Dispatch #4


It's now Wednesday, 2/26/2003.


Monday morning we were near Alexander Island and the Zodiacs were ready.  The sea was in places half covered with small circular pieces of ice.  It looked like rafts of flattened rice crispies.  Mate Alan said that this small ice can be a problem for the water intake for cooling the engines.  They have to heat water and see that the reservoir of cooling water doesn't ice up.  It was mild and sunny to start with, and Alexander Island appeared above a band of cloud with impressive relief. Bob says that the deepest spot in Marguerite Bay is near, 1600 meters, so that the total change is about 4500 meters in a very short distance. We saw humpbacks along the edge of the ice.  The Zodiac went out with six aboard, and succeeded in obtaining biopsy material from several whales during the day, using a crossbow.  On the first one, they must have been very close, and the whale reacted with a big splash. The Zodiac came in for lunch, and another went out for a long time in the afternoon, with more success biopsing humpbacks and one minke. The nature of the ice changed from the little pancakes to somewhat larger assorted chunks.  There were plenty of big icebergs as well.  We tried to work our way south on the east side of Alexander, but the sea ice kept us from getting as far south as we wanted to.  At one point a whale surfaced right in front of the ship and Alan had to take evasive action. We saw lots of fur seals and one leopard seal.  There were skuas in sight most of the time, flying in pairs.


Late afternoon Bob decided that we could measure the salinity of the thirty samples from the three CTD casts.  First we had to calibrate the instrument, using two different samples of “standard seawater.”  Then we started the measurements. Salinity is measured by measuring conductivity at a well-controlled temperature.  We hooked each bottle to the device, flushed the sample water through the instrument three times, then made at least three separate measurements, flushing after each one. Then on to the next.  It took two hours and nicely filled the time before dinner. During this time Bob got called out to the bridge to negotiate a big change in the schedule for the rest of the trip.


Bob's group was doing a CTD cast in the hole that is the deepest spot around.  The change of plans called for us to finish the cast, put out the three remaining Solo drifters in a certain pattern, and steam back to C1 Monday night.  Tuesday we would have the entire day for dragging for the rest of C1.  Then we would spend several days moseying up the inland passage looking for whales. Before going to Palmer we will actually go way far north to try to get the SIO acoustic mooring S1A that we didn't try for on the way down due to rough conditions.  Then to Palmer, and then home to PA, with another opportunity for S1A.  The whale group decided that they had seen enough of the south end of Marguerite Bay Monday and that S1A is very high priority.


During the night on our way to C1, some combination of Rick, Bob, and Dick got up three times to put out the rest of the Solo drifters in the newly chosen positions. In the morning we awoke to find ourselves parked at C1 facing east, having taken most of the night to get here. In spite of a cloudy sky, visibility was outstanding. Adelaide Island nearby on the left, Alexander on the right, and peaks and icebergs visible all around Marguerite Bay in front of us. When you consider that the mouth of the bay is over 60 nautical miles across, you can understand how clear it was. The deck crew of Skip and Jamee was ready to drag, and Scott and Bob had a game plan.  Once again the unfortunate topography around C1 made things more complicated. In addition to the ship's instruments, Bob was running a program on my computer in the lab that displayed the bottom topography in color and overlaid the ship's track in real time, as well as locating what is left of the mooring. After several hours of maneuvering they called for eyeballs on the bridge, so I went up to watch for the yellow floats. Jason had been up there all morning.  If the rest of the mooring had come up it would have been small, low in the water, and hard to see.


Midmorning Rudy brought up a plateful of apple-filled sticky buns hot out of the oven. These were a welcome treat.


We had no luck cutting the mooring Tuesday morning, so the cable was brought back on board.  Dick and the Captain conferred about a new strategy for the afternoon.  Instead of trying to completely wrap the cable around the mooring, we put a hook at the very end and try a glancing approach to see if we could snag it in passing.  There was some discussion about how to keep the hook from being yanked off the end of the cable. I hadn't realized that for dragging operations we use the ship's winch and cable, which are located on the 01 deck, rather than the mooring winch on the main deck.


The ship laid out a lot of cable in a straight line, with the two hooks spaced apart at the end, a depressor weight, and a pinger.  Finally, they started changing direction to try to sweep the hooks past the mooring. Bob and Scott were in the computer lab, where the ship's TV monitor was showing the amount of cable out, the winch speed, the winch tension, the water depth and the height of the pinger above the bottom. Jason and Zan were on the bridge, ready to look, and I was sitting in Bob's office, near the stern on the port side of level 01. Just after the change of watch at 1600, there was a terrible thump. Shortly afterwards, a group of crew and staff went charging by to the 01 deck. Then they came back in the other direction. I went up to the bridge to find out that the tension in the cable had spiked at over 14,000 pounds and the main winch had sheared off its pad and slid sternward at least ten feet on the 01 deck, somewhat squashing one of the Zodiacs and breaking two hydraulic lines, so the deck was covered with hydraulic fluid.  The mate quickly stopped the ship and the tension was reduced to a few thousand pounds. Next they used a torch to cut the cable close to the winch. That done, the spill is being contained and the winch secured to the deck.  I guess the ocean just didn't want to give up C1. We went back over the spot to query the release mechanism to see if it is still standing or on its side. It was still there.


The important thing is that no one was hurt. We are hoping that the Zodiac is okay and that Zodiac operations will not be curtailed because of only having one operational boat. Now it is Wednesday morning, we are in a beautiful channel east of Adelaide Island, and the Zodiacs will be moved to the main deck and checked out.


Irene Beardsley