Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Southern Atlantic/Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 27, 2011
Science and Technology Log
If you looked at the Ship Tracker today (August 27th), you would see that NOAA Ship Oregon II is docked at Pascagoula, Mississippi. I am writing to you from Oklahoma to share how we made it back to port safely. The procedure for making that happen is called “Sea and Anchor” and it’s quite a sight to behold!
Over two weeks ago when we were leaving port in Charleston, I heard the Captain announce “Sea and Anchor.” During Sea and Anchor, every crew member is at his/her station. For example, the engineers are in the engine room, the deck crew is ready to drop anchor if needed, and all officers are on the bridge.
Not to mention, just to get ready for Sea and Anchor, the Captain must oversee a 4 page checklist of things that must be done before going to sea. Sea and Anchor detail is done not only as the ship is going out, but also as it is coming in to port. This is what I got to observe on the bridge as we came into the channel in Pascagoula on August 24, 2011.
But let me back up to the first of the 2 page checklist to get ready for Sea and Anchor as the ship is taken through the channel and docked at the port. The 1st thing that must happen is the Officer of the Deck transits the ship from the last station to the Pascagoula Ship Channel. Our last station was north of Tampa, about 300 miles from port. We steamed at 10 knots/hour. (1 knot is roughly 1.15 miles per hour.) At this rate, how many hours did it take us to get to port from our last station?
One day prior to arrival, the Captain must call the port and talk to the Pascagoula Port Captain, Jim Rowe. When he calls, he verifies that line handlers are available at the pier as well as the ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) of the ship. Thirty minutes before arrival at the channel sea buoys, the Captain must wake all hands up to prepare for Sea and Anchor.
He then calls the pilot/port for vessel traffic. According to the Captain, traffic is extremely important. The channel at Pascagoula is 500 feet in width. There are buoys at either side of the channel. NOAA Ship Oregon II is 34 feet wide. If a ship goes outside the buoys, it will run aground. Outside the buoys the depth of the channel ranges from only 13-18 feet. NOAA Ship Oregon II has a 15 foot draft. The larger ships can draw almost the entire depth of the channel which is 40 feet! Many will also take up most of the width of the channel, thus there is no way for 2 large ships to get through the channel at the same time without one running aground.
After traffic is checked, the propulsion and steering is tested, then the crew must ready an anchor to let go in case of an emergency. Next the call signs/flags are hoisted.
The deck department breaks out mooring lines for port or starboard side docking. (We docked on the starboard side, so the deck hands got all the lines to that side.) At this point the Captain pipes (announces), “Set Sea and Anchor detail.” The engineers go to the engine room, the deck hands are all on deck, and the officers are on the bridge.
As I mentioned, the Pascagoula Ship Channel is 500 feet in width. Toward the beginning of the Channel, the Barrier Islands (Petit Bois Island, Horn Island, Ship Island, and Cat Island) must be navigated, as well as the entire channel.
So how does this happen? I got to stay on the bridge to find out. The Captain and the 4 officers are all on the bridge and all have a part to play in this procedure. The Captain designates what duty each officer will do. This changes from port to port. He also serves as an overseer. If at any time he needs to jump in and help any of the officers, he will do so.
Here are the jobs of the officers: 1. Having the Conn- This officer conns/manuevers the ship in to port. 2. On the Helm- This officer steers the ship into dock. 3. On the pitch- This officer controls the throttle. It is also known as being on the “sticks and log.” 4. Doing navigation- This officer advises the Conning Officer when to make turns in the channel.
Now that everyone is at their stations, at the mouth of the channel the Captain calls the port on the radio. This time into port, this is what he said, “Research Vessel NOAA Ship Oregon II inbound at buoys 7 and 8.” Over the radio a friend of the Captain’s exclaimed, “Welcome back, dude!” (NOAA Ship Oregon II had not been here at home port for about a month.)
After the Captain makes a securite (pronounced “securitay”) call to the Port Captain over the radio to broadcast or alert any other vessels that the ship is heading in, the ship can then enter the channel. This was amazing to watch as all the officers and Captain worked together like clockwork to get through the channel. Here is an example of what you would hear: Conn to Helm: 3-2-0, Helm to Conn: 3-2-0. Conn: Very Well. . . Conn to Pitch: 4 feet ahead, Pitch to Conn: 4 feet ahead, Conn: Very well. This is done all the way through the entire channel until the ship is safely docked.
I already had a great amount of respect for the responsibilities of Commanding Officer- Master Dave Nelson, Executive Officer- LCDR Jason Appler, Operations Officer- LT Sarah Harris, Junior Officer- ENS Larry V. Thomas, and Junior Officer- ENS Brian Adornato, but now I have even a greater respect than I did. While standing on the bridge during the Sea and Anchor detail, I was honestly in awe. I had NO idea what went into getting a ship to dock. It was absolutely a highlight of my trip to see how they make that work so smoothly. Cap told me, “I have done this Sea and Anchor procedure hundreds and hundreds of times, but I never take it lightly. I am in charge of all the lives on board and it’s my job to get you home safely.” Thank you Cap, and your entire crew, for getting this Oklahoman to her “home on the range!”
After we docked, the XO, Chief Scientist, and myself did a Skype interview from the bridge of NOAA Ship Oregon II with NewsOn6. I appreciate the XO’s help in getting permission for us to do the interview as well as our Electronics Technician for setting up the equipment!
After the interview some of the scientists and I headed to Rob’s BBQ On The Side. It was wonderful! Next we were off to the Gulfport airport. I had a layover in Atlanta. There I was fortunate to meet and eat dinner with 2 AirTran Airways pilots, Vince-Captain, and John-First Officer.
It turns out, while I was in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, they were flying over it. I thought you’d enjoy their vantage point, so I included a couple of pictures that Vince took.
I asked them how important math and science were to their jobs. They both said that numbers were their world. They eat, breathe, and sleep numbers.
On my flight from Atlanta to Tulsa I sat next to Don, Project Engineer-NORDAM Necelle/Thrust Reverser Systems Division. So for over an hour we had a great conversation about the importance of math and science. Here is what he said: “Math and science are important to my job (and to any engineer) because they are the basis of everything we do. An understanding of math and science allows aerospace engineers to understand why things work the way they do, and more importantly, that knowledge allows us to develop better products that can be used in the aerospace industry. This is possible because at some time or another, some boys and girls were sitting in class and really enjoyed learning about how things work. Math and science work together to explain those things in a logical manner. Their desire to continue learning led them down a road to more advanced classes in high school and eventually to math, science, and engineering degrees in college, allowing them the opportunity to get good jobs and to be a part of developing the next great airplane.”
People often ask me how I meet so many interesting and intriguing people. Do you want to know how? I take the time to talk to them. Each of these people I met will now play an integral part in my classroom. Some will visit my classroom, others will answer our questions via email, and yet others will Skype or call our class during our classroom meetings.
In my classroom I have a sign that has 3 simple words: Find The Time. I take the time to tell my students the importance of budgeting their time and using it to the fullest each and every day. Every day is only what you make it. Remember to find the time to always keep learning and sharing what you know with others. It makes the world a better place to live.