Mission Day: Four, Five and Six

Mission days 4-5-6

It’s an absolutely insanely paced expedition!  We have 20 scientists, two submarines with support crews of 4 to 5…each!  And…that includes the Chef and his assistant!  Then there is our dive team, six personnel supporting each other, the BEX crew of 5 – 3 captains – and then all the administrative staff for NektonMission.org, Project Baseline and the academic personnel for the scientists.  I have to tell you it is crazy-wild starting at 7am continuous…sometimes thru dinner!

The SVS Camera System with the light brackets…
 minus the lights.
Friday 22, July was our first expedition dive…Project Baseline Mission Dive one.  Finally!!!!  Our site as selected by the science group was Spittal located just outside of St. George Harbor on the North East end of Bermuda.  The plan was to test our protocols for using the SVS camera mounted to the SUEX scooters, that are pulling us around, allowing us to video the 50 meter transects.  Our target depth was planned to be 200 feet and our time was to be 70 – 80 minutes on the bottom. 

Todd Kincaid, Susan Bird and myself entered at 2:15pm local time and dropped at 2:39. Our down line, the line we follow to the bottom, was placed at 150 feet and once we landed on the bottom, we headed for 200 feet.  Our scooters made short work of that 1000-foot distance and in 7 minutes we were setting up our first SVS video transect.

Todd Holding the SVS Camera System
Susan, reeling in the transect tape behind
Me?  On the other side of the camera

As you know, we custom built the SVS camera mount for the scooters and within 2 minutes, we started shucking ballast tubes, lights, video mount (yes the one we custom built) because it did not work.  We simply grabbed the camera and Todd, who was camera man, held the camera in his hands and swam the two 50 meter transects and was highly successful.  The most important outcome of this dive was that we gathered tremendous intel and knowledge to pass on to our other dive team that would allow them to improve upon our dive.  We accomplished 3 SVS video transects and 2 benthic video transects (SVS – cameras pointing forward filming fish diversity, benthic – cameras pointing down and filming the bottom.  We had a max depth of 205 feet, with an average depth of 150 feet for 90 minutes and then spent 2 hours and 39 minutes coming to the surface.  A great dive; a fantastic start.

Saturday 23, July was dive day for our second team on this part of the mission.  Meredith Tanguay, Graham Blackmore and Kevin Dow.  As I mentioned earlier, the way we execute dives is from our specialized dive support boat, Fountain and operating that boat and supporting that day’s dives is the other dive team.  So today, Todd, Susan and I were operating the boat while the other three went underwater (Todd, Meredith and I are Diving Safety Officers for the Baseline Explorer and Global Underwater Explorers, Project Baseline). 

Quick explanation.  Because of the depths of these dives (200 – 350 feet), the planned underwater mission times (5 – 6 hours underwater) and the duration of the mission (20 days), it is not physically safe to dive consecutive days so we break it up and dive every other day and support on our off days. 

Back to today…and this is very cool and exciting.  With the intel and knowledge that we passed on to the “red” team (my team is the “blue” team…drysuit colors…names that just kind of naturally developed) they were able to complete 8 SVS video transects and 4 benthic.  They knocked it out of the park.  They worked at 200 feet, with the submarines observing and were underwater for a bit over 5 hours. 

Divers working with “Nemo” one of our two Triton Submarines

Sunday, 24 July.  The blue team was at bat.  We were heading for the Argus Bank.  30 miles southwest of Bermuda and part of the Bermuda Rise.  No land in sight.  A sea mount created by an underwater volcano that rose to within 180 feet of the surface.  Today we were going to 300 feet (90 Meters by the scientific definition) but again, no-one has ever done this dive in this manner…ever!  So again, the blue team was out to gather intel and pass that along to the red team.  We dropped down to 190 feet and headed east looking for the Argus Bank rise.  10 minutes later we hit the edge of a 10,000-foot abyss.  We dropped down to 300 feet and began our work.  The first thing we encountered was a current!  This really makes it hard on us as a dive team because now you have to manage all our gear, lights, scooters, cameras, transect tape measures and water sample bottles; yes, we are also doing water sampling at 20 meter (70 foot) increments.  With visibility of about 100 feet, we began our work and it was exhilarating to be working in pure weightlessness over 10,000 feet of water.  The wall was very rocky and covered in purple corals and green algae.  Swimming around were many pelagic’s.  Closer to the wall were many smaller fish, like amber jacks, gobies, damsel fish and we even saw a few really colorful anemones but big, like 16-18 inches in diameter; usually they are half this size.  After 45 minutes we completed our 2 SVS video and single Benthic transect and moved ups to 185, took some more water samples, scootered around the top of the bank for another 20 minutes and at minute 65, we began our decompression to the surface.  Our deco today, some 220 minutes, was spent floating in that current, blue water (not along the bottom – midway between the bottom and the surface.  A very tedious and boring 3.5 hours but necessary for this kind of research diving.   At the end of the day we visited a world 314 feet below the surface, literally in the middle of the Atlantic, spent 65 minutes on the bottom and the rest of the underwater time floating south some 2.5 miles where we started. 

Our perspective: the diver tow-fish
The Baseline Explorer on the horizon.

I end by answering the question, “how does the diver support boat and your support team upon it know where you are underwater”?  A small 30-inch-long orange tow-fish floating at the surface attached to me with about 500 feet of line scoped out above me.  A great day; a great mission; thanks Global Underwater Explorers, Project Baseline and NektonMission.org! 

I will post again in 3-4 days.  It is midnight here and we are up at 6 to support Team Blue!