Mission Day: Thirteen, Fourteen and Fifteen

Let me start with some statistics; 6 volunteer divers have been here now for 15 days working for an average of 14 hours per day, that is 1260 person hours and we still have 12 days to go; conducted 11 dive days and an accumulated 130-140 hours of total underwater time; worked as deep as 360 feet / 110 meters (GB) and as shallow as 20 feet / 6 meters; scootered underwater a distance of just shy of 100 miles (about 96 by my calculations).  Finally, we have collected about 80% of the science (versus the submersibles).  I would say that is really impressive and truthfully, could only be done by GUE trained and experienced divers.  The diving we are doing is just way outside the norm.  What is to me even more impressive, are the caliber of dives we are safely executing and the research we are providing, considering the pressure we are under to keep to schedules that we do not dictate. 

My special hideout – the commercial freezer
that stores and preserves the science samples
30 July, was a weather break day.  Winds out of the south east just made it too difficult for the big ship, BEx, to get out of harbor and launch subs.  However, the divers went!  One of the reasons was that we had a professional underwater photographer, also a GUE Professional, JP Bresser (from Holland) arrived to spend 4 days capturing images of a much higher quality.  Today would have been a dive day for me but I was more valuable operating the Fountain (dive support boat) so that the rest of the team could do some science gathering dives allowing JP to film; we were at the site North by North East.  The dives were not long, about 100 minutes but operating the boat in 4-6 foot chop, now that was a challenge.  I walked like a drunken sailor when I hit land.  Now we did not waste our dives as we continued to collect SVS fish transects and benthic transects along with the collection of water, corals and algae. 

A JP photo:  300ft/90mt – Todd, Kevin and Graham
31 July, the red team was up.  My normal day to pilot the Fountain however, this makes 3 days in a row; rough on the ankles as you are on your feet for 7 hours straight.  The challenge today may be having to manage 2 teams at the surface.  Our plan was to have all 5 divers meet up as one team but we really had an awesome concept for today; as it turned out, it was fortuitous that I operated the Fountain.

Today’s dive began last night when there were 4 GUE divers sitting together in a room – a scary prospect for the unexperienced.  Todd suggested that let 2 submarines enter and go down to 1000 feet / 300 meters.  Have a dive-team follow them down with scooters and cameras to film the subs until a depth of 300 feet / 90 meters.  Let the submarines film the divers, filming the divers filming the submarines; basically we have a second cameraperson in the sub filming team.  film the divers film the submarines!!!  Then to make it even better, have a second team go down before the submarines enter, establish the 300 feet / 90 meters transect and then have that team from above meet up at depth with them to film and document the transect science being done at 300 feet / 90 meters.

A JP Bresser image of Graham and Nemo: This EPIC image is what made
Mission Day 14 worth the extra effort and energy put out by all!
As one of the camera operators JP Bresser said, “Forget for a minute all the logistics, the timing, the ripping currents, all the people involved, the dynamics of open ocean diving, the time management, the decompression planning, the boat support on the surface and all the equipment involved and not malfunctioning…… Can we make it work”?  Well, I personally felt pretty comfortable with the plan as the dive support boat pilot but never far from my mind was what would we do if those teams became separated and I had to track 2 surface buoys; we will get to that potentiality when and if it arises. 

So it worked!!!  And as JP further commented, “Only a team of divers from Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) can pull off a stunt like this, blue and red teams assimilated, and EPIC footage was shot!” but…the teams did become separated and Sue and I worked our butts off at the surface on the dive support boat keeping track of the two surface markers; one team staying stationary and the other, scootering away at about 1.5 miles per hour.  It was crazy!  But we handled it, only losing the deep dive team’s tow-fish briefly while exiting the camera team that was on a shorter total run time.  Once JP and Meredith were out, we got an assist from Captain Larry aboard the BEx and were reunited at the surface with divers Kevin, Graham and Todd below.  An exciting day.  I am looking forward to tomorrow…I get to dive!

Nemo and Nomad demonstrating their incredible ability as a scientific resource for
 Project Baseline
1 August, the birthday of my wife Kim.  First I want to shout out a huge thank you for her and the support she provides me in expeditions like this.  She has been on my “dive” side for over 25 years and without her, I would not be here.   THANKS MY LOVE!

Today we might see tiger sharks.  The dive site for Todd, Sue and I would be “Tiger”.  A pinnacle about 6 miles of the southwest end of the island.  Our goal was to complete four 200 foot / 60 meter SVS transects and two benthic transects, collect water samples at depth and every 70 foot / 20 meter depth increments on the way up, collect rock samples and then scout for the 50 foot / 15 meter top of the pinnacle. 

The frustration for us today was sub operations wasn’t optimal as winds were coming up and the trip back to a calm harbor would take about 2-3 hours so….after entering, which I think was delayed by weather decisions effecting sub ops, we were told that we had to be back on BEx by 3:30pm for logistical reasons.  So our dive objectives would have to be done quickly and efficiently.  We entered the water and went to work.

Tiger Reef looking up from 215ft/ 63m – Photo by me

Tiger was an incredible dive.  We hit the bottom at about 200 feet/ 60 meters and were on another incredible wall where behind us was tens of thousands of feet of water below.  We accomplished all of our objectives, did a 4 hour dive after spending 65 minutes at depth.  This pinnacle was incredible and lush with corals and life, really good visibility allowing us the opportunity to scooter for almost 2 miles and locating the shallow point of Tiger! 

I want to thank JP Bresser for his incredible talent and his photos enhancing my blog and I will end by saying that I have never worked so intensely for such an incredible outcome.  Proud to be here and have 12 days left!  I will report again in a couple of days.
Imagine floating in the ocean, eye-balling a 3 foot long orange float, below that are the divers you are supporting and protecting from above – each support session lasts about 6 hours.  Here is a little photo essay of my three days operating the dive support boat, and what I saw, from the Fountain:
Sometimes you are close and can see the “mothership” Baseline Explorer
At times during the day, they are barely visible!
Then again, at times…they are close!
…and sometimes, they are no where to be seen as they dip down
below the waves and intensify your heartbeat!
This is what we do as surface support aboard the Fountain but more interestingly, what we see for 6 hours.  It is a damm big ocean!