Whilst the team on board Leg 0 have been busy with ROV dives, geological sampling and bathymetric mapping, the Leg 1 participants have been patiently quarantining in a hotel in Las Palmas, waiting for the ship to arrive on 30 July. Richard Austin-Berry, a member of the specialist technical support team for Autosub6000, shares his pre-cruise preparations and quarantine experience…
By Richard Berry-Austin
iMirabilis2 has long been on my horizon. A lot of engineering design work, integration of new equipment, and overhauling of Autosub6000 diverted my attention from just how fast the expedition was approaching. Having completed soak-testing and ballasting of Autosub6000 with just over a week until shipment to Vigo for mobilisation, there was just enough time to organise myself!
I knew I’d be away for 7 weeks, so I took a week off to spend with my wife and baby son (that was actually a busier week than the 8 that preceded it), and thought about how I would spend the 12 days of hotel quarantine. I’ve always been a self-starter, never found it hard to find things to do but I’m very outdoorsy, so many of my usual activities like running, skateboarding, and surfing would all be off limits. Work would bring challenges too: Autosub6000 is mobilised and ready to go. And if I’m not pulling something apart or rebuilding it, I’m designing the next gadget – for which I like to have two 27” monitors. But, I felt as though I had detailed sketch of activities and enough resources to keep my mind occupied.
What I wasn’t prepared for though, was the mental challenge of the hotel quarantine and the restlessness. I probably arrived in a state of exhaustion following the expedition preparation. The moment I closed the door to my room after checking in, it was like my body and mind immediately reduced potential capacity by the limitations of my confinement, and initially my waking hours were little more than a light slumber. My sleep too was little more than a light slumber. I miss my son terribly. But my mind eventually prevailed my lethargic limbs, and I was soon pacing along with Joe Wicks, ripping through his channel feeling positive again, and maintaining some form of productivity. I join my family more or less every meal time, and take my place at the table from an iPad over FaceTime. I even remotely babysat whilst Amelia got on with some housework; Phoenix and I were quite engaged in gargling, waving, clapping, and peek-a-boo for best part of an hour.
Quarantine is an unusual experience; I’ve always eaten when hunger has driven me to, or when it’s convenient. Now I find I sit idly for those meals late, or eat without my usual appetite for those meals early. But the hotel’s room servicing rota has been more randomised; I’ve maintained a state of readiness to leave the room (it’s the only time I can leave) but this can occur any time between 10:00 and 15:00, so I haven’t been able to fully submerse myself in work to avoid the distraction of being involuntarily removed from it, until the housekeeping service has been – I can’t possibly miss the opportunity to leave the room for 10 minutes, and the opportunity to raid the steward’s trolley for coffee and water (or perhaps, politely request it)!
I’ve been bringing the outdoors in as much as I can. The air conditioning shuts off when the window is open (neat!) but I much welcome the humidity, warmth and draught to maintain my connection to the outdoor elements. I can see the port where Sarmiento de Gamboa will collect us, the clouds in the sky, and I down tools between 10:00 and 11:00 each morning to bask in the sunlight that is thrown in through the window.
Sharing the experience over Zoom with colleagues and friends also helped maintain a sense of connection and reality that was initially lost as I became self-absorbed – I’ve only really glimpsed these people during the PCR test, and returning to my room I quickly felt alone again. Reading the experience of others on the iMirabilis2 blog also brought an inspirational positivity – rather than focusing on the here and now, I can eagerly see the bigger picture.
Just 3 more days…