Matt Lawson, June 10, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Matt Lawson
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 9-20, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Bay of Esquibel, Alaska
Date: June 10, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge as of Wednesday 
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (Nm.)
Wind Direction: none
Wind Speed: none
Sea Wave Height: none
Seawater Temperature: 7.8 Celcius (C)
Sea Level Pressure: 1018.1 millibars (Mb.)
Cloud Cover & skies: overcast
Air Temperature: Dry bulb – 12.2 C Wet bulb – 8.3 C

One of the gravity davits stands waiting for the return of its launch boat

One of the gravity davits stands waiting for the return of its launch boat

Science and Technology Log 

Out to Launch! 

June 10: At 7:50 am CO Haines met with everyone involved in today’s launches to talk about the work, weather and safety. Acting FOO Smith covered the particulars of the survey work each launch boat would be conducting. Chief Boatswain Kruger briefly reminded us about safety and being in your positions at the right times, then the order in which the launches would depart from the ship. Very shortly after 8am, we climbed aboard RA-#4 (RAINIER launch boat #4) and were lowered into the water. All six launch boats are similar to each other in that they are about 30 feet long, have built-in diesel engines, a cabin, and a canopy over the coxswain’s wheel.  They are housed upon gravity davits, which are not the latest in technology, but very durable and reliable.  More modern davits use hydraulic systems and they require fewer deckhands to operate. It appears to me that each system has its advantages. Today, we mainly used the side scan sonar system on that boat to survey some of the rocky off shore areas of Biali Rock.

RA-4 leaves a trail as it speeds to the assigned survey site.

RA-4 leaves a trail as it speeds to the assigned survey site.

The weather was pretty good except that the waves were 6-7 feet tall, making it a little rough for the new guy. Amy Riley, Lead Survey Technician, invited me below deck to see the work she and Grant were doing. Basically, they had a computer with three monitors, showing the current GPS map of where we were, the scanning in real time and a 3-D image of the ocean floor as it was being processed. The job here for the technicians is to monitor the computers as they accumulate data that will later be processed. But this is not yet the end product.  The processed data is finally sent ashore where NOAA cartographers will create the actual charts used for navigation.  Even though quite a number of other things were going on in other smaller windows, I’m not above admitting I didn’t fully understand it all!  I was allowed to take the tech’s chair for a while and we did 4-5 passes with me in control of the system.  Somehow, I managed not to crash us into anything!

The two fishermen in their “Gumby Suits” wait to be rescued.  Their capsized fishing boat is in the foreground. Photo courtesy of Ian Colvert

The two fishermen in their “Gumby Suits” wait to be rescued. Their capsized fishing boat is in the foreground. Photo courtesy of Ian Colvert

Later, I sat in on the survey de-briefing in the wardroom.  This meeting takes place every day immediately after the last launch returns to the ship.  Everyone involved in the launches participates in this meeting.  While everyone is given an opportunity to speak about the day, the lead survey technician for each launch specifically makes an official report on accomplishments, areas of interest or concern, problems and/or issues that need to be addressed before the next set of launches departs. I found this part of the day just as interesting because it created a summary for the entire day’s mission.

Personal Log 

Drill or No Drill? 

NOAA personnel expertly pluck the stranded fishermen from the sea. Even as they suffered from shock, they thanked the rescue team profusely for being there.

NOAA personnel expertly pluck the stranded fishermen from the sea. Even as they suffered from shock, they thanked the rescue team profusely for being there.

While out on the launch, we were able to catch a little of the radio chatter.  It’s always good to listen to the radio, even when it doesn’t pertain to you.  It keeps you in the know and alert to possible hazards in your path. I’m adding “listening to the radio” as a rule on my “to do” list, and I’m about to give you a good example as to why.  As we listened, it sounded like a “Man Overboard” drill was taking place on the ship. Ha, ha.  Better them than us.  However, the more we listened, we began to realize we were really missing the event of the day.  Apparently, two fishermen were out on a fairly old boat when they began to sink. We don’t know the cause, just that it was going down fast. They were able to get out only one mayday call. However, RAINIER’s bridge was able to pick up on and respond to the call.

Despite the fact that much of the ship’s personnel were out on launches, a sufficient rescue team was mustered and conducted a flawless rescue mission.  The two fishermen were in their emergency immersion or “Gumby suits” and had not suffered too much when they were picked up.  After allowing them time to rest and somewhat recover from shock, they were taken to the nearest port.   I had read how NOAA vessels frequently play vital roles in various rescue missions, but being here when it happens makes a much bigger impression.  Today proved just how easily things can get hairy out here and  how important it is to know how to handle emergency situations.  Drills and safety meetings occur regularly on RAINIER, and once again, came in very helpful.

Ian Colvert, a NOAA Survey Technician was on board RAINIER when the rescue mission took place. He is credited for the rescue pictures.

Bald eagles are as abundant here as the crows are at home.

Bald eagles are as abundant here as the crows are at home.

