Laura Grimm: Who is driving this ship? July 18, 2022

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Laura Grimm

Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson

July 4 – July 22, 2022

Mission: Hydrographic Survey of Lake Erie

Geographic Area of Cruise: Lake Erie

Date: July 18, 2022

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 42 11.6’N

Longitude: 080 20.7’ W

Sky Conditions: Overcast (*)

Visibility: 10+ miles

Wind Speed: 20 knots

Wind Direction: 300 NW

Lake Temperature: 22.3 C

Wave Height: 3-4 ft.

Dry Bulb: 22.6 ᵒC

Wet Bulb: 21.3 ᵒC

Relative Humidity: 92%

A chart of abbreviations for weather terms for sky condition, intensity/proximity, descriptor, precipitation, obscuration, and other
(*) This is a chart of abbreviations that I refer to when I go the the bridge to record the weather .
a section of bathymetric data (color-coded to reflect depth) within  polygons overlaid on a political map of Lake Erie off of Presque Isle
This image shows the progress of the hydrographic survey off the coast of Presque Isle.

Science and Technology Log

The ship is driven from the Bridge.  It is the main control center of the ship.  It is driven by a variety of people and computers.  People who drive the ship include: the Commanding Officer (CO), Conning Officer (CONN), Officer of the Deck (OOD), and several helmsmen.  There are several (at least two) people on the Bridge all the time.  If Thomas Jefferson were a six-story building, the Bridge would be on the top floor.  Being on the 6th floor has its pros and cons.  Seeing, avoiding, and communicating with other boats in the area is very important.  One can see far and wide from up there!  One disadvantage is that things really rock ‘n roll up there when we are in heavy seas!

portrait photo of CO Jaskoski on bridge
NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson’s Commanding Officer (CO) Jaskoski

According to a popular career website (Your Free Career Test), “A ship captain is in command of water vessels in lakes, oceans, coastal waters, rivers, or bays. They ensure the safe and efficient operations of vessels. A ship captain navigates their vessel according to weather conditions and uses radar, depth finders, radios, buoys, lights, and even lighthouses. They determine sufficient levels of oxygen, hydraulic fluid, or air pressure of the vessel.”

Are you interested in having a career as a ship captain of a seagoing vessel?  Watch the following video to see if you have what it takes!

How about a career at sea?
view of the bridge controls
The Bridge has many windows, and is filled with instruments, computers, and reference manuals.

Following are pictures of what is used to navigate and drive the ship.  Each picture is followed by a brief description.

a radar screen
Thomas Jefferson has two radars

Radar is one of the most important tools on the Bridge.  It allows us to see objects, ships, obstructions – basically anything we could run into (on the surface).  TJ has two radars.  The X-band radar is used for higher resolution pictures and things in closer range.  The S-band radar is used to see objects further away. 

The Officer of the Deck (OOD) and Conning Officer (CONN) use the Automatic Radar Plotting Aid (ARPA) function of the radar to identify “targets” or other ships in the area.  It is used to track their relative motion to see which way and how fast they are headed with respect to TJ.  The ARPA calculates the closest point of approach (CPA) and time to CPA.  This tells you if there is the potential of a collision.  The result is to change course, change speed, contact the other ship, or anything to reduce the risk of a collision.

If there is the potential for a collision, the OOD or CONN may contact the vessel and make a passing arrangement.  However, since TJ is conducting operations, they may also make a Security announcement to let other vessels know their whereabouts and status. (Sécurité is French for “security” and is pronounced se-cur-i-tay.)  According to Wikipedia, “Of the three distress and urgency calls, Sécurité is the least urgent.

Sécurité: A radio call that usually issues navigational warnings, meteorological warnings, and any other warning needing to be issued that may concern the safety of life at sea yet may not be particularly life-threatening.

Pan-pan: This is the second most important call. This call is made when there is an emergency aboard a vessel, yet there is no immediate danger to life, or the safety of the vessel itself. This includes, but is not limited to injuries on deck, imminent collision that has not yet occurred, or being unsure of vessel’s position.

Mayday: This is the most important call that can be made, since it directly concerns a threat to life or the vessel. Some instances when this call would be made are, but not limited to death, collision, and fire at sea. When the Mayday call is made, the vessel is requiring immediate assistance.”

Last evening, the CONN made a Sécurité announcement because the position, direction, and speed of a dredging vessel and the TJ were at risk of a collision.  As soon as the announcement was made, the dredging vessel altered its course and the TJ slowed down a bit.  We averted the collision with a very large margin.

A close-up view of one portion of the radar readout (green and yellow numbers on a black background)
A close-up view of one portion of the radar.

Above is a close-up view of just one portion of the radar.

HDG = Heading of the ship (per gyrocompass)

SPD = Speed in knots

COG = Course over ground ***

SOG = Speed over ground ***

The yellow numbers represent degrees of latitude and longitude.

(*** These parameters are course and speed after the influence of wind and current have been taken into account.)

Speed at sea is measured in knots.  One knot is a unit of speed equal to one nautical mile per hour or approximately 1.15 miles per hour.

Distance at sea is measured in nautical miles.  The nautical mile is based on the Earth’s longitude and latitude coordinates, with one nautical mile equaling one minute of latitude.  A nautical mile is slightly longer than a mile on land, equaling 1.15 land-measured (or statute) miles.

A combination of monitors
A combination of monitors showing and Electronic Charting System (ECS) and the Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS)

The lower monitor and keyboard are the Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS).  It displays Electronic Navigation Charts (ENCs).  This system allows officers on deck to see where they are in real-time.  It can be updated frequently when new information regarding navigation (buoys, obstructions, depths, etc.) are charted.  It has all but replaced paper carts. 

a control panel
Search lights and communication systems

The two panels on the left control the starboard and port side searchlights.  Upper right is a fathometer.  It is the less sophisticated echo sounder used to measure depth below the keel when we are transiting (moving from place to place) and not surveying.

Lower right, you will find the intercom that is used to communicate between the Bridge and the Data Acquisition desk in the Survey room.

close-up view of a radio control panel
This communications VHF radio is set on channel 16.

This radio is used to communicate with other ships in the area.  Information to and from the US Coast Guard is also shared through this device.

computer monitor
This monitor shows where data have been collected.

This monitor shows what is going on with a software called “Hypack”.  It displays data that has been collected.  It helps hydrographers and those driving the ship to visually keep track of where data has been collected. Also, it feeds information to the autopilot which allows the ship to stay on the course while surveying, without having to steer in hand or adjust based on distance from the line.

ship's steering wheel, or helm, mounted on bridge
The ship’s wheel

This is where the Helmsman stands and steers the ship.  The Helmsman takes his/her orders from the Conning Officer.  This officer is responsible for instructing the helmsman on the course to steer. Did you know that ships have autopilot?  The helmsman steers the ship when it is turning or doing complicated maneuvers.  When the ship is traveling in long straight lines (when we are “mowing the lawn”), the helmsman turns on the autopilot affectionately called, “Nav Nav”.  It is called this because the Nav button needs to be pushed twice to activate the system. 

control panel
This panel controls the power of the main engine that turns the propeller.
control panel for the bow thruster
The bow thruster control panel

There is a small propeller on the bow called a bow thruster.  This panel controls the thruster.  It is often used when steering the ship in tight places at slow speeds.  I like to think of it as a way to “fine tune” the direction of the ship.

There are many compasses on the ship.

  • the magnetic compass that hangs from the ceiling of the Bridge.
  • LED display of main compass
  • LT Catoire looks through the gyro compass, which is mounted on the deck

How did early people navigate the oceans?

The rudder is found aft (behind) of the propeller.  Both are under the ship.  The helmsman uses the rudder to turn the ship right or left. The rudder moves using hydraulics.  The pointer on the display above moves as the rudder moves.

  • dial displaying position of rudder. currently reads: 2 degrees toward starbooard side
  • gauge attached to rudder showing a range of degrees (0-45) left and right
  • view of rudder attached to hydraulic arms

Personal Log

We have had beautiful weather during this leg of the mission.  This morning, we had a beautiful red sky at sunrise. 

sunrise over Lake Erie; wake of ship visible
Red sky in the morning?  Should I heed warning?

You may be familiar with the saying, “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.  Red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning.”  The Library of Congress states that this concept is also repeated in Shakespeare and in the Bible.

In Shakespeare’s play Venus and Adonis, “Like a red morn that ever yet betokened, Wreck to the seaman, tempest to the field.  Sorrow to the shepherds, woe unto the birds, Gusts and foul flaws to herdmen and to herds.”

In the Bible (Matthew XVI: 2-3,) Jesus said, “When in evening, ye say, it will be fair weather: For the sky is red.  And in the morning, it will be foul weather today; for the sky is red and lowering.”

Weather lore has been around since people have needed to predict the weather.   Several agencies (NOAA Earth Systems Research Laboratory, Earth Observatory at NASA, and University of Wisconsin-Madison) have studied the science behind this piece of weather lore.

According to the Library of Congress, “When we see a red sky at night, this means that the setting sun is sending its light through a high concentration of dust particles.  This usually indicates high pressure and stable air coming in from the west.  Basically, good weather will follow.

A red sunrise can mean that a high-pressure system (good weather) has already passed, thus indicating that a storm system (low pressure) may be moving to the east.  A morning sky that is deep, fiery red can indicate that there is high water content in the atmosphere.  So, rain could be on its way.”

The beautiful sunrise + the NOAA weather report caused people to believe that we might be in for a weather change.

  • satellite weather view showing a storm system moving east from Ashtablua toward Erie
  • view over Lake Erie, all water, toward the horizon. Storm clouds and rain visible in the distance.
  • davits raising the small boat off the water
  • monarch butterfly in flight
  • view out a porthole window, covered in rain drops
  • a hand reaching to press a button on the control panel of the ship's whistle

For the Little Dawgs . . . (Part 1)

Q: Where is Dewey?  Hint: Only a very important person on board is allowed to sit in this chair.

