Philip Hertzog, August 12, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: August 12, 2005

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 56˚ 00.3’ N
Longitude: 158˚ 45.7’ W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1006.0 mb
Cloud Cover: 1, cumulus, altocumulus

Science and Technology Log 

Last evening we stopped and fished for a few hours off the Barren Islands located between Kodiak Island and the Kenai Peninsula.  I caught three rockfish with a 12-pound test line (compared to 60-pound used by others) by slowly reeling in the fish and letting them run to prevent breaking my line.  A few other people caught rockfish and lingcod, but no one came near reaching their limit like at Albatross Banks.

After cleaning my fish, I went up to the flying bridge around 11:30 pm to watch the evening sky. The flying bridge sits above the main bridge and forward of the ship’s smoke stack.  It offers the best view on the ship with an open deck and observation platforms.  Jonathon Anderson stood watch on the center platform looking ahead for any whales that might surface in front of the RAINIER.  A small diameter metal tube runs down from the flying bridge to the main bridge, which serves as a communication link by shouting into it. In addition to calling down any whale sightings, Jonathon let the bridge know of any light buoys or vessels he spotted.  The deck crew takes turn standing watch on the flying bridge, which usually starts at dusk and ends at sunrise.

The main bridge maintains a quiet dignity.  Before entering the bridge, you must obtain permission from the officer of the deck.  People talk quietly and infrequently while on the bridge. The conversations focus on ship’s business, but mostly quiet dominates the bridge as the officers concentrate on handling the ship safely.  An officer always scans the horizon to look for potential danger to the ship.  A second officer maintains record books and frequently plots the ship’s location on charts.  A helmsman, usually a deck crewmember, steers the wheel under direction of the officer of the deck.  The CO comes on the bridge when problems arise and is the only one allowed to sit in the Captain’s Chair.

Here are photographs of the bridge and deck crewmember Dennis Brooks serving as helmsman:

After I spent a few minutes on the flying bridge, Corey Mussey and Allison Thueur relieved Jonathon of watch duty. Allison came on board with us in Kodiak as a new General Vessel Assistant. Corey stands watch with her as part of her training, but she will eventually be on her own.  Allison previously worked on sailboats in the Caribbean and enjoys life on board. Allison told me she makes a point of teaching any visitors to the flying bridge the name of at least one star.  She showed me a star and then pointed out several other constellations.  Allison then made Corey point out the star he learned from her the previous night.

I stayed on the flying bridge for 45 minutes and looked at two distant volcanoes to the west silhouetted against a faded orange skyline.  To the east, the dark outlines of mountains on the Kenai Peninsula slowly approached us as we headed towards Homer and our final transect runs starting at 2:00 am.  What a wonderful way to spend my last evening at sea on board the RAINIER.

My journey aboard the RAINIER ended at 8:00 am as we pulled into Kachemak Bay and tied up at the Alaska State Ferry Terminal in Homer.

hertzog_log19_img_3

I want to thank the senior officers for giving me the freedom to explore the ship and allowing me to participate in all aspects of ship life.  I end my log entries with a little bit of information on each of them.

Commander Guy Noll
Commander Guy Noll, Commanding Officer

Commander Guy Noll captains the RAINIER. Commander Noll grew up in Olympia, Washington (in my own neighborhood) and has three children.  His oldest daughter will enter the Eighth Grade this fall in a school district north of Seattle. The Commander served on board the RAINIER as an Ensign earlier in his NOAA career and returned as Executive Officer about six months ago.

In June he received a promotion to Commanding Officer (CO) during a formal ceremony in Seattle.  The Commander has many years of experience in conducting hydrographic surveys and I found him to be one of the most knowledgeable people on board in charting technology.  He also is an expert fisherman, though I observed that his command duties severely limit this recreational activity.

 

 

 

 

Commander Julia Neander, Executive Officer (XO)
Commander Julia Neander, XO

Commander Julia Neander serves as our Executive Officer (XO). The XO is second in charge, sets the ship’s schedule, and makes administrative arrangements for mooring in harbors like Kodiak and Homer.  She also deals with personnel issues, makes room assignments, and resolves disputes among the crew.  In many ways, XO Neander’s job is similar to that of an assistant principal at a school while the CO acts as the principal.

Commander Neander went to Montana State University (at the same time I did) and once circled the Earth over the course of a year on a NOAA ship. Her husband served on the RAINIER as XO and they have a five year-old son.

 

 

 

Lieutenant Ben Evans, Field Operations Officer (FOO)
Lieutenant Ben Evans, Field Operations Officer

Lieutenant Ben Evans runs all of the mapping efforts as the Field Operations Officer (FOO).  As the FOO, Lt. Evans makes decisions on all aspects of survey work.  He organizes the junior officers in the field and constantly monitors the radio to resolve any technical problems the survey crew encounters on the launches. Lt. Evans also looks over the quality of the sonar data and determines its acceptability.  He oversees the officers processing the data on board the Rainier and works long hours to make sure mapping efforts run smoothly.  Lt. Evans grew up in upstate New York near Lake Ontario.  To the right is the FOO out in the field trouble shooting the HOR CON.

 

Again, I thank the Senior Officers and all the crew of the RAINIER for the wonderful experience

Personal Log 

My voyage has officially ended aboard the RAINIER as her Teacher at Sea.  I’ll spend tonight on the ship and then stay in a hotel tomorrow night before flying back to Washington State.

As I write this, I hear laughter in the hallway from the Junior Officers for the first time since we left Mitrofania. Commander Neander stops by with her five-year-old son and says good-bye to me as she leaves to spend a weekend with her family away from the ship. Other people talk about plans for the weekend: going to Anchorage, renting a hotel room, going camping, and eating in a fine restaurant.  A joyous mood seeps throughout the RAINIER as people prepare for two days off after three weeks at sea.

What a journey for me.  I got to touch base with technical fieldwork that I had done prior to teaching. Before the RAINIER, I had spent no more than two continuous days aboard a ship. I learned how a ship at sea operates like a small community, like a family.

I look forward to meeting my new students in a few weeks and telling them about the RAINIER. Both Mike Laird (the other teacher) and I have started to use our experience to modify lesson plans for the fall.

The RAINIER departs in a few days for the uncharted waters of the Southwestern Alaskan peninsula. Miles of coastline and deep water await her as she carries out a mission to update decades-old nautical charts that will then safely guide mariners engaged in commerce or pleasure.  Goodbye to the RAINIER and may fair seas greet you on your mission…

Goodbye, RAINIER!

Question of the Day 

Would you like to live on a ship like the RAINIER for a year?  What are the pros and cons of living a seafaring life?

Philip Hertzog, August 11, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: August 11, 2005

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 58˚ 04.93’ N
Longitude: 152˚ 02.55’ W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: 215˚
Wind Speed: 4 kts
Sea Wave Height: 0-1 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  10.6˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1025mb
Cloud Cover: 0, no clouds

Science and Technology Log 

We continued our transit towards Homer, but made a stop in Kodiak to pick up fuel.  I woke up with the sun rising in the eastern sky and ran up to the flying bridge to snap these photos of Kodiak Island as we entered the harbor at the Coast Guard Station. We stayed at the station for about four hours and had the opportunity to go on shore to the Station’s store. The RAINIER took on 17,000 gallons of diesel fuel that cost $ 20,000. This replaced the fuel we used for our travel during the past three weeks.  The Coast Guard charged the ship at a rate of $ 1.18 per gallon, but other locations may over $ 2.00 a gallon.

Screen shot 2013-09-05 at 10.49.55 PM

In leaving the Station, we followed navigation buoys out of the harbor.  The buoys located the deep water channel the RAINIER follows to avoid grounding. Two main types of buoys help mariners navigate waters: nuns and cans.  Nuns are red in color and the tops are triangle shaped (like a nun’s cap).  Cans are green with a flat top shaped (like a can): If you are returning to harbor, one keeps the red buoys on the right (starboard) side and the green buoys on the left (port) side of the ship.  Leaving harbor you do the opposite, green on the right and red on the left. Everyone on board has memorized the saying “red right returning” to remember the proper side to pass buoys.

As we left Kodiak Island and headed into open waters, the bridge spots Orca whales on both sides of the ship.  The Orcas traveled in small groups of two to four and surfaced to show their large dorsal fins.  I spotted the large fin of a male and several females nearby.  Orcas follow their mothers and the males tend to be “mamma’s boys.”  The females lead the pods and can live to be over 80 years old.

Personal Log 

The seas were calmer last night and the crew got some rest.  People’s spirits picked up after the large halibut fishing excursion and in anticipation of a free weekend. We had clear blue skies today without a cloud in sight.  We have been lucky to have three weeks without rain in Southwestern Alaska. I spent several hours on the flying bridge watching the scenery pass. Our trip is winding up and will end early tomorrow in Homer, Alaska.  I am starting to think about how much I will miss being on the ship, but I’ll be glad to get back home to the Olympia/Tacoma area in Washington State. Tonight we will stop for a few hours to fish near the Barren Islands.  Stay tuned for my report and my last log entry.

Question of the Day 

We learned about green and red buoys.  What other types of buoys do ship’s navigators need to keep them safe?  Make up your own buoys and come up with a color code and shape.

Philip Hertzog, August 10, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: August 10, 2005

Chief Yeoman Paul Fletcher in his office
Chief Yeoman Paul Fletcher in his office

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 56˚ 00.3’ N
Longitude: 158˚ 45.7’ W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1006.0 mb
Cloud Cover: 1, cumulus, altocumulus

Science and Technology Log 

With Mitrofania Island far behind, we transited the deep waters of the Gulf of Alaska towards Kodiak Island. The RAINIER rolled during the night as we stopped to take a CTD cast and run a six-hour sonar line on channel approaches to the Semidi Islands.  Few people slept well and the crew talked very little at breakfast due to the exhaustion of three strait weeks of solid work.

RAINIER’s crew works a hard 10 to 12 hours each day, but they do receive overtime pay. Paul Fletcher, the Chief Yeoman, told me he has seen  young people out here make enough money to pay for college if they save money and keep expenses down.  Paul noted that the overtime and sea duty pay make up for low base wages.  In addition you get three meals a day, housing, and you don’t need to carry full car insurance while out to sea for 200-plus days each year.

left: Megan Guberski, middle: Jodie Edmond, right: mooring the ship
left: Megan Guberski, middle: Jodie Edmond, right: mooring the ship

As mentioned in an earlier entry, the crew of the RAINIER consists of two groups: NOAA Corps Officers and civilians.  Let’s focus on the civilian portion today.  Six departments employ the crew of the RAINIER.  Some of the positions on board require a college degree, while others only require a high school diploma and a willingness to work hard.

I worked most closely with the Survey Department while on board the RAINIER.  The Department consists of survey technicians who go out on the launches to operate the sonar and then computer process the data on board the ship and generate maps of the ocean bottom.  Several levels of hydrographic survey technicians exist depending on one’s experience and training. You generally need a four-year college degree with an emphasis in computer science or remote sensing, but two-year degrees with specialized computer training will also suffice.  Survey technicians I introduced to you in previous entries include Greg King, and the Boles brothers (Matt and Dan).

