14 August 2013
– Stories from the crew
One of the most enjoyable parts about being aboard this expedition has been meeting some interesting people. Due to the dimensions of the ship, you can’t get more than 274’ away from anyone at a time, so it’s almost inevitable that you’ll get to know a few people.
One of these people I’ve met is Ed McNichol, the “Video Systems Boss.” Basically, he is in charge of all the complex audio and video streaming, recording, archiving, etc. Ed tells some of the best stories on board, by far. He shoots straight and calls it like he sees it. Having grown up in Philadelphia, he has all these great (but, in actuality, sad) stories about how screwed up Philly is. I told him he has to watch the TV show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia because, I swear, his stories tonight sounded like he wrote a few of those episodes. When it is 3 in the morning and you’re waiting for ROPOS to ascend, which can easily take an hour and half, you have a lot of time to sit and talk. Ed recognized my UW Underdawgs t-shirt, which references a term in SCUBA diving, because he is a Divemaster. I have just recently started getting a few more dives under my belt and he was able to pass on a few insights about what I might gear up with next. His birthday was yesterday so the crew made chocolate cake with Skittles on top… strangely delicious. I try to keep him company on my midnight to 4 am watches because he has to stay up for ROPOS dives. I think he is in the top among those who get the least amount of sleep and consume the most caffeine.
I went up to the bridge for my first time today where the Chief Mate, Lloyd Patten, was on watch. He saw me peeking through some of the bridge windows – I couldn’t find the door – and he gave me a wave. Lloyd was kind enough to let me hang out and watch as ROPOS was being launched. He shared stories about his life while we watched ROPOS go below the waves. He grew up in Bellingham, WA and currently lives near Terrebonne, OR. From those two cities, I knew he must be an outdoorsman and he continued to tell me about the days when he used to rock climb. I was truly interested in hearing everything he had to tell about the Central Oregon area because I had just recently been climbing there at Smith Rock. Lloyd says he still goes hiking at Smith with his wife and they also make the trek up to Mt Hood for skiing and snowboarding. It was an amazing place to visit and it sounds like a beautiful place to live. He also told me a bit about the last boat he worked on. It was a boat about 60 feet longer than the R/V Thompson and was designed specifically to carry rockets that launch into space. He told me all of this while standing next to an instrument panel that is longer than my bed. To say there are some cool people on board would be a gross understatement.
I have carried away many lessons and skills from this ship that aren’t normally taught in a classroom. These two men are just a few of the many fantastic people I have met aboard the ship. From the galley to the engine room and the laundry room to the bridge, I am grateful to be surrounded by some truly interesting people.
7 August 2013
First Watch and the CTD Incident
It is midnight and I am feeling… just okay… after an hour of sleep. ROPOS is back on deck so there shall be no work with IRLS. Vega Shah, a graduate student in biological oceanography, is still awake without sleep (a recurring theme on a research cruise) preparing for the first CTD cast at Slope Base. Teos and I help her prepare for her experiments.
My eyes are focused on labeling little bottles for water samples and my stomach begins to turn. I hold it together until all the labeling is complete. Brendan Philip, another senior, is also awake, so I take my mind away from my stomach by helping him wash a few amber bottles that will be used for chlorophyll sampling. I express to Brendan that I am feeling a bit nauseous. He has been on the boat for all 4 legs of the cruise and advises me that one of the best things to do is hydrate and to get a bit of food in me.
In the galley, Teos is sitting with Steve and Peter from the ROPOS team. I join them with a glass of water and a Cup Noodles (the easiest thing for me to prepare with my stomach on edge). Steve is telling us about his 30 years aboard ships which he claims involved work on 300 different ships. His fascinating stories take my mind away from my stomach and I dodge being seasick. As I finish drinking an iced tea, we all clean up. Steve and Peter head to bed, but Teos and I are still on watch for a few hours.
Orest Kawka, a research scientist from UW, will be utilizing the CTD tonight. Teos and I help by moving sampling bottles on deck so we may collect water for nutrient and chlorophyll sampling. We don some hardhats and lifejackets before preparing the CTD. For those of you who are unfamiliar, CTD stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth. It is a package of sensors that are connected to a metal frame, called a rosette. 24 niskin bottles, which are used for collecting water, sit in the frame in a circle and can be remotely “fired” on command to collect water from a variety of depths. The niskin bottles are “cocked” and we lower the CTD into the water. Descending and ascending a total of about 6 kilometers at a maximum rate of around 60 meters per minute, it will be several hours before it returns to the surface.
