Saturday, April 5, 2008

Life on board the Marion Dufresne

No two field trips are alike, not even when they take you to exactly the same sites. A lot of the atmosphere of such a trip is created by the participants, the rest is determined by the weather, and neither element can be influenced.

I first went on this trip to the French Austral Islands two years ago, and for me it was a voyage of adventure. I had only recently started a new job, was traveling alone, and had only a vague idea of what was going to happen. This second time round, the trip has a cozy and familiar feel to it. I know the ship (the Marion Dufresne is a luxury cruise liner compared to the Astrolabe), I know how life on the scientific bases of the sub-Antarctic works, there are many familiar faces amongst the passengers and the crew, and I shall be meeting more people I know on the bases themselves.

There are few scientists on this leg of the voyage (more will come aboard as we pick up the last of the summer campaigners on each island). Most of the passenger list is made up of logistics people, with the addition of a few tourists. The Marion Dufresne regularly takes tourists along on these trips. They get to visit the bases and talk to the scientists, and they also visit a number of protected sites elsewhere on the islands with a specialized tour guide. The trip is not cheap, and apparently there is a year long waiting list for the few available slots. The people who come are usually highly motivated and curious about all aspects of the sites and of the science that is being done there. They learn more about the islands and what is being studied there than we do, given that we spend most of our time working on our respective projects.

We got treated to a fantastic spectacle last night, courtesy of a late summer storm. The heat and humidity that had been mounting throughout the day finally gave way to thunder and lightening. We stood outside on the covered deck, with the rain drumming down on all sides and sloshing off the top deck, gasping at the sight of the mauve sky and mauve ocean suddenly revealed then immediately hidden again. Truly a breathtaking sight.

1 comment:

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