Left: Correy Muzzey drives a launch, Right: Getting ready to set anchor
Left: Correy Muzzey drives a launch, Right: Getting ready to set anchor

Though at first it may seem like a dirty and tedious job, the people of the Deck Department love their work.  Over the years people have actually transferred from other departments to work the deck crew.  Deck employees maintain the exterior and interior of the ship, moor and anchor the ship, secure lines, load supplies, stand watches, steer the ship, swab the decks and clean bathrooms.  More experienced deck staff also get to drive the launches and serve as coxswains.

Mike Riley, who is in charge of the motors on all the launches.
Mike Riley, who is in charge of the motors on all the launches.

One starts out as a deck crew member in the position of Ordinary Seaman (OS) or general vessel assistant (GVA). OS’s and GVA’s need a high school diploma, need to be at least 18 years old, but don’t need prior experience.  You can then move up to endorsed positions by meeting time and training requirements set by the US Coast Guard.  The RAINIER provides on-the-job training and sends crew to workshops when in port so one can move up to higher positions.  With training and 365 days at sea, one can be promoted to Able Seaman.  More advanced positions include Seaman Surveyor and Chief Boatswain.

The Engineer Department operates all of the ship’s systems such as propulsion, fuel, electric power, ventilation, sanitation, water, and launch motors.  This Department has the highest paying jobs on board the RAINIER, but also the most responsibility to keep the crew safe by making sure the engines don’t fail while at sea.  Some positions require special licenses (for example Diesel Engine 2400 horse power Class II), but many people start out with a high school degree and work their way up by learning on the job. You can start out with no experience as a Wiper (wipe and clean up oil) and then move up to an Oiler after a year of experience.  One can move into the higher level positions right away if you have trade training from high school or a Vocational/Technical school.

Mike also checks the launch hulls for cracks and makes safety recommendations on whether or not a launch should go out to survey.  Mike is in his mid twenties and an expert fisherman while off duty.  Engineering is a great place for those who are mechanically inclined and love repairing machinery. The Steward Department plans menus, prepares meals, maintains the galley and provides clean linens for the ship. You can start out as General Vessel Assistant with no experience plus a high school diploma and then train and work your way up to higher-level positions such as Cook or Chief Steward.  Prior experience in on-shore restaurants or culinary schools can land you a higher-level position right away.  Sergio Taguba, our Chief Steward, started out at an entry-level position 35 years ago and worked his way into the top position. Sergio has been on board the RAINIER for almost the whole time and plans to continue with NOAA until retirement.

Raul in the kitchen and below are some of our galley
Raul in the kitchen and below are some of our galley

Our Chief Cook, Raul Quiros, learned his skills on board ship and started right after finishing school. Raul has been with NOAA for 25 years and on the RAINIER for the past nine. Raul enjoys working for NOAA and can be spotted fishing off the side deck any time he’s not on duty. When we first got to Cushing Bay, I spotted Raul catching our first halibuts, but he quietly took them below and never brags about his catches. The crew suspects Raul has caught more fish than any other person on board, but he shies away from any attention to his renowned skills.  The last two departments, Yeoman and Electronics, each have one person.  Paul Fletcher is the RAINIER’s Chief Yeoman.  A Yeoman is like a business manager on land.  Mr. Paul (as everyone on board calls him) handles the ship’s budget, payroll, personnel paper work, and mail. He works directly with the Commanding Officer and Executive Officer of the ship. Mr. Paul lives in Virginia Beach, VA when not on the ship and plans to retire there in December.  Mr. Paul retired from the Navy and joined NOAA around 1990-91.  He has been with the RAINIER since 1996.

Mr. Paul feels NOAA provides young people with an opportunity to learn about life and personnel management on board a ship. He feels more young people from urban areas like Tacoma (where I teach) should try life at sea for a couple of years and gain skills that will help them to be good managers.  When on a ship, you are with your boss and coworkers 24/7, Mr. Paul told me.  “You learn how to suck up your anger, because the person you’re angry with may be in the shower stall next to you or at the same meal table a few hours later.”

The galley
The galley

Screen shot 2013-04-12 at 9.06.27 PMLarry Wooten runs our Electronics Department and maintains all electronic equipment and computers onboard.  Larry told me the Electronics Department really has evolved over the past few years to a mix of skills especially in computers.  Larry makes sure the sonar and radar systems work and then he turns around to operate the computer’s file server.  After serving in the Air Force, Larry went to South Dakota State University to earn a degree in Electronic Engineering Technology. He has been with NOAA seven years and on board the RAINIER for two. Larry’s guitar always sits in the corner of his office and I hear from the crew he plays well during jam sessions held below deck when off duty.

I hope the students reading this entry have gotten a good feel for the positions on board the RAINIER and other NOAA ships. Many people stay for their entire careers on a ship, while others stay a year or two to gain valuable experience and then move on to other ventures.

Personal Log 

I think the NOAA ships offer a unique opportunity for many of my students to consider.  We have a diverse, multicultural crew on board with African Americans, Hispanics, Asian American and women.  The jobs range from those requiring college degrees to high school diplomas.  Learning aboard the RAINIER occurs continuously as older staff mentor younger crewmembers on the skills they need to advance.  I can see both my “hands on” and “cerebral” students finding challenges and adventure on a NOAA ship.  If only for a year or an entire career, I could see my students getting valuable skills on board ships that will serve an entire life time. On other matters, we did get a break from our long transit to Homer last night around 8:30 pm.  We stopped at Albatross Banks, an underwater pinnacle that rises up from the ocean bottom to about 48 feet below the surface.  We took out our fishing poles and soon caught large halibuts off the bottom.  I caught one on my first cast and almost everyone reached their limit in a matter of minutes.  Josh Riley caught one over 77 inches long that weighed over 200 pounds. It took four people to haul it onto the fan tail.

Josh’s fish and a second photo of Dan Boles cleaning a halibut
Josh’s fish and a second photo of Dan Boles cleaning a halibut

Question of the Day 

Why are underwater pinnacles a good place to catch fish compared to deeper, flat bottoms?

Philip Hertzog, August 9, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: August 9, 2005

Ensign Samuelson running RA 3’s positioning computer
Ensign Samuelson running RA 3’s positioning computer

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 56˚ 00.3’ N
Longitude: 158˚ 45.7’ W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1006.0 mb
Cloud Cover: 1, cumulus, altocumulus

Science and Technology Log 

We wrapped up our mapping in the Mitrofania Island area today.  Only one launch went out for the entire day and I got assigned to it. We took off from Cushing Bay and headed out to nearby Brothers Island and Long Beach for sonar mapping of the bottom.  A second launch went out for just a few hours and deployed SCUBA divers to chart the location of submerged rocks.  In the meantime, the RAINIER took off to map deep water approaches several miles to the east of Mitrofania Island and would pick us up at a rendezvous point in the late afternoon.

Some of the electronics I got to use.
Some of the electronics I got to use.

Ensign Nikki Samuelson served as our hydrographer in charge with Matt Boles’ assistance. Steve Foye handled the RA 3 launch. Ensign Samuelson has been on the RAINIER for around a year and also serves as chief medical officer.  She started out on the RAINIER by helping out the navigation officer and learning how to plot courses and determine the ship’s location.  She then gained experience in sonar mapping and now regularly goes out on the launches.  Ensign Samuelson likely will work on remote controlled submersible vehicles for NOAA in Rhode Island when she gets her land assignment in a year.

For most of the day our launch of four people saw no signs of other humans. Two Dahl porpoises charged over to our launch to ride our bow wave, but took off when they realized we cruised too slowly to make a satisfactory wake.  All day we saw the spray of Sei whales, but they kept their distance and only occasionally could we see a dorsal fin appear out of the water.

Technically, we had some challenges. In the morning, our CTD (conductivity, temperature and density) probe failed to work and we tried to fix it.  We concluded the battery had worn out and we exchanged ours with the divers before they headed back to the RAINIER. We then lost the Coast Guard transmission signal that corrects our global aboard. We tried several approaches with the radio receiver and finally corrected the problem.

I spent the day by helping on various tasks such as lowering the CTD probe, sitting on the bow to look for rocks, running the positioning computer and driving the boat. The water remained calm much of the day, but the sky turned gray and overcast.  What a contrast to the previous two days when we could see the glaciers on Mount Veniaminof under clear, blue skies. However, the cloud cover did give Mitrofania Bay a special beauty:

hertzog_log16b

At 4:30 pm we spotted a tiny dot approach us from the east that turned out to be the RAINIER returning to pick us up. Once aboard, the RAINIER resumed course to continue sonar work in the deep waters east of Mitrofania Island.  Our plan is to continue this work until 11:00 pm and then to set course to our final destination of Homer, Alaska where I’ll leave the ship on Saturday August 13. However, we’ll make a few stops for “biological sampling” (fishing) on the way and a couple of hours in Kodiak to pick up fuel.

Personal Log 

I felt melancholic today knowing our work in the Mitrofania area had come to an end and that the RAINIER would start heading towards my final stop in Homer.  I’ll especially miss seeing Sei whales almost every day and the great fishing off the fantail.

It didn’t help that I had a fantastic evening and stayed up until 1:00 am last night.  Four of us took a “short” fishing trip on the skiff to a nearby bay and each caught five large (8 pound range) salmon.  Our foursome often caught two or more salmon at a time that tangled our lines as the struggling fish crossed each other.  A fifth person on the skiff didn’t fish, but continuously netted the salmon for us.  Often we would have two salmon in queue while Ensign Nikki Samuelson struggled to get a third salmon out of the net and untangle the hook from the nylon fabric.  At one point Carl Verplanck just reached into the water and flipped a hooked salmon into the skiff.

The real work began when we returned to the RAINIER at 9:30 pm.  We cleaned processed, and vacuum sealed over 80 pounds of edible fish meat.  However, we also scrubbed all the fish scales off the fantail of the RAINIER.  We used bristle brooms and detergent to “swab the decks” and then Greg King blasted the deck using the fire hose to rinse it off. We had a fine evening of adventure to remember for a long time.

Question of the Day 

Why do Dahl porpoises like to ride bow waves? Explain your answer.

Philip Hertzog, August 8, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: August 8, 2005

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 56˚ 00.3’ N
Longitude: 158˚ 45.7’ W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1006.0 mb
Cloud Cover: 1, cumulus, altocumulus

Ensign Jennings at work
Ensign Jennings at work

Science and Technology Log 

I slept in an extra hour and set about doing my laundry and log entries since I stayed aboard the RAINIER today. Given a quiet day, I focused today’s entry on careers with NOAA to provide information to students wanting a life of adventure while helping the environment. Congress created NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) in 1970 to bring together several agencies under one roof.  Congress recognized that the oceans of the world are closely tied to our atmosphere and we need to manage them through one organization. You best know NOAA through the National Weather Service which provides you with daily weather forecasts. However, NOAA has other branches that protect fish and marine wildlife; manage marine sanctuaries; observe changes in the environment; warn people about approaching tsunamis; respond to oil spills and disasters; and chart coastlines and bottom depths to protect vessels. On the RAINIER, we have two categories of jobs: civilian and commissioned officers. I will save the civilian jobs for another entry and we’ll look at the officers today.  The NOAA Officer Corps is a uniformed branch of the United States military.  Most officers spend two years assigned to a ship and then rotate to a land job for three years.  The rotation starts over again and you can retire with a pension after twenty years.  Ensign Andrew Halbach told me he could retire at age 43, though I believe he will stay with NOAA much longer and command his own ship someday.

