September 13, 2004: Departure Day
Written By Dan Suthers, September 14, 2004
Our first day began at 0700 (7:00 am) Monday at the NOAA dock near Sand Island, with an expected departure of about 0900. (Actually, for me the day began the morning before, as I had not gone to bed Sunday night as I tried to wrap up business in my laboratory before the 5 week trip.) We had already loaded most of our gear over the past several days, so today we only needed to bring on personal gear and find our bunks. My wife and son said goodbye and went to have breakfast, after which they would wait at Aloha Tower to wave as we went by.
The crew were very busy preparing for this maiden voyage of the Hi`ialakai to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, while people like me waited and waited. At about 0830, crew began to disassemble the gangplank, and at 0840 the ship switched to its own power. Various tests of the engines and thrusters were completed, and shore services (including the Internet) were disconnected at about 0939.
In the process of final checks it was discovered that the scientific freezer was broken. This freezer is in the "wet lab," and was stocked with fish for feeding Monk seals. It would also be used for storage of scientific specimens as they were collected. The freezer could not be fixed quickly, yet was essential to the voyage. What to do? After some deliberation, two large freezers (the horizontal household types, pictured) were purchased, lashed onto the deck, and plugged in via extension cords. This was a negligible expense compared to the cost of keeping the ship idle. Fish were transfered to the new freezers, and by 14:30 we had pulled most offshore lines aboard and were ready to go.
Unfortunately the delay had bumped us to the end of the harbor traffic queue. While we waited for our turn, the Sette, Hi`ialakai's sister ship, came into view. They needed our parking spot, so both boats waited until we received permission to depart: anchors aweigh at 1544. Needless to say, no wife nor son waved from Aloha tower as we went by.
We headed offshore a few miles and stopped to conduct boat launch and safety training. Originally we were to spend most of the day on this training, but due to the delay, we conducted an abbreviated version, leaving the remainder for our arrival at French Frigate Shoals. After an all-hands ship orientation at 1630, the 8 meter boat (pictured) and then the 10 meter boat were launched in moderate seas (but still a little challenging for the first time), while a storm engulfed Honolulu and treated us to a luminous rainbow. The pilot of the 10 meter jet boat impressed everyone with its agility and tight turns.
Training included a brief skin-dive by all divers, followed by a simulation of a dive accident aboard the 8 meter boat. The divers and crew practiced procedures for bringing a diver back to the Hi`ialakai and into the decompression chamber. (I'll explain this chamber in a future feature story. It is used to treat a diver who, for whatever reason, has surfaced too quickly from the depths.)
After training, the 10m boat ferried a visitor, NOAA operations manager Dana Wikles, to shore where he would return to Seattle. Meanwhile, sunset off the leeward coast of O`ahu was "observed at 1837," but any veteran sunset watcher knows that the best is yet to come well after the glowing orb (and perhaps a green flash) is last seen. As the evening light fades, first the most intense and then the most subtlety beautiful hues make their appearance.
By 1920 the 10 meter boat was secure, and we departed for French Frigate Shoals shortly thereafter. I watched from the stern as the lights of Honolulu, quite beautiful from offshore, receded slowly into the darkness. Watching the dark waters go by, I reflected on my ancestor, John Howland, who fell off the Mayflower, but was rescued. I resolved not to repeat history during this voyage.
While most of the staff relaxed, I was busy in the dry lab, uploading pictures from my camera to the computer and preparing this web site. But exhaustion soon overtook me, and at 0930 (after discovering that I had forgotten my toothbrush!) I fell into my gently rocking bunk as we motored into the night. This was not my first night on a boat, but it was my first night on one at sea. I have no trouble with sea sickness, but the motion is most noticeable when one stops working and is laying still. A little "mind over motion" solved the problem: I imagined myself as a baby, rocking in my mother's cradle.
See also these NOWRAMP 2002 journal entries:
8/30/02 Departure Anxiety and Invasive Species by Andy Collins
08/30/02 Day of Departure by Carlos Eyles