DAY 28 – Over and out

Today is not the last day but will be the last blog as we get into Auckland tomorrow first thing and things will become rapidly chaotic and I will get grumpy, paperwork will be abound, things will not go as planned and so on.

 

With any luck this will be the last blog I ever write, so you’ll just have to dry your eyes and deal with that, move on.  I know it’s hard but you’ll just need to find another research cruise to fill that empty void.

 

Keep reading for a few days yet, as once we get onto the internetty we’ll post up some videos, hi-res images and stories from the NorthIsland.

 

After over a month with these fine people (6 crew, 5 scientists and Ryan) I feel I should write something nice about my lander battalion, so here goes:

 

They’ve all been amazing, every one of them. Thom has been as solid, unflappable and entirely inappropriate at all the right times as he is famous for.  Heather, for reasons I will never understand, is still happy and cheerful and appears to be the only one who hasn’t gone feral. Peter Mac has been more than a worthy replacement for Big Malx, although we still do not forgive the big fella for bailing on us over a seamounts trip instead.  Mackenzie has also been on really good but I fear it may take her some time to readjust to the kind of civilisation she is accustomed too (thanks for the knitted Liparid by the way).  And then there’s Ryan, oh Ryan.  Ryan was the wildcard, an undergraduate who was a bit of a gamble with such few berths to spare but has turned out to be truly awesome.  Being the youngest, lowest on the pecking order and newboy to all this, he has been the butt-end of every joke, prank and has been blamed for absolutely everything, and he’s taken it well (he even fell for the ‘hold the rope!, hold the rope!, don’t let it go!’ gag, when it was just tied to side of the boat, ahh, the oldies are the best), boy did good.  What a fine bunch.

 

The crew as per usual have been truly brilliant as well.  Uncle Peter has taken Ryan under his wing and taught him everything he knows about seafaring, women, ice cream and making blue fin tunas.  Steve, as always, is a living legend who since 2009 has worked tirelessly to make sure we do a good job and is very much an honorary member of HADEEP (which now of course means nothing, but the sentiment is there).

 

At this point I would thank everyone involved in HADEEP but the list is too long, so let’s thank everyone involved in the New Zealand/Kaharoa trips (in order of appearance and scroll down as if it were the credits to a bad movie):

 

Toyonobu Fujii

Ashley Rowden

Kota Kitazawa

Andrew Stewart

Mackenzie Gerringer

Niki Lacey

Malcolm ‘Big Malx’ Clark

Holographic Nick

Heterosexual Will

Geordie Emma

Heather Ritchie

Peter Macmillan

James Wilson

Ryan ‘oh Ryan’ Eustace

 

So without further ado, I’m off.  If anyone reading this is in Auckland, we’ll be down ‘Swashbucklers’ on Westhaven Drive tomorrow (Tuesday) night for rose wine tasting and an in-depth discussion about contemporary art and classic Russian literature.

 

Oh, I can see the NorthIsland from here.

 

Alan, over and out – 2nd December

Long time coming: Steve and Al, the evil masterminds of this whole charade finally fly the rampant lion in Noumea.

Long time coming: Steve and Al, the evil masterminds of this whole charade finally fly the rampant lion in Noumea.

Taking New Caledonia by sea.

Taking New Caledonia by sea.

Taking New Caledonia. 2013.  If you flag it, it’s yours….until the harbour authority turns up, then we run like girls.

Taking New Caledonia. 2013. If you flag it, it’s yours….until the harbour authority turns up, then we run like girls.

A sunset and sunbeam over Noumea.  It looks better from out at sea than it does when you’re stood at the side of the road.

A sunset and sunbeam over Noumea. It looks better from out at sea than it does when you’re stood at the side of the road.

Ryan and his new ‘Uncle Pete’ enjoy a hokey-pokey ice cream.

Ryan and his new ‘Uncle Pete’ enjoy a hokey-pokey ice cream.

The original -80 freezer, in bits, still is.

The original -80 freezer, in bits, still is.

A three-man gun show after the last HADEEP deployment.

A three-man gun show after the last HADEEP deployment.

