John Schneider, July 11, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
John Schneider
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather 
July 7 – August 8, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Kodiak, AK to Dutch Harbor, AK
Date: July 11, 2009

Sheet L – Shumagin Islands

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Weather System: Overcast
Barometer: 1021.4
Wind: mild and veering*
Temperature: 12.1º C

Science and Technology Log 

One of the Fairweather's launches
One of the Fairweather’s launches

Today I got to go out on launch 1010.  The two primary launches on Fairweather are 29-foot diesel-powered (Caterpillar) single-screw aluminum boats.  I was real surprised to find that 1010 is 35 years old!  It’s in great shape.  Survey equipment on board includes the multi-beam echo sounder, computers, DGPS (Digital GPS gives positional accuracy to about 6 inches!) radar, radios and Iridium satellite telephones.  For “creature comforts” there’s a microwave and mini-fridge as well as a very efficient heater/defrost system.  Oh, by the way, there are no heads on the launches. (FYI – a “head” is marine-speak for a bathroom!)

Here I am on the launch monitoring all the data that’s being collected
Here I am on the launch monitoring all the data

Knowing this in advance, I didn’t have coffee or tea or a big breakfast. Turns out that when “nature calls” the rest of the crew goes in the cabin, closes the door, and you go over the side! Seems gross at first and then you realize that the 30 and 40 ton whales go in the ocean too (besides, it’s biodegradable!) The launches are carried on the boat deck (E-deck) in custom Welin-Lambie davits made for each launch. Welin-Lambie is a company over 100 years old and made the davits for a few ships you may have heard of – the British Royal Yacht Britannia, the Queen Elizabeth 2 cruise ship and oh, yeah, the RMS Titanic!  The cradles are self-leveling so when the Fairweather is in heavy seas they remain upright and stable.  The picture on the left shows 1010 in its cradle. When it’s time to launch the boat, the securing devices are released, the boat is swung out over the side and two >3 ton winches lower the launch to the rail of D-deck.  There it is boarded by the crew and loaded with the needed gear for the day.  It is then lowered into the water and sent on its way.

Once we got to the area of our polygon (I’ll explain polygons later in the week) we began acquiring data by “mowing the lawn” – the process of sailing back and forth across a defined area collecting soundings1 (bottom depths.)  In every polygon we conduct a CTD cast (CTD = Conductivity Temperature Density.)  These three parameters determine the speed of sound in the water and are used to accurately calibrate the soundings. Once we had been working for a while with me observing – and asking what must have seemed like unending questions – PIC2 Adam Argento and AST3 Andrew Clos guided me to monitoring the data being acquired. As you can see on the left there are 4 monitors all running software simultaneously.  The picture on the right shows the keyboard and mice. The mouse in my right hand controls the windows on the three screens to the right which are data displays of received info. The left mouse controls which data are being acquired.

After a long day on the launch, it was great to see the Fairweather on this rainy day.
After a long day on the launch, it was great to see the Fairweather on this rainy day.

After lunch the coxswain4 (“coxin”) – AB Chrissie Mallory – turned the helm over to me to steer.  My first leg was headed North.  The positional displays on the Fairweather and its launches all have North being at the top of the displays.  (This is called – logically enough – “North Up”.)  I rocked! If I had to move off to the right a little, I turned right.  Need to move left, turn left. There’s a little delay between when you turn and the position as displayed on the screen.  Well, we got to the top of the section and turned around to head South.  I needed to adjust a bit to the right, so I turned right . . . BUT . . . the boat is now oriented 180º from the prior run.  So in turning right, I actually made the boat go left on the screen!  Oh NOOO!!! So I overcompensated the other way.  Then had to un-overcompensate . . . and so on.  I’m sure when they downloaded the data back on the Fairweather they were wondering what the h*** was going on. Eventually I got the hang of it and didn’t do too badly after a while, but I have a much greater appreciation of what appeared to be really simple at the outset.

After a successful 8+ hours out (by the way, our lunches contained enough food for 6 people!) we headed back to the Fairweather about 15 miles away.  To see her after a day out kind of felt like seeing home after a long day out. To the unaware, the ship looks like a mish-mash of all kinds of gear all over the place, but it’s remarkably organized.  The reason for the appearance is that the ship is capable of so many tasks that the equipment is stowed in every available space.  Fairweather is capable of deploying 7 small boats and operating independently of all of them in coordinated tasking!  I’d love the opportunity to take a class of students for an all-day field trip aboard and could do so without ever leaving the dock – there’s so much on board!

A launch returning to the Fairwweather
A launch returning to the Fairwweather

As you can see in the photo of the Fairweather above, there are two large white inflated “fenders” hanging over the starboard side.  This is where we’ll be tying alongside. (I took the next 3 shots from the Fairweather as 1010 approached on a different day.) As the launch approaches, the person on the bow will throw a line to the forward line handler.  Notice there’s not a whole lot of room up there as well as the extended arm ready to catch the line.  That bow line has a mark on it which lets the line handler on Fairweather know where to temporarily tie off the line.  Then the stern line is then thrown to another line handler. Once the launch is positioned properly (no easy task in rolling seas) the hoists are lowered to the launch where they are clamped onto lifting eyes.  Each of the clamps on the boat falls5 weighs close to 40 pounds – that’s why in deck ops everyone wears hardhats – and is controlled by both the winch operator and two more line handlers using “frapping lines6.” (in the picture to the left, as the launch approaches, you can see the boat falls, clamps and frapping lines.)  Once the clamps are secured, the launch is lifted to the deck rail and the crew gets off, and the launch is lifted back to its cradle.

Piece of cake!  Realize, however, that this simply and cleanly executed maneuver, requires: On the Fairweather: 4 line handlers The Chief Bosun 1 or 2 surveyors The bridge crew to maintain position (at least 2 people) 2 or 3 deck personnel to unload gear from the launch A Chief Scientist to task the launch The chefs to feed the launch crew On the launch: Person in charge Coxswain 1 winch operator From 14 to 16 people, all working together.  On January 1, 2008, the Fairweather was authorized to paint a black letter “S” on both sides of the ship indicating that she had gone 433 consecutive days without any injuries.  Considering the environment in which Fairweather works and the tasking which requires constant deployment and retrieval of heavy equipment, the “Safety S” is a reflection of her crew and officers.

Personal Log 

What a great day!


  1. Soundings – depths measured
  2. PIC – Person In Charge
  3. AST – Assistant Survey Technician
  4. Coxswain – (<O.Fr. coque “canoe” + swain “boy”) Individual who steers a small boat or launch
  5. Boat falls – the lines used to raise and lower boats from a davit
  6. Frapping lines – Lines used to control the boat falls

By the Way 

It’s time to do some laundry!!!  The laundry room is on D-Deck just forward of the fantail.

See you all tomorrow! 

It’s laundry day!
It’s laundry day!

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