At the computers
At the computers

You must apply to join the NOAA Officer Corps and only dedicated people get accepted.  Ensign Laurel Jennings told me you need a four year college degree with a major in math, engineering or science.  You also must be in good health, pass a physical exam and be 35 years old or younger. NOAA asks for four letters of recommendation from professional contacts and answers to several pages of questions.  You also need to pass a police background check and be interviewed by one of NOAA’s officers. Several ensigns told me this process takes from several months to half a year. Once accepted as an Officer Corps candidate, you go to the Kings Point Merchant Marine Academy located on Long Island, NY for three months of intensive training. The candidates train in safety, water rescue, navigation, CPR/first aid, ship fire fighting, knots, and ship handling. A few weeks before completing training, NOAA holds a formal ceremony to announce the ship assignment for the next two years.

Ensign Jennings told me she got on board the RAINIER in June and continues her training on the job. Her primary focus has been on ship duties such as bridge watch, navigation and ship operations. As she becomes confident on ship procedures, her training will shift to learning how to conduct hydrographic mapping and operating the computers.  Ensign Jennings has a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology from the University of Texas at Austin.  She worked as an intern at Disney World’s Living Seas exhibit in Florida where she scuba dived, fed the aquarium fish, scrubbed tanks, and talked to the public. She moved to Boston after graduation and found that a Bachelor’s degree was not enough to get a satisfying job. She wanted to work in science and with people, but not in a lab all day. Ensign Jennings said the NOAA Officer Corps was perfect for her.

Over the past two weeks, I have talked to several Ensigns about their next assignments.  Ensign Andrew Halbach will move to Washington, D.C. next year and work on remote sensing from airplanes.  He will travel 150 days a year to various locations throughout the United States.  In December Ensign Briana Welton will command her own skiff and crew on the east coast.  Whenever a hurricane hits, Ensign Welton will be one of the first people into the disaster area to chart how navigation channels have been affected by storm damage. In the past, other Ensigns have gone on to work on designing tsunami detection buoys and underwater vehicles. Many other opportunities exist both on land and at sea for young people seeking adventure.

In addition to exciting career opportunities, an Officer Corps member can advance in rank as he or she gains experience and the confidence of senior officers.  All Corps members start out at the rank of Ensign.  You then can be promoted in progression to Lt. Junior Grade, Lieutenant, Lt. Commander, Commander, Captain, and finally only one officer gets to be the Admiral.

Personal Log 

I wish I could be 35 or younger now! The NOAA Officer Corps has a lot of exciting opportunities that many young people don’t know about.  I think about the adventures I’ve missed because no teacher ever told me about NOAA.

Many exciting opportunities exist for young people if they get the right education and study hard in school. As a teacher I feel a responsibility to make sure students have the skills to take advantage of the careers and adventure that exist not only with NOAA, but with other organizations. Too often I see students playing video games or ignoring homework instead of preparing themselves for the future.  Hopefully they can learn to dedicate themselves to learning and preparation like the young ensigns on board the RAINIER.

Question of the Day 

Why is a well-rounded, college education important for today’s young adults?

Philip Hertzog, August 7, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: August 7, 2005

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 56˚ 00.3’ N
Longitude: 158˚ 45.7’ W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1006.0 mb
Cloud Cover: 1, cumulus, altocumulus

hertzog_log14fScience and Technology Log 

Today I actively participated as a full member of the launch crew conducting a new type of survey for me, sediment sampling.  The launches typically carry three crew members, one to handle the boat and two others to work the sonar and computer equipment. Generally Mike Laird (the other the teacher at sea) and I have gone along as a fourth person to observe. However, today we only had three people aboard launch RA 2, the smallest and lightest of the launches.  Survey Technician Dan Boles and Coxswain Erick Flickenger (Flick) co-led our survey mission.  Dan described to me today’s goal of collecting sediment samples from several locations around Mitrofania Island. Sediments are the material found on the bottom surface of water bodies. It includes materials like mud, silt, sand, clay, pebbles, rocks, shells or hard pan.

The nautical chart makers place sediment information on their maps so ship captains can determine if they have a safe location to set anchor. If the bottom is too rocky, the ship’s anchor may get stuck and trap the boat.  If the bottom is not firm enough, the anchor will drag across the bottom and the ship could end up drifting to a dangerous location like a reef or rocky shore. The sediments in an anchorage area also determine the type of anchor a captain chooses to use. Some types of anchor work better than others in certain sediment types.

I helped unhook the launch from the RAINIER’s crane and Flick got us underway. Dan immediately showed me how to work the sonar and computer equipment.  We used a Knudsen 320 M echo sounder to measure bottom depth at our sample locations.  Dan had me turn it on and I watched the sounder trace the depth on a roll of paper:

hertzog_log14

The sounder recorded a black line on a scale so we know or bottom depth at the sampling location. Dan also had me write the type of sediment we found on the same paper. I then entered the data into the computer.  We needed both an electronic and paper copy in case the computer crashes which sometimes happens when the launch bounces around. To the right a photo of Dan entering data while Flick watches in RA 2’s small cabin.

On the launch deck we used a “clam shell” sediment sampler.  The sampler is shaped like a large, round clam shell with two metal jaws held shut by a large spring. We pried open the two jaws and set a trigger to keep the jaws opened. It works like a bear track with the trigger lever on the side. We took great care setting the trigger because the jaws can break our fingers if it snaps shut on them. Once set, you then lower the sediment sampler over the side.  The sampler free falls through the water column and plunges into the bottom which triggers the jaws to snap tight and capture the sediment sample. You then winch the sample up to the surface, open the jaws and record the sediment type.  The following photos show the sediment sampling process:

hertzog_log14c

We found mostly fine black sand and pebbles of volcanic origin in our sediments around Mitrofania Island which matches the local geology.  As mentioned in previous logs, the explosion of an ancient volcano formed Sosbee Bay (a caldera) on the south side of the Mitrofania Island. To the north of the island, the shield volcano, Mount Veniaminof dominates the landscape:

hertzog_log14g

Our sediment sampling went well with one exception.  We transited out to a sample location far south of Mitrofania Island.  A combination of wind and tide suddenly hit us with two to three foot choppy waves as we took our sample.  Our light weight launch took two to three nose dives down the face of a three foot wave as Flick tried to hold our position in one spot for the sample.  Dan and I got knocked into the railings on the deck and the clam shell sampler almost snapped on my fingers as I tried to adjust it.  Inside the cabin, equipment flew off the shelves and onto the cabin floor.  Flick pronounced the sea conditions as too unsafe for us to work on the deck and yelled for us to get back inside the cabin.  We then made tail and headed back towards land getting bounced about until we entered the wind shadow created by the lee side of the island. Flick later told us he considered having us put the life raft out on the back deck of the launch as a safety precaution.

Dan and I talked about boat safety. Dan told me that anyone on board the launch can call for it to return due to unsafe conditions. In our case, we did the right thing by not trying to finish the sampling south of Mitrofania and quickly returning to calmer waters.  The rest of the day we worked on the protected side of the island and finished early.  We fished near Cushing Bay and waited for the RAINIER to arrive and pick us up.  The RAINIER again moved location to seek settler from the changing winds.  We will spend our few remaining nights in Cushing Bay, our first location when we arrived at Mitrofania about two weeks ago.

Peering over the control panel
Peering over the control panel

Personal Log 

I enjoyed the opportunity to work today as a full member of the launch team.  I appreciated Dan Boles putting me on the computer right away and the way we took turns collecting sediment samples out on deck.  I found Flick to be a master at handling the launch in rough conditions and ensuring our safety.

I have felt safe on the launches, but our situation south of Mitrofania proved a bit worrisome.  I’m glad Flick called off our work out there right away and brought us into a more protected area. While waiting for the Rainier, I got to fish and caught numerous sea bass near a kelp bed.  We also saw a “fish ball” go by. The fish ball consisted of a large school of small candlefish tightly grouped into a ball shape about 7 feet in diameter just below the surface. Seagulls hovered over the fish ball and snatched out tiny fish as tasty treats.  As the fish ball passed under the launch, we saw the outlines of large fish following the candlefish.

After supper we had another beach party out on the spit near the HorCon station.  We had a beautiful, clear evening and watched the sun set.  We again had a large bon fire and plenty of good conversation and company. I returned at 11:00 pm with an orange and deep blue dusky sky as a backdrop for our skiff ride from the beach.  The days have grown shorter since my arrival, but night still arrives after 11:30 pm.

Question of the Day 

What sediment bottom type do you think will best hold an anchor and keep a ship safe?

Philip Hertzog, August 6, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: August 6, 2005

The processing room
The processing room

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 56˚ 00.3’ N
Longitude: 158˚ 45.7’ W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1006.0 mb
Cloud Cover: 1, cumulus, altocumulus

Science and Technology Log 

I spent the afternoon in the plot room behind the bridge.  After collecting data on the launches, the hydrographic technicians need to process and make it usable before sending the information to map makers in Washington, D.C.  This processing takes place in the plot room.

The plot room has a large table in the middle with eight work stations crowded around the outer edge of the room.  Each work station has two computer screen monitors where the technician can pull up multiple windows. The room has a couple of portholes to provide light, though these can be shaded to make the monitors more visible. I observed the Ensigns and survey technicians concentrating on their work.  The plot room impressed me as the quietest location on the RAINIER with people clicking on their computer screens and checking their data for accuracy.  Once in a while one of the technicians got up to ask another for clarification on a problem.  The four people in the room all wore headphones to listen to CD or mp3 players.

Processing the data
Processing the data

The technicians processed data by first “cleaning” it up. The hydrographers put the sonar data up on the screen and looked for mistakes in the readings.  Mistakes can occur by the launch computer skipping measurements or missing a GPS satellite signal.  The plot room computers also adjust for the movement of the launches in several directions caused by buffeting seas. After cleaning data, the crew corrected the sonar readings for sound velocity by using the CTD probe readings taken from the launches. As noted previously, the speed of sound in water is affected by conductivity (a measurement of salt content), temperature and density). The CTD data is used to correct the sea bottom depth readings obtained from sonar. The technicians made one final correction to the sonar data by loading in tidal information to adjust for the height of the launch above mean lower low water.  With the corrected sonar data, three-dimensional maps can now be generated and the hydrographer gets a picture of the ocean bottom over a wide area.  Additional work will be done before the information is sent on to the chart makers off the ship.

After supper I went up to the plot room to get some photographs for this log entry.  To my surprise, Ensigns filled every work station and I saw them checking on today’s data.  The Ensigns discussed with Lt. Ben Evans the strategy for tomorrow’s mapping.  What dedication! It’s Saturday night, yet the work never stops for the hard working crew of the RAINIER. Too bad for them, I’m going fishing now!

The hydrographers highlight the incorrect data and click on it to remove it
The hydrographers highlight the incorrect data and click on it to remove it

Personal Log 

I had a very quiet day. The routine on a research vessel like the RAINIER is a mix of excitement and concentrated computer work.  The crew averages about one day of cleaning and processing data for each day of collecting data on the launch.  Though the computer work may seem tedious at first, think about the sense of accomplishment when you see your data become a three-D map of the ocean bottom and know that other people will use your work.

