computers to memory sticks. Some of the labs don’t even have windows, down on the lower level.

This is the view from my cabin window. Some clouds, some waves, some whitecaps. Doesn’t look that rough, but it makes the ship move. The Hésperides is around 90 metres long and still haven’t found out how much it weighs. It’s much larger than Spain’s other Antarctic research vessel, B.I.O Las Palmas.

What else do scientists do in their downtime onboard? A lot of movie-watching. A lot of email. Napping. Eating.

This is a view of one of the portholes in the starboard dining room, which contains three tables of 6 seats each. At breakfast, everyone shares the mirror-image port dining room. At lunch and dinner, navy use the port dining room and scientists use the starboard one, though a few overflow officers often drop in.

There are plenty of other places to hang out. There is an upstairs lounge where the officers hang out. As they say from time to time, the scientists are welcome up there, too, but very few venture up there. I’m not including a photo of that lounge, since the scientists go there so rarely and I’m trying to convey what their view of the outside is like.

But I’ll say that the officers have a great view forward over the prow. I like to watch the prow break waves from that lounge, but the officers often draw the curtains to watch movies. Judging from the selection, if we ever send anyone to Mars I imagine they’ll spend a lot of their downtime watching movies about people going to Mars or other space travel. I tend to go up for a little bit once or twice a day to write in my notebook and listen to the officers gossip while they watch movies or make themselves sandwiches.

There’s also a gym. You won’t find scientists in there. One of the technicians goes pretty frequently and the cinematographers went a couple of times. It also has a sauna and a small barbershop. And there’s a library, where I still haven’t been.

But mostly the scientists are attached to their laptops and each other. They gather around the TV on a huge blue sofa and when it’s not movie-watching, it’s drinking beers, maybe playing charades, like they did the other night. I got “Life of Brian” and managed to convey it pretty quickly, which made up for all the easy, boring titles I suggested that the other team guessed right away. And, when they get too rowdy for the public areas, somebody shuffles them out to a seismic processing lab, which is locked safely inside steel walls on the winch deck, far from sleeping shipmates.

Last night, around 12:30am activity moved from the lounge to the seismic box. A laptop loaded with a karaoke program accompanied them. Pretty soon flashing lights, loud voices and sweaty scientists spilled out of the seismic box door whenever it opened. Around 4:30am, when the first observations were scheduled to take place, weather-depending, the last scientists shuffled out. Lucky for them, today was another day off.