NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 22 – July 9, 2018
Mission: Lisianski Strait Survey
Geographic Region: Southeast Alaska
Date: June 25, 2018, 1500 HRS
Weather Data From the Bridge
Lat: 56°59.4’, Long:135°53.9’
Wind 19 kts at 340°
Visibility 10+ miles
Seas: 3-4’ with swells of 2-3’
Water temp: 9.4°C
Science and Technology Log
Rainier and her sister ship Fairweather celebrated their 50th anniversary together this past March. The bell on the bow of each ship is now plated in gold to celebrate the event.
This vessel has quite a physical plant below deck maintained by the competent team in the Engineering Department. For propulsion, there are two V-12 Diesel Locomotive Engines. After bathing the valves in fresh oil, each engine is started with compressed air at the press of a button. Once up and running, the Rainier’s engines often run for several days at a time. There is no “transmission” on this vessel. Instead, the two propellers utilize what is called ‘variable pitch’. When the pitch is set to zero, the props spin but push water neither back or forward – and thus don’t force the ship to move. When the prop pitched is increased in a forward direction – up to a pitch of 10, the ship is pushed forward. Of course, this is really the water pushing the ship forward as the propellers push the water backward. A pitch of “10” means that for each single rotation of the prop, the blades will move water ten feet back. When reverse is desired, the props can each pitch back to a maximum of ‘6’. Now the water is pushed forwards by the prop so the water can push the ship backward.
As there are two engines and two propellers, the Rainier’s crew can run one prop forwards and the other backward to turn the vessel around nearly in place. This could be called a ‘split 6’ – where one prop is pitched forward 6 to match the other prop’s pitch backward of 6.
Another device the crew can use to manipulate the ship in the water is called a ‘bow thruster’. This is an open tube from port (left) to starboard (right) near the bow of the ship underwater. There is a propeller mounted in this open tube which is powered by a separate engine. The engineering team can have the bow thruster system up and running in just a matter of minutes when called on by the bridge to prepare for its use! By pushing water to one side, the water pushes the bow the other way. This is a great tool to maneuver this large vessel in tight spaces.
In addition to the two engines plus the bow thruster, there are several other important systems maintained on The Rainier. There are a pair of 4000 Watt diesel electric generators to provide electricity. There is a water purification system – to isolate salt from seawater and make clean drinking water and a wastewater treatment plant to process waste. There are air compressors to supply the ship’s systems.
There are 45 individuals on board this ship – and they pull together into five teams to make operations happen on board. The NOAA Corps is responsible for the administration and navigation of the ship. The Deck crew handles all things on the surface of the ship including handling all lines, cranes, and davits (to manipulate the launches—small boats). The Engineering Crew is responsible for all the mechanical systems on board. The Electronics Department handles all instrumentation and wiring on the ship. The Stewards run the ever important galley – keeping the entire group well fed. All of this supports the work of the survey team of Hydrographers, the team of scientists that are mapping the sea floor.
I’ve enjoyed both finding my way around the ship and getting to know the crew. These people work as a team!
I came in early enough to enjoy a few days exploring Sitka, Alaska. This is a small port town that is really the first city in Alaska. Russians originally settled here in 1799 and eventually sold the city to the US in 1867. Sitka is a beautiful place to explore – being primarily a port for commercial and private fishing operations.
We’ve just left port this afternoon [Monday] as we transit to Lisianski Strait to being the hydrographic mission of this leg. We’ll arrive there late tonight/early Tuesday morning to collect data first from the Rainier itself. The experience on the ocean has been great thus far, and I look forward to much more!
Did You Know?
Sitka is the largest city, by area, in the United States in terms of land area! It occupies 2870 square miles yet has only a population of about 9,000 people—located mostly on the port location of Sitka.
The Rainier holds about 80,000 gallons of diesel fuel that is located in several tanks below deck. The weight of the fuel serves as ballast to help keep the ship stable while at sea! Fuel can be shifted between tanks to adjust the trim [front or back tilt] and list [port or starboard tilt] of the ship. Typically Rainier refuels when the tanks reach about half full.