Steven Allen: The Three “F’s” for Life at Sea, August 12, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Steven Allen
Aboard R/V Bellows
August 9 — 18, 2011

Mission: Exploring the Submerged New World Part III
Geographical Area: West Coast of Florida
Date: August 12, 2011

Personal Log

Prior to embarking as a Teacher at Sea, NOAA provides its participants with a description of Life at Sea. They recommend that participants possess what they call the “three F’s”: Flexibility, Fortitude, and the ability to Follow Orders. When I first read the 3 F’s, I simply looked them over quickly, thinking to myself that everything would go smoothly and that they simply included this information so participants wouldn’t take the sailing assignments too lightly. Regarding flexibility, NOAA warned of the unforeseen happening, especially with ship departure and arrival dates. Surely, I thought, this would not apply to this mission; everything would go smoothly. Soon I would learn that the 3 F’s were, indeed, meant to be seriously considered.

The mission Exploring the Submerged New World Part 3 was to sail on August 9, 2011. Two days before my departure to St. Petersburg, I received a phone call from NOAA telling me that the departure date had been pushed back. The R/V Bellows would not sail until Wednesday, August 10th.  This first delay came because the onboard Detroit Generator went down and the Bellows crew from the Florida Institute of Oceanography had to wait for parts and to fix the generator. I was asked to arrive on Monday afternoon to help in the science mission preparations. On Monday, we worked on putting the finishing touches on the floating screen. This work gave me a chance to get to know the other members of the research mission from Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute. Already I realized, they definitely possessed flexibility, fortitude and had the ability to follow orders as they steadfastly made preparations for the research cruise.

Researchers from the Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute work on securing the floatation to the bottom of the floating sifter screen. This floating screen will receive the sediment pumped up from the bottom and allow researchers to examine the sediment for potential artifacts.

The generator delay provided the archaeological team time to further prepare the floating screen and the pump system that would be needed to do their work offshore. On Tuesday the work on the sifter and pump systems was delayed; this time because the Mercyhurst van became inoperable. Since I was one of the only team members with a vehicle, I began running errands to get all the last-minute supplies needed for the adjustments that we were making on the floating screen and the induction-dredge floating pump system. Once more, the “3 F’s” were needed. By Tuesday evening we had made considerable headway and we looked to complete preparations and sail out on Wednesday, August 11th.

When Wednesday arrived, however, the weather turned against us with torrential downpours accompanied by thunder and lightning. This limited our ability to finish the modifications to the floating screen and the pump system and our abilities to load the Bellows with the gear. I continued helping in running errands and ferrying people around St. Petersburg. I now was convinced that the “3 F’s” of flexibility, fortitude and following orders were not mere platitudes but necessary ingredients for ocean-based scientific research.

Staff from the Florida Institute of Oceanography and Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute test the floating pump system that is part of the induction dredge system that will be used to uplift sediments from the submerged sites in the Florida Middle Grounds.

On Wednesday night we slept onboard the Bellows, hoping that the weather would break and we could get an early start. There were still some modifications needed to be finished. A decision was made to put skids on the floating screen to prevent tearing up the floatation when we lowered and raised the floating screen from the stern deck of the Bellows. By Thursday afternoon, we were nearing the completion of preparations. All the small equipment–mainly dive gear, personal items, pumps, and hoses–had been tested and loaded. The last two items (the largest items) to be loaded were the floating sifting screen and the floating induction dredge pump system mounted on a Jon boat.

The captain of the Bellows informed us we would be sailing at 18:00 (6:00pm) on August 11th, 2011. After three days of preparatory work, a collective sigh of relief resonated through the research crew. In the time at the docks at St. Petersburg, I realized that perhaps the only thing you can count on is the unforeseen happening. True scientific research did not happen in a smooth, orderly fashion. It was essential to possess the “3 F’s”: Flexibility, Fortitude and Following orders. Nonetheless, in 3-5 foot swells, the R/V Bellows cruised all night at between 7 and 8 knots to arrive at our first dive site on Friday morning. As we approached the site that morning we were joined by a pod of curious dolphins. Maybe this was a good omen that the unforeseen troubles were behind us.

Science and Technology Log

The first dive site, Survey Target #1121, lay 17.5 nautical miles south of the Suwannee River mouth. This site had been located during the prior 2009 Submerged mission. Exploratory dives in 2009 located rock outcroppings of grainy, knappable, Suwannee formation dolomite. This rock would have been a potential resource for early human tools. The idea of the mission was to return in 2011 with the induction dredge and floating screen to search for any evidence of early habitation.

Dr. Andy Hemmings and Ben Wells begin a preliminary exploratory dive to ground truth the sub-surface profile, looking for Dolomite rock outcroppings.

At the first site, Principal Investigator Dr. Andy Hemmings and archaeology student Ben Wells were the first to investigate and verify if indeed this was the site of the dolomite rock outcroppings. Their preliminary dive was unsuccessful in confirming the location of the rock outcroppings. Adjustments were made to the initial coordinates and the Bellows relocated 262 yards from the first drop, where a second group of divers confirmed evidence of rock formations. It was then decided to deploy the floating screen and the floating induction dredge and explore the site further the next day.

Teacher at Sea, Steven Allen (left) helps the R/V Bellows captain secure lines for the floating screen sifter and the floating induction dredge

One Reply to “Steven Allen: The Three “F’s” for Life at Sea, August 12, 2011”

  1. really enjoyed your posting and particularly the 3 f’s. look forward to the next one! i sure hope you find a small part of that “needle in a haystack”. have a wonderful time……enjoy……

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