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The crew out on deck during the storm, ensuring all equipment, rigging and external hardware are secure. The squalls, at times reaching 48 knot winds and 18ft (6 meter) swell continued and the rain pelted down, stinging our eyes and bodies whenever we ventured outside.
Photo: Chris Johnson

February 20, 2001
Monsoon
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Log Transcript

This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the Odyssey. We are currently anchored on the leeward side of a small and remote atoll approximately two hundred miles east of New Ireland Province, Papua New Guinea. This departure from our route was an unscheduled stop, however, the course of events that have occurred over the last 36 hours have taken us on this unexpected detour.

The entire crew of the Odyssey feel very lucky to be part of a such unique and important scientific expedition. However, there are some less than glamorous, even potentialy dangerous aspects of our jobs, that we must be prepared to contend with at any time in the open ocean.

We were ecstatic to find whales in the old whaling grounds east of Papua New Guinea, an area which historically, has been known to support a large population of sperm whales. We first heard their clicks on the acoustic array in the early hours, around 2am. As soon as the sun rose, we were on deck and proceeded to spend the best part of the day with a group of approximately twenty-five sperm whales.

It was mid-afternoon when thick, heavy gray clouds began to gather, and tall sheets of rain could be observed in the distance. The radar indicated several large squalls that were headed in our direction at an incredible pace. Then like an explosion, the monsoon hit. (recording) We could no longer stay with the whales, instead our energies were focused on securing the boat and battening down the hatches. Below deck the Odyssey rolled and heaved violently, dishes crashed, drinks spilled, water poured into the galley, books flew from their shelves and we were all flung hopelessly from one side of the boat to the other. Keeping a low center of gravity is the only option in this scenario if one is to stay on their feet. This was the largest storm we have experienced so far during the 'voyage' and it took us by great surprise.

The crew spent a large portion of the night on deck, trying to hold course and ensure all deck equipment, rigging and external hardware were secure. We all took shifts steering by hand since our autopilot could not keep a true course with the heavy seas. The squalls continued and the rain pelted down, stinging our eyes and bodies whenever we were on deck. The Odyssey sustained some damage to the dinghy and its 'whale boom'. At 3am all the crew were up with lifejackets on, attempting to bring in one of the poles of the boom structure, which came loose in the pounding waves. Working together during the precarious conditions, the crew were able to pull it back onto the Odyssey, dissemble the boom while securing it on deck without further incident or injury.

After a long and draining night, the sun rose, only to reveal a swell more befitting the high latitudes of the southern ocean. Their size, now at six meters (18 feet), was steadily increasing, while the wind speed peaked at 48 knots.

The Odyssey and its crew seek shelter from the storm on the leeward side of Nuguria Island.
Photo: Chris Johnson

For fourteen hours we ploughed headlong into the monsoon, hoping it would pass, and our arrival in Kavieng only slightly delayed. However, this was not to be and we were forced to relent to the storm, turn the boat back in the direction from which we had just come and literally 'surf' the giant swell. The nearest land to the east was the Nuguria Island group only 20 miles away, situated at the northern tip of the Solomon Island chain. By early afternoon today we had managed to anchor, seeking refuge behind beautiful Nugarba Atoll, waiting for a break in the weather. Captain Bob Wallace noted to the crew that these are typical meterological events for South East Asia this time of year. We hope that we don't encounter such grueling conditions on a regular basis.

Although an exceptionally lush and picturesque place, we are keen to continue on a safe journey west to Kavieng in the morning.

Log by Genevieve Johnson

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