Royal Research Ships, it seems, are a little like giant telescopes.
Instead of buying, or hiring one, and sailing away to conduct their experiments in a one-off voyage, scientists “book time” on the research ship that’s passing closest to the feature they want to study. The ships themselves plough endlessly this way and that across the high seas.
It’s the most efficient way of managing what are admittedly expensive bits of kit – the RRS James Cook cost the Natural Environment Research Council some £36 million in 2006 – but it means they’re constantly at sea. When one does finally put in to port, there’s something of a mad scramble to load it up with experimental equipment that may not be needed for months or even years.