Mission Day: Ten, Eleven and Twelve

After 9 mission days, we have fallen into a really good sync; both dive teams.  The other entities are still a bit chaotic but we have gotten into a real smooth groove and are doing some real “kick-ass” dives for science that benefits the World.  However, before I begin, I have to show you an incredible shot.  On 27 July, before we descended into the depths, we were asked to do a photo shoot with the submersibles, both of them at the same time.  This shot epitomizes our GlobalSubDive.com Mission:

Our Submersibles Nomad and Nemo with diver
Graham Blackmore defending his underwater space!

I am going to spend the majority of this blog on our dive from 28 July.  That would be Mission Day 11 Why?  Because it is now the epic dive (so far) of the project when you consider our overall goal:  obtaining science, specimens and intel from this underwater world known as the Sargasso Sea, the only sea on the planet with no shore! And supporting the scientists aboard NektonMission.org. 

The “Fountain”: Dive Boat

27 July, we supported the Blue team from the Fountain at Spittal (the dive site on the northeast corner of the island).  There dive was to collect SVS video from 300 feet / 90 meters, move up to 100 feet / 30 meters do the same and collect water samples, red algae samples (a new request from the science team) and coral (another new request!) which you have to carry clippers, large scissors if you will, and cut about a ¾” sample from the top of a colony.  So now, we have even more to do…it is not boring…that is for sure.  I do have to say that it does make the dives go faster and with less tedium. 

They dropped at 10:05am and we picked-them up at a bit after 3p.  A 5-hour dive and they accomplished all the underwater goals magnificently.   It was a fairly calm day so the surface support operations that we conducted at the surface were fairly benign; I piloted the Fountain and was supported in the boat by me, myself and I.  Yes, I was solo for that time but I passed the time with some great conversations with fish and turtles.  Sometimes on expeditions of this magnitude, you have to do things that might not be easy but necessity demands adaptation and flexibility.  I was happy to comply and had a great time. 

The Water Monitoring Science Station

28 July, we were up as the dive team at the North by North East site.  Our plan?.. tri-fold; 1) conduct our usual SVS work at 300 feet / 90 meters, 100 feet / 30 meters, 50 feet / 15 meters along with collecting all the science, 2) find 50 feet / 15 meters of depth from underwater and 3) locate and mark that 50 feet / 15 meter site so that during our decompression we could help three scientist/divers from Stanford and the University of Oxford set up a water monitoring station.  Sounds fairly straight forward.  Lets fast forward to 300 feet

We entered the water, from the BEX at about 9:45am and were on our way to the bottom at 10:07.  We moved out to 335 feet looking for a suitable transect starting point and finally settled on a spot at about 312.  We all got set up to do our work and Todd, operating the camera, was frantically trying to get the SVS cameras to start and one was fouled by pressure; the plunger that hits the start button from inside the housing was stuck and would not work.  Needless to say, this frustrated Todd quite deeply (pun intended) and after about 30 seconds of assessment, he pulled out his wet-notes, wrote a note for the topside support on the Fountain, and we sent the camera up to the surface on an orange inflatable buoy, that we inflate at depth with about a breath of air, and away (and up) the camera went with instructions to fix it and send it back down to us when we got to 100 feet. 

Sue Bird taking a minute to get “squared”
away for an awesome shot by Graham
  at 60-65 feet setting up the “Science Station”

Modifying our plan, we filmed a transect with a regular video camera that I manage during the dive for about 500-750 feet along the contour while Todd collected water samples and Sue supervised us both keeping the team intact.  After 35 minutes, we began our ascent toward 100 feet.  Nothing exiting along the way.  We collected some water samples at 200 feet and about 25 minutes later we were at 100 feet.  As I was managing the tow-fish line, I noticed it being slightly difficult to reel in and so I looked up…YEAH!!!! There was the SVS camera, coming down my line ready and working.  We got our SVS transects, water samples and photos at 100 feet and were back on track. 

Now it was time to find the 50-foot station, send up the marker buoy, greet the diving scientists and set up the science station.  We hit the trigger on our scooters at high speed and headed in a 240 degree direction for what we thought would be about 1 – 1.5 miles landing us in 50 feet; not!  After 94 minutes of scootering hard at full speed, about 2.5 miles, my scooter just quit!  Battery dead!  We only got as shallow as 65 feet and with one scooter dead, we sent up a note to the surface letting them know that this was it so if the scientist divers wanted to deploy, we would be there at the ready. 

We set up our transects and Todd and Sue completed the task while I scootered back to get the location for the science station and squared away all our gear and saw from above that the divers from the surface were on their way.   About 40 minutes after we arrived at this location and sent up a surface marker buoy, the science station was coming down.  Todd and Sue worked with the scientist divers while I videotaped and photographed the entire process.  It was quite complex but Sue and Todd made short work of it and in fact, we had to send the scientist divers up before it was finished because they ran low on breathing gas and had hit their max time so Todd and Sue actually finished establishing the station.  Wow what a dive!  What a success.  We accomplished multiple objectives, established a pretty cool water monitoring station for the NektonMission.org and the scientists of Stanford and Oxford and did I mention that while we were doing all this, Graham Blackmore, our other GUE team member from the Red team, brought down a 360-degree hemispherical video camera set-up that was comprised of 32 GoPro video cameras that also filmed the activity!  Unbelievable!  We had 7 divers in the water all doing incredible tasks, things that rarely get accomplished by “human” divers vs. robots or submersibles and we, Todd, Sue and I only had 1.5 more hours of decompression!  Just a cool and proud moment for me underwater; an honor to be on this dive.  

32 GoPro’s mounted hemispherical! 

After that 1.5 hours of additional decompression, we surfaced with a total run time of 380 minutes.  Yes…that is 6 hours and 20 minutes underwater on about 50 cubic feet of breathing gas.  I did not even wait go get out of my gear once on the boat before powering down a sandwich, chips, Gatorade, power bar and a liter of water.  I was simply exhausted but am elated at what I can get my body to do at 55.

The Simrad GPS screen
aboard the Fountain. 
29 July, we were back on the diver support boat supporting the Red team again at North by Northeast and you already know what it is like for us to be surface support diver.  What is fun to share though is that during our 4.5 hours on the surface, the seas had picked up from a southerly wind blowing at about 15 mph.  This created quite the challenge as our divers were floating south in a slight current and we were being blown north at I would estimate about 5-6 miles per hour due to the Bimini top on the Fountain that acted just like a sail.  If you look at the photo you can see the actual track that the GPS created by me staying with the divers tow-fish for 4.5 hours while they floated south at 1/2 mile per hour as I was being blown north at 5-6 miles per hour; for scale, that photo represents about a 2 square mile area.