I hope my own students will recognize that hard work can pay off and provide a sense of accomplishment and purpose.  The crew of the RAINIER has provided me with examples to show my middle school students that they can balance exciting work with hard dedication to make a meaningful difference to society.

Question of the Day 

Why must the hydrographers carefully check their data for mistakes? What can happen if a mistake is made on a nautical chart?

Philip Hertzog, August 5, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Watching the computers
Watching the computers

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: August 5, 2005

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 56˚ 00.3’ N
Longitude: 158˚ 45.7’ W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1006.0 mb
Cloud Cover: 1, cumulus, altocumulus

Science and Technology Log 

I went out on launch RA 5 today to help survey more transect lines near the east entrance to Sosbee Bay and over by Spitz Island. Ensign Andrew Halbach led our survey with Greg King as the Survey Technician and Steve Foye as our coxswain.

Driving the launch
Driving the launch

Greg King, in his late twenties, has been on board the RAINIER for about a year and graduated from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma with a degree in geology.  Prior to NOAA, Greg worked for consulting firms conducting a variety of work including environmental assessment, mining geology and hazardous waste site investigations.  Greg and I know a lot of the same people from my own professional experiences prior to teaching. Greg became disillusioned with consulting and wanted to have a career where he could make a difference, help the environment and feel good about his work.  A friend told Greg about NOAA so he applied, got hired, and has been happy with the work he does. Greg plans to make a career with NOAA and the federal government.  Greg says most of the Survey Technicians tend to stay on the ships for a few years and then advance up into other jobs with NOAA onshore. Greg will become a father in October and NOAA will grant him several weeks of leave to spend with his new child and wife.

In the survival suit
In the survival suit

Greg’s duties on the RAINIER include running the sonar and data recording equipment on the launches.  He also puts data into the mainframe computer on board the RAINIER and looks for errors that need correction. The Survey Technicians tend to spend a few days in on the launches and then work on board the ship for a day or two processing data before going out on the water again. Above is a photo of Greg at work on the RA 5 launch.  Steve Foye, our coxswain, has been on the RAINIER for about 15 years and on NOAA ships for a total of twenty years. Mr. Foye is a crusty sailor with an earthy sense of humor.  Foye served in the Navy and became a meat cutter in south Seattle after finishing military service and getting married.  However, Mr. Foye missed the sea and the outdoors. NOAA gave him the opportunity to travel and see Alaska. Foye particularly enjoys driving a launch all day and watching the scenery while the technicians run the sonar. All of the crewmembers speak highly of Mr. Foye and he mentors the younger deck hands. Steve Foye serves as the RAINIER’s Boatswain’s Group Leader and is responsible for ensuring the proper handling and maintenance of all the launches. Foye has a merchant marine seaman’s card, which he renews every five years.  Steve takes classes and documents his sea time to renew his card.  Even sailors need to continually educate themselves and keep current on the latest technologies.  Many of my middle school students don’t realize that the skills they learn in school will serve them for a lifetime and they must continue to educate themselves.  Above is a photo of Mr. Foye handling launch RA 5.

The control screen on the computer.
The control screen on the computer.

After getting underway, Mr. Foye threw a buoy overboard and yelled “man overboard.”  Ensign Andrew Halbach quickly took over the helm and Greg grabbed a boat hook while I pointed at and kept my eyes on the buoy to make sure we don’t lose site of it in the rolling waves. The Ensign skillfully brought the launch around and as he approached the “victim,” turned the launch a hard left and reversed the engine.  The stern of the launch swerved to the right and the starboard side ended up next to the buoy where Greg scooped it out of the water with the boat hook. Mr. Foye repeated the “man overboard” two more times with Greg and I taking a turn at the helm.  Mr. Foye guided me in maneuvering the launch to the buoy, though it took me more than one try to reach our “victim.” Everyone on board the RAINIER needs these important rescue skills to ensure the safety of all crewmembers.  Even the coxswain can fall over board and one needs to be prepared to take over the helm in an emergency.

After the over board drill, I practiced putting on my bright orange survival suit.  I had donned it once on board the steady Rainier, but it proved challenging while rocking back and forth on the launch in the open ocean. Though the survival suit won’t keep me dry, it will allow me to live for many hours instead of a few minutes if we abandoned ship in the 50-degree waters of the Gulf of Alaska.  We spent a productive day running transects and collecting bottom depth data.  Ensign Halbach and Survey Tech Greg King showed me how the equipment works.  They even let me run the two computers.  I selected lines (transects) that we followed and then hit control “S” (for start) on the key board to write the sonar data to a computer file.  When we finished a transect, I hit control “E” for end and the computer stopped logging (writing) information.  We then repeated the process and the computer generated a separate file for each transect.

Catch of the day
Catch of the day

The Ensign and Greg also showed me how to control and fine-tune the sonar. A master window on the computer controls the sonar and allows you to set power, gain and depth.  The power controls the strength of the sound wave sent to the bottom.  The deeper the bottom, the stronger the signal required. The gain controls how sensitive the sonar receiver picks up the sound waves bounced off the bottom.  It’s like a volume control on your radio.  You want to set it so you eliminate static and “hear” the music at the right loudness and quality.  The depth control determines how far down the signal will go. The survey technician adjusts all three controls to account for bottom type (sandy, rocky, hard) and other factors that affect the quality of the sonar signal.

After a long day, the swell of the ocean increased and our ride on the launch became bumpy.  The RAINIER has moved a few miles to the west in Sosbee Bay to seek protection from the increasing north winds.  We returned to the RAINIER in time for supper and I fished out on the fantail (stern) without any luck.  The steady wind from the north made it one of the coldest evenings of the trip and I put on a jacket.  Around 9:30 pm a group of crewmembers returned from fishing in the launch with a catch of lingcod and rockfish (red snapper) to finish the evening.

Matt Boles, survey tech, lands the big fish of the day
Matt Boles, survey tech, lands the big fish of the day

Personal Log 

I really enjoyed today. Steve Foye gave me a great education on how to operate the launch. I also appreciated the way Ensign Andrew Halbach and Greg King patiently taught me how to run the sonar.  Using the technology gave me greater understanding about how all this works.

For supper, we had a cookout on the fantail. The stewards (cooks) had the propane barbeque grills fired up and made ribs, chicken, corn and an assortment of salads.  We all sat out on the deck, talked and ate.

Question of the Day 

If I wanted to pick an object out of the water to the right side of my boat, why would I turn the launch a hard left and put the motor in reverse? Explain your answer in words and include a diagram.

Philip Hertzog, August 4, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: August 4, 2005

hertzog_log11Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 55˚ 50.8’N
Longitude: 158˚50.0’W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1011.5 mb
Cloud Cover: 2, stratocumulus, altocumulus

Science and Technology Log 

Four launches left early today (7:00 am) and I got up to watch the deck crew lower them into the water. Two launches took off to finish up mapping in the Fish Ranch Bay area while the other launches went across to Mitrofania Island to map shoreline and submerged rocks on aerial photographs.

hertzog_log11aWith our mapping work nearly completed in this area, the Commanding Officer moved the RAINIER to Sosbee Bay located on the south side of Mitrofania Island.  The RAINIER traveled along the north side of Mitrofania and made a left turn to skirt the southwestern shore and Spitz Rock before a second left turn into Sosbee Bay.  The move took approximately 2 hours.

Along the way, I saw at least two dozen Sei whales surface and blow spray in groups of up to four individuals.  As we approached each group of whales, they would submerge and then reappear several hundred yards behind the ship.  At one point the whales seemed to surround the RAINIER in a 270-degree arc: In my earlier log entries, I mistakenly called these creatures fin whales and provided the wrong life history. Sei (pronounced “say”) whales live in all ocean waters of the world.  They can reach up to 18 meters in length and have a small dorsal fin forming a 40 degree angle back with the body. The dorsal fin is located down about two thirds of their body length from the snout. A single ridge runs along on the top of their heads from the snout to the blow hole. Sei whales have black colored backs covered with oval scars that results in a shiny, metallic appearance. Lamprey bites cause the scars when the whales migrate into warmer waters.

Safety gear
Safety gear

Sei whales skim the water and remove tiny marine organisms called copepods for food with long, narrow plates (baleens) under their heads.  These whales tend to feed close to the surface and leave large swirls on the surface as they move their tails. I saw many of these swirls next to the RAINIER after whales had submerged in front of us.

I spotted the Sei whales by first seeing a black snout appear followed by an inverted cone shaped spray about 2 to 3 meters high.  A sleek long, shiny back then glides over the surface followed by the dorsal fin near the rear of the body.  The back then gracefully disappears without the fluke (tail) breaking the surface.  Once in a while the tail does appear as shown in the photo above.

Survey launch being lowered into the water
Survey launch being lowered into the water

After passing the whales, the ship practiced an emergency fire drill and we reported to our assigned stations. The RAINIER’s fire fighting crew donned bumper gear and oxygen tanks and pretended to put out a fire by spraying water from a pressurized hose over the side of the ship.  Within 30 minutes of the fire drill, we had an abandoned ship drill. We grabbed our survival suits and hurried to our stations.  During the drill an Ensign described how to deploy the life rafts by first tying off the canister (see photo below) and then yanking on a release cable. A sensor automatically opens the raft when it hits the water. A rope holds the raft to keep it from drifting a way, but each raft comes equipped with a sharp knife to cut the rope if the ship should sink into deep water: The ship conducts the emergency drills at least once every two weeks to ensure we remain sharp on these important safety skills.  In the event of a real emergency, we have no place to go except into cold water where one could survive for only a few minutes without protection. The RAINIER’s crew takes these drills seriously so we can solve problems (like putting out fires) and prevent the need to enter the water.

After the drills, the RAINIER slowly coasted into Sosbee Bay.  We entered a new environment.  An arc of steep cliffs rose out of the water and surrounded the bay.  We distinctly recognized the shape of a caldera, former volcano that exploded long ago and left a large crater now filled with ocean water.  Tonight, we will sleep on board the ship located inside the remains of a crater.

The Southwestern Alaskan Peninsula is part of the Pacific “ring of fire.”  A large tectonic plate located far beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean slowly runs into the North American plate.  The meeting of the plates causes earth quakes and friction creates large chambers of magma (molten rock) that can form large volcanoes when it reaches the surface of the earth.  All around us, we have seen signs of past volcanic activity from the large shield volcano, Mount Veniaminof, to the north of Mitrofania to the small pieces of pumice found on the beaches.  However, Sosbee Bay provided a sober reminder of the power and destructiveness of nature. The rest of the day I spent reading and completing my documentation.

Personal Log 

I had another busy day on the RAINIER learning about Sei whales and practicing my photography. Again, the galley crew fed us well and I’m need of some exercise.  I’ll go hit the small gym below deck tonight to work off some calories.  On a ship I find it difficult to get sufficient exercise.  If I ever get permanently assigned to a ship, I’ll have to become disciplined in setting up an exercise routine.

Question of the Day 

What is the “ring of fire” and where is it located?

