Life at sea is hard to compare with the home quotidian because colleagues, work, dinner, pub, TV, laundry, bed, labs, computers are continually present within the same hundred feet and few decks of space. It can be quite intense, especially when the vagaries of the environment are included: wind and sea, icebergs, aurorae, gulls, whales, seals. Often the port calls lend an exoticism verging on glamour to the unlikeliest places, such as Wallsend, Cardiff or Fairlie, although Reykjavik, Tromsø, Cape Town and Rothera (for example) are more dramatic. A six- or seven-week expedition can seem like it will never end.
Those of us engaged in marine measurements have spent a substantial fraction of our lives at sea on research vessels, so RRS Discovery's last-ever visit to Southampton was poignant. The ship departed Empress Dock on 21 December 2012 having been in service for just over fifty years. A few of us took the chance of a last look around, and that was odd because the old tub was empty of scientific gear: just bare labs and trailing cables, and the ship smell that used to be an indelible blend of diesel, cabbage and fags, nowadays lacking the smoke element.
On 2 January 2013 our friend and colleague Seymour Laxon died, a little short of his fiftieth birthday, and I thought of this photograph of Discovery taken by Andrew Yool from the top-floor south-facing tea room in NOC, Southampton. It shows the fine old ship sailing down Southampton Water, her outline hardly visible against the glare of the sunlight, never to be seen again.
Memories are a poor substitute for the real thing.
Written by Dr Sheldon Bacon, NOC.