One of the few times that Mackenize wasn’t looking absolutely horrified  about the stuff we discuss and the way we speak to one another.  She’s the USA you know, they have corn beef for Sunday dinner….?!

One of the few times that Mackenize wasn’t looking absolutely horrified about the stuff we discuss and the way we speak to one another. She’s the USA you know, they have corn beef for Sunday dinner….?!

Alan about to thrash Ryan at the 6(9)-item fry-up challenge.

Alan about to thrash Ryan at the 6(9)-item fry-up challenge.

Ryan and Thom sharing a joke, probably about something you really don’t want to know about.

Ryan and Thom sharing a joke, probably about something you really don’t want to know about.

The big Histiobranchus sp. we’ve been after all these years.

The big Histiobranchus sp. we’ve been after all these years.

The weird yellow sulphur plumes drifting past the boat.  Even that was mildly interesting.

The weird yellow sulphur plumes drifting past the boat. Even that was mildly interesting.

The tornado cloud from last week.

The tornado cloud from last week.

Our little lady, the Kaharoa, sittin’ over 7000m of water.  Taken the other day when the boys went razzing around on the inflatable.

Our little lady, the Kaharoa, sittin’ over 7000m of water. Taken the other day when the boys went razzing around on the inflatable.

Advertisements

DAY 27 – Inglorious Majesty

Well, of course we are still steaming back across the SouthFijiBasin with still no land in site for at least another day or two.  We’ve run out of fruit, white bread, beer and are on our last bottle of milk (which by the way gives you a window of about 2.7 minutes to drink a coffee before it curdles).  The outside temperature is dropping fast which is good and making things a bit more bearable.

 

So we are getting to the end of this rather unexpected South Pacific epic.

 

As fans of the hadal zone know, the trenches are an evocative quagmire of inglorious majesty, and for me, none have been more inglorious than the New Hebrides Trench.  At some point towards the start of this complex shenanigan I was asked what I was most looking forward to finding in the trench.  I think I said something arrogant and simple like ‘personal justification for doing this at all’.  So the question is, did I find personal justification for having done this? And the answer I have to say is no.  I feel this trench has taken more than it gave.  Whilst the results are sound, my personal bar is raised rather high, as most trench campaigns have heralded something that makes your eyebrows rise involuntarily, but not this time round.

 

This trip will be remembered for the epic that it has been and not for what we found.  I am sure the others might think differently.  Despite me ungratefully moaning and complaining about missed glory, we have had a bit of a laugh, but I won’t be taking wee trawlers on voyages like this again.

 

As much as I adore the RV Kaharoa and it all her quirky little ways I long to sleep in an actual bed and sit on a chair rather than an aluminium box.  I long to sleep where the pounding of her engines are not rattling my spine and a time when I no longer have to inhale her diesel.

 

Day after tomorrow though, the day after tomorrow will bring the silence.  Oh but wait, we don’t have a hotel in Auckland, so we’ll be staying on here for another night, albeit with the engines off, but will bring our total nights on board to 30, yikes.

 

In the meantime, the pointy end is still pointing south and we still have ramming speed engaged.

 

Alan – 1st December

DAY 26 – The end of the thing that was.

Well today, all our gear hit the deck after a spell on the abyssal plain of the SouthFijiBasin.  Doesn’t sound that significant, other than it marked the end of science on this trip.  Its significance, however, has a greater reaching ‘bozy’ as it marks the end of HADEEP.  Or at least the ship-time, Niki, Heather and Thom still have to publish at least 80 papers between them before it’s actually over.

 

For me, I have lived and breathed HADEEP for 6 and a half years.  In that time I have been to Japan about 7 times, New Zealand about 7 times, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Guam and now New Caledonia, clocked up a gazillion air miles, got married, had two kids, published probably too many papers, done something like 90 lander deployments between 1000 and 10,000m in 6 trenches, spent a lot of time on Japanese vessels, a German vessel with brain surgeons on, experienced the M9 Japanese earthquake and sniffed the radioactive fallout, discovered decapoda at hadal depths, found the supergiants where they shouldn’t be, filmed the deepest fish alive, found the deepest fish in the southern hemisphere, had a Japanese amphipod named after me, collected many new species of critters, drank Saki with a famous Japanese guy I’ve never heard of, saw the rise and fall of Alfie, Nacho and Latis, had a lander blessed by Maori, worked with many a fine person (and some equally as awful, you know who you are…), and spent nearly 70 days on this fine vessel, the Kaharoa which stand out amongst the rest.  Now it is all at an end, for HADEEP is no more, although no one, including myself really knows exactly what HADEEP is, or was, or could have been. It is just a thing. A thing.