Philip Hertzog, August 3, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: August 3, 2005

The launch, at work
The launch, at work

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 56˚ 00.3’ N
Longitude: 158˚ 45.7’ W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1006.0 mb
Cloud Cover: 1, cumulus, altocumulus

Science and Technology Log 

Mike Laird (the other Teacher at Sea) and I had been assigned to stay on the RAINIER today so we slept in an extra hour. However, as I returned from breakfast, Lt. Evans asked me to take his place on R8 skiff and go out to the HorCon station.  I quickly said yes, grabbed my gear, and jumped on board R8 within 5 minutes.

HorCon stands for Horizontal Control where we broadcast global position satellite (GPS) signal corrections to help the mapping launches accurately locate their positions.  In essence, the radio signals allow the launches to control their horizontal position so they have correct latitude and longitude readings. In past log entries I referred to the HorCon station as the transmitter station.  HorCon stations are also called flyaway stations when set up on temporary basis.

Ensigns Andrew Halbach and Olivia Hauser led our mission with assistance from Matt Foss. Jonathon Anderson drove the skiff under the watchful eye of his trainer, Able Seaman Erick Davis.  AB Davis has been on the RAINIER for one year and prior to that served in Iraq with the Army Reserve.  AB Davis also served on other NOAA ships for two years before going to Iraq.

Uploading data
Uploading data

As we left the protected waters of Fish Ranch Bay, the skiff bucks and slams hard into waves as we enter the open waters between the southwest Alaskan peninsula and Mitrofania Island. The HorCon site now lies 8 miles from the RAINIER.  We held on tight to the hand rails of the skiff while salt water splashed onto our faces and soaked our orange, bulky float jackets. Once in a while our feet lifted off from the deck of the skiff as we crested a wave and then slammed our feet down hard when the boat dropped into a trough. Everyone on the skiff had smiles on their faces as we raced toward our destination. As I noted in yesterday’s log, the HorCon station’s computer crashed and the batteries drained their electrical charge.  Upon arriving at the station, we hauled the computer and six large, 12 volt deep cycle batteries up to the transmitter.  We timed our unloading of the skiff to avoid sea swells washing up the beach and soaking our feet.

Ensign Halbach and Matt Foss went to work installing the new batteries and computer, while Ensign Hauser and I hopped into the skiff and traveled over to the tide gauge station a mile away.  As mentioned in previous logs, the tide station provides vertical control (up and down) so the launch crews can correct the sonar for the rise and fall of the tides and make the nautical charts to show water depth from mean lower low water.

The tide station works by sending pressurized nitrogen gas through a tube that goes from a sensor into the water at a set location. As the tide rises and falls, the ocean water presses against the nitrogen gas in the tube and the computer sensor uses this information to measure sea level height.  The computer then transmits the sea level height to a satellite which routes the information to the main mapping office in Washington, D.C.

Ensign Hauser set up the tide station three weeks ago and it now needed a new nitrogen bottle. I carried the heavy, three-foot long metal bottle off the skiff and up a short steep slope. We hooked up the new nitrogen tank and Ensign Hauser operated a computer to make sure the station works correctly.  In the mean time, Jonathon practices his skiff landings with advice from AB Davis.

We returned to the HorCon station and joined Ensign Halbach and Technician Matt Foss.  They changed out the batteries and plugged in the reprogrammed computer.  The computer indicated that it was transmitting data, but Ensign Halbach saw only binary (zeros and ones) code on the screen instead of latitude and longitude readings.  A radio check with the launches determined they can pick up our transmission, but Ensign Halbach may need to make another trip out to the HorCon station to ensure the problem has been fixed.

We loaded up the old batteries and jumped into the skiff for a wild eight-mile ride back to the RAINIER and arrived with plenty of time before supper.

Personal Log 

After a late night of fishing, I found the “salt water bath” during our skiff crossing to Mitrofania Island refreshing and invigorating. I never felt tired for the rest of the day.  I enjoyed working with Ensign Hauser who patiently showed me how the tide gauge station computer logs data. I also got my work out by carrying the heavy batteries and nitrogen bottle.

The salt water bath left me with an interesting problem. Salt crystals flaked off my hair and face onto my clothes.  It looked like I had a major case of dandruff. My next stop after finishing this log entry is to hit the shower and get rid of the saline grime.

Hopefully the HorCon station’s problems were fixed and no more major work will be needed. In science, you run into these problems in the field and it can prove frustrating.  However, problem solving is part of the challenge of working out in remote locations.  In my classroom and Tacoma Public Schools, we try to teach students important problem solving skills.  No matter how much students memorize, it all boils down to using knowledge to creatively trouble shoot problems.

Question of the Day 

Here is a problem for my Electronics students.  The HorCon station runs off six, 12 volt batteries. The 12 volt batteries are recharged with a set of five solar panels.  Should you set up the batteries in series, in parallel or a combination of both? Should you set up the solar panels in series, parallel, or combination of both?  Write out a schematic for your design and explain your thinking.

Philip Hertzog, August 2, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

hertzog_log9Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: August 2, 2005

Weather Data from Bridge

Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  12.8 ˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1002.5 mb
Cloud Cover: 8, stratocumulus

Science and Technology Log 

I got the day off from the launches so I could catch up on my paper work and study up on onboard life. I slept in an extra hour, but as I emerged from my cabin for a late breakfast, Lt. Ben Evans asked me to accompany him over to the radio transmitter site.

Solar panels
Solar panels

I grabbed my backpack and within three minutes I sped across Cushing Bay in an open Zodiac pushed by a 115 horse motor.  The wind had strengthened over night and we had more waves on our side of Mitrofania Island. We bounced over the waves and quickly reached the landing site. Our coxswain carefully eased the Zodiac towards shore and as a swell moved away from the beach we jumped out into ankle deep surf.  The coxswain quickly backed up the Zodiac before the next swell could push it on to the beach.

Lt. Evans and I walked up to the transmitter site located in a grassy meadow about 150 feet from the water’s edge.  Lt. Evans pulled out a volt meter and soon determined that the transmitter computer failed to turn off last night and drained the batteries.  The station had stopped transmitting yesterday afternoon due to a software problem.  Normally a set of solar panels recharge the transmitter station’s four batteries when the computer operates correctly. The following pictures show the troublesome computer and the solar panels: Lt. Evans decided to take the computer back to the RAINIER to reload the software and figure out the system problem.  A crew plans to return tonight with the computer and a fresh set of 12 volt batteries. Just as we had landed at the site, we quickly boarded the Zodiac in between swells to prevent the boat from beaching or knocking against us. We returned to the RAINIER just in time to catch her set sail for a new work location.

Mitrofania Island
Mitrofania Island

Around 11:30 am, the RAINIER weighed anchor and sailed 7 miles north to Fish Ranch Bay adjacent to the southwestern Alaskan peninsula.  The new location will protect us from the strong north east winds that started to rock the ship yesterday.  As we crossed over to the new location, the RAINIER rocked side to side as 2-foot waves blown in from the Gulf of Alaska hit our starboard side. We entered the calm waters of Fish Ranch Bay and saw a large, pyramid shaped peak to the north, green colored mountains on the east and west, and a view of Mitrofania Island 7 miles to the south across open water.  The survey launches crossed earlier and passed us while mapping the harbor we’ve entered. I spent the rest of the afternoon looking at our new surroundings and finishing up my paper work. In the evening, Mike Laird and I went out with four other crew members in a skiff to try out the fishing.

Personal Log 

I had a relaxed day and felt good about completing my paper work.  I enjoyed seeing how the transmitter site had change since my last visit.  The crew had added a battery bank, solar panels and electronics to the site that I had not seen before.

Our biggest adventure of the day started after supper with a fishing expedition.  Carl Verplank and Mike Riley took Mike Laird, Matt Boles and Josh Riley (Mike R.’s cousin) out in the R8 open boat to teach us how to fish Alaskan waters.  We drifted over by a small bank and soon caught fish.  I caught my second “keeper” halibut just on an 8 pound test line and a cheap $ 30 pole. My line broke just as Carl netted my halibut. Both Mike R. and Carl reeled in decent halibuts and then Mike L. surprised everyone when he landed a salmon off the bottom using halibut gear.

After a couple hours, we motored over to a steep embankment below the old town site of Mitrofania. Drifting along, we suddenly had fish on three lines and started hauling in sea bass. Sea bass tend to school and go into a feeding frenzy when one fish finds food.  The bass weighed from 1 to 3 pounds and measured 6 inches to one foot in length. We saw sea bass rise up from under our skiff and watched two or three fish go after one lure. We released the smaller fish and kept the larger ones.

We headed back to the RAINIER at 10:15 pm in the evening light with sunset still a half an hour away. On the back of the RAINIER we cleaned and cut up our fish with guidance from Mike Riley while Carl carefully cleaned R8 and the deck as the dusk became night.  I clean and cut up my first halibut and helped Mike Laird with his fish.  We finally finished the last fish and stored our catch in the reefer (boat language for refrigerator) at 1:00 am.  It will be tough to get up in the morning, but I won’t forget this evening for a long time.

Question of the Day 

Why do sea bass school? Is this an advantage or disadvantage to their survival as a species?

Philip Hertzog, August 1, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: August 1, 2005

The CTD
The CTD

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 55˚ 53.4’N
Longitude: 158˚ 50.4’W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: 103˚
Wind Speed: 10kts
Sea Wave Height: 0-1 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  11.7˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1006.0 mb
Cloud Cover: 8, cumulonimbus

Science and Technology Log 

I woke up to gray skies and a 10 knot wind. The wind blew waves to around 1 foot high and rocked the RAINIER gently in Cushman Bay.  We have been lucky in that no rain has fallen in the eight days since we left Kodiak and the seas have been remained calm Mitrofania Island. The deck crew lowered the launches an hour earlier at 7:00 am and I joined launch RA-4 led by Ensign Andrew Halbach with assistance from Survey Tech Dan Boles.  Coxswain Carl Verplank guided the RA-4 towards the south western side of Mitrofania Island near Spitz Rock.

Lowering the CTD
Lowering the CTD

As we rounded the corner of the island, one to three foot swells driven by a north east wind hit us and knocked the launch around and splashed water over our bow and up onto the windows. This made for roughest conditions I have seen so far on the trip, but not rough enough to affect our sonar mapping. Carl told me that the Rainier crew has mapped ocean bottom depth in worst conditions. We stopped the launch and Ensign Halbach let me lower the SEACAT CTD (conductivity, temperature, and density) probe to the bottom 200 meters down so we can collect data to correct our sonar data.  As mentioned in previous log entries; temperature, conductivity (amount of salt in the water) and pressure changes how fast sound moves in water and the CTD probe gives the computer information to correct the sonar for these factors. The CTD data changes over the day and by location so we took measurement every four hours for a total of three times. Here is a close up of SEACAT CTD probe and Dan Boles lowering it the later in the day: After the probe returned to the launch, Ensign Halbach turned on the Reson Radar which has good resolution and works the best in shallow, near-shore waters and around rocks.  Our first transects took us close to the shore and Dan sat on the bow and held on tight to look for submerged rocks that could damage the launch hull and sonar probe.  Dan got knocked around and splashed with water, but we quickly returned to our dry cabin as we moved further off shore:

The transect traversing nearshore areas
The transect traversing nearshore areas

We “mowed the lawn” following long transects that took about half an hour each to complete before turning around and moving over 100 meters to start the next transect.  On transects heading into the wind, our launch traveled at 7 knots per hour and hit each wave hard with a thump and splash over the bow.  On transects following the wind, the waves picked us up and we “surfed” down the backsides of two to three foot swells.  The following seas pushed the launch around and Carl first turned the steering wheel hard left and then hard right to keep us on a straight line.  Later in the day, I drove the launch for over an hour and learned how to set a rhythm for completing these left and right turns for each wave. At first, the launch crew remained quiet as we fought some minor motion sickness.  After eating and drinking coffee and soda, most of us perked up and started talking.  Carl told us about finding brown bear tracks while fishing on the main land last night near the abounded village site of Mitrofania.  Dan, Carl and I told each other bear stories and eventually shifted the conversation to education. Carl and Dan both have mothers that work in public schools and told me how their parents put in long hours during the school year.

