Science Sets Sail (02-10/08/2017)

The most unusual setting for me to discuss science yet!
On invitation of FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg I could swap the lab (in my everyday life I am postdoc at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology) with the baltic sea for 8 days. In Tallinn, Estonia I boarded the three-mast schooner Thor Heyerdahl, aptly named after the Norwegian explorer, on leg 3 of its Science Sets Sail journey
The concept: find out what ideas 30 scientists, including 6 immunologists, come up with while working together on a ship in the Baltic sea and spice it with some public science communication. The Thor Heyerdahl is usually used as a sailing classroom ( 50 people share 3 toilets, privacy is restricted to a bunk bed and everyone on board has to participate in gally (kitchen) duty, cleaning routine - and of course sailing. I was member of watch 3 which is in charge of operating the ship from 8-12am and 8-12pm. Under supervision of the crew we learned how to steer, report ships observed during lookout, handle the sails (impossible without good teamwork and coordination), carry out the regular machine and safety control rounds and weather checks, climb the rigging (favorite place!), and lots of new nautical expressions (very important to identify the correct halyard, downhaul, sheet, preventer, topping lift, ... that needs to be hieved or slacked).
Unfortunately we started with the wind against us and after two slow days under engine against the wind and majority of passengers, including me, badly seasick, the captain decided to change plans, skip Gdansk and head to Gotland, Sweden instead. Anchoring off Gotland allowed everyone to recover from seasickness and finally there was time to discuss science (which is much easier if you do not have to stay in proximity to the railing...). However, the planned public "Open Ship Day" in Gdansk had to become a "Closed Ship Day" on the Thor Heyerdahl. This was sad with respect to the public science communication but apart from that very interesting and fun. Watching the sunset from top of the schooner mast and a barbecue on shore made up for the rough weather the first two days. From Gotland we continued to Bornholm, Denmark and this time the winds were favorable. We got to sail for two days and reached up to 7.5 knots! While I had to say goodbye in Bornholm, the rest of the crew continued to Rostock as their final port.
Science Sets Sail was an awesome experience. I had lots of interesting discussions across disciplines and with the other immunologists on board, the Thor Heyerdahl and her crew are lovely, and sailing is great fun once you stop feeding the fish.

More detailed reports in the logbook entries and on the NZ campus blog:

Pictures of me by Jan, Christina, Susi.