60 Degrees South
December 12, 2016

On day five at 9:07 am we all held our breath as we passed 60 degrees south. This is quite the occasion on all ships as it marks the passage into true Antarctic waters. A sort of ceremony is held for us ‘freshers’ who haven’t passed the line before. At lunch the captain and first mate dressed as Neptune and a sea devil and presented us with a document for “free passage south beyond 60 degrees south”, and I also had to “agree to protect all snaggletooths, squid and sea devils I encounter”. In return we had to kiss a whole salmon to prove our allegiance, leaving the crew laughing! It was a really fun occasion and a prominent milestone in our voyage.

The next big occasion came the following day with the first iceberg! We all piled outside as we passed through a field of vibrantly blue icebergs – all with different shapes and imperfections. They looked really enormous to me but the crew assured me that these are just “baby icebergs”. It’s such an amazing sight and was really awe inspiring. My camera filled up with photos and the morning easily disappeared watching them go by. To make sure we have a bit of space between the ice and us the ship is equipped with a radar and spotlights, used to detect and avoid any icebergs.

Another huge highlight for Zac and me today was finally seeing some whales! We saw spray from a group of fin whales and another group of humpback whales about a kilometre away, and then they breached again closer to give us a better look. We should reach the Balleny Islands tonight and will be completing a series of transects to find whales feeding around Islands which will be a really good time to see them up close.

The ocean conditions have been quite mild, the worst has been four metre swells and 30 knots of westerly wind. It’s quite a different way of living amongst the waves. You have to bungy-tie the chairs to tables after you use them, hold onto the gym’s treadmill with both hands and I’ve learnt through experience not to fill my cup of tea too full! I’m told that it has been quite a gentle introduction to the Southern Ocean. However the temperature is quickly dropping and now both the air and sea temperatures are below zero. Snow has settled in some places around the ship so whenever we do work out on deck we get geared up in our personal protective equipment, making sure that there is little skin exposed.

There are so many interesting things going on all the time and a lot of science is already underway, including a CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) probe which I have been helping to deploy every few hours. It gets thrown over the stern and drops to 300 or more metres and is then winched back in. The information gained is used to get a profile of the different water masses mixing as we move south.

Another piece of science I have been tasked with is changing the filters on a special underway filtering system that collects ice nucleation particles from the air. This will give some information on how clouds form in the Southern Ocean. The filter is on the front deck out in the elements, which can be tricky if the wind is blowing. I then have to bag and freeze the filters for later analysis. This is the first trip in 30 years to collect the ice nuclei information, so it’s really cool to be a part of it.


Blake Hornblow

Blake Hornblow

BLAKE NIWA Ambassador 2014