 

So this afternoon, in my mind we took HADEEP in both hands, kissed it gently on the forehead, told it that it had a wonderful life before quietly smothering it with a unicorn pillow until it stopped wriggling, then wrapped it in a rampant lion flag and drop kicked it, like an All Black, into the tide.  All of this to the soundtrack of anything by Nine Inch Nails played loud.

 

We need a HADEEP Montage here…..

 

That is not to say that my trusty Argonauts and I are going to stop travelling to the end of the Earth on quests to rip the hate filled golden nuggets off Hades himself, far from it.  HADEEP has now been rammed into the colon of the much larger international HADES project which will see the introduction of many more credible scientists than I and some far more sophisticated technology that will be unleashed in the Kermadec Trench and Mariana Trench in 2014.  These expeditions will not involve 2000 mile round trips on inshore trawlers that rock n’roll in the slop like an inflatable pig, but rather moving back to using larger, more capable vessels albeit with less character than this old girl.

 

Pointy end still pointing south, only 400 miles to go.

 

Alan  – 30th November

DAY 25 – HADEEP’s last stand

I shant bore you with the details of what went on between the hours of 0400 and 1900 hours, they were in a nutshell, boring.  It essentially involved emails, paperwork and pure unfiltered boredom and the stark relaisation that nobody on this planet knows the first thing about logistics.

But then, as if by magic, we were at the last station of the trip: the SouthFijiBasin.  This one was a significant one for me as these were the last ever deployments of HADEEP.  After 6 and half years for traveling the Pacific Rim, it came to this.  These was also the first deployments of this trip we have done at sunset which was very fitting given the sun also went down on HADEEP.

And there it goes….

And there it goes….

Deployment 38 and 39 went in without incident.  Mackenzie pulled the quick release on the last ever HADEEP deployment (so it’s all her fault should it go pear-shaped tomorrow).

Heather is now officially the first person ever to be involved in the deployment of a HADEEP lander wearing a dress (albeit with lifejacket, hard hat and steel toed shoes – safety first).

The last HADEEP lander battalion (KAH1310).  Clockwise from me in the yellow lid is Thom, Ryan, Mackenzie, Heather and the legendary 1st officer Steve Bailey.

The last HADEEP lander battalion (KAH1310). Clockwise from me in the yellow lid is Thom, Ryan, Mackenzie, Heather and the legendary 1st officer Steve Bailey.

After such a long steam it was great to get back into it again although we are now just a seasoned lander battalion that it was all over in a flash.  Went something like this – “we’re here….plop, splash, plop splash”.  Bored.   I was kind of hoping that given the significance of this dive that fireworks would suddenly go off and that the red arrows would perform a fly-by writing ‘HADEEP’ in the sky, but no, not us, that’s too glitzy.  Instead we sat down and listened to Ryan talk about biscuits. In New Zealand, custard creams are square which contradicts the laws of physics….

Anyway, it all gets wrapped up tomorrow or the day after and then we make the final push for Auckland at last.

Alan – 29th November

Day 24 – 500 miles

Today was the first day in what seem like an eternity that we haven’t been working flat-out.  Due to weather concerns we are heading for a point in the middle of the South Fiji Basin at around 4100m that lies about 540 miles South of New Caledonia.  If we push any further the swell would be ‘adverse to a safe recovery of gear’.  It isn’t as far south as I would like but I can’t control the weather, although I wish I could, I would make it snow.