Not Yet a Salty Dog 
I have to diverge a little here.  Operating a computer on a wildly thrashing boat was indeed a new experience in and of itself, as well as a point of hilarity for the Lead Technician, Amy, who’s been doing this for a long time.  Just working the mouse was like riding Ferdinand the Bull after being stung by an unfriendly bee. Anyway, after an hour of this, I began to get seasick.  Yes, the new experiences just keep coming!  At the risk of using too many analogies in one paragraph, I will say sea sickness pretty much just feels as if you’ve been traveling in the back of a tired old Chevy Impala being driven through very hilly country roads by a driver who should’ve had his/her license taken away 35 years ago.  Basically, puke city. I had to return to the deck where I could see the horizon and let my brain make sense of things again.  Recovery was a slow process in 6-7 foot waves, but I did eventually manage and was normal again long before we returned to the relative steadiness of the ship.

Sailing/Nautical terms for all you land lovers:

  1. FOO – Field Operations Officer
  2. SONAR – SOund Navigation Ranging – technology which uses sound to determine water depth.
  3. Side scan SONAR – a category of SONAR that is used to create an image of a large area of the sea floor. This type of SONAR is often used when conducting surveys of the seafloor in order to create nautical charts for navigation.
  4. Gravity Davit – davit system which relies on the weight of the boat to lower it into the water.
  5. GPS – Global Positioning System – a mechanism which uses satellite systems to determine location.
  6. Coxswain the helmsman or crew member in command of a boat.
  7. Manual Floatation Device – any life jacket that must be activated by the wearer (usually a rip cord and air canister system) to make it buoyant.
  8. Positive Floatation Device – a life jacket that does not require manual activation and is designed to keep the wearer’s head above water.
  9. Immersion Suit – a full body suit which functions as a positive floatation device.  Used in emergency situations, such as abandoning ship.  The insulation and water proofing of these suits are important factors in colder waters.
  10. Muster – to gather.
  11. Bridge – sometimes called a pilot house, the place from which the ship is steered.  This is the heart of ship operations.

Animals Seen Today 
No new ones, but it was still exciting to see so many.  Even though the somewhat higher waves kept me busy with the challenge of standing up, I did notice a large colony of starfish hanging on some rocks in calm waters.

“Did You Know?” 

  • There are cold water corals which grow in the Alaskan waters.
  • The Gulf of Esquibel (pronounced “es-ki-bell”) was originally named by Fransisco Antonio Maurelle about May 22,1779 in honor of Mariano Nunez de Esquivel, the surgeon of the ship La Favorita.
  • Alaska itself was purchased by the United States from Russia in 1867.
  • Prior to its sale to the U.S., the Russians referred to it as “Russian America.”
Sea otters bathed and ate nonchalantly on their backs as we passed between the islands.

Sea otters bathed and ate nonchalantly on their backs as we passed between the islands.

Matt Lawson, June 9, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Matt Lawson
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 9-20, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Bay of Esquibel, Alaska
Date: June 9, 2008

Chief Boatswain, Jim Kruger, demonstrates a life raft in a session aboard the RAINIER.

Chief Boatswain, Jim Kruger, demonstrates a life raft in a session aboard the RAINIER.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Position: Longitude: 50° 17.89’ North (N) Latitude: 134° 24.68’ West (W)
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (Nm.)
Wind Direction: none
Wind Speed: none
Sea Wave Height: none
Seawater Temperature: 7.8 Celcius (C)
Sea Level Pressure: 1018.1 millibars (Mb.)
Cloud Cover & skies: overcast
Air Temperature:  Dry bulb – 12.2 C Wet bulb – 8.3 C

Science and Technology Log 

Arrival evening and day one were spent mostly getting oriented with the ship, safety procedures, as well as a quick visit into Juneau before sailing out. Safety is the foremost concern in every scientific field of study. Since we’re on the ocean, there is a lot to be aware of and how to handle potentially disastrous situations. Therefore, we new arrivals were fitted and familiarized with a number of safety gear.  First were the positive floatation devices. These just look like orange coats, but they’re heavily insulated and highly buoyant.

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Matt Lawson, in a Positive Floatation Device and hard hat.

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Matt Lawson, in a Positive Floatation Device and hard hat.

They’re always worn as a precaution when boarding launch boats and in any other similar situations. In the unlikely event that you would fall into the water, you’d already be wearing a life jacket.  We were also fitted with our immersion suits.  These are whole body suits and are only worn in cases of emergencies, such as abandoning ship.  There are emergency escape breathing devices (EEBD) hanging in convenient locations everywhere on the ship in case of fire. Hard hats were issued for wearing in work areas. A manual floatation device was also issued for wearing once you’re off on a launch, so long as you are in the cabin of the boat.  Even these vests have a built in air canister, which can inflate the vest by pulling a cord located on the front. Last, but not least are the launch boats, which would be our first means of escape from a sinking ship.  To back those up are the inflatable rafts, which open upon contact with the water. Jim Kruger, Chief Boatswain, briefed us about all these issues and supervised the fitting of our gear.  

