Cruise 30 – I lay on the deck of the plotting office at two in the morning feeling very sick. Having a surname beginning with A meant I always caught the first ‘death-watch’ echo-sounding watch, which started as the ship crossed the shelf-break at midnight. A recurring question crossed and re-crossed my mind – why had I chosen such a bloody awful occupation.
The ship pitched and rolled violently as she forced her way into the teeth of the south-westerly gale we always seemed to encounter as we crossed the Bay of Biscay. All the instruments around me were mounted on rubber gimbals, so they rocked and swayed independently in a weird sick-making charconne. Every ten minutes I had to rise from the deck and mark up the chart and record the sounding. A quick dash to the head to wretch bile from my already empty stomach – a drink of water – and back to lying on the deck. A crash from one of the nearby laboratories forced me into action again. Another duty of these watches was to check the security of all the instruments in the laboratories. At such an early stage of a cruise, any damage to the instruments caused by a heavy box on the loose could seriously impair what we could achieve during the next six to eight weeks.
The banging was emanating from the electronics laboratory. A four-drawer steel filing cabinet had not been properly locked and had burst open. The drawers as they slid in and out were spewing their contents in all directions. Starting with the top drawer fairly quickly I managed to get its contents back in and shut the drawer. But the drawer could not be locked shut until all have been closed. As I started on the second drawer the ship lurched violently again as she took a green one over the foredeck. The top drawer flew open not only spewing out its contents again, but also catching me on the side of the head and drawing blood. With nothing to hand with which to secure the drawer, I had to use one hand to hold the top drawer shut, while I re-filled the second drawer. As I re-filled it, it was free to slide in and out as the ship rolled, constantly hitting me in my stomach, which was already was agonisingly tender from sea-sickness.
Throughout this time I had no time to think about sea-sickness. It was rather extreme cure, but it did suggest that sea-sickness is in part a psychological illness and if you are fully employed with things to do you can pull through. Well pull the other one!
Images taken onboard RRS Discovery