NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005
Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: August 1, 2005
Weather Data from Bridge
Latitude: 55˚ 53.4’N
Longitude: 158˚ 50.4’W
Visibility: 10 nm
Wind Direction: 103˚
Wind Speed: 10kts
Sea Wave Height: 0-1 feet
Sea Water Temperature: 11.7˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1006.0 mb
Cloud Cover: 8, cumulonimbus
Science and Technology Log
I woke up to gray skies and a 10 knot wind. The wind blew waves to around 1 foot high and rocked the RAINIER gently in Cushman Bay. We have been lucky in that no rain has fallen in the eight days since we left Kodiak and the seas have been remained calm Mitrofania Island. The deck crew lowered the launches an hour earlier at 7:00 am and I joined launch RA-4 led by Ensign Andrew Halbach with assistance from Survey Tech Dan Boles. Coxswain Carl Verplank guided the RA-4 towards the south western side of Mitrofania Island near Spitz Rock.
As we rounded the corner of the island, one to three foot swells driven by a north east wind hit us and knocked the launch around and splashed water over our bow and up onto the windows. This made for roughest conditions I have seen so far on the trip, but not rough enough to affect our sonar mapping. Carl told me that the Rainier crew has mapped ocean bottom depth in worst conditions. We stopped the launch and Ensign Halbach let me lower the SEACAT CTD (conductivity, temperature, and density) probe to the bottom 200 meters down so we can collect data to correct our sonar data. As mentioned in previous log entries; temperature, conductivity (amount of salt in the water) and pressure changes how fast sound moves in water and the CTD probe gives the computer information to correct the sonar for these factors. The CTD data changes over the day and by location so we took measurement every four hours for a total of three times. Here is a close up of SEACAT CTD probe and Dan Boles lowering it the later in the day: After the probe returned to the launch, Ensign Halbach turned on the Reson Radar which has good resolution and works the best in shallow, near-shore waters and around rocks. Our first transects took us close to the shore and Dan sat on the bow and held on tight to look for submerged rocks that could damage the launch hull and sonar probe. Dan got knocked around and splashed with water, but we quickly returned to our dry cabin as we moved further off shore:
We “mowed the lawn” following long transects that took about half an hour each to complete before turning around and moving over 100 meters to start the next transect. On transects heading into the wind, our launch traveled at 7 knots per hour and hit each wave hard with a thump and splash over the bow. On transects following the wind, the waves picked us up and we “surfed” down the backsides of two to three foot swells. The following seas pushed the launch around and Carl first turned the steering wheel hard left and then hard right to keep us on a straight line. Later in the day, I drove the launch for over an hour and learned how to set a rhythm for completing these left and right turns for each wave. At first, the launch crew remained quiet as we fought some minor motion sickness. After eating and drinking coffee and soda, most of us perked up and started talking. Carl told us about finding brown bear tracks while fishing on the main land last night near the abounded village site of Mitrofania. Dan, Carl and I told each other bear stories and eventually shifted the conversation to education. Carl and Dan both have mothers that work in public schools and told me how their parents put in long hours during the school year.
Carl, a young man in his twenties, is from Fort Wayne, Indiana and worked on the RAINIER the past four years. Carl’s Dad is an attorney and he has some younger sisters that will meet him in Homer for a visit at the end of our current leg. Carl also completed underwater dive school this past spring and can now help install tide gauge stations or inspect the RAINIER’s hull. Carl plans to stay on the RAINIER for at least another year.
Dan Boles is slightly older than Carl and has a Bachelor’s degree in geology and French. Dan grew up in Tennessee and at one point his mom raised horses on a farm. Dan has been on board for almost a year and talked his younger brother (Matt) into joining the RAINIER. Can you imagine sharing a tiny bunk bed room and working with your brother all day long? From what I saw, Dan and Matt get along well.
After 5 hours, Carl pulled the launch behind Spitz Island that provided us protection from the wind and waves, but filled the air with the foul smell of sea gull dung from the thousands of birds nesting near by. The RAINIER crew gets a half hour lunch break whether on the ship or out in a launch. Ensign Halbach, who had been up late and working on our radio transmitter site, took a nap. Dan set up his Coleman stove and cooked up some salmon fillets he brought along. The salmon tasted good after a long morning out on the water. Carl and I fished off the launch and I landed a sea bass on my first cast. I actually caught three on my first cast, but the first two fell off the hook before the third set the line. I could see several sea bass fighting for my hook. Here are some photos from lunch: After lunch we continued or mapping till around 4:30 pm. The ride back became calmer after we moved past the corner and on to the north side of Mitrofania Island which blocked the wind. We had nice views of the mountains and the RAINIER as we approached the ship. In the evening, I went out on the fan deck (very back of the ship) and fished off the side. Everyone told me the fish weren’t biting, but I tried anyway. I quickly caught a small halibut and hauled it on board with help from other crew. After carefully removing the hook, I threw it back into the water so it could grow bigger before the next fisherman comes along. I fished a little longer and caught a second halibut.
I decided to keep this one and Mike Riley, an oiler from Engineering, showed me how to bleed and fillet the fish. Halibut are more difficult to clean than other fish because they are flat, almost pancake shaped on their sides and a back bone that runs down the middle of their body. They also swim side ways with the flat side facing up and look the surface with their two eyes located on the same side of their head.
After cleaning the halibut, Mike showed me how to vacuum pack the fish and how to store it in our big freezer. Mike is in his early twenties with a shaved head and several piercings in his ears, lips and nose. Mike looks almost like a pirate or punk rocker, but the crew respects him for his fishing and filleting abilities.
The evening ended well and I retired to my bunk for a well deserved sleep.
I had a busy day today getting up at 5:50 am and readying myself for the launch. I really had to keep my balance on the launch today as we bounced around, but I didn’t get sea sick like some people did in the other boat. Driving the launch was the best part of my day as I skipped over waves and learned how to handle it in following seas. I learned how to focus on a point far away and to use a rhythm in steering to keep a straight course in rough seas.
Catching the sea bass and two halibuts was a real treat as many people did not catch anything today in the windy conditions. I felt a bit sorry for the fish as we cut it up, but I look forward to eating the meat upon returning from the trip.
Question of the Day
What are three factors that would make waves high out in the ocean?