Cooking dinner!
Cooking dinner!

Carl, a young man in his twenties, is from Fort Wayne, Indiana and worked on the RAINIER the past four years.  Carl’s Dad is an attorney and he has some younger sisters that will meet him in Homer for a visit at the end of our current leg.  Carl also completed underwater dive school this past spring and can now help install tide gauge stations or inspect the RAINIER’s hull.  Carl plans to stay on the RAINIER for at least another year.

Dan Boles is slightly older than Carl and has a Bachelor’s degree in geology and French.  Dan grew up in Tennessee and at one point his mom raised horses on a farm.  Dan has been on board for almost a year and talked his younger brother (Matt) into joining the RAINIER. Can you imagine sharing a tiny bunk bed room and working with your brother all day long?  From what I saw, Dan and Matt get along well.

Taking a quick snooze
Taking a quick snooze

After 5 hours, Carl pulled the launch behind Spitz Island that provided us protection from the wind and waves, but filled the air with the foul smell of sea gull dung from the thousands of birds nesting near by. The RAINIER crew gets a half hour lunch break whether on the ship or out in a launch. Ensign Halbach, who had been up late and working on our radio transmitter site, took a nap.  Dan set up his Coleman stove and cooked up some salmon fillets he brought along.  The salmon tasted good after a long morning out on the water. Carl and I fished off the launch and I landed a sea bass on my first cast. I actually caught three on my first cast, but the first two fell off the hook before the third set the line. I could see several sea bass fighting for my hook.  Here are some photos from lunch: After lunch we continued or mapping till around 4:30 pm.  The ride back became calmer after we moved past the corner and on to the north side of Mitrofania Island which blocked the wind. We had nice views of the mountains and the RAINIER as we approached the ship. In the evening, I went out on the fan deck (very back of the ship) and fished off the side.  Everyone told me the fish weren’t biting, but I tried anyway.  I quickly caught a small halibut and hauled it on board with help from other crew.  After carefully removing the hook, I threw it back into the water so it could grow bigger before the next fisherman comes along.  I fished a little longer and caught a second halibut.

Rainier from the launch
Rainier from the launch

I decided to keep this one and Mike Riley, an oiler from Engineering, showed me how to bleed and fillet the fish. Halibut are more difficult to clean than other fish because they are flat, almost pancake shaped on their sides and a back bone that runs down the middle of their body. They also swim side ways with the flat side facing up and look the surface with their two eyes located on the same side of their head.

After cleaning the halibut, Mike showed me how to vacuum pack the fish and how to store it in our big freezer.  Mike is in his early twenties with a shaved head and several piercings in his ears, lips and nose.  Mike looks almost like a pirate or punk rocker, but the crew respects him for his fishing and filleting abilities.

The evening ended well and I retired to my bunk for a well deserved sleep.

A beautiful evening
A beautiful evening

Personal Log 

I had a busy day today getting up at 5:50 am and readying myself for the launch. I really had to keep my balance on the launch today as we bounced around, but I didn’t get sea sick like some people did in the other boat.  Driving the launch was the best part of my day as I skipped over waves and learned how to handle it in following seas.  I learned how to focus on a point far away and to use a rhythm in steering to keep a straight course in rough seas.

Catching the sea bass and two halibuts was a real treat as many people did not catch anything today in the windy conditions. I felt a bit sorry for the fish as we cut it up, but I look forward to eating the meat upon returning from the trip.

Question of the Day 

What are three factors that would make waves high out in the ocean?

Philip Hertzog, July 31, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: July 31, 2005

The laundry room
The laundry room

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 55˚53.4’ N
Longitude: 158˚ 50.4’ W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: 180˚
Wind Speed: 2 kts
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1009.5 mb
Cloud Cover: 1, cumulus, altocumulus

Science and Technology Log 

Today I took care of tasks that come with living aboard a ship as a crew member. I’ve been on board the RAINIER for almost 9 days now and my laundry started to attract sea gulls outside my room’s porthole.  Even the Sei Whales turn and swim away when they approach my side of the ship. On shore, many of my students’ moms or dads do the laundry, but on a ship this becomes your responsibility. Washing clothes at sea poses special problems because we have no sewers to dispose of waste water, only the ocean. We have to use special soap that won’t harm sea creatures and limit the amount of water used for washing. The RAINIER has a full laundry with water saving washers and energy saving dryers as you can see in this photo.

Ship quarters
Ship quarters

After laundry, I cleaned my room.  The Captain expects everyone to keep a clean room and make up their beds everyday. He can even enter your room at any time for an inspection. I share a room with the other teacher at sea, Mike Laird.  The room has two bunks, two closets, a head (known on land as a bathroom) and a desk with a computer as you can see here: Mike and I lucked out by getting an officer’s room, because many crewmembers share rooms with up to four people and only have gym lockers to store their gear.

Cleaning our bathroom
Cleaning our bathroom

Once I cleaned my room and vacuumed the floor, I tackled the big job of cleaning the head. Again, you can’t bring a parent along to clean the bathroom for you and this job falls on everyone on the ship. The RAINIER does its best to protect the environment by using special cleaning products that kill mold and germs, but not aquatic life that live in the water where our wastes end up. I used three different types of cleaners: one for the tub, one for the toilet, and one for everything else.  I kneeled down on my hands and knees to scrub everything from top to bottom to ensure the germs die and won’t make us sick miles from the nearest doctor.  My mom and students would be proud of me!  The rest of the day I caught up on my paper work and read, but tomorrow I will have a big day out on the launch.

Personal Log 

I enjoyed a day off the launches to get caught up on all my house work and work on my photography. My cabin had gotten messy after spending eight nights in it and I look forward to sleeping on clean sheets tonight. I met with Larry Wooten, Chief Electronics Technician, and learned how to transfer my photos over the ship’s file server. The ship’s crew is one big family and share many things. Several people have put their photos on the main server so others can enjoy and download pictures. Everyone trusts each other on the ship.  We leave our doors unlocked and you can leave your wallet out on the table without a worry.  I wish our society back on shore could be just as trusting. Well, I’m off to find some salmon off the back end of the ship.

Question of the Day 

Why is it important to keep a ship at sea so clean?  What happens if someone on a ship becomes sick?

Philip Hertzog, July 30, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: July 30, 2005

Reson’s sonar output that generates a map of the ocean bottom near Spitz Island.
Reson’s sonar output that generates a map of the ocean bottom near Spitz Island.

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 55˚53.4’ N
Longitude: 158˚ 50.4’ W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1012.5 mb
Cloud Cover: 7, cumulus, stratocumulus, altocumulus

Science and Technology Log 

I went boating into new territory today. We took launch RA-4 and headed to the western end of Mitrofania Island to map the bottom around Spitz Island and several rocks.  I got to learn more about the RAINIER crew, saw a new type of sonar, met some sea lions and even drove the launch. Ensign Brianna Welton led our launch with assistance from Lorraine Roubidoux.  Ensign Welton is an expert in sonar technology and I watched other crew members seek out her help when problems crop up. Ms. Roubidoux goes to school at the University of New Hampshire where she’s earning a Masters Degree.  She joined the RAINIER for a month to get experience with sonar systems.  Ms Roubidoux conducts research on sonar “background scatter.” Background scatter occurs when sonar signals bounce around more than once and give false readings of ocean bottom depth.  Ms. Roubidoux’s research will hopefully result in better sonar for future ships.

Driving the launch
Driving the launch

Women play an important role on NOAA ships. They serve as officers like Ensign Welton and scientists like Ms. Robidoux.  Women also play key leadership roles on the RAINIER like our ship’s XO (Executive Officer), Commander Julia Neander, who takes command of our ship when the Captain leaves. I hope my students will learn that many cool opportunities exist for women in the sciences and they should not be discouraged from taking math and science classes.  Above is a photo of Ms. Robidoux running the sonar on our launch.

Coxswain (official name for a sailor who drives small boats), Corey Mussey, carefully maneuvered the launch as we approached Spitz Island. Underwater rocks make this type of mapping more dangerous and Seaman Mussey moved the launch slowly and carefully to avoid ripping off the half million dollar sonar sensor from the hull.  Because we moved into shallow water, Ensign Welton turned on a different type of Sonar Sensor called the Reson SeaBat 8101. The Reson works in water depths of 4 to 150 meters and gives a sharp, clear image of the bottom. The other sonar I saw before, the Elac, operates in deeper waters ranging from 40 to 400 meters, but does not give a clear image of the bottom. Corey told me you can actually see ship wrecks in full detail with the Reson sonar.

As we mapped, I occasionally stood on the bow of the launch and looked out for rocks as we moved close into shore. We passed over underwater “forests” of bull kelp and I saw 25 to 30 feet below the surface where a long, single whip like strand moves toward the surface and attaches to a floating round bulb.  Out of the bulb comes half a dozen flat fronds about 5 to 10 feet in length and four inches wide that make the bull kelp look almost like underwater palm trees.  Suddenly I saw a salmon dart quickly underwater and then 40 to 50 fish appear under the launch and move just as quickly out of view to our port (left) side.

As we moved back and forth in our “mowing the lawn” mapping pattern, we saw two groups of Steller Sea Lions. Four males sat on a small rocky island while two dozen or more females beach themselves on Spitz Island three hundred yards away.  Each time we passed, the Sea Lions sat up and barked at us.  We may be the first humans they have seen in this remote part of the Southwestern Alaskan peninsula.  As you can see, the one male challenged me with its open mouth while another sat calmly with his seagull friend.

At the end of the day, Corey let me drive the launch and run one of the transect lines for the sonar mapping.  As you can see in the photos below, I looked at a computer screen that showed our boat as a red torpedo along a line on the computer screen.  I had to keep the black marker on the red and green bar at the bottom of the screen exactly in between the two colors or we would miss our mapping area.  This proved difficult because just as one gets lined up a wave pushes the launch off course so you constantly correct the boat’s position. I found using the computer screen to drive the launch similar to a video game except you could wreck the boat and get hurt for real if one makes a mistake. I had a great day and returned to the ship to await another adventurous day.

Personal Log 

I had a fantastic day. I got to see some interesting technology and talked to professional people. Being out on the bow of the launch scared me a bit.  If we had hit a rock I failed to spot, the damage to the sonar system could equal a half a million dollars.  The bow also requires a lot of balance and strength.  Each time a wave rocked the launch, I risked falling into the cold Alaskan water and had to really pay attention.

