October 1-4: Midway
Written By Dan Suthers October 1-5, 2004
I am "one atoll behind:" we are at Kure, yet I have not posted any Midway journal entries. To catch up, I'm covering Midway in one web page. Part of our time at Midway was personal time: the scientific staff had 24 hours off for the first time in the cruise. While they were working, I stayed onboard to write feature articles, and did not observe any field work. Therefore my Midway entries are shorter, making it possible to compile them in one page.
October 1st: Arrival
1000: My sleep this morning was disturbed by unusual motor sounds -- there was an engine I'm unfamilar with, and the bow thrusters were especially active. Then I woke up with a strange feeling: motionlessness. After lanching boats in rough seas, we had docked at Midway early, due to the storm in the area. I'm told that we will be here on land until 1600 but have to go to sea for night operations.
Midway, equidistant between Asia and North America, is the only NWHI that is not part of the state of Hawai`i. It is Federal land, and currently a National Wildlife Refuge under the administration of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. John Klavitter, wildlife biologist with that agency, is onboard briefing us on island rules.
1330: An announcement is made that night operations are canceled: we will be here tonight. Also, the Capt. Brooks Social Club will be open tonight 7-9pm (one of three days a week it is open). When this is announced over the radio, the cox'ns reply: "Happy days are here!" ... "Those are the strangest club hours I've heard!" ... "We'll be good!"
After finishing two days of journals, I ventured inland with Scott Ferguson to find the "Cafe," where free and fast Internet connections are available, although no coffee was to be found there. Henceforth we refer to this as the "Internet Cafe." A telephone is provided. Honolulu, over 1100 nautical miles away, is a "local call." Geoffrey and Sharon were not home: I left a message on my answering machine.
The inhabited part of the island is covered with ironwood trees. With the exception of a cluster of coconut trees on Laysan, this is the first time in several weeks I have seen any vegetation taller than a person. Even more unusual, there is a "Mall." I run the other way.
After a stunning sunset promising better weather, a shipload of sailors and scientists has its first "adult drink" in three weeks. Needless to say, a good time was had by all. On the walk back to the ship, I catch Sharon on the telephone, but Geoffrey is asleep.
On the morning of our second day at Midway, it is still cloudy but not as stormy as yesterday.
Susan and David are photographing a Triton in the wet lab: the largest creature of this family I have ever seen. Slowly it extends its soft body out of the shell, tentacles searching its environment. A thick gel is expelled, which David retrieves with a turkey baster. Meanwhile, the stewards are preparing for a barbeque on the dock tonight (originally planned for Oct. 1st but moved due to the weather).
1250: I am writing and listening to music. Through my headphones I hear over the radio, "There is a diver emergency on HI-1." A diver has come up with back pain, which could be a symptom of "the bends"; HI-1 is coming home to offload. Conversation on the radio is tense: "Is he conscious?" "Yes" "Is anyone monitoring heart rate and breathing?" "Yes, his breathing seems fine." Within minutes, HI-1 comes along side, and the bridge calls all hands to help. The diver is lying down with an oxygen mask on. Apparently some of the regular deckhands are on the island, so other staff help with the painters (ropes used to secure a docked boat). Once the launch is secure at the port cutouts, the diver, Craig Musberger, is able to get up and walk assisted to the sickbay.
I'm worried about Craig, but respect his privacy and stay out of sickbay. About an hour later when I inquire, I'm told "Oh, that was a drill!" It was also a well kept secret: only the medic Al Exner and the chamber operator Jim Bostic knew it was a drill; they had planned it without informing anyone but their recruit Craig. Whew!
While I am writing, an announcement came on the PA: a tour of Midway was being organized, and led by the acting refuge manager, Mike Johnson. He is very knowledgeable about both natural and human history, and an entertaining guide. My writing can wait.
I have many notes and pictures from this tour, but mention only a few interesting items: Midway is still a refueling center: 1 million gallons of fuel are arriving next Thursday. In November, a million nesting birds will also arrive. There is still a hotel on Midway: the Charlie Barracks. If you can find your way here, you can stay for $100/night, but the top-rated French restaurant is gone now that Midway is no longer an ecotoursim destination. Midway is an emergency landing site. In January, a Boeing 777 aircraft flying from Narita to Honolulu lost power in one engine and landed here. Passengers were here for 76 hours while the parts were sent. By the time the parts got here, some castaways were reluctant to leave.
