Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Kermadec expedition - In the Navy!

While Aaron was busy thrashing the mountain bike trails of Oregon I was cruising the South Pacific in a large grey, metal box, also known as the HMNZS Canterbury, with the New Zealand Navy, and a bunch of school kids from 16-18 years old on an expedition to Raoul Island in the Kermadecs - approximately 1000 km north of New Zealand. The expedition was organised to commemorate the death of Sir Peter Blake, a sailor and adventurer who also tried to raise awareness of environmental issues. I was one of a couple of scientists invited to go to share my knowledge and experience with the kids.

We set off from Devonport Naval base in Auckland with a lot of "pomp" and official "faffing" - mainly due to the fact that the Governor General came to see us off. The HMNZS Canterbury is a large ferry used for transporting troops and humanitarian aid. (It was used during the Christchurch earthquakes as a floating hotel.) It is quite a lot larger than the RV Tangaroa that I usually go to sea on. The ship wasn't just for us, it was on its annual trip to Raoul Island to resupply and change over the department of conservation staff that work up there trying to rid the island of weeds (they got rid of pests a few years ago). It also has a meterology station and several geological instruments (seismometer, camera and instruments to study the caldera, and tsunami gauge) that have to be checked by a team of technicians that spend a couple of days on the island.
HMNZS Canterbury at Devonport Naval base, Auckland

The weather was a little bit interesting on the way up and many of the kids retreated to their beds with sick bags in hand. Personally I could barely notice anything as it was only 3 m swells and the ship was so big. But I guess I am just lucky. The forecast for the trip wasn't looking so great, but fortunately it didn't eventuate and we managed to do a lot of stuff, although like any good sea trip the timing and order kept changing.

Personally I found it very strange to go with the Navy. The discipline, heirachy, controlled shouting using a Navy language (much of which I never worked out), were in complete contrast to a typical scientific voyage. Several of the characters were so clich├ęd that I had to try not to laugh when the Seargent Major threatened to punish people who stepped out of line. While the helicopter pilot was straight out of the movie "Top Gun", American accent included. I didn't cope very well with the early morning announcement to get us up at 6:50 am "All hands, All hands, All hands, Wakey, Wakey, Wakey".

The captain and the crew were very accommodating and joined in with many of the activities. They embraced and supported both the activities for the kids and the science. I think they ended up getting more out of the trip than they imagined, as the crew morale was high as they were getting new experiences and learning stuff, they got a lot of good media attention (see later), and they even got a couple of new recruits!

The new guys on the ship have to do a dance on the Foc'sle - as did we!

To be continued in following posts...

No comments: