Lesley Urasky: June 30, 2012, Goodbye Pisces


NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lesley Urasky
Aboard the NOAA ship Pisces
June 16 – June 29, 2012

Mission:  SEAMAP Caribbean Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Date: June 30, 2012

Location:
Latitude: 29.1215
Longitude: -78.9042

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Water Temperature:
Air Temperature: 32°C (90°F)
Wind Speed:  9 knots (10 mph), Beaufort scale:  3
Wind Direction: from W-SW
Relative Humidity: 61%
Barometric Pressure:   1,012.0 mb
Surface Water Temperature: 28°C (82°F)

Science and Technology Log

During our last night, I had the Third Assistant Engineer, Steve Clement, give me a tour of the engine room and fresh water system.  I can’t believe the engineers are able to work down there – the noise and heat (110°) is amazing!

Steve Clement, Third Assistant Engineer, explaining how things work in the engine room.

I’m not a mechanically oriented person, so Steve had to keep his explanations short; it was more of a show-and-tell tour.  The engine room, majority of equipment controlling the ship’s motion, and water treatment are located on the bottom deck of the ship.  The quantity of both electronic and mechanical equipment is mind-boggling; all the men who work in this capacity have to be proficient in so many areas so the ship can support the science missions.  Hats off to all those hard-working and talented men!

Computer screen showing the operations in the generation plant on the Pisces.

The operation of the ship can be monitored on the main distribution computer screen.  Levels of fluids and functioning of all the components are continually assessed and modifications to operation made from the control panel.

Computer screen showing current fuel consumption for each generator.

The ship uses lots of diesel fuel when it is operating at full steam (14.5 knots/hour) – around 2,500 gallons a day!  The Pisces has a tank capacity of 110,000 gallons; I’d hate to pay their fuel bill when it’s time to fill up! This quantity of fuel allows it to travel about 12,000 NM (nautical miles) or 13,800 miles; that’s a little over half-way around the Earth on one tank of fuel!

Two of the Pisces‘ generators: the one on the left is a 12-cylinder and an 8-cylinder on the right.

The propeller is located at the stern (back) of the ship.  I was able to look down through grating in the floor and see the drive shaft turning at 134 rpm.  It has a diameter of 14.1 feet; it has to be so large so that it can efficiently move the ship through the water.

Main shaft of the Pisces‘ propeller.

Lastly, I got to see the Pisces‘ water generation system.  This is as important as the ship’s engines because without fresh water, the scientists and crew members wouldn’t have drinking water as well as no water for washing or cooking.  The ship isn’t big enough to carry all the freshwater that it needs for a long cruise.  But with reverse osmosis technology, and the fact that we’re surrounded by nothing but water, fresh water is readily available.  The Pisces takes in seawater which is pumped through a reverse osmosis (RO) system.

Reverse osmosis (RO) system that creates fresh water for the Pisces.

In reverse osmosis, the salty water is forced (pumped) through membranes with very small openings.  These are so small that the ions making the water “salty” cannot pass through; the water is able to pass and after leaving the ions behind, becomes fresh water.  The RO system on the Pisces generates about 624 gallons per hour.  The tan “box” in the picture above contains all of the controls and gauges.  The long, white tube behind it contains the permeable membrane that the water is forced through.

Membrane filter in a reverse osmosis apparatus. (Source: Wikipedia)

Personal Log

It is with some sadness that my adventure as a NOAA Teacher at Sea has come to an end.  Today I said goodbye to the crew of the Pisces.  They are an amazing crew, and made my final portion of the cruise without the scientists interesting and fun.  I admit that I was a bit apprehensive about being without the scientists and seeing the ship under different circumstances (lacking a specific scientific objective), but the Pisces steamed forward with two goals in mind: retrieving the buoy (see my last posting on June 27), and arriving in Mayport in a timely manner to receive the next group of scientists as they embark on their cruise.  I’d like to invite you to continue to follow the Pisces and their new Teacher at Sea, Marsha Skoczek as she learns about Deep Sea Corals.

