Transit Days: Slow speeds, fast action

Submitted 31 July 2010

Transit days always go slowly, even with drills and science prep. Our trip from Key West to the wellhead area is 39 hours, which means all 24 hours of Thursday 29 July was spent traveling at about 14 miles per hour. Try driving that speed in your car for more than a minute; it is slooowwww.

But for a ship pushing through water, the speed is not bad.

Much of the 24 hours was, however, filled with activity – not shuffleboard and skeet shooting, but a fire drill, an abandon ship drill, a review of science operations and safety procedures, breakfast, lunch and dinner.

After lunch, a fire drill is sounded on the ship’s alarm: kind of like an electronic pulse. When the alarm goes, scientists are required to get their life jacket and survival suits and report to the conference room on the 01 deck. We then report our presence to the bridge so that the officers know we are all ok and know where we are. We then wait while the crew and officers fight a mock fire.

The fire drill was followed by an abandon ship drill. You take your life preserver and survival suit to the back deck and report to your life raft leader. A long-sleeved shirt and a hat are also required to help protect you from the sun. The officer-in-charge announces the distance and direction to the nearest land. For us it was a beach town in Florida about 150 miles away.

Crew member zipping up the bulky survival suit

Survival suit training drill aboard the Henry Bigelow, July 31, 2010 en route to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill area

Then everyone needs to put on their survival suit. You empty it from the bag, put your feet in, get your arms in, and zip it up. After you get the “all-clear” from the officer-in-charge, the suit comes off and is rolled up and put back in the bag. You need to put it away neatly, so if you really do need it, you can get it out and get it on.

After the abandon ship drill the scientists met on the side sampling station to talk sampling logistics. Working in the vicinity of the Deepwater Horizon MC252 site adds some new steps to our usual sampling protocol. Basically, we are treating the equipment and samples as contaminated with oil, even if they are not. Our approach is to be safe and to take reasonable precaution. We actually ran through these operations twice to make sure that everybody had the drill down.

Typically, we put our instruments in the ocean, lower to depth with the ship’s winches, and then retrieve. Here, we need to first clear oil from the sea surface with a fire hose. Then the equipment gets deployed.  Before hauling it back onboard, the sea surface needs to be cleared again. Once onboard, the equipment is wiped down with adsorbent pads. Water samples are then taken for dissolved oxygen and hydrocarbons, but the people taking the samples need to pass them to others for processing and analysis.

NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter underway

NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter underway

We also passed the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter. She was doing a conductivity, temperature, depth cast on her way back into Key West after conducting some marine mammal work and helping to monitor conditions around the wellhead . They were near our trackline so we drove by and gave a wave.

And that was our day. Transit days always go slowly.

Jon Hare

Chief Scientist

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