As part of this tour, we visit the future home of the 20 Laysan ducks who are to be transported here tomorrow night: I wrote about them when we visited Laysan. Wildlife biologists have dug a pond and planted Makaloa plants from Laysan (see picture). Later, we are near the runway and find a black footed albatross sitting in the vegetation: apparently an early arrival awaiting a million others due in November.
Tonight, a sunset barbecue was held on the dock. Many of the island residents came to join us. The "Superstore" at the Mall was also opened for our convenience, and many of us bought souvenirs, while others focused on supplies for the evening festivities. A local band was asked to play at the "All Hands." But alas, I needed to finish the Creature Portraiture story and upload my changes to the server in Honolulu while we still have a fast Internet connection. At about 2am, I waved goodbye to the revelers still on the dock and borrowed a golf cart to go over to the Internet Cafe. There was a glitch in my upload process: the program I am using deleted many of the images on the server, so I was at the Cafe until 4:30 am waiting for my repair to upload most of this web site to Honolulu.
October 3rd: A Running Tour of Midway
After 5 hours sleep I wake up to a beautiful day. This is my last chance for a free Internet connection, so I want to upload as much work as possible before we depart. As soon as I am awake and fed I start to go through hundreds of photographs from the last few days; and select, adjust the color, and scale down those that might be used on the web site. Departure time is 1600; I picture myself running back to the dock at 1559 waving my arms. But maritime captains have by experience learned to deal with fools like me. A white-board at the top of the gangplank says "liberty expires 1500," meaning all hands have to be on board by 3pm. So at 1402 I start jogging into town with two laptops in my backpack. It took me 8 minutes to get there, and until 1435 to synchronize my image updates with the server and grab a look at my Honolulu-based email account. After a 5 minute free call to home to speak to Geoffrey for the first time in 3 weeks, I have 20 minutes left for a running tour of Midway.
Literally running the entire way, I get a quick tour of the aircraft arrival terminal and of a historic building where Lt. George Cannon earned the first Congressional Medal of Honor of World War II, in exchange for his life on December 7th. Six months later, this area was the site of a battle that by sheer numbers the Americans should have lost. The Japanese code had been broken, so the Americans knew to hide their fleet northwest of Midway, but the Japanese fleet was formidable. Strike forces from the American carriers Enterprise and Hornet encountered fierce resistance from Japanese Zeros in the air, but by luck, the strike-force from the Yorktown was delayed (I'm told they were lost in clouds) just long enough to discover three Japanese carriers when their Zeros were on the open decks, vulnerable and being filled with fuel and explosives. The carriers were hit only 8 times in this 4 minute battle, but it was enough to change the course of history. (Much has been written about this historic battle; my on board reference is .)
Happy Birthday NOAA! At dinner there is a cake: today is NOAA's birthday. I'm very impressed with this agency and the importance of its work, yet my impression is that the public is not as aware of NOAA as of higher profile agencies such as NASA. NOAA has no specific legislation mandating its work: it is a patchwork project of the Commerce Department. However, the captain has informed us that there is an "Organic Act" being proposed in Washington to give NOAA a legislative basis.
2230: People came inside saying that the stars were nice. A little later, I went out to look. It's very dark, but the moon is coming up, lighting up some distant storm clouds.
2320: TOAD operations have been underway. The moon is rising, and we can see the lights of Midway. They let the TOAD hang near the surface to attract and collect plankton for photography.
October 4th: Offshore
The "all nighter" yesterday has extracted its price: I'm sick. The virus seems to have hopped from person to person: we trace it back to three people before me. I cancel plans to join HI-2 for an afternoon photography session.
Today the teams are finishing their work at Midway. Unfinished work is distributed all over the atoll, so the plan of the day is complex, involving dropping off and picking up boats at different locations, and rendezvous to swap personnel.
I stay on board to write, hoping to get caught up. No such luck. 1445: Fire drill. During the drill a crewmember is "injured" and we need to carry him to the sick bay. 1500: Abandon ship (this time we have to put on our survival suits).
That evening, there is amusement in the lab: today during Mooring Team operations a booby landed on Stephani's head, and Elizabeth caught it on video! Here's the movie!
 Rauzon (2001)