Setting Sail and Getting Prepared
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During an emergency drill, Ship's Captain, Vince Seiler, demonstrates the finer points of the survival suit. Each cabin
onboard has enough safety gear for all occupants: life-jacket, survival suit
and a smoke hood for escape during a fire.
Crew members set out in dark, choppy seas, searching for the
first shark. A massive crane launched the small boat from the side of the
R/V SEWARD JOHNSON.
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DISPATCH 02: Tightening the Screws
@Sea correspondent/photographer, Mark Carroll
As the expedition gets underway a distant rain shower spills
into the sea just outside of Natal's port.
Early yesterday morning, the research vessel SEWARD JOHNSON, left Natal's dock, destined for
the atoll of Fernando de Noronha, 100 miles off the coast. The port's
turbid waters quickly turned to turquoise outside the harbor, then subtly
shifted to crystal blue, hinting at the incredible underwater visibility to
Although the ground work for the expedition is in place, Chief Scientist
Samuel Gruber confessed that a lot of the coming work will be ad hoc, adapted
to sea conditions and a host of other factors beyond human control.
So, the long transit was spent preparing for what might come, a
tightening of the screws, so to speak.
Onboard laboratories came to life with microscopes and duct tape and bits of
PVC pipe. The trappings of science spilled from the labs onto the ship's
deck where small boats sat readied for launch. Many of these crew members
know the procedure; they have done this before at Gruber's lab in Bimini,
Bahamas. Nevertheless, the entire crew needed some tightening, too.
As land disappeared behind the horizon, an emergency drill rocked the ship
The expedition team assembled outside, life-jackets secured, survival suits
in hand, rain showers gathering in the distance -- a frightening scene for an
active imagination. However, there was a sense of security, knowing it was
only a drill. That comfort quickly evaporated when Captain Vince Seiler
announced, "a person lost overboard at night and in rough seas has only a 1
in 20,000 chance of survival."
I returned to my quarters next to the ever-noisy engine room with my
cabinmate, biologist Devon Keeney. We stowed our emergency gear within arm'
s reach and made some passing jokes about the drill in some Freudian attempt
to ease our minds.
For its sheer size and impeccable condition, it is hard to imagine our ship
in distress, but even with constant maintenance and watchful eyes, there are
no guarantees against the whims of the sea.
We were all prepared, but for this expedition to succeed, we would all also
need to be flexible -- a sentiment echoed by our first hours at sea.
6pm -- The science crew decides to turn away from Fernando de Noronha in
order to explore a promising seamount close to the ocean's surface. Several
scientists boarded a small Boston Whaler and departed into the night. They
planned to probe the depths with a series of baited hooks dangling from a
single floating line, a procedure called longlining.
On into the night and early this morning, I've been busy running my own equipment through the paces, perpetually
troubleshooting the laptop and repairing an already ailing underwater camera
housing with parts obtained at tightly-timed equipment drop at the Miami
Perhaps the scientists will find sharks here? Maybe not? It is literally a shot in the dark, but the
research has begun!