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Crossing on board the Laurence M. Gould

Trawl fishing © Thomas Desvignes
Crossing on board the Laurence M. Gould

The Laurence M. Gould is a 70-meter icebreaker that can stay at sea for 74 days. Its top speed is about 25 kph. From my upper berth I hear sounds that are occasionally worrying, but to the crew they don’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary. Sometimes a piece of floating ice bumps fairly hard against the hull… All the same I take advantage of the cruise to read up on ecology and on the biology of the species I’ll be concerned with for the next few weeks. I intersperse my reading with bracing strolls on the deck.

The water taxi

During conversations at meals I find out that we’re not heading directly to Palmer Station but instead to an Argentine base to deliver two geologist fellow passengers who’ll be going off to work with a team from Argentina. When we get to the meeting point, the weather is quite windy and cold, and night is approaching. In spite of everything, a zodiac will be launched and make its way to the outskirts of the station to drop off the two geologists and their equipment. The operation is risky, but the operators don’t seem bothered overmuch.

Fishing at Lowe Island

The journey there and back completed, we set off again, and to my great delight the next destination is the fishing ground of Lowe Island. Fishing will take place on a 12-hour cycle, and I’ll be on the night shift. The reason for my choosing this timeslot is I’ve learned from my reading that mackerel icefish are generally caught at night. On board, six one-cubic-meter isothermic tanks designed to hold the caught fish are lowered into the sea. The water circulates through them continuously, and bubblers are installed to ensure a good supply of oxygen. The dragnet is deployed in an area with a depth of 250 meters, the hauls will last 15 minutes, while the lowering and raising will each take over 30. Eleven p.m.: first haul, I’m ready, equipped with a helmet and survival suit, waterproof clothing and huge blue gloves. My job will be to quickly transfer the fish that have been caught from the net to the tanks. All the operations (including duration) and the depth data, speed, cable length and tension can be followed live on giant screens, And here we go, the first shipment is being brought up! What strikes me right away is the smell, an odor that despite my earlier experience I don’t recognize. That particular smell will follow me everywhere during my crossing.

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