Let me tell you a little something about what missing the boat has meant to me over the past 12 months. The boat being a ship. Specifically the cursed Agulhas.
Last year, I finished my masters in record time and started looking forward to munching the dangling carrot. As long as I submitted by the February deadline (come hell or high water), I’d get to head off into Antarctic waters and I’d finally finally set foot on the island I’d dreamed of since school: Marion.
I’d also get to collect all the data I’d need for my PhD. The week before we were due to steam out of Cape Town Harbour, I was invited to walk the ship with my then-supervisor. I was awed by the massive trawling net we’d be using to collect said data, and we explored the tiny bunks imagining what it would be like to face the Roaring 40’s.
A few days later, I was again invited aboard but, to my panic, I saw that the trawl net had been removed. Upon frantic investigation, it turned out the net was not going to be reinstalled for the trip because no request has been submitted for a ‘trawl master’ to join the expedition. Oh, and the side-winch we were supposed to be using instead was… broken beyond repair. At the 11th hour, I was offered a free ride to Marion, but no data would be collected en route. After months of self-imposed isolation while writing up my thesis, I needed more than that. Field work, exhausting back-breaking unforgiving field work. So I joined another research group in sunny Elands Bay and worked on something that would change the course of my research – phytoplankton. What can I say? I fell for the little green cells.
A year later, just as the time finally came to sign up for the Agulhas, things started to go properly wrong again. Regrettably, UCT was unable to get their ducks in a row (despite a gallant effort by the HoD of Oceanography), and St. Andrews rode in on their white horse to scoop me up. Today, as my train snakes north to Scotland, the Agulhas steams south without me. But it gets worse this time around. My beautiful FCTD tags – the ones that were due to be glued to my amazing seals to collect all my awesome data – didn’t make it to the ship on time. Despite clearing South African customs on the 23rd of March, they too have been left behind. And with them, all my fragile hopes of collecting fluorescence data.
The next cruise is in a year’s time. We don’t get many shots at this island so I find myself staring into the abyss of no data. And even though the tags WILL get to Marion the next time around (because they’ll be strapped to my body and nothing is going to stand in my way again), the seals only undertake their post-breeding migration at the tail-end of the year. So what do I do until December 2013?!
With my satellite now orbiting uselessly and my tags gathering dust at customs… I’m tempted to give up, curl into a ball and weep. Or maybe start working for a big oil company keen on prospecting in pristine Southern Ocean waters. Okay, I’m kidding about the latter but it would be NICE if one of you piped up now to say “hey, so I have this enormous ship just lying around and if you need a ride, we’ll give you and your tags a lift to Marion”. Or maybe even “well, I have this plane and you’re quite keen to skydive – maybe we can make a plan”. I’m not fussy guys – plane, submarine or ship works equally well for me.
But I’m guessing my readers don’t include Phillippe Cousteau or James Cameron… so Dr. Lars Boehme and I have to come up with plan B. More precisely, plan C. But I ain’t going home until I’ve figured out The Conundrum of Weight Gain.