Sonar output
Sonar output

Though the crew of the RAINIER works hard and long hours, they do get a chance to relax and Saturday nights are special. After supper, we loaded up into the open skiff and rode about mile to a wide open, gravelly beach for a party.  A few people started a large bon fire and we had soda drinks and music playing.  The skiff could only carry eight people at a time, but the party grew larger and noisier each time it arrived on the beach.  People talked, told jokes, found whale bones, and caught salmon all evening long.  The party lasted until 11:30 pm and we rode back to the RAINIER just as the Alaskan sky started to turn dark.

After returning to the ship, I joined some of the crew in the Wardroom (ship’s lounge) and watched the video, “Napoleon Dynamite,” about a high school student.  We all laughed and talked about our own high school experiences.  Tomorrow we all will be tired, but ready for another two weeks of work.

Question of the Day 

How large can Stellar Sea Lions get? Where do we find Stellar Sea Lions and what are their life’s history.

A male Steller sea lion
A male Steller sea lion

Philip Hertzog, July 29, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: July 29, 2005

Tide gauge equipment
Tide gauge equipment

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 58˚ 53.36’ N
Longitude: 158˚ 50.4’ W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height:  0 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1013.5 mb
Cloud Cover: 8, cumulus, stratocumulus, altocumulus

Science and Technology Log 

Today I worked on what the hydrographic map makers call “vertical control” and “horizontal control.” When NOAA makes maps showing how deep the water is, they have a problem in that the depth changes when the tides come in and go out. If a rock exists in the water, there may be no problem at high tide, but ships can run into the same rock at low tide.

hertzog_log5To overcome this problem, NOAA measures bottom depths on their charts starting at a constant elevation called mean lower low water.  Low tide occurs twice a day, but one low tide is always lower than the other.  By keeping track of all the lowest, low tides of the day and averaging their elevations over many years, scientists can come up with an elevation for mean lower low water (MLLW).  You want to start measuring from your lowest tide level to ensure that ship captains can trust the chart to protect them from danger even during low tide. All of the ocean bottom charts are based on depth below MLLW.  However, when you collect sonar data, your height above MLLW constantly changes with the tide in a vertical position (up and down). Hence the term “vertical control” because the chart maker needs to know how to correct the sonar data so the maps are based on MLLW, not the current tide height. In remote areas like Alaska, limited tide data exists so the RAINIER crew installed a device called a tide gauge to measure and record the rise and fall of the tide in the mapping area.  The information from the tide gauge will help us to correct the sonar data so we can make the charts based on MLLW.

Working with the equipment
Working with the equipment

The RAINIER crew installed a tide gauge on Mitrofania Island 1.5 weeks ago before I got on board. Today I rode in an open boat to help the crew check the tide gauge.  Ensign Andrew Halbach led our mission with assistance from Survey Technician Matt Foss and Ensign Laurel Jennings. Mike Laird, the other Teacher at Sea also joined our group. Carl Verplank, Ordinary Seaman, drove the skiff and stayed off shore after dropping us off to ensure the boat won’t get stuck when the tide goes out.  Carl had the best job because he fished for salmon until we needed a pick up. I hope he shares some fish with us tonight!

Upon reaching shore, Matt Foss and I walked over to the tide gauge station to check it out. Matt carried “bear repellant” with him which is pressurized pepper put into a spray can. If a grizzly bear should approach and attack us, the pepper spray might keep the bear from eating us.  On the other hand, maybe bears like to have a little pepper on their steaks. In any event, we need to stay alert in bear country.

GPS work
GPS work

We found the tide gauge in good working order.  Matt told me that Scuba Divers helped to put the gauge in and that it sends tide information via satellite back to Washington, DC for further analysis.  Now that our vertical control (up and down movement) has been taken care of, Matt and I hiked over to join Ensign Halbach and Ensign Jennings who are working on “horizontal control” or side-to-side motion.

Normally, the crew of the RAINIER knows its horizontal position through the use of global positioning satellite (GPS). As discussed in previous log entries, GPS works by using signals from several satellites to locate your horizontal position on the Earth in terms of latitude and longitude.  The chart makers combine sonar data with GPS data to create accurate maps of ocean bottom depth.  Atmospheric conditions can affect the satellite signals so scientists calculate correction factors. Special radio stations transmit these factors which allow the launch crews to correct the GPS data. These corrections are called “horizontal control.”

Unfortunately, the remoteness and steep mountains of the Mitrofania Island area prevent the RAINIER from receiving good radio signals.  We need to set up our own radio transmission and GPS base station to get good control.  This task took up the rest of our day.

Matt and I found the others busily setting up the GPS station and taking measurements to ensure good location information.  Ensign Halbach carefully leveled the GPS antenna and oriented it towards north. After setting up the GPS station, Carl picked us up and drove the open boat to another location about a mile away where we repeated the process and set up a second GPS station. However, constructing the radio transmitter tower proved to be our big challenge. Nobody in our group ever set up a tower before so we worked as a team to figure it out. We returned to the RAINIER and hit the machine shop where we measured out metal, drilled boltholes and scavenged any thing to help us build the tower.

We carefully load the skiff and quickly motored back the mile across the water to the transmitter site located on a sand bar that sticks out into Mitrofania Bay.  Ensign Halbach led us in constructing the tower and it went up faster than planned.  Two people hold the tower straight up and balance it while the other three string guy ropes to metal stakes pounded in the ground. The tower made us proud of our team work, but no one dares to climb it.  Maybe some of you students reading this log entry would like to come to Alaska and try to climb it.  We returned to the RAINIER and could see our tower on the horizon where it will transmit horizontal control data to all the launches conducting sonar work over the next two weeks.

Personal Log 

This was the most physical day yet on the research vessel.  I actively participated in setting up the tower instead of just observing.  I really enjoyed working in a team today and helping to solve problems.  I also had a good physical workout by carrying heavy equipment to the GPS and radio transmitter sites.  The work out really helped because the food on board the RAINIER is delicious and plentiful with three large cooked meals a day.  I need to watch my weight on this trip.

The tower project showed me you need both technical training and practical construction skills when out in a remote area like Alaska.  My students tend to be either hands-on or all academic, but you need a balance of both these skills to be successful upon graduation. Many of the crew on the RAINIER learned their jobs while on the boat and had to solve difficult problems without any outside help. Hopefully my students can use the RAINIER’s crew as an example on the importance of seeking balance in their lives. Speaking of balance, it’s time for me to catch a salmon.  Here I am ready to go. See you tomorrow.

Question of the Day 

What causes the tide to rise and fall and how does it change over the course of an entire month?

Philip Hertzog, July 28, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: July 28, 2005

Launch lowering into the water
Launch lowering into the water

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 55˚ 53.36’N
Longitude: 158˚ 58.4’ W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  12.8˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1013.2 mb
Cloud Cover: 5, cumulus, altocumulus

Science and Technology Log 

I awoke to a beautiful sunrise and partly cloudy skies.  The waters of Cushman Bay calmly rock the RAINIER gently back and forth.  I could see pink salmon jump near the ship and seabirds feeding in the water. Mike Laird (the other Teacher at Sea) and I stayed on board the RAINIER today to catch up on our log entries and to see what the rest of the crew does.  We had a quiet day of writing, talking to the crew, and taking photographs.

At 8:00 am I watched the deck crew lower the launches for the mapping teams.  Lowering the launches can be dangerous work and the deck crew does it carefully while wearing hard hats. Two winches move each launch out over the water as shown here (left and right) and then survey crew board the vessel and load gear.  After the survey crew loads the launch, they work with the deck crew to disconnect the cables and hooks from the launch. The launch then speeds off to start a busy day of mapping the waters of Mitrofania Bay.

Launch in the water
Launch in the water

Once the launches left, the deck crew worked on other tasks.  I saw crew washing decks and maintaining machinery.  Other crew members used a crane to move one of the smaller boats (called skiffs) into the water: Other crew members went about the ship conducting other tasks such as preparing meals, keeping the engines running, contacting the launches to help solve problems, and conducting bridge watch. In later log entries, I will try to describe the different departments on board the RAINIER.

Personal Log 

I had a very quiet day and spent it catching up on paper work and cleaning up my digital photos. After looking at my photos and talking with XO Julia Neander, we decided that our whales from the other day are not fin, but Sei (pronounced “say”) whales.  We saw white spots on the whales back and a prominent ridge on the whale’s forehead which are give away signs for Sei. I spent the evening fishing for salmon off the fan deck (located at the rear of the ship).  Several other crew members also fished of the stern, but only Raul, one of our cooks, caught salmon. He pulled in four cohos weighing around 7-8 pounds each. Will he share and surprise us for supper tomorrow night? I can’t wait to find out.

Securing the lines
Securing the lines

Question of the Day 

The RAINIER is like a small community made up of 50 people.  What kinds of jobs does this community need in order to sustain it for 3 weeks at sea without any outside help?

The launch in action
The launch in action

Philip Hertzog, July 27, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: July 27, 2005

Securing the launch
Securing the launch

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 55˚ 53.3’ N
Longitude: 158˚ 58.4’ W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: light
Wind Speed: airs
Sea Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  12.2˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1012 mb
Cloud Cover: 2, cumulus

Science and Technology Log 

The RAINIER is now anchored for the next several days in Cushman Bay on the north side of Mitrofania Island. Today the ship’s crew began their first full day of mapping the bottom of the waters surrounding the island.  The Captain assigned me to observe operations on board one of the RAINIER’s six survey launches.  The launches are small craft equipped with sonar and computer equipment to collect bottom data as seen in the following photographs:

Each launch has a crew of three and four launches go out at a time.  On my launch, Ensign Brianna Welton serves as the hydrographer in charge with Matt Boles as the Assistant Survey Technician. Able Body Seaman Corey Mussey drives the launch and makes sure it stays on course using a computer screen directs him where to go.

A winch lowered our launch into the water. We jumped about two feet from the side of the ship to get into the launch. We carried no equipment in our hands or on our backs and wore life jackets to ensure we safely crossed the deep water.

Screen shot 2013-04-09 at 9.42.37 AM

Once underway, Ensign Welton turned on the Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS). The DGPS uses satellite signals to determine our location and even can tell our direction and speed. Unfortunately, our DGPS did not work correctly and Ensign Welton and Matt Boles struggled over the next 2 hours to trouble shoot the problem.  When out at sea and hundreds of miles from the nearest repair shop, the crew of the RAINIER has to become creative to solve problems in order to achieve their mapping mission.  The DGPS problem finally got fixed after the antenna was taken apart and the connecting cables cleaned. Matt told me that whenever one starts a new field survey, you commonly find problems that must be fixed due to the difficulties of working in the harsh environments found at sea and in Alaska.

Screen shot 2013-04-12 at 9.05.01 PMWith the DGPS fixed, the crew sent a SEACAT probe through the water column to the bottom to collect temperature, salinity and pressure data.  Sonar mapping works by bouncing sound waves off the bottom and measuring how fast the waves return to the ship. Sound travels through salt water at 1435 meters per second, but its speed can be changed by temperature, salinity or pressure.  The computer takes the data from the SEACAT and makes corrections to the sonar data so we have a better measurement of the bottom depth.

Sunset over the bow
Sunset over the bow

We spent the rest of the day running transects to map the bottom. Transects are long, parallel lines that are spaced to ensure we cover the entire bottom of the area being mapped with some overlap. To better understand what “running a transect” means, think about mowing your lawn.  When you mow the lawn, you run the mower in parallel lines, but you always go over part of the path you mowed before in the previous line. Just like mowing, the sonar is able to map the entire bottom of the map area by using a transect pattern.