Sailing terms for all you land lovers:

  1. Bow – the very front of the ship
  2. Stern – the very rear of the ship.
  3. Forward – nearer the front of the ship
  4. Aft – toward the back of the ship
  5. Port side – as you’re facing the front, the left side.
  6. Starboard side – as you’re facing the front, the right side.
  7. Hydrography – the science of the measurement, description, and mapping of the sea bottom and tidal mudflats, as well as the positions of stationary objects at sea (both below and above the water’s surface), with special reference to navigation.
  8. Commanding Officer (CO) – the officer in charge of the ship.
  9. Executive Office (XO) – the officer second in charge of the ship.
  10. Chief Boatswain (pronounced “boe-sun”) – the primary person responsible for the boats, sails rigging, anchors, and cables.
  11. Electronics Technician (ET) – the primary person responsible for all telecommunications, computers, and other electronics on board the ship.
  12. Davit – a crane that projects over the side of stern of a ship and is used as a joist; a pair of davits is used to carry and launch/recover small boats such as a survey launch.
  13. Launch – a boat, typically less than 30 feet, used to conduct surveys.
  14. Hull – the frame or body of a ship, boat, or buoy.
  15. Latitude – the distance north or south of the equator of a point on the Earth’s surface; and imaginary line that runs east-west and ranges from 0-90 degrees north and 0-90 degrees south.
  16. Longitude – the distance east or west of the Prime Meridian of a point on the Earth’s surface; an imaginary line that runs north-south and ranges from 0-180 degrees east and 0-180 degrees west.
  17. Chart – a map designed to assist navigation by air or sea.
  18. NOAA – the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  NOAA falls under the U.S. Department of Commerce and is responsible for prediction and research of weather and climate-related events, charting the sea and skies, and providing environmental stewardship of the nation’s coast and marine resources.
Three of RAINIER’s launches hang in their davits.

Three of RAINIER’s launches hang in their davits.

Personal log 

June 8th 

The captain of Alaska Airlines flight 59 announced our upcoming descent into Juneau.  I looked out the window. The mountains poked their snow capped peaks through the clouds.  It was my first ever glimpse of Alaska.  As we descended, we momentarily disappeared into the white.  Then things cleared up and an awe inspiring sight appeared.  Juneau and the surrounding mountains were there. My gaping mouth and “Cheshire Cat” grin were seemingly permanent.  I had no idea it would be this beautiful. Christy Shultz, (Junior Officer/JO) met Mark Friedman, (fellow Teacher At Sea/TAS) and me at the airport. We rode in a van with two other NOAA employees, Amy & Mike Riley back to where the RAINIER was docked.

Upon arrival at the ship, Christy gave all the new arrivals the grand tour.  Wow, what a nice ship! The personnel aboard keep this place looking spotless.  RAINIER was built in 1967 and launched in 1968. Many adjustments have been made over time to meet changing needs and she has taken them all gracefully from what I can see. At this time, RAINIER is carrying 6 launch boats (metal hulled with canopies) and two skiffs (smaller, open top, with an outboard motor). Each vessel, including RAINIER herself, is equipped with various forms of sonar technology for hydrographic charting. Hydrography is RAINIER’s main objective, specifically around the coastline of the Gulf of Alaska, and this is what we are to do for the next two weeks.

RAINIER bridge and forward starboard bow

RAINIER bridge and forward starboard bow

We were introduced to a large number of rooms, and access to most of them is very casual. Basically, one should read labels on doors, and if it’s locked, don’t go in. Anyway, There are two main passageways: amid and athwart ship.  The crew’s mess is in the very center of the ship.  The decks are ordered alphabetically, A-F with A at the bottom and the Fly bridge on top. My quarters/stateroom, which I share with Able Bodied Seaman, Joe Normand, is in a small section of C Deck accessed by a ladder way.  Ladder ways are sort of a hybrid between stairs and ladders. There are three staterooms in this section, each containing four bunks. Joe and I have the run of our stateroom for this leg of RAINIER’s ’08 journey. Near the front, of course, is the bridge, officers’ quarters, offices, (CO, XO, ET, and others) officers’ mess, and wardroom.

Orientation and dinner aboard ship finished, newly acquainted friends, Matt, Adam, Fernando, & Mark conversed and talked about what our jobs and duties would be in the coming days.  We were all very tired from traveling, but we knew we had to get our bodies aligned with the time zone, so we didn’t allow ourselves to sleep too early. Instead, we chose to watch movies in the wardroom.  I’m guessing on other ships, this room is normally reserved for officers only, but we were told teachers and other visiting professionals usually commandeer it for themselves.

June 9th 

Today was sailing day. There were more people and there was a definitely different buzz about the ship than yesterday as crew and officers alike went about the business of preparing for departure. We new arrivals worked to complete orientation: safety videos, drills and online tech safety training. At 3:45, (1545) the gang plank was pulled aboard, ropes were untied, and by 4pm, (1600) we were off.  Most importantly . . . the food here is great!  The cooks do a terrific job. They all have their specialties and they seem to love what they’re doing.

“Did You Know?” 

  • When referring to the air and oceans, mapping is actually called “charting.”
  • Alaska experiences all four seasons and is not completely covered in ice and snow.
  • Rainforest ecosystems can be found in Alaska.
  • Desert ecosystems can be found in Alaska.