We spent much of the day of 28 March stationed near to the stuck VMP, hoping that it would rise. We also spent that time sitting out the storm. Southern Ocean storms happen on a weekly basis, or even more frequently. Indeed, we may have yet another storm coming through in a few days.
Incessant winds and waves
24 hours at this speed is an amazing amount of energy transferred from the atmosphere to the ocean. It is no wonder that the Southern Ocean is home to the largest ocean swells on the planet, arising from the strong and sustained winds and the infinite fetch (distance over which winds can blow before hitting land). It is also home to the strongest current on the planet, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC). We are in fact somewhat south of the ACC now, sitting in the northern portion of the Weddell Sea. Nonetheless, the winds are here, the waves are here, and both are really really powerful.
|The wind-swept sea starting to organize into swell. Note that foam that is ripped off the tops of cresting waves.|
For those interested in wave information, I took the following reading from the ship's instrumentation: maximum wave height 9.3m; significant wave height 6.1m; winds sustained around 40 knots with gusts to 55 knots; position: 61,56 S; 31,40 W. Later in the afternoon, the winds and waves rose further. So my guess is the peak swell was around 11-12 metres and sustained winds 45-50 knots. Another interesting facet of this storm is the absence of heavy rains or snow. In fact, most of the storm was just wind and diffuse clouds. There has not been much precipitation at all.
By late afternoon of 28 March, the wind swept sea had organized into quasi-regular swells, thus making the rocking and rolling motion of the ship quite impressive. Many of us were so fascinated by the waves and winds that we kept returning to the Monkey Island on top of the ship's navigation bridge to feel the energy, get wind blow frozen, return inside to get warm, then go out yet again.
Making a turn to the northeast and surfing downwind
|This photo was taken near to the time when we started to make the turn towards the northeast, and thus downwind. It was an amazing sight to see how the ship rolled as it turned. But with a heavy ballast in the keel, it remained quite stable.|
Upon stabilizing in the northeast direction, nearly downwind, the best views were now aft (the rear). What was previously an up down pitching motion facing the wind became a downwind surfing action. The surfing of the ship was astonishing. The wave swells were peaking around 9-10 metres at this point, causing the ship to ride the swell like an experienced surfer. Every few waves appeared to come right up to the lower deck rails, almost swamping the ship. But the ship speed was just right to avoid the wash. Doubtless those on the bridge have done this before.
Many of us on the Monkey Island were fascinated by the how the birds reacted to the storm. Generally, they swooped low to the wave tops, trying not to fly too high so to avoid the bulk of the wind. Rarely did any of the larger birds (albatross, petrels) flap their wings, given the wind that was more than sufficient to keep them aloft.