18 August, 2010
By Michael Dessner
I arrived last night at 10:30 PM into St John’s, Newfoundland, cleared customs with no hassles and grabbed a cab into town, noting the hilly terrain and a well lit urban area much larger than I had imagined. The area is well developed (just so as this is purported to be the oldest city in North America) and seems typically northeastern: a lot of older, wooden construction with the more modern buildings sprinkled throughout in what I have learned is a fairly Canadian fashion, everything neatly laid out with sightlines taken into account. It’s very picaresque and the locals are also typical of my past experience with Canadians: polite, happy and helpful.
The skies were clear, the weather cool (mid 60’s) as I checked into my hotel and dropped my bags in my room, which boasts a view of the narrows and the pier where the R/V Jean Charcot is tied up. I checked with my teammates from Woods Hole and found that they had landed just behind me and would be in their rooms shortly; we made arrangements to meet on St. George’s Street.
I’m not sure how the locals would care for this characterization but St. Georges Street seemed to me like a smaller, cleaner version Bourbon Street North without the puking kids and women flashing their goods for strings of beads. A narrow lane of tightly packed bars and restaurants on the hillside paralleling the water, lots of music blaring out onto the street which held a fair number of folks enjoying the nightlife, St. Georges Street was somewhat a surprise on a Tuesday night late in the summer. I turned into the first Irish pub I came across and enjoyed a Jameson’s whiskey in a nod to my good friend and Alaskan fisherman, Baja Steve (a routine I learned from him: when entering a new town on the water, start with a drink among the Irish). By then the boys had arrived in the area and we all met to catch up and tell lies in a different Irish pub just up the lane (apparently the WHOI boys also enjoy the same tradition). We gossiped and laughed and gave a good natured hard time to the new kid, a nice looking lad named Kevin who the WHOI Ops team had recently brought on board. We wrapped up after a couple and grabbed a slice and a cab and made our way back to our rooms. I had a capital good time on St. George’s and expect I’ll have one or two more before I leave Newfoundland to come home.
The only other item of note was that around 11PM we all heard a number of sirens running through town. I recalled that earlier I had put my glasses on the ship from my room and had seen that there was some grinding and cutting being done as evidenced by the strobe like flares of flaming welding rod and showers of sparks put out by the grinders. I remember thinking to myself as the sirens wailed past, “I hope that ain’t got nothing to do with us”. If I could only learn how to put such thoughts from my head; their self fulfilling nature is no fun at all.
I woke up a jet lagged hour behind schedule and checked in with the team. They were still lazing over breakfast and informed me that indeed the sirens we’d heard the night before had been the local fire department responding to a fire aboard the ship. Fire on boats is ultra bad news, generally speaking if you do not have a fire under control on a ship within 7 minutes its time to abandon because it she will be going down. Most everything that can burn on a boat will also kill you if you take a lungful of the smoke generated. Thankfully this was a small fire, caused by the heating of cutting torches on the back deck which had warmed through the bulkhead and ignited some wiring in the ceiling of the deck below. A lot of smoke but little damage, however the trouble was that now we had the locals involved and before work could resume they had to finish their investigation. The ship was closed for hotwork until that was completed, hence the easy breakfast the boys took this morning.
Today was a grey day, when I first awoke it seemed just lightly overcast but the fog bank I spied beyond the narrows leading into the area known as the Grand Bank was forbidding. Deep and thick, an impenetrable grey blanket lay on the water just outside the harbor. As the day progressed so did the grey and by 3 in the afternoon it was raining. Right around the same time hotwork was resumed which was critical to our timeline. During the morning hours all we could do was unload our trucks and stage some equipment; until the gear on board from the previous job was cut free and the deck ground down we would be unable to move forward with welding our equipment to the deck. Once hotwork resumed that gear was craned off and our guys started laying out their deck pattern for the AUV system. Our plan today is to get the LARS installed and that looks like it will take place, albeit probably not until later this evening. The team cut me loose and put me on call if they needed me but right now most of the work being done is finger pointing by the leaders of our group as they direct the crane driver and welders on what they need done.
The ship is definitely a workboat, not beautiful but sturdy, lots of steel to work with and plenty of space. There are a multitude of groups coming together for this expedition and many folks, to include the leadership, are not yet here. The deck crew looks mainly comprised of Pilipino sailors, I detected an Irish or Scottish brogue among a few of the crew and have yet to meet the captain or mates. A truckload of food arrived during the afternoon and just a few crewmembers were working to carry the boxes up over the gangway and having a tough go of it. I joined in and then the rest of the Ops team followed. Before you knew it we had a good bucket brigade going, enough people where all you had to do was take a box from the guy on your right and hand it to the person on your left, a couple hours work reduced to 20 minutes and done as a group with no thought given to whether or not it was “my job”. The first smiles and introductions followed, I rate it as the most important thing I accomplished today.
This is going to be a good cruise. A good group of people, that much is apparent now, clear objectives and a concise plan. I can tell already that I will, on this voyage, as I have on just about every one that preceded it, make some lifelong friends.