NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 17 — October 7, 2011
Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaskan Coastline, the Inside Passage
Date: Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Weather Data From The Bridge
Visibility: 4 miles
Wind: 20 kts
Waves: 0-1 feet
Dry Bulb: 11.7 degrees Celsius
Barometer: 1000.1 millibars
Latitude: 55 degrees North
Longitude: 133 degrees West
Science and Technology Log
Today was the first day that the survey launches left the Rainier to install and recover benchmarks and a tidal gauge. The weather was not great and the crew had a lot of work to do so I was not able to go with them this time. A benchmark is a small brass disk with information inscribed on it that relates to the station it represents. The benchmark holds the height of the datum. The purpose of setting a tide gauge is to measure the water level. The water level information is used to reduce the bathymetric data acquired to the chart datum (mean lower-low water, MLLW). Finding benchmarks has become quite popular through the hobby of geocaching. This is where participants use latitude and longitude within Global Positioning Systems (GPS) as a way to hunt down “treasures” hidden by other participants. This also includes finding benchmarks.
I’ve been trying to head up to the bridge as much as I can to learn as much as I can during this Teacher at Sea experience. The first time I went up at night I had no idea about the environment that the officers work in on the bridge. At night the officers on the bridge actually work in complete darkness. All of the computer screens have dimmers or red filters so that the least amount of light affects their eyes in the darkness. The reason it is so dark is because the officers need to be able to see the lighted navigation buoys to stay on course and to spot the lights of other ships that are heading in our direction. There are also one or two deck personnel that are lookouts either on the flying bridge or bow to keep watch for ships, lights, and other objects that could potentially be a hazard to the Rainier. A flying bridge is usually an open area above an enclosed bridge where the ship’s officers have a good view of everything around the front and sides of the ship. We are traveling through the Inside Passage off the Southeastern coast of Alaska, which is extremely narrow in some places along the way. This means that it is very important that the officers know exactly where they are and what is around them.
I have been able to do some other neat tasks on the ship while the majority of the crew were out on their launches. We finally were able to find a place to anchor at Ulloa Channel because we had a good “bite” with the anchor–it is protected somewhat from the weather we are dealing with, and it is close to our tide station. They also let me run out some chain for the anchor and I was able to practice using the crane on the ship. However, the best part so far has been being at the helm, or the steering gear of the ship. I will admit I was pretty nervous the first time I grabbed the wheel because it was at night so I couldn’t see hardly anything. Today, the officer of the deck (OOD) let me at the helm again because we were in open water. When I am at the helm I have to watch my gyro-heading, which shows me true North, and my magnetic compass, which is more of a back up if the electronic gyro-heading fails. If I have a heading of 150 then I have to make tiny adjustments or corrections to try and stay on or close to that number as possible. Even when I make the tiniest adjustment I can see how much the ship moves. I did start getting the hang of it and one officer even said he had never seen a visitor do so well!
One other item that I will mention in this blog is that the weather in Alaska during this time of year is overcast, rainy, and cold.
However, going into this I had an idea of what to expect and I enjoy the fact that I get to see the non-glamorous side of this type of work. It does not matter if it is rainy, cold, what you are wearing, or what you look like because there is a job to do. It has been overcast every day, but the pine trees are amazing shades of green and the pictures do not do them justice. We have also had 15 foot waves and 115 knot wind (this is the same as a category 3 hurricane!). The wind didn’t bother me as much as the waves did. I thought it was fun for the first 30 minutes, but then I had to lie down for a while because I wasn’t feeling too well. I never threw up, but it did become uncomfortable. Now that we are anchored and have stopped moving I feel funny because my body has been used to moving around so much for the past three days. I sure hope I don’t get land sickness when I am done with this cruise!
Student Questions Answered: Here are student questions answered about feeding so many people on a boat over 3 weeks time.
Questions of the Day
We experienced 115 knot winds Monday night. What category hurricane would that be the equivalent to? Use the website if you need help.