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AQABA, first leg: Seafaring – a beginner's experience (July 30, 2017)

- This article was first published in the AQABA Research Cruise Blog -

Ahoy, dear readers,

Our esteemed Captain asked me to write a wrap-up of my experience on the first leg of the AQABA campaign, as I will leave the ship in Kuwait. He said: “It`s everyday life for us, but what it is like for someone new like you?” Well, who am I to say “No” to the Captain? ;) After all, one of the things I learned on board: The captain`s word is law. He even determines the time zone of the ship! So, here comes:

Photo: T. Könemann What is it like living on sea for five weeks as a complete stranger to seafaring? The friendly and helpful crew of Kommandor Iona is good at making landlubbers like us scientists comfortable. The regular social barbecues with karaoke are just the tip of the iceberg. Adapting to life on the ship was also eased by the excellent food (a big thank-you to the galley crew!), the comfy bed and the fact that the cabins are more spacious than I would have expected. In addition, the ship is not so small that one cannot avoid the crowd when one wishes, which definitely helps to avoid cabin fever. Social life on board was very nice, though. This is important after long work days with sometimes uncooperative scientific instruments and in extremely hot temperatures.

What I was most afraid of was, of course, seasickness. I turned out to be one of the lucky people who are not affected too badly by it, but the two half days that I was seasick were quite unpleasant. It is a kind of dizziness that you cannot shake of, and if it gets worse is accompanied by nausea. Sleeping always helped, though! In general, the waves made me – and not just me – unusually sleepy. Citing my colleague Christof: “I have never slept this much since my childhood.”

Isn`t looking at the sea every day super boring?, I wondered before. But the sea looked different every day. Colours varied from dark blue to turquoise to grey. Waves (and their height) changed as well: Some days, the sea looked like liquid silk, and as a contrast there were the times in the Indian Ocean when 6 m waves broke with big splashes on the forecastle deck.

Why many of us were seasick. (Photo: S. Tauer)

I really liked the fact that we were always welcome to visit the bridge of the ship. As a newbie, this was a magical place for me: All those impressive, mysterious screens and numbers and buttons etc. pp.! (Not so much different from our scientific instruments in a way, but much larger!) I wouldn`t have thought that listening to the radio communication between ships can be so hilarious. I got the impression that the people sitting at the joysticks (no, not steering wheels anymore, as it looks like!) can get so bored they start talking nonsense (or streaming porn…).

Even in times of the GPS, nautical maps do not go out of fashion on the bridge. (Photo: E. Pfannerstill)

As one of the few women on board, I could not help but notice that seafaring is a very male business. It was obvious that having female scientists on board was unusual for the crew - everyone was extra nice and polite to us. Outsiders (e.g. pilots who guided us into harbours) surely did not expect to see women on a vessel.

A friendly visitor (or a pirate dolphin, who knows!). (Photo: S. Dörner)

If you stare at the water surface for long enough, you will surely spot some marine wildlife. Occasionally, dolphins enjoyed accompanying the Kommandor Iona, flying fishes flew out of the water, tuna jumped, jellyfish showed their ghostly beauty… During some nights, bioluminescent plankton reminded us that every drop of the ocean is full of life. Its glow was especially strong in the Gulf of Aden, where it seemed like we were floating through a starry sky.

The Suez Canal was full of jellyfish. (Photo: E. Pfannerstill)

A flying fish where it does not belong. (Photo: E. Pfannerstill)

Apart from water and wildlife, there is a lot of traffic on the sea, so we were never really alone! The Suez Canal and Fujairah (where we meant to refuel) were hot-spots for getting an idea of how incredibly much stuff is transported on the water and how much traffic (as well as all its side-effects like pollution) this involves. Kommandor Iona looks like a tiny nutshell next to all those gigantic tankers and container ships carrying the basis of our consumer lifestyle from one corner of the globe to another, and running on the dirtiest fuel available.

Now I will be back on shore soon. I was told that the ground feels shaky at the beginning… This cruise was an exceptional experience, and I wish all those who make the way back from Kuwait to Toulon a great time with perfect conditions!

Kuwait, as seen when approaching the port


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