NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
May 6-16, 2013
Mission: Hydrographic surveys between Ketchikan and Petersburg, Alaska
Date: May 11, 2013
Weather on board. Taken at 1600 (4:00 in the afternoon)
Overcast skies with a visibility of 2 nautical miles
Wind from the south at 10 knots
Air temperature 10.2° C
Sea temperature 7.2° C
Science and Technology Log: Ship Emergency Drills
Maritime vessels like the NOAA Ship Rainier continually prepare themselves for dealing quickly and effectively for any emergency at sea. During our transit to the southern end of Behm Canal, we conducted two emergency drills. Each of these drills served to prepare the Rainier crew for quick response to a state of emergency.
One drill involved the loss of bridge control to steer the ship. A ship floundering at sea presents a real danger to its own crew as well as any vessel near by. The drill involved two situations. If the electronic connection between the bridge and the steerage center of the ship was lost, the engineers make a physical bypass and engage a steering wheel immediately above the rudders. With hydraulic power and telephone support from the bridge, this steering wheel was able to successfully negotiate the required 15° turn in each direction. In the event there is a loss of hydraulic steering support, the ship’s rudders have to be turned manually requiring two people to physically crank the change in rudders – a challenging task. I was able to step in to work one end of the crank – yes, it was hard work.
The other drill I was able to view was launching the emergency boat used in man overboard situations. There is a specially designed and dedicated for rescue operations. Under the direction of the Chief Boatswain (in charge of all deck operations), the crew practiced dropping the cables serving as a railing, and lowered the boat with the davit (crane unit that lowers boats off the ship), in preparation for getting on board, and powering up. The goal for this is to happen within several minutes. In the event of a real emergency, every passing minute is critical.
Related note – in the event the ship were to sink, 10 life rafts in protected cases are positioned around the ship ready to deploy. They are held closed by a latch designed to release as soon as it is immersed in the water. As the case opens, the raft self inflates and rises to the surface. Each raft is capable of carrying up to 25 people. I am again reminded of the lack of an instant 911 response and the necessity that everyone on board is fully prepared to act quickly on behalf of everyone on board. Such as it is with a life at sea.
Personal Log – The Clouds Roll In
I have been told countless times the weather we experienced on my first week at sea was not the norm – in fact far from the norm. We were blessed with sunshine and calm seas throughout. Today it came to an end. A heavy bank of clouds with persistent light rain filled the once clear skies. This is the weather people are accustomed to in SE Alaska.
We spent the day in our customary back and forth survey route. Rain gear was the norm for everyone on deck. At the end of the day, our CO (commanding officer) directed us to Punchbowl Cove as a well protected area with ample locations to set anchor. Gliding into the cove was an ethereal experience. The northern shore of the cove rose majestically into graceful curtains of clouds. Clouds separated into layers dancing across the slope providing sprinkled glimpses of the background of the mountains. Cascades of water tumbled from the heights on their way to the sea. The cloudy turn in the weather allowed this magical layer of mystique and fancy that wouldn’t have been present with the sunshine we had earlier. Perhaps at sea there is no such thing as inclement weather, each day bringing forth its own majesty.
With enough time after anchor, several groups went out by kayak and boat. I enjoyed the opportunity to go with a small group to explore the shoreline. It felt good to get out and walk around and see the sea from the viewpoint of land. We arrived at low tide giving us room to walk about short of the cedars, spruce, and fir that blanketed the forest floor. To the mariner, kelp is so common it is hardly noticed. To a Minnesotan far removed from the sea, the kelp and barnacles covering the exposed rocks in the tidal flats held a level of fascination.
This cross-section of the earth has an unparalleled majesty and beauty. What a privilege to witness it so close.