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To maximise the time we have out here during the SMARTEX expedition, life on the RRS James Cook must run around the clock, with deployments, sample processing, and day-to-day living occurring 24/7. The science team is split into two twelve-hour shifts to cover all scientific goings on - midnight to midday, and midday to midnight. Though often called the night and day shifts respectively, the day shift has pointed out that both get six hours of daylight, so it is perhaps more equitable to name them the AM and PM watches, but dawn and dusk, sunrise and sunset work too. 

On the transit out to the site, everyone is more or less working at the same time, perhaps still with the dregs of jetlag from the journey to Costa Rica. As the days until we reach the first site count fewer and fewer, everyone gradually begins to prepare for each shift, with the PM team beginning to stay up later and later, and the AM shift getting up earlier and earlier, working backwards to be able to wake up at 11pm. Before arrival on site, the AM team made ambitious claims of waking up before shift (9, 10pm!) to go to the gym, have a relaxed breakfast, and generally be paragons of good organisation and health -  through a few AM champions do manage this, the reality is that most AM shifters (myself included) scramble out of bed as late as possible, grab a piece of toast, and stumble bleary-eyed to the handover with the PM shift at midnight. 

There is a great dissonance in energy between both shifts at either handover, with those coming off shift buzzing with excitement and a high from the day’s science, and the shift coming on just trying to get a handle on reality. It’s odd also to only see half your colleagues for a fleeting few moments each dayAt the midday handover, the sun outside is on full blast and it can sometimes be more difficult to wind down than it was to wake up. With time this gets easier, but it is always slightly heartbreaking to shut your porthole on the sun and bright blue sea at 2pm in the afternoon. 



View out a porthole looking out onto blue sky and bright blue sea
Bed time



The AM shift comes with a list of pros too of course. You get a lot of the cooler part of the day, which is very welcome when sieving mud and other physical work on deck. The catering team have been amazing, taking care to put aside the ship’s dinner that the AM shift sleeps through so that we can have a “night lunch” in the early hours of the morning. Sometimes though, a spicy curry that sounded fantastic the day before doesn’t sit so well with your stomach at 3 in the morning. However, the AM shift does get the ship’s breakfast meal at 7:20am (that the PM shift sleeps through unless they’re really keen). This means getting eggs, fruit and pastries that are more difficult to source later in the day. In general, there is a nice quietness and calm during the AM hours, even during back-to-back equipment deployments and sample processing. If you have a spare moment to peek over the side of the boat in the darkness, lights from the vessel attract all manner of nocturnal creatures – sharks mooching around in the shadows (we’ve spotted oceanic white tips and silky so far), blue shoals of flying fish, the quick red shadow of a squid. 



An oceanic white tip sharks swimming in dark water
Oceanic white tip carrying out its nightly lurking



Best of all, if you manage to catch it, the sunrise is of course spectacular - everyone around seems to stop to take it in, as if the whole ship is taking a deep breath. 



view of a sunrise over a dark sea, scattered grey clouds in the sky
We made it through the night!


(all images credit Regan Drennan)