1 September, 2010
By Michael Dessner
Having your expedition cut short by weather is not a lot of fun. Aspirations that have been building for years are funneled into planning over months and months to pull all the necessary personnel and pieces of equipment together and the little details are astronomical in number. When it all comes together, it’s like a soufflé. Get the temperature wrong, add just a little bit too much of this or that, heck, look at it too hard and the thing will fall flat. When ya get it up and running the very last thing you want to do is shut it down for a week, no matter the reason. So many things can go wrong at that point. What if one of your key guys (and we have a few) has a scheduling conflict that cannot be avoided? The ship has a schedule and shoving everything back a couple weeks isn’t always a viable option. And then there’s the cost. 30 people flying home or spending a week in hotels? It ain’t hard to imagine the fiscal impact. I would say that Chris Davino, the president of RMS Titanic, has taken it in stride and with exceptional professionalism and aplomb.
He has experience with water based operations from his early fishing days so he totally gets it and never once frowned at the reality of 2 hurricanes barreling down directly onto his meticulously planned project, but everything has a bottom line and his can’t help but be affected. Still, he didn’t miss a beat or hesitate. “Damn good job, do what ya gotta do and be back in a week” pretty well sums up his response to us regarding the situation. And that will happen with this mission, nobody wants to leave and watch it on TV. With few exceptions, everybody had to fight and scratch for a berth on the Jean Charcot; nobody is voluntarily giving one up, come hell or high water (which might fairly well describe your average hurricane).
As I alluded to in an earlier post, the break does allow us to get some pretty seriously needed work done. The down time gives us a chance to deal with some generator/power issues that cropped up late in the first leg; we can tune in our sat comms which won’t be a bad thing at all. Andy Sherrell, who is crunching data, can get some ducks in a row. By and large the expedition will be improved by the time out. When gather together this time we’ll know our gear is burned in, the teams know the drill on deployments and recoveries, everybody knows where to step to avoid getting caught in the bight and we’re now a group of colleagues who have effectively interacted with each other. I hazard a not-so-amazing prediction that when everybody comes together in a few more days that it will be like long lost friends reuniting. There will be lots of hugs and happiness and everybody will be energized to go get it done. Rested and coming back onto a ship where their gear is already stowed, equipment already rigged for sea and ready to roll. The transit out will probably the worst part, they’ll all hit the dock running and then have to settle in for a 36 hour transit, best guess is that by the time we get there everyone will be chomping at the bit to perform.
A lot of folks have gone home for a few days. Not many people working this job can afford to remain idle for a day or two, much less a week. Most of the AUV operations team went back to Woods Hole; they are very busy guys who have a lot of irons in the fire all around the oceanography community. I’ve stayed behind to keep an eye on the gear and run down anything they might need feet on the ground to handle. I am pretty comfortable anywhere with a laptop and my Blackberry so I can handle my duties relatively easily as long as I have an internet connection. Andy stayed behind a couple days to keep working data but he’s got a few commitments he can deal with so he’ll go home tomorrow morning, early. One of the Phoenix guys who already works a grueling schedule will fly home for a couple days to bounce his kids on his knee. He’s got a crack team lined out, a testament to their capabilities that he can head out for a brief visit with his loved ones. And Billy’s team is pretty much all still here. Those guys are running some cutting edge technology that seems like its getting invented as they go along. Mad scientists on wheels, those cats, it’s doctoral level tech tweaking.
So here we are, in St John’s Newfoundland, waiting for the storm, kinda keeping fingers crossed it dissipates or turns course so folks don’t have to come back up here and fix stuff. The decision to hit the road was the right one no matter how you cut it, you can’t second guess a storm that might come on and whip up 40 foot waves. Tough to do much other than survive in seas of that nature, definitely not gonna get any work done if you have to tie yourself into your chair and then bolt that to the floor so you can hunt and peck through the bungie straps keeping your computer from turning into a projectile. I was in the Bering Sea once on a 330 foot ship taking 30 foot seas and watched a microwave oven fly across the room; it was like the thing hopped off the counter and took a ballistic trip 20 feet across the galley. We all sat stunned for a second, trying to decide if we should laugh or take cover. We all got up, picked up our coffee and wet napkins and then headed to check out the rigging on all the appliances that had not yet learned to fly (sailors trick, if you’re in big seas and you want to put a cup of coffee on a smooth surface and not have to watch it slide off the table, take a napkin and set it under your cup then dribble some liquid onto it as you set the cup down, sticks it there nicely). Running from weather is always the smart thing to do if you can afford it and when making that decision it’s always best to remember a maxim of work on the water: Greed Kills.
Soon enough I will be hanging with just a few new friends, all of my longer acquaintances having gone home to attend their career needs or families. When I’m not on my computer in my hotel room or puttering on board with the gear or analysis computers I am hoping to do a little more prowling around the area, get a look at some of the countryside. As always I will have my camera and will try and learn a little bit of something new to share in my posts. Right now its midnight and Andy is still in front of his computer while I keep him company and do a bit of writing in the quiet of a ship whose crew is enjoying a little liberty. I’m gonna check in with him and see about shutting it down so he can get a couple hours of sleep before his 6 AM flight. I think an 18 hour shift from him is a fair enough piece of work for one day.
Ah yes, one last thing, Kat, the young lady who acted as wedding planner for the nuptials held on board the other day, has agreed to write up the story of Maryann and Evan, our bride and groom (no relation to Mary Ann the AUV :-). Hopefully I can get that out to you in a day or two. It should be worth the wait. Cheers!