Under Way, Again
7 September, 2010
by Michael Dessner
It got done: a major deep sea expedition actually left a day early. It’s a pretty buff muscle move and, as I mentioned yesterday, no gig I’ve ever worked on has been able to pull it off (or even tried that I can recall). Last night we were one shy of a quorum when we piled into the vans and headed downtown for one last episode of dinner and drinks in downtown St. John’s. We’d spotted a pretty good 24 hour Irish restaurant earlier in our explorations and returned to Talamh am Eisc for one more round and one more steak before heading to sea. As we were wrapping up a text came into my Bberry and we knew that our last guy had hit the tarmac, that we had our dance card filled and would be ready to roll when we got back to the dock. Back we went; we weren’t on board ten minutes before the deckies started pulling the gangplank and getting busy to get to open water. By the time the sun was fully down we were at sea.
There was just the slightest lump when we got out, probably running close to 10 foot seas once we got shed of the lee of the island. Nothing extreme, mind you, just enough to let you know you were no longer in your hotel bed. It’s something you get used to, rolling in your bunk as the ship wallows through waves. I’ve been in 50 footers in the Bering Sea where you don’t so much lay down to sleep as wedge yourself into your bunk using your elbows and knees into the corners of your bed frame. Rest in those conditions is really more a matter of a survival function; you drift in and out but don’t really get any sleep. It won’t kill ya but after a couple days of that tempers tend to get short. Much of the comfort of the ride depends on where the seas are running: if you’re traveling parallel to the waves (”in the trough”), the ship is really going to move around a lot as the waves pass below you and you roll with them. Take big water on the nose and you’re gonna get slammed up and down pretty badly. If you’re lucky you’ll end up with fair winds and following seas but in the event of that rare condition not being the case, a good skipper will generally quarter the seas, slice into them at an angle. Usually bunks run parallel with the ship’s keel to help you keep in bed but sometimes even that won’t help. One memorable occasion the ship I was working on took a bad roll from what was probably a rogue wave, I tumbled out of bed and my entire bookshelf of some 50 books dumped itself onto my head as I lay on the floor. It was get mad or laugh so I laughed, alone in my room in the middle of the night, like a madman. Then I wrote a poem about it, thankfully lost to time (it was terrible).
But I digress.
We got through the night with no difficulty and everyone woke to the sight of the deep blue in all directions, as far as the eye could see. It seemed the weather had changed a bit, less low lying stuff in the skies and some higher clouds that are probably remnants from the hurricanes. It seems colder and breezier but certainly not difficult conditions. I am hearing that we may run into a little weather in a few days, peaking around the 11th, but again, nothing too dramatic, may not even impact our operations (knock wood).
Everybody got straight to it. Andy dug into his mosaics and multi-beam data with various team mates coming by asking to see this or that as they contemplated their plans. The camera techs got to tweaking and tuning up, both the AUV and ROV teams checked and double checked their equipment. Greg Packard, the head of the AUV team, did some tests of the high frequency sonars that had been loaded into Ginger to make sure they were working and also installed some new hard drives that will make it easier for us to download the copious files that the cameras on the AUV’s produce. We installed a new RAID drive onto the Analysis System that more quickly backs up our data and in general the conversations started to turn to planning for our last leg on the site. Aside from those activities the other thing on everybody’s minds was tuning up the satellite Internet connection which has been spotty much of the time. I’m glad to say that we seemed to have dialed that in nicely as well. Just 5 years ago such connectivity was rare and expensive at sea but we have all gotten used to the improvements and are loathe to relinquish them. It looks like we actually found the problems and solved them (much better than fixing something but having no idea why).
Once everyone settled into their computers and the work began to progress the department heads met for a planning meeting. It was an excellent gathering and the plan is in place. Upon arriving on site the AUV’s will be deployed first. Ginger has the very high frequency sonar for high resolution, short range runs that will produce the most dramatic sonar imagery of Titanic ever created, hands down. We will also be configuring the AUVs to take pictures and run the downward looking multi-beam units. The ROV will be deployed again with Billy’s HD 3D cameras and they will begin at the bow then move towards the stern to continue mapping the site optically. There is another debris field to the east of the primary site that was referred to as Area 51, we just don’t know what’s over there. That will be looked at when the bow and stern have been covered, time permitting. It’s a damn smart group of people running this thing of ours, some of the best in the world and they got a plan for the dive; soon it will be time to dive the plan.
Taking a walk around deck today as we steam towards the grounds I am again filled with admiration for just how squared away things seem. All of the detritus we began with, welding rods and chunks of metal from our frantic mobilization, crates still looking for a home and gear still being worked on, all of that is gone and all the work spaces are tight and cleared. The difference is subtle but will have an impact when we get to work. The new guys on board will benefit from the experience of those returning and all of us are looking at fairly well known quantities: the gear, the ship and most of the people have been here before and we KNOW it all works. Now we work it.