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The training continues and Science introductions

This is Natasha Pulley, our Resident Writer's, Day 3 blog...

Day 3 – 15th June 2021

Lots of sailing practise and briefings kicked off today. Probably not coincidentally, I settled right down. It’s about knowing what you’re going to be doing.

I’m working with the science team. Their (our — what a joke though, I’m not a scientist, I just make stuff up for a living, which is dangerously the opposite of science) job is to gather as much survey data as they can during the voyage. They’re doing cetacean surveys — noting down sightings of dolphins or whales — seabird surveys, plastic surveys, all of these rolling for at least four hours a day at sea.

The scientists are really interesting. The lady in charge, Rachel, is going to do her Masters at the Scott PolarResearch Institute in Cambridge in September, and she lights up whenever she gets to talk about anything to do with cold-water studies; and, amazingly, she was happy to talk to me about plankton for about twenty minutes, which I reckon is heroic.

Joe, the other marine biologist, is extremely keen on spreadsheets and BeingProperly Organised, and I think if anyone does anything even slightly inaccurately, we might be in danger of his strapping us to a rocket and firing us into space. Which is great: somewhere as chaotic as a tall ship, you need someone to be draconic if you’re going to do any kind of science. The rest of us are very varied; students, plus me, plus a plastics specialist from a Bristol-based organisation called City To Sea, and a fantastically knowledgeable diver, Kerry, from a Scotland-based charity that focuses on marine life and the influence of plastics in the sea.

The sailors, meanwhile, were outside learning to brace — that is, to move the yards around on the mast. People really do shout out the kind of thing you might think has been lost to history; haul away, well there, belay that line.

A bit hilariously, a big group of us went for a guided tour of the museum ship parked next to us. She’s called Glenlee, and she was a cargo ship for decades before becoming a museum. The tour guide emphasised how horrendous life was for the crew and how perilous and cramped and unpleasant it all was, before showing us crew cabins about eight times the size of ours and half as populated. I think she might have been a bit dismayed when we all started laughing about how we’d give our kingdoms for those bunks. Probably this was not very generous of us, but the captain’s cabin had a bath in it. Like a proper brass bath. If I had a time-machine, I would be very tempted to use it to go back to 1910 and tell him to get in the bin with his brass bath.

But that emphasis on the awfulness of historical life at sea highlighted something I hadn’t really thought much about. When you study sailing in an academic way — reading diaries, looking at maritime laws and Trinity House documents — it really does sound horrifying. Putting the infirmary at the prow of the ship, where you get huge up-and-down motion at sea; water sloshing around inside; canned fruit being a huge luxury; all that makes it seem like people were living the worst kind of life. The thing is, though, it’s not horrifying, or at least, not all the time. Sometimes it’s fantastic.

For example: sleep in a forward cabin and you get AMAZING dreams about rollercoasters. Feeling grateful for normal food makes life ashore feel superb when you do get back. Of course, of course, I’m not living that life for months at a time, just weeks — but once you’re doing it, it’s not horrible. It’s just normal, and you get used to it unbelievably quickly. There are days when it will just be unmitigated foulness. But there are also days (sunny days) when it’s brilliant, and it’s the best thing in the world — and I think that would probably have been true even in a time when ships didn’t standardly carry a proper medic aboard, and when there was no such thing as a fridge.

Visit her website: www.natashapulley.co.uk to see more of Natasha’s work!


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