Around 4:30 pm we returned to the RAINIER and the deck crew winched the launch back on board. I handled the stern line and threw it to a deck hand on the ship. I also attached the hook from the winch onto the launch, but I didn’t do it correctly on my first try. You have to be careful because the launch weighs 14,000 pounds and the seas can bounce it around. I got too close to the block and tackle on the winch, but Ensign Welton pulled me back and showed me how to properly connect the cables.  To the right here is a picture of Ensign Welton correctly hooking up the launch.

Once the launch returned to the RAINIER, the mapping crew’s duties were not f inished. After supper, the crew down loaded the launch’s computers onto the ship’s main frame and “cleaned up” the data.  Clean up consisted of looking at the data and matching it with maps on the main frame computer.  The survey technician also had to correct the data with tidal information and look for false sonar signals to remove from the data set. Upon finishing clean up, an officer checked the work for quality.  Here is a picture of Dan Boles, Matt’s older brother, cleaning up some data.

Personal Log 

I had a great time today going out on the launch and learning what the survey crews do.  The landscape overwhelms one with large open areas of water surrounded by mountains covered in green, low lying vegetation.  Mount Veniaminof dominates the background with its glacier covered dome that rises 7,075 feet above sea level.

As we traveled in the launch, I could see whales blowing spray out their blow holes in the distance and pink salmon jumping out of the water.  At the end of work, we took 10 minutes to fish off the launch and Matt caught a ling cod while I had one on the hook that got away.

I enjoyed talking to Matt Boles and learning about how he ended up on the RAINIER with his brother Dan. Matt has a two year college degree in computers and Dan has a Bachelors degree in geology and French. I see a lot of potential for my own students to get jobs aboard ships like the RAINIER and to have a great time exploring wild places like Matt and Dan.

Question of the Day 

Why do temperature, salinity and pressure change the speed of sound in water?

Philip Hertzog, July 26, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: July 26, 2005

Fin whales
Fin whales

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 55˚ 44.95’ N
Longitude: 158˚ 47.42’ W
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind Direction: 065˚
Wind Speed: 7 kts
Sea Wave Height: 2 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  13.3˚C
Sea Level Pressure: 1011 mb
Cloud Cover: 8, stratus, cirrocumulus

Science and Technology Log 

Today the RAINIER continues its journey from Kodiak Island to Mitrofania Island where our mapping work will start.  I awoke and found the ship off the coast of Kodiak Island in the Shelikof Strait that separates Kodiak Island with the southwestern Alaskan peninsula. A straight is a long stretch of water where the wind can travel great distances without being blocked and build up large waves. The waves in the Strait are between 1 and 2 feet high, but it is enough to rock the ship back and forth. I have to be careful not to spill any food or drinks in the cafeteria and it takes a while to get use to the rocking back and forth.

Breathing fin whales
Breathing fin whales

Though we are traveling today, our ship’s crew is already working and mapping the bottom of the Shelikof Strait.  I attended a meeting lead by Lt. Ben Evans and listened to him explain our plan for the next several days.  Today we are using the ship’s sonar to map the main portion of the Shelikof Strait and to look for anything that could harm ship traffic. The sonar sends beams of energy in the form of sound waves to the bottom which then bounce back to the ship. By measuring how long it takes for the sound to return to the ship, a computer can determine how deep the channel is. Behind the bridge is the plot room where the mapping action takes place.  The plot room has a big table in the middle to lay out charts and several computer stations line the walls around the table. Each computer station has two monitors hooked together so the hydrographer (a person who maps the ocean bottom) can put up sonar images and compare it to maps and other information.  Today we had one of the computer stations working to show the data being collected for the Shelikof Strait.  The bottom is around 400 meters deep and relatively flat.  The computer monitor shows us a colorful image of the bottom depths as we move along the straight.

In the late afternoon, we enter into a large bay and circle around to the back side of Mitrofania Island. Suddenly, I see four sprays of water in the air, one right after another, about half a mile from the ship.  As we move farther into the bay, we see more sprays and soon see curved, dark backs surface and then glide along the surface in an arch before disappearing below the surface. As we move closer we can make out a tiny fin on these large creatures toward the rear of their backs and realize these are fin whales.

Fin whales are one of the largest whales found in the world and can reach 24 meters in size. All around us we see spray being blown out by the fin whales as they surface and mill about with each other.  One whale surfaces right in front of the RAINIER and the Captain had to back off on the engine to avoid a collision.  The whale moved to the side of our ship as we slowed down and I could see it staying in the same place for 3-5 seconds looking up at us before moving away below the surface.

After our greeting by the fin whales, the Captain anchored the RAINIER in a quiet bay off Mitrofania and the crew prepared for a busy day of mapping tomorrow.

Personal Log 

Though I find I am excited to be on the RAINIER, I found myself dizzy with a little bit of motion sickness from the rocking of the ship in Shelikof Strait.  Taking the advice from books and several of the crew members, I kept myself from becoming sicker by getting fresh air on the deck and looking at the horizon.  I also drank plenty of fluids and ate all of my meals. After a couple of hours and a nap, I felt much better.

The high point of the day came when we entered Mitrofania Bay and saw the fin whales. We also saw salmon jumping throughout the bay and several of the crewmembers fished off the back of the RAINIER after they had finished their duties for the day.

Question of the Day 

What do fin whales eat and where do they spend the winter?

Philip Hertzog, July 25, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Philip Hertzog
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 25 – August 13, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, AK
Date: July 25, 2005

Weather Data from Bridge

TAS Philip Hertzog in his safety gear
TAS Philip Hertzog in his safety gear

Visibility: 10 nm (nautical miles)
Wind Direction: 127˚
Wind Speed: 12 kts
Sea Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Sea Water Temperature: 12.8˚ C
Sea Level Pressure: 1009.5 mb
Cloud Cover: 8

Introduction 

Welcome to my Teacher at Sea Log.  Over the next three weeks, I will document my experiences on board the NOAA Vessel RAINIER as part of the Teacher at Sea (TAS) program.  NOAA established the TAS program about 15 years ago as a means to educate the public about its mission through the use of classroom teachers.  Over 400 teachers have participated in the TAS program and have used their NOAA experience to bring marine research and mapping into the classroom for thousands of students.

I currently teach 7th Grade Science to students at Hunt Middle School located in Tacoma, Washington. Hunt Middle School is located about a mile and a half from Puget Sound and many of our students play in parks next to estuarine waters.  I hope to use my experience with NOAA to enhance my classroom curriculum and to provide other teachers in my school district with enhancements to our adopted program.

I have taught for six years and prior to that I worked for government in the field of natural resources management.  Some of my work included hazardous waste cleanup in the aquatic environment and near shore aquatic habitat mapping.

Science and Technology Log 

Today we begin our journey from Kodiak, Alaska to Mitrofania Island on board the NOAA vessel RAINIER. Kodiak is an island located in southwestern Alaska about 250 miles by air plane from Anchorage.  Mitrofania Island is located along the southwestern Alaskan peninsula about half way between Kodiak and Dutch Harbor.  Our trip will take a day and a half to reach Mitrofania.

The RAINIER is a hydrographic ship that measures 231 feet long and displaces 1800 tons of water. Hydrography is the science of using sonar and other complicated devices to bounce sound waves off the bottom of the ocean that can be used to identify hazards (like rocks) that could sink passing ships. The information gathered by the RAINIER is used to update maps of the ocean bottoms and coastlines.  Ships’ captains call these special maps charts.  The charts help keep ships safe and away from shallow waters, lurking rocks and jagged coastlines.

The waters around Mitrofania are remote and have not been mapped in years.  Fisherman, large ships and the Alaska State Ferry use these waters and pass the island on occasion.  Our job will be to gather information to update the charts for the waters around Mitrofania Island to help increase the safety of passing ships.

I spent the morning watching the ships’ crew prepare the RAINIER for its three-week journey. The crew made repairs on small cracks, moved mooring lines and loaded supplies onto the ship. Two trucks full of food drove up to the ship and I helped carry boxes of milk, fruit and vegetables up the gangway and into the narrow passages of the ship for storage.

Prior to our 2:00 pm departure, the ship’s safety officer gathered me and other new members of the crew for safety training.  Working and living on a ship can be exciting, but one needs to be extremely careful to avoid accidents and learn how to live with 49 other people. I spent most of today attending safety classes.

My first class was to learn how to stay afloat in water that is 56 º F.  The answer is simple, wear a life vest!  However, the answer isn’t really that simple.  I got issued 4 different types of life vests. If I work inside a small boat, I get to wear a vest that blows up with a carbon dioxide cartridge. If I work outside on the deck of a small boat or handle lines at the pier, I have to wear a “Mustang” float jacket that doesn’t need to be blown up. If I have to abandon ship, I must put on a survival suit that consists of thick foam and covers my body entirely.  The survival suit makes a person look like the cartoon character “Gumby” and hence gets the nickname “Gumby Suit.”  To make matters more interesting, I am also issued a standard life vest that most people are familiar with.  I am now ready to float for any occasion, formal or informal!

After my floatation class, I learned where to go in the event of an emergency on the ship.  We have three main types of emergencies: fire/general emergency, man overboard, and abandon ship. For each type, I am assigned a different station to report to and given specific duties.  For example, I will serve as a look out in the event someone should fall off the ship and if we need to abandon our vessel I need to bring extra blankets for the life raft. Each type of emergency has its own signal on the ship’s whistle.  Three long blasts means a person fell overboard, six short blasts followed by a long one means we need to abandon ship, and a continuous ringing means fire.  Everybody on board the RAINIER is well trained and given a job to do during an emergency.

After the emergency training, we got to watch the RAINIER “film festival” in the ship’s Wardroom, which is like a lounge on land.  The “film festival” consisted of a series of three safety videos on how to use an air respirator, avoid hazardous materials and general safety on board a ship. I then finished the day by taking two more safety classes through the ship’s computer that also gave me a test.  Luckily I passed the tests and now feel ready to go forward in safety.

Though it may seem like a lot of time, all of the training is important and will help me to save myself and help others around me in the event of an emergency.  Students should be aware that learning doesn’t stop when you graduate from school, but continues for a lifetime as one meets new challenges and experiences.

Personal Log 

Despite a full day of safety training, I managed to spend several hours on the flying bridge to watch the Alaskan scenery pass by as we made our way out of Port.  The flying bridge is the deck above the Captain’s bridge and is the highest point on the ship. You can look out from the flying bridge in all directions and see for miles.

We passed through a narrow passage between Kodiak and Afognak Island where the mountains rose out of the water as the RAINIER carefully made its way with a series of turns and maneuvers.  At one point, we passed 10 sea otters floating by the ship on their backs that looked at us and seemed to wonder what we were up to. We constantly saw puffins vigorously flapping their wings in a struggle to avoid hitting the ship.  Often the fat puffins could not take flight, but always avoided our ship at the last minute

A real highlight of today was seeing several Minke whales blow spray and surface gracefully near the ship.  You first spot a spray of water at the surface followed by a sleek, dark back arching over the water that finishes with the appearance of a small fin that then disappears below the surface.

Question of the Day 

How is safety training on the RAINIER like safety training at school? How is it different?