Thursday, 11 October 2012

Boarding Discovery for the first time (Gwyn Griffiths)

Downtown Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, Tenerife, 28 November 1976. That’s the place and date I first saw, and stepped aboard, RRS Discovery. Some six weeks earlier I had started work as an instrument engineer at the Institute of Oceanographic Sciences at Wormley. Cruise 80 was to be my first experience at sea, under the tutorship of John Smithers as the expert on the apparatus for measuring conductivity (for salinity), temperature, and depth, the CTD. We had arrived two days before sailing, and there was time for a trip by hire-car to the volcano at the heart of the island, Pico del Teide. With four of us on board, the little car struggled climbing the foothills, but we made it to the cable car station. After the ride, a not-too-arduous path took us to the summit at 3,718 metres above sea level. The view was magnificent.

There were then final preparations before sailing and, in the evening, the last meal ashore was, in a phrase I was to hear many more times over the years, “this little place that I know where …”. In Santa Cruz in November 1976, my recollection is that this was a shack not too far from the shore over some very rough ground to the south of the wharf. Squid and Fundador seemed like a good combination at the time. At sea the next morning, it proved to be anything but.


Monumento a los Caídos (Monument to the Fallen of the Spanish Civil War), Plaza de España de Santa Cruz de Tenerife, as I photographed it in 1976, left, and, pedestrianized, in 2010. The blue sky does not change
Teide from part way up, and John Smithers at the peak

My first Discovery cruise (John Gould)

Hove to in the Bay of Biscay
As a young PhD student I joined Discovery cruise 10 in Plymouth in February 1966. This was to be my first experience of deep-sea oceanography under the watchful eye of John Swallow. The cruise was far from uneventful, the third mate was taken ill soon after we sailed and was sat at anchor in Jennycliff Bay waiting for the RFA to find a replacement. The Bay of Biscay lived up to its reputation and we made slow progress towards our work area between Madeira and the Azores. When we eventually started work I remember being amazed at how long it took to work a water bottle station in 5km of water: very different from the Irish Sea.

"Jack" Carruthers holds court on the foredeck
We were a mixture of old and young, experienced and novices. The oldest was J.N. “Jack” Carruthers (then 70) who was there to test one of his “Heath Robinson” style devices, a far cry from the main purpose of the cruise to make some of the first measurements with recording current meters on subsurface moorings and to compare these with Swallow’s neutrally buoyant floats. We were also making measurements of internal waves using a massive towed thermistor chain that seemed to spend more time on deck that in the water and required copious applications of WD40 to keep it going. The science met with mixed success and we lost several of the new current meters.

Discovery  arriving in Madeira
In the port calls in Madeira we explored the market, ate the locally-caught espada (black scabbard fish) and such delicacies as custard apples and of course we drank Madeira and the local aguardente . This was before the era of mass tourism (the airport had only opened in 1964) and much of the island seemed very poor but the scenery was spectacular and a haven of calm from the bustle of Funchal was the British Club (now Quinta Magnolia) that boasted a 9-hole golf course with fairways covered with freesias.

John Swallow and a water bottle
Life on board was much more formal than nowadays. Even a lowly student in cabin S9 next to the bow propeller was woken by a cup of tea brought by the watchman each morning. We were served tea in china cups each afternoon at 4 o’clock and of course we had to wear a jacket and tie for dinner. The food was very traditional each Sunday was marked with tomato soup, roast chicken and plum duff with custard. Two redeeming features of life on board were the drinks and “small eats” before Sunday lunch, the occasional traditional Navy rum issue and that fact that Harry Moreton, the bosun would even wash and iron your clothes for a small consideration.

Best of all, lasting friendships were made on that cruise and when we returned to Plymouth John Swallow (who had impressed me with his attention to detail, physical strength and ability to manage without sleep) casually said to me, “If you are looking for a job when you finish your PhD please let me know”. I did and as they say – the rest is history. That was to be the first of my 15 cruises on Discovery, 8 as Principal scientist.