In the main lab, Vega is resting and Teos is reading. I choose to sit in a more comfortable chair in the Computer Lab beside Orest. From here we can watch the rate of descent and the various sensors recording data in real-time, it truly is fascinating. Teos has gone to sleep. It is 0400. Two other senior students, Charlie Parker from UW and Caitlin Russell from Boston University, are now beginning their watch.
The CTD is having issues during its ascent causing it to reel in quite slowly. After what feels like forever, the computer monitors shows that the CTD is near the surface. Charlie, Caitlin, and I head to the deck to bring the rosette back on deck. As the rosette begins to breach the surface, not a meter above the water, the cable breaks. The CTD drops back into the water and I can’t believe my tired eyes.
I realize this CTD incident could have been much worse if there had been more tension on the cable… that winch is capable of lifting with several thousand pounds of force and could have sent the cable reeling in hard and fast towards anyone on deck. My heart rate drops back down and I am tired again. There is nothing to do for now. However, we have one powerful and capable ROV on board. Perhaps we will see the CTD yet.
6 August 2013
Into the Fog and Under the Bridge –
Waking up on the boat is slightly familiar because I have brought along my faithful sleeping pad and a comfortable blanket from home. After breakfast, I walk outside into the cold morning air. There is a thick fog over the coastal city of Newport and I can barely see Yaquina Bay Bridge. The fog prevents us from our planned departure of 0900, but we get underway without too much delay. As we pass under the bridge leaving Newport, I am standing on the bow snapping some pictures from my cell phone. The foghorn bellows and saying it is loud is an understatement. Our first stop is Hydrate Ridge and the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) ROPOS team prepares for our first dive of Leg 4.
My greatest enthusiasm for this expedition came from the knowledge that I would be able to watch the ROPOS team in action and it was finally happening. Seeing the ROV in person and realizing how much work and planning has gone into this machine is truly amazing. The control room has at least 5 or 10 HD monitors, all of which are sizable enough such that no one would complain if it were in their living room. Cables are strung from the ceiling and secured to the floors and walls. Instruments and control panels are placed so that the pilots, navigators, marine techs, students, scientists, and engineers may all interact in harmony.
With the upcoming first dive, we are all trained on the Integrated Real-Time Logging System (IRLS). IRLS involves attention to detail as you and a partner observe a ROPOS dive. One must be sure to note all actions taken and anything of interest. Things as seemingly insignificant as the ROV entering the water or as exciting as a new instrument being placed are all recorded. Two people are placed on “watch” for a 4-hour time slot. Teos Bisbee, a senior undergraduate in oceanography, and I must be in the ROPOS Control Room from midnight to 0400. Dive 1627 begins 22:30:00 UTC and the ROV returns to the deck after about eight hours.
4 August 2013
Dawn of the First Day –
I rise from bed in Seattle, WA and am excited to start my journey toward Newport, OR for Leg 4 of Visions 2013. Slight anxiety dissipates as I toss a bagel in the toaster and go about my usual morning routines. Additionally, I double-check my gear while attempting to remember what I had already loaded onto the ship before the first leg. Everything seems to be in order. I am picked up by Tim McGinnis and Mike Harrington, two engineers from the Applied Physics Lab at the University of Washington. The usual greetings of handshakes, introductions, and small talk commence but, unfortunately, I am tired from my lack of sleep the night before and I doze off after just an hour of driving.
When I wake up again, we are just south of Olympia, WA. They are speaking with many acronyms and technical jargon that I am not yet familiar with. Through context and a modest understanding of the Regional Scale Node (RSN) project, I am able to chime in and ask a few questions about their work and begin to get myself more acquainted with the weeks to come. As we talk and drive and learn about each other, we accidentally miss our exit off I-5 towards the coast. Luckily, we are in no rush (yet) and meet the R/V Thomas G. Thompson just as Leg 3 is unloading.
Our bags are now on board and we have secured our rooms. The ship is scheduled to leave 0900 on the 6th. It has been 2 years since I was aboard the Thompson and I have forgotten how easy it is to get lost in the corridors. I feel myself becoming slightly anxious after hearing stories of seasickness. Regardless, I am confident in my body, mind… and my strong stomach?
My first day in Newport is concluded with a square meal and some fine beer from the local Rogue Brewery. Back aboard the ship people disperse and head to their bunks. I begin to explore the shared documents on the computers and get a better idea of what sorts of things we will be taking on. Falling asleep in my chair, I decide it’s time to retire to my room. There will be more work to be done soon.