Comes the Dawn.
The Gemini Explorer, with skipper Davy at the helm, pulls out of Buckie Harbour just after 7am. The whole team is safely on board and the sea inside the harbour is reassuringly calm.
Will Pine’s decision to re-launch the survey today prove to be the right one?
She has chosen to start the day with a track eastwards and parallel to the coast (about two miles off). As the boat sneaks up on the start of the transect line, the light improves. It is a lovely calm sea (scaly ripples give us a sea state of one). The plan is to continue for some miles along this pre-set line then turn sharply north out to sea, then some twelve miles later a sharp left will take us in a parallel offshore track. If conditions are good, at the end of this track, we will try to complete another similar sized box further out to sea again.
The day is overcast. A grey sky meets a grey sea, hiding some mainly rather grey animals (including some grey seals, which are rapidly noted by the data-logger and sucked into the data set). The out-to-sea journey takes us into increasingly large waves. Fulmars (mainly grey) skim over the waves tops and ride along behind us in the ship’s wake.
Somewhere along the way a few porpoises are also noted.
When we get to the point where we have to decide if we go further out or only survey for half a day, Pine takes the brave option and northwards we go again.
A little later the wind has picked up. Most waves are now tipped with foam and ever deepening troughs separate them. The observer on the bow as the ship faces into the waves is now experiencing something of a bracing roller-coaster ride. This is that special location on the Gemini Explorer where a wave hitting the bow will first throw spray over the top and into the observer’s face and then sneak underneath the boat and up the two anchor wells immediately behind the observer to whack them with a healthy dose of water on the backside.
This is mostly amusing. However, as we approach a sea state 3.5, the bow observer can be getting quite a tricky ride. It is difficult to survey the seas and dodge the spray at the same time.
After a while the sopping bow-observer is called in and we continue with a single observation team up on the cabin roof only. Fortunately within 20 minutes the winds and waves drop and then we resume a full strength survey. (The bow observer still gets the occasional slap from the sea but at least they can now see well enough to spot animals.)
The day ends with an increasingly calm trip back to Buckie. Along the way there are puffins, guillemots, young gannets and a couple of groups of porpoises.
Here volunteer observer Jenny adds a comment:
Wednesday’s survey was fun despite the lack of show-stopping cetacean sightings and some intermittent drizzle. I saw seals, porpoises and a large group of about 25 fulmars.
The fulmars were a personal highlight as these graceful birds are possibly my favourite seabirds and are usually seen solo or in pairs. The gannets are also beautiful at this time of year, appearing in all gradations from the chocolate coloured juveniles, to those dappled with white, to the mature white birds with black wing tips and yellow faces. I also enjoyed our upper deck ‘silent disco’ as the sun set. Watching Bea dance to her music - eyes still fixated on the sea of course- brightened up the last shift of the day.
Comes the Dawn.