Challenging Habitat Blog

Another beautiful morning aboard the Pelican of London.

We’ve set sail to head North through the Minch, where we’ll watch out for the blue men of the sea calling… the stories of the Selkie.

The plan is to sail around the northern coast of Scotland and reach the more sheltered waters of the east coast before the next Atlantic lows roll through bringing strong winds.

For now, we’re setting more sail!

Cetacean surveys will be our main focus on the science side, while all hands on deck are required for sailing the ship safely.

Looking out for cetaceans I’m the driving rain of the early evening requires dedication!

Some (seals) are lazily digesting their food …

… while we going live with ‘education by the seats of our pants’ to hundreds of schools around the world with the stories of sailing and science aboard the Pelican of London.

Manx sheer water, sunfish, history and culture of Lewis, water sampling, and of course the Darwin 200 project featured in a 30 minute session.

Kids asked inspired questions, including ‘why did you become a scientist?’

Then we started the hard tack competition. Hard tack is a biscuit made with flour, salt and water and baked so hard that it lasts for years, give the odd weevil or two.

Some of our designs are not entirely traditional…

Hard tack used to be part of sailor’s rations, along with rhum and salt pork, on voyages that lasted months and years.

Oh, how I would miss my greens!

My hard tack came out of the oven in tact and represent the Pelican of London sailing under the Harvest Moon.

Darwin200 day 12: fair winds

My day started at 06:00 with a profile of the water column to check salinity, oxygen saturation, temperature and pH.

After breakfast we commenced to be busy with Happy Hour, which means daily cleaning chores around the ship.

Based on subtle changes of these parameters, we decided to take samples at four different depths, including near the bottom at 25 m and near the surface.

After breakfast, y watch was allocated to scrub the deck during Happy Hour, the daily cleaning of the ship routine.

I took the opportunity to sample what went down the scuppers from the port poop deck with our plankton net. Analysis under by microscope to follow. But it’s not looking too pretty!

Then it was all hands on deck for setting sails: inner foresail and gaff, spanker and three squares. And we pretty much tacked and braced throughout the day, and still going strong now into the night.

An impromptu yoga class led by the ship’s medic Jo on the welldeck made use of the stable motion of the ship running down wind. It finished with a loooooong plank and let’s just say that the young men caved in before the mature women…πŸ‘πŸ˜‚πŸ’ͺ

After lunch, we run our daily cetacean and macroplastics surveys and analysed samples for nutrient concentrations.

A lovely moment occurred when I spotted two adult bottlenose dolphins with two juveniles playing in our bow wave.

Magic! Especially in the spectacular settings of Skye to starboard and Uist to port.

And now, a big moon and the first stars appear on the darkening sky.

It is a privilege to be here and in such good company!

The morning started with a bit of excitement when Kerry spotted a basking shark before breakfast.

We started our daily cetacean survey after scrubbing the decks and cleaning  below.

Highlights included common dolphins leaping clean out of the water, at least two body lengths high, and a minke whale surfacing just 20 meters off our welldeck on the port side.

Aloft and close up, we saw fulmars and gannets and for a while, a kittiwake graced us with its company at the bows.

Later on, between Isla and Jura, bottlenose dolphins joined our bow wave for a short while.

And of course, the scenery is stunning!

This afternoon, we discussed physical oceanography and how the properties of water, global currents and structure of the water column in the oceans support life through climate regulation and sustaining primary production.

Having made good progress, we’re going along the island of Kerrara towards Oban, where we’ll anchor.

The Darwin 200 team, Stew, Rohan and Stew are producing a series of videos from our voyage of sail training, nature observation and pollution surveys.

Although I was not on board for the first 11 (!) of these, I’ll post them here for their ‘seriously watchable’ value.

Happy viewing!

Darwin 200 Liverpool

Darwin 200 Episode 2 Planning the Science

Darwin 200 Episode 4 Dolphins

Darwin 200 Episode 5 Tackling Plastics

Darwin 200 Episode 6 Life on Board

Darwin 200 in Plymouth!

Darwin 200 Episode 7 Journey to the Scillies

Darwin 200 Episode 8 More Plastic!

Darwin 200 Episode 9 Diving in the Southwest

Darwin 200 Episode 10 Sunfish

I met Victoria Todd from OSC – Ocean Science Consulting – yesterday afternoon by chance in Liverpool dock. She very kindly offered to give the young people aboard the Pelican a talk on the impact of noise on marine mammals.

Her research vessel is based just outside the Tate and because of covid-19 security, we all met through MS Teams instead of face to face.

Abigail, second year BSc Environmental Science student at the University of Plymouth, provided her perspective here:

Every cityscape is enhanced when viewed through the rigging of a tall ship. OK, perhaps that’s only so these days when we’re aboard voluntarily!

Plenty of people turned out to see Pelican of London arrive in the historic docks outside Merseyside Maritime Museum.

And I am happy to join the ship today and lead the science education programme for the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, the new contingent of young people are undergoing Covid-19 security before stepping on board while we wait in the sunshine getting to know each other.

Follow our journey of discovery, thrills and learning around the northern part of Britain on this blog and @plymenv @darwin200

The Darwin 200 project of ocean science and conservation has arrived in Sutton Harbour, Plymouth.

While sail trainees maintain the rigging, science students analyse nutrients in samples taken earlier.

Wander by to talk to the young people aboard or just marvel at the ship!

Next stop Famouth!

A few days ago I shared my excitement about my involvement with the organisation Darwin 200 and the UK launch of its Ocean Science and Conservation programme [LINK].

The tall ship Pelican of London has safely arrived at Folkestone this morning, where the Darwin 200 UK programme will officially begin tomorrow.

Expect some media coverage in the coming 7 weeks, starting with the University of Plymouth press release [LINK], and fabulous pictures, videos and ocean science data here:


In August 2019, environmental and ocean scientists from various universities, including myself and Richard Sandford from the University of Plymouth, loaded a lot of scientific equipment on board the tall ship Pelican of London for a week of sail training and science education. I wrote about this in a previous post called ‘You take care of what you love, don’t you?.Β 

Now we are preparing for more: the ocean science programme “Sea the Future” is coming to Plymouth in the Mayflower 400 year of 2020, for 4 x 10 days of sail training and environmental marine science in April/May and September.

Check out what’s on offer at Sea the Future website and watch the ocean science video, and check out more about marine careers and training on the website or get to the facebook page or instagram.

I hope to see you aboard sometime!

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