 

We don’t arrive there until tomorrow evening which made today one of the most mind-numbingly frustrating and down right boring days in living memory.  The are currently steaming at ‘ramming speed’ and thus it is too choppy to actually get on with any other work.  This means I get up every 10 minutes and stomp around the boat hitting things shouting “Bored. Bored. Bored. Bored-de-bored-de-boooored”, much to the annoyance of Heather and particularly Mackenzie.  Occasional we just have to resort to making fun of Ryan, who, in all fairness normally willingly offers up a plate of mick-taking fodder.

 

Ryan is so bored he has taken to devouring Coco Pops (other breakfast cereals are available from all good stores).  It is HIS fault we have run out of milk.

Ryan is so bored he has taken to devouring Coco Pops (other breakfast cereals are available from all good stores). It is HIS fault we have run out of milk.

Speaking of Ryan, he finally turned the washing machine on today which in turn created an anomalous gravitational pull which ruptured the ship-time continuum.  This is unfortunate, as thanks to Ryan every 100 Kaharoa minutes now feel like anything between 3 and 7 Earth minutes.  Watching the clock doesn’t help either, tried it.

 

I saw that Ryan posted a blog yesterday.  I would just like to say that the opinions of ‘that boy’ are not necessarily the opinions of the University of Aberdeen, the NIWA vessels management services or anyone living or dead who may or may not have sailed on this boat or have had anything to do with HADEEP.

 

Go on, have a graph, it isn’t science until there’s a graph.

Go on, have a graph, it isn’t science until there’s a graph.

S’pose I should mention science. With the New Hebrides Trench bit done we can have a look at the final stats.  Asides from the 8 dives in the SouthFijiBasin, we got 29 deployments done in the trench, of which 22 successfully recovered samples or images, giving a success rate of a measly 76%.  Nothing I can do about that now I suppose, but there is plenty of PhD fodder in there for Thom, Heather and whoever is unfortunate to have the poddie samples dumped on their desk on ours return (Niamh?? Hi, how’s it going?).  This means we have samples from 12 stations between 2000 and 7000m deep at a resolution of 450m, and for the imaging we got 10 good dives at a resolution of 530m. Pretty good I suppose.

 

The only thing I have to do is deal with mind-boggling paperwork and endless ambiguous emails with regards to logistics, customs and New Zealand’s infamous biosecurity.  Oh what joy.

 

So without further ado: Bored. Bored. Bored. Bored-de-bored-de-boooored, Bored. Bored. Bored. Bored-de-bored-de-boooored, Bored. Bored. Bored. Bored-de-bored-de-boooored.

 

Alan was so bored, even of watching Ryan eat Coco Pops, he simply passed out without warning: Bored. Bored. Bored. Bored-de-bored-de-zzzzzzzzzzzz.

Alan was so bored, even of watching Ryan eat Coco Pops, he simply passed out without warning: Bored. Bored. Bored. Bored-de-bored-de-zzzzzzzzzzzz.

While working on his lander, Thom was struck by a passing ribbon fracture that was cataclysmically ejected by the ship-time continuum that instantaneously rendered him so bored that he passed out on the spot, and then got sun burnt.  Tragic.

While working on his lander, Thom was struck by a passing ribbon fracture that was cataclysmically ejected by the ship-time continuum that instantaneously rendered him so bored that he passed out on the spot, and then got sun burnt. Tragic.

Tomorrow should be more interesting, then after that it will all go horribly wrong just for your amusement.

 

Alan – 28th November

DAY 23 – Gap filling

The 2500m site was pretty darned good for a shallow little thing.  Big rays, macrourids, fish, animals, creatures, monsters, you know the ‘sciencey stuff’.

 

A big dirty Ray sniffing around at 2600m.

A big dirty Ray sniffing around at 2600m.

So that was the last gap that needed filling in the transect.  We then pointed the pointy end of the vessel south to start the 600mile transit to the next station – the next station? you cry, where are they going?.  I like to think there are people reading this at home thinking ‘in the name of Hades, why don’t they just go home!”, oh, and now they have made me use an exclamation mark in my blog quilling.  I hate exclamation marks.

