September 14-15th: Our First Transit Days
Written By Dan Suthers,
September 16, 2004
After our first night at sea, I awoke, gently rocking, to the lapping of waves on the hull. It was 0630. Looking out the porthole I saw an island. Could it be Kaua`i? I quickly dressed, ran up to the dry lab, grabbed some cameras and headed up to the upper deck where I was momentarily confused by two islands, one on each side. The larger, wetter one to starboard (right side facing the front of the ship) was indeed Kaua`i (pictured above), and at port (left) was Ni`ihau. These were the last two main Hawaiian islands we would see for a month. I began to photograph, but suddenly a thick fog engulfed me, or so it appeared through my cameras, which had come from the very cold lab to the moist warm air outside and were now fogged up to the point of being inoperable.
Note to self: bring cameras into warmer room before early morning departures.
This was the first of many notes to my self concerning the operation of my equipment during the next two days as we conducted our transit. Whenever I could, whether during training drills or sunsets, I used my cameras a great deal so that I could get used to their operation and battery life, and discover any glitches. As a result of this experience, I prepared a safety line system by which cameras are clipped into a belt, and also planned for waterproofing when on the water. When conducting any kind of field work, including science as well as photography, it is important to do "dress rehearsals" before you get that rare chance to collect your real data.
Most of the day I worked on this web site, but in the early afternoon there were two drills. NOAA is very safety conscious. There was a fire drill, which required that the scientists remember where to assemble while the crew fought an imagined gasoline fire. Then there was an abandon ship drill. This requires that we grab a life jacket, a survival suit, and a bag we have each prepared before hand containing long clothes, shoes and a hat. We assemble on an upper aft deck to put on the suits. Just like with our scientific procedures, safety "dress rehearsals" are important to make sure we know what to do while also uncovering any problems in advance. For example, I happened to have grabbed a "small" suit. I am not small, so when I put this thing on the legs were all stretched out and the hat was pushing down hard on the top of my head. Next someone handed me an "adult oversize." I hope that I am not that either! You can see the result in the picture to the right, which should also make clear why they call these "Gumby suits." Finally, they found me a suit that fit me just right. After "this one's too small" and "this one's too big," Goldilocks was happy.
Sometime during the day we passed Nihoa island, but I was indoors working and do not know whether it was visible. In the evening I went up on the bridge to talk to the crew, and noticed Mokumanamana (Necker Island) in the distance. You can read about the cultural significance of this island in one of the NOWRAMP 2002 expedition journals. Terrestrial science is not an emphasis of this voyage, so we had no plans to land on either Nihoa or Necker. That's Mokumanamana on the computer navigation chart shown above. During sunset I learned from Augmenting Officer Steve Kroening and Ensign Matt Wingate, who were on watch, that on transits the ship is set to run on auto pilot while the crew plots the course by hand as well as by computer for redundancy, performs safety checks, and generally keeps an eye on things.
After dinner, I worked late on the web site and testing communications via satellite phone with Mike Crumley, the Rotating Electronics Technician. The connection is slow and expensive, which is why the pictures we are sending are so tiny.
The transit continued through a second day, which I spent finishing up an overdue book chapter on "computer mediated communication" and sending it off to the editor in Germany via satellite phone. This was the last item of "unfinished business" that was keeping me from fully immersing in the NWHI science, and I was glad to have it done.
Late in the afternoon, we came within sight of La Perouse Pinnacle (shown to the left; maps labeling it Le Perouse are wrong), perhaps the most prominent feature of the French Frigate Shoals. This 18 mile long crescent shaped collection of small islands, reefs and atolls is the largest coral reef area in Hawai`i, containing about 230,000 acres of coral reef habitat. Tern Island, lying long and low with two large buildings was also visible. Tern Island is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service outpost: I'll write more about it soon. This area will be our home for 4 days.
We had arrived early enough to have time to conduct the remaining training sessions that we had missed off of Honolulu the first day. Training this evening included launches of all three of the primary boats (the 10 meter, 8 meter, and 19 foot boats), and another simulation of recovery of an unconscious diver who was loaded into the decompression chamber. We all practiced strapping people on to the backboard repeatedly until everyone was comfortable with the procedure.
Another superb dinner by the talented Allan Gary and Susan Parker was followed by a long night uploading photographs from my cameras and writing, while many of the other scientists prepared for our first day of data gathering.