Dewey the beanie monkey sits on a leather chair
Dewey, have you gotten permission to sit there?

A: Dewey is sitting in the captain’s (Commanding Officer’s) chair in the Bridge.  CO Jaskoski gave Dewey permission to sit in the chair . . . just this once because he is so cute.

Dewey the beanie monkey sitting in the captain's chair, full view
Dewey chill’n out in the CO’s chair

For the Little Dawgs . . . (Part 2)

Q: Where is Dewey?  Hint: This is used by the helmsman to drive the ship.

Dewey the beanie monkey propped up on the helm
Hang on Dewey!  I am afraid that you are too short to do the work of a helmsman.

A: Dewey is sitting on the wheel in the Bridge.  Yes, I am afraid that he is too short to do his job.

broader view of the bridge control panels, with Dewey the beanie monkey on the steering wheel or helm
Watch out all who are in front of the bow!  Dewey is trying to drive the ship.

Human-Interest Poll (HIP)

graph of responses to poll: What do you like to do in your free time while on the ship? Read (7 people), talk with family (4), work out (3), play video games (3), other (3)
Other = writing letters, napping, or planning future vacations

Questions from students:

Casey M. asked, “Have you found anything shipwrecks yet?”

LG – Whether we have found something or not, I must respond the same way. It is classified information. I am not allowed to tell you whether we have or have not found anything until I am given permission to do so.   Thank you for your curiosity.

Evelyn A. asked, “Have you seen anything that you haven’t seen before on Lake Erie. Also, what is the deepest spot you have seen so far?

LG: During this leg of the survey the deepest we have measured is 28 meters (~ 92 feet) deep.  I asked one of my shipmates and she said the deepest she has measured is 999.8 meters (3280 ft or over 1000 yards) deep.  That’s deeper than 10 football fields!

I’ve had many new experiences and have seen lots of new things on this voyage.  The one that stands out for me is that we found a shipwreck.  I cannot tell you where we found it – that’s confidential.  It was about 70 meters (230 feet) long – a little shorter than a football field.  It looked as if it had been there for a long time.

Gretta S. asked, “Do you ever miss being on land or miss your neighbors (Wink, wink)?  How was the movie night?  How tall is the ship?  Have the waves ever gotten so high you could feel the sea spray on the deck?  Have you seen both vertebrates and invertebrates?”

 LG: Yes, I miss my family, cats, and neighbors, however, this is a voyage of a lifetime!  The movie night was great.  I didn’t stay up to watch the whole movie – bedtime called.  The ship from “keel to wind birds” is about 100 feet.  Yes, the waves have gotten high enough to wash up on to the main deck – especially during a turn.  I’ve seen a lot of insects (invertebrates) but few vertebrates unless you count my fellow shipmates and some seagulls! 

Josie S. asked, “What is your favorite meal on the ship so far? How do you like sleeping on the top bunk in your room on the ship? Did you see any fish in the lake?  Are you allowed to have electronics on the ship?  I liked the picture of you and Dewey on the ship!!!!  You look happy!”

LG: My favorite meal so far has been prime rib and sweet potatoes.  I like sleeping on the top bunk because I have a porthole.  My bed is very comfy, and my roommate is nice.  I have not seen any fish in the lake; however, we see a lot of seafood in the mess hall (examples: crab legs, cod, grouper, shrimp, oysters, and salmon).  Yes, we are allowed to have electronics on the ship.  I have my cell phone, computer, a small camera for videos, and voice recorder.  We use a lot of technology!  I am happy!  This has been a wonderful learning experience in so many ways.  I cannot wait to share this experience with my students when I return to Dalton.  (P.S. I will give Dewey a hug for you.)

Janie S. said, “We were at Kelleys Island last weekend! When we were there, we saw Canada with our binoculars! Could you see Canada?  What other foods did you have on the Thomas Jefferson ship? The deepest lake out of the great lakes would be Lake Superior. And the shallowest lakes out of the great lakes would be Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie.”

LG: That is very cool that you got the chance to go to Kelleys Island and see Canada.  During the day, we cannot see Canada from where we are surveying.  The Operations Officer in Training told me that if you go on the bridge at night, you can see radio towers and lights from the windmills in Canada.  We are approximately 19 nautical miles (about 22 statute miles) from the nearest point of land in Canada which is Long Point National Wildlife Area in Norfolk County, Ontario.  We stay mostly 4 to 8 nautical miles north of Presque Isle, PA.  This link will give you all sorts of information about the depths of the Great Lakes.  Did you know that Lake Superior is eight times deeper than Lake Erie! As for the part of your questions about what other foods we have on TJ – I decided just to include a panoramic picture of one of our snack shelves. Just suffice it to say that we are very well fed!

shelf stocked with snacks
A panoramic view of just one of the snack shelves!

Keep those emailed questions coming!  I love your questions! Contact me at lgrimm@daltonlocal.org.  Be sure to sign your message with your first and last name.  Farewell for now!

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