 

Well, the original thingy I was talking about before the impromptu digression is one of those things.  Science and all that.  I would love to have had a go at slamming something into the 8300m hole off Ile Matthew, but after careful consultation with the Captain involving three different maps, it is unlikely that it is actually there.  The problem with working at the edge of the world is that the maps are terrible and this wee trawler of ours can’t ‘ping-pong’ (echo-sound) beyond about 4000m on a good day.  So, the risk was too high which means I just broke a promise to my 2-year old son, ah, what a trip.

 

Instead we are going to fill in a bigger gap.  To date we have done over 50 deployments from the deepest parts for the Kermadec Trench (10,000m) up to 1000m, and now we have 8 deployments from high up on the SouthFijiBasin and nearly 30 deployments in the New Hebrides Trench.  The gap we want to fill is between our original SouthFijiBasin sites and the most northern sites we did earlier this year near the Kermadec Trench, thus giving us ultimate power in the South Pacific.

 

So, with a 600 mile trip south, we immediately started punching into the weather which tipped the balance of some people’s vom-o-meter.

 

Thom – the best a man can get, except when he is brought to tears while barking into the toilet bowl.

Thom – the best a man can get, except when he is brought to tears while barking into the toilet bowl.

The last thing I heard before dozing off was Thom throwing up.  He is a powerful chap which comes with advantages and disadvantages.  The main disadvantages being, 1) he is too big for his bunk, 2) when he needs to alight his bunk quickly he does so with the grace of a steam roller rolling off a garage roof, and 3) when he throws up he sounds like a police Alsatian barking into the toilet bowl.

 

I will leave you with that thought.

 

Alan – 27th November

DAY 22 – Generous pans

Today started with a fry-up eating contest between myself and Ryan.  The rules are to nominate a 6-item breakfast (2 bacon rashers count as 1 item, and 2 rounds of toast are considered ‘supporting items’).  The 6-item breakfast must be finished when the plate is clean and at least a quarter toast slice saved to mop up the remnants.

 

Napkin battle plans: the top napkin carefully details exactly why everything we have done in the Kermadec Trench, South Fiji Basin and New Hebrides Trench makes perfect ecological sense and the bottom napkin shows the battle plan for the 6-item breakfast.

Napkin battle plans: the top napkin carefully details exactly why everything we have done in the Kermadec Trench, South Fiji Basin and New Hebrides Trench makes perfect ecological sense and the bottom napkin shows the battle plan for the 6-item breakfast.

The order was placed with Carol, who has generous pans, and it became a 9 item breakfast for me and a 10 item for Ryan.  This of course meant that he could forfeit the extra egg should he wish.

 

The thing is, Ryan talks like a man but is still a boy.  In less than 10 minutes I was mopping up.  Ryan chose to forfeit the sausage that was raw in the middle and to my astonishment, ate only the yoke from egg and never mopped up, what a dissapointment.  He is as bad at the 6-item breakfast challenge as he is at pool (and tidying up after himself****).

 

Anyway, the weather turned today and it started raining, albeit big hot rain.  We brought in the gear from 5600m and 6500m and got yet another good round of data, so all is looking well.  Before we leave the New Hebrides Trench for good, there is just more site on the transect needing done and that is the infuriatingly shallow 2500m mark.  We steamed for about 3 hours and threw everything off there.  Job done.

 

On the plus side, we are two recoveries away from completing the imaging and sampling transect of the entire trench.  Although the results are entirely valid, they are not especially interesting until it is all worked up, but at least we got it done somewhere in between the constellation of problems we have had to navigate at light speed each and every day.

 

Now we just need to get all the gear and head south before Mrs Rodier’s -80 freezer explodes (or some other random disaster).

 

Ryan and his new girlfriend ‘Lisa’ from Noumea.  Isn’t she adorable?, nice personality apparently.

Ryan and his new girlfriend ‘Lisa’ from Noumea. Isn’t she adorable?, nice personality apparently.

I can only assume that given the incredibly, almost supernaturally good weather we have had that we will almost certainly get annihilated on the way home (rules of the sea), so looking forward to that, especially given that this wee boat of ours handles bad weather as if it were a hippo swimming on its back trying to do the hokey-cokey.

 

Alan – 26th November

 

**** Note to Jess Knight: why have you not house trained Ryan yet?