Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Trophic BATS: Post # 10 (Day 8)

The R/V Atlantic Explorer is a terrific research platform for the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences and visiting oceanographic research teams, but it wouldn’t be the outstanding vessel and working environment it is without the great crew and masters of the A/E.

The Explorer arrived to Bermuda after undergoing some major changes over its 3-decade life span. Originally named the Sea Trojan, she was constructed in 1982 to serve as an offshore oil supply vessel in the Gulf of Mexico. After 6 years, she made her conversion to marine science research and was renamed to the R/V Edwin Link in honor to the naval architect of her design. The Link operated out of Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Ft Pierce, Florida specializing in submersible/ROV support. After 15 years as the Edwin Link, she was furthered modified and underwent another name change to the Seward Johnson II. Finally in 2006, she was converted to the state the boat you see today and given the title R/V HSBC Atlantic Explorer.

Once she came to BIOS, her bridge turned into a teaching lab, where I am currently writing. Another deck was added above (the 03 deck – 3 decks up from the main) for the new bridge. Outside of those changes, her engineering specs have stayed the same. The Explorer sits at 168ft with a gross tonnage of 288 tons. She can travel to 11 knots and has an incredible range of 7000 nautical miles. The current captain, George Gunther, has made a voyage with her from Florida all the way to Northern Italy. The trip took 27 days, which is basically as far as she can go, while constantly steaming ahead. However, the ship is in fact capable of 42 days at sea.

She runs with 2 16V 149 Detroit Diesels 900 shp each. Additionally, the A/E also has a 360o rotatable bow thruster with 465 hp and 10,000 lbs of thrust. The bow thruster allows the boat to pivot near its bow (it sits below the galley maybe 1/3 the length stern of her bow) which gives added control especially when docking and keeping lines and cables straight in the water.

R/V HSBC Atlantic Explorer, returning to St. George’s harbor. She is part of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) fleet.

Where all the magic happens.

During the Trophic BATS trip, Captain George Gunther leads us. George is back with the Explorer after a few years away, but knows the ship well. He began working with it while she was the Edward Link at Harbor Branch. Captain Gunther splits his time with The Explorer and the Western Flier conducting research in the Sea of Cortez.

Captain George, part of the self-titled A-Team on the 8-12 am/pm watch with mate Eric Parcon. George jokingly admits his 4-hour shift mostly consists of fixing the previous watches mistakes.

Captain maintains a terrific working environment on the ship and cites the team attitude that the mates and crew share with each other. Much of this attitude has to do with health and safety of the ship and science crew, the single most important aspect of a successful cruise. While I don’t have a great deal of experience on different ships, I have sailed on both U.S Coast Guard and Canadian Coast Guard and also on another ship within UNOLS. Without a doubt, the crew onboard is some of the most helpful deckhands, cooks, and engineers I have worked with so far.

Jojo Paitone is the ship's bosun. The bosun is in charge of all the deck operations. Right now he is operating the winch that is connected with the zooplankton net tow.

Al Soliva is one of the ship's motormen. Al operates the stern A-frame during back deck operations. Below the main deck, Al maintains the engines making sure everything is operation for our cruising.

Able seaman Eric Parcon making sure everything is set before the production/grazing array is deployed. He standing in front of what we call a "spar". It sits vertical in the water and has an GPS tracking device (by his knee) then a strobe and orange flag for sighting and a radio frequency beacon for local positions.

Buddy Manalo enjoying a cup of tea after dinner. Dexter and Buddy are the chefs that are in charge feeding 30 people each meal. Exceptional cooks.

As mentioned, the major concern and responsibility of the captain is safety. Medical risks can always arise due to seasickness and from the general aspects of people working on a rolling, rocking, and pitching platform, which makes for a low, but consistent tally of injuries. Typically, the Explorer conducts research at BATS, only 60 statute miles SE of Bermuda, but other cruises may take the ship farther. Each year, the A/E heads to Puerto Rico for the annual BATS Validation cruise. Since the majority of research time is spent near Bermuda, a quick port call may only take 6 hours to drop off a passenger with a medical concern.

The other aspect of safety is the weather. The mates (each cruise has a captain, a first and a second mate, all keeping individual shifts at the helm of the ship) and keep an eye on the weather reports coming in. We have Internet on board (but I think you’re probably figured that out), so we’re able to get weather reports from Bermuda, NOAA, etc. If we lose Internet connection, we still have the ability to update weather status from single side band radio with reports from Norfolk.

When rough weather rolls around (except on this cruise) science may stop. When there is a break in science, the captain, along with the chief scientist determine a cruise schedule to optimize our sampling requirements, which may mean dropping some operations or switching their order. Again, we are lucky to be conducting research locally, which allows some flexibility shifting schedules or returning to port quickly when weather turns inhospitable for a scientific research vessel.

Today is our second to last day. For the majority of you, this is depressing because the blog will end. For the scientists on board, we will be keen to have our feet on firm ground, although the weather during this cruise has been absolutely perfect. Tomorrow, we still have the final recoveries and processing of the production/grazing in-situ experiments and also retrieving the drifting sediment trap array. It will be a busy day tomorrow. Once each group ends their sampling, we will begin to pack up for the offload early Friday morning.

Another obligatory sunset photo.

Doug Bell
Research Technician, Phytoplankton Ecology Lab
This is the blogger.

We found more gloves.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! Glad for a safe and successful cruise.