Pisces life preserver

On the afternoon of the 28th, we encountered a line of squalls generated by Tropical Depression Debby as she moved off the coast of Florida and into the Atlantic.  At one point, we had 40 knot (46 mph) winds and rain.  After the winds had died down a bit, I spent some time up on the bridge. Being up so high in the ship, coupled with 8-foot confused seas (waves coming in from different directions) began to make me feel seasick.  I took another meclazine (similar to Dramamine), had some saltine crackers and ginger ale, and sat on deck looking at the horizon for a while.  When even this failed to make me feel better, I crawled into bed.  I really must have been feeling poorly to miss dinner!

By next morning, the seas had calmed down dramatically, and I was feeling as good as new.  As this was our last full day at sea, I headed up to the bridge to do one last thing that the Commanding Officer told me I could do – drive the ship!  While the ship is underway, it is usually under “auto-pilot”.  A course can be entered into the computer and the ship doesn’t need anyone actively at the helm.  The Navigational Officer, Ensign Michael Doig, placed the Pisces under manual control and showed me how to steer the ship.  The Pisces is an incredibly responsive ship and can turn very quickly in just a few feet.  I was shown the current heading and the compass and tried to keep the ship on course – it was definitely much harder than it looks!  After zig-zagging back and forth, off course by about 10 degrees, I handed control back to Ensign Doig.

Lesley Urasky at the helm (aka “driving” the ship).

After this concentration zapping task, he had me plot our current position on the navigational chart and record the hourly weather information.  This included the ship’s current latitude and longitude, course heading, wind speed, air temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure, and cloud cover.

These are some of the nautical charts the Pisces used while on our cruise: Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and East Coast of Florida: Approaches to St. Johns River

Lesley Urasky plotting the Pisces‘ current position

While many aspects of travel in the modern age have various computer based technologies to assist with navigation, the crew still needs to know how to find their location manually. I spent some time learning about navigation with Peter Langlois, 3rd Mate on the Pisces.  He showed me how they plot their course on a navigational chart.  Once a ship’s current location is determined, those crew members on watch will use dead reckoning to determine where they will be at a given point in time if all the current conditions remain the same (course and speed).  Peter also attempted to show me how to determine the time of sunrise/sunset for each specific location using our latitude, longitude, and an almanac.  For an interesting way to determine when sunrise/sunset (as well as moon rise/set) for your specific location, NOAA has a great website called Solar Calculator.  This site will also tell you when solar noon occurs (point where the sun is most directly overhead) and show you the path the sun takes across the sky.

Plotting our current position and using dead reckoning to project future positions.

Unfortunately, at that point in time, I wasn’t able to fully understand Peter’s directions as the seasickness was just beginning to hit me. The effects were compounded by being up on the bridge (almost the highest point on the ship) and trying to follow lines of small numbers in the almanac while the ship was being  buffeted by waves from all directions.

As my final day at sea came to a close, I spent quite a bit of time “prowling” the ship and taking pictures of all the little things that had become so “ordinary” to me.  After dinner, I climbed up to the flying deck and spent time watching the sunset with the Commanding Officer (CO), Peter Fischel.  It was a beautiful sight; one that I’ll always remember.

Sunset on the last night of the cruise.

Before I went to bed, I checked the ship’s information board to find out when we’d be arriving in Mayport, Florida.  The board holds important information and updates the crew needs to know as part of their jobs as well as other useful information.

Information board on the NOAA ship Pisces.

Last night when I went to bed, there was nothing but open ocean surrounding the ship.  When I woke up the next morning, the sun was rising and Mayport/Jacksonville, Florida could be seen along our port side (left).  It was a welcome sight after not seeing land for a few days.  However, I knew this view was also bringing my adventure to an end.  It was an amazing journey and full of wonderful experiences.  I met so many kind and knowledgeable people who I won’t soon forget.  A HUGE thank you to NOAA, the science team, and the crew members of the Pisces!

Panoramic view of the Mayport Harbor as we pull in at the end of our cruise.

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