An ugly ducking emerges from the ashes……

A blog from the early hours of the morning on the RRS James Cook


Midnight, not a creature was sleeping and it was all noisy all around the ship…. The handover for the Science Team juddered (dynamic positioning in full flow) into view as day-watch passed the baton on to night-watch, Principal Science Officer or PSO (Colm Ó Cofaigh) having formulated and briefed us on the plan (Plan A)for the next 24-36 hours. It can be tiring as the science lead on the Cruise, and so retiring for a well earned rest at the end of shift is a much encouraged seldom realised dream…..

We progressed rapidly to the fourth of nine vibrocore locations on the overnight plan (Plan A) about 10 miles from the break in slope at the edge of the continental shelf in the Malin Sea. BGS night team lowered the vibrocorer to the seabed and prepared to commence operations. There was no response from the seabed, something was clearly amiss. After a quick abort and return to the deck, the BGS team set about analysing the problem, sparks flew; clearly the fault lay with the electronics. After checking timescales for assessment and repair, and that this could be undertaken under steam, we woke PSO about 2.30 am, no doubt fully rested after 1.5 hours sleep to formulate an alternate plan…

Plan B quickly emerged and comprised several components, first hopefully fixing the vibrocorer, and second the Science team switching focus to other activities. We commenced a programme of sub-bottom profiler and multibeam survey heading northwest ~35 miles to possible piston core locations, and there we completed a 25 mile survey from >1600m of water across the shelf break into 300m of water, our challenge was to find some piston corer targets with possible glacimarine sediments. Meanwhile an at times nine person strong team of BGS team and RRS James Cook crew worked through the early hours to isolate the problem and hopefully to fix it (Plan C). With the JC106 Cruise schedule including further work out in the Malin Sea and the entire work programme for T5 Galway Bay including work on Porcupine Bank we could little afford a port call (Plan D) in the Western Highlands of Scotland. We also very much needed the vibrocorer which had delivered ~130 sediment profile from very tough glacigenic muds. If it had failed completely, an outside chance, we would be limited to geophysical survey and piston coring on Porcupine Bank (a much dreaded Plan E) and some rethinking for Cruise 2…..

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Dawn came and went, as we waited on smoke signals from the back deck (well more accurately the absence of smoke signals….) the good news arrived at breakfast things were looking less terminal. The fault had been isolated (a very well hidden cable uncoupled and affected by sea water) and promptly repaired, all that remains was reassembly and some testing first on deck and then in the water. BGS team and the deck crew get some very well deserved and earned rest. The wet vibrocore test then lay ahead, with 2 piston cores in 1575 and 1200m of water for day watch who took charge in the midday clouds…. Somewhere the sun set, the moon rose, apparently a supermoon – not bad at all, and we awoke to news of two successful >7m length recoveries for the piston cores in deep waters and on the continental shelf slope, plus critically a deepish water deployment of the vibrocorer on the shelf break ~500m of water. Success….. >3m of mud recovered, 136 vibrocores collected and going strong…..

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A relieved, tired and happy PSO could take leave of the watch, with an invigorated and expanded Plan C trending forwards into the foreseeable feature, vibrocore four of nine (3.92m), five of nine (0.4m), six of nine approaches…..

We are on schedule as always, the Plan is strong, the Plan is all-knowing, the Plan are legion, the Plan are many…..

Kasper's moon....

Selected photographs by Alex Ingle

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