Day 42: 11 February 2019

My family regularly goes on holiday to the Tuscan Island of Giglio.  Many years ago there was a young seagull there with a pronounced limp which the fisherman called ‘Il Zoppo’ (the cripple).   He was one of a bunch of layabouts that used to stalk tourists for scraps of food.  Because he was struggling, my boys used to make sure he was always well fed and, over time, he grew to recognize us as an easy touch.  We called him Giuseppe.  The next year he was still there, but now a tawny juvenile, and although his limp was not so pronounced it was undoubtedly the same bird.  The following year my youngest, then about six, couldn’t wait to see Giuseppe, but by then you couldn’t tell the difference between him and all the other gulls.  Anxious not to disappoint, I pointed to a random gull and said ‘Its Giuseppe’.  And every day so it went.  Zak never caught on and my older boys, who were less gullible, played along with it.  About a year later we were on the beach in another country looking at the gulls, and Zak suddenly started shouting ‘It’s Giuseppe.  It’s Giuseppe’.  At last he had twigged it.  Zak is now 20 but still at least once a year we play the game when we see seagulls.

Anyway   For several days we have been attracting seals.  Each day they grow in number and when we become icebound they simply haul themselves up on the ice beside us and go to sleep.  Whether it is curiosity, our noise or the heat we radiate, we simply do not know, but what is certain is that they enjoy being in our company and are now so confident in our presence that, when we are stationary, they frolic about in the gaps a mere inch or two from our hull.  They must be close to 150 in number and there is a wonderful innocence in the relationship between us.

Anyway   A couple of days back I remarked, ‘Oh look, it’s Giuseppe’.  There were puzzled expressions, so I explained that one of the seals had a droopy right flipper and a little scar above the eye.  They all looked with interest, but he had gone.  I did the same again yesterday, and again I had them searching for Giuseppe.  What gets me is that this is an extremely sophisticated bunch of people, all educated way beyond their years, yet not one of them spotted my little bluff.  Until today that is …

Anyway   Today the most truly amazing thing happened.  It occurred when we opened the moon-pool, the yawning shaft that goes right through the hull of our ship and allows us to lower our instrumentation into the water in a protected manner whatever the sea might be up to on the surface.  Our intention was to put down the HiPAP, a metal shaft with a transducer on the end that allows acoustic communication with the AUV.   I happened to be there with a couple of the crew when the trap, that is flush with the bottom of the hull, was unsealed.   I could not believe my eyes.  Looking down through the ship I could see a frenzy of seals darting back and forth immediately below our keel.  And, yes, they swam right up into the moon-pool.  They even broke surface within our ship.  It was one of the most remarkable sights I had ever beheld.  Soon some twenty of the team had gathered and were all leaning over the rail and staring down mouths agape.   It was then, as one of the seals swam up and broke surface within our very ship, that Olive (tall, elegant, from Brixton, wears turtle-neck sweaters), who is clearly streets ahead of everybody else on the team,  suddenly started jumping up and down, ‘It’s Giuseppe, it’s Giuseppe!‘ she ululated.

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AUV 7 is 3000 meters down under thick ice and behaving.   Tomorrow she returns. In the meantime, in between time, there is nothing we can do.  Everybody quietly getting on with their duties.  Everybody very professional.  Everybody wondering if tomorrow we will receive the summons of history.  If it does not happen nobody, myself included, will be upset, because, against incredible odds, we actually got here.   And we have all felt so privileged for that.  But whatever tomorrow brings, our odyssey will soon be over.