Onboard research cruise OTC23

Group photo research cruise OTC23
My crew mates from the white watch

On 3 January, I embarked the Norwegian tall ship Statsraad Lehmkuhl to participate in ESA’s Advanced Ocean Training Course 2023 (OTC23). Tall ships are large, traditionally rigged sailing vessels, and this one navigates the globe as part of the One Ocean Expedition, conveniently aligned with the UN Ocean Decade. This leg went from Maputo in Mozambique to Cape Town in South Africa, a 10-day journey.

During the leg inspiration, joy, and involvement increased rapidly with students, teachers, and tall ship crew alike. Students participated in cross-group discussions, planning of and actual data collection, analyses, and presentations of preliminary findings; teachers guided students with pointed questions, helped with data collection and acted as very approachable sparring partners. In turn, the ship’s crew were indispensable to safeguard progress: without their guidance we would still be in Maputo, I’m afraid.

Everybody on board took regular four-hour watches, which sometimes involved hard labour such as pulling ropes to set and trim sails or climbing the rigs to loosen or fasten them. We also maintained lookouts, a fire watch, and a helm watch in which we steered the ship. All of us slept in hammocks, all genders, side-by-side, with limited privacy. One of the creators of OTC23, Johnny Johannessen, put it like this: “The development of new friendships and networks has created an important platform for contacts and collaboration that we sincerely hope will become highly beneficial for your career development”. Couldn’t have phrased that better myself.

CTD and Niskin bottle measurements
CTD and Niskin bottle measurements

Research-wise, my group investigated two ocean eddies — functioning as a dipole structure — that had already been present for more than half a year, squeezed between the Agulhas Current that we sailed through and the Agulhas Retroflection flowing eastwards. We took conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD) measurements, and back home we looked at historical satellite data to find out why these eddies are there and why they are so stationary, to determine whether they should be considered part of the Agulhas Current. If so, this would imply that this current does not flow in a straight line from the northeast towards the southwest, as textbooks often suggest.

This post includes some pictures of life onboard, but of course these do not fully capture what it’s like to live on such a — literally — tall ship. In case you’re interested, from 17 to 21 April 2023 the One Ocean Week will be held in Bergen, Norway, when Statsraad Lehmkuhl will finally have arrived home. More information can be found on the One Ocean Expedition website.

I had a great time, and I’m really glad to have found out that research, leisure time and hard work can go hand in hand in such an immersive way!

Dennis Vermeulen, Climate Physics master student


View from the ship up in the rig.
View from up in the rig