“The Little Engine That Could”

I am writing this before dawn on Presidents’ Day, February 20, the last full day of work for this cruise. We are continuing to have unbelievably good weather for this time of year, and as a result have made great progress since the last update. All Ecosystem Monitoring plankton sampling has been completed. The weather has even permitted us to continue sampling with the rosette at four more fixed stations to make a good start on a time series for tracking ocean acidification.


Isaacs Kidd midwater trawl net being retrieved up the trawl-way of the Delaware II. (Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA)

Harvey Walsh has spotted a number of fish larvae in the samples in the Southern New England waters where the last of the Ecosystem Monitoring plankton samples were taken. There have been some sand lance as well as herring larvae at a station southwest of Nantucket Shoals . The bird observers have recorded seeing dovekies, murres, puffins, and many razorbills in this area. They also saw old squaw ducks, white-wing scoters and a right whale yesterday afternoon south of Nantucket Shoals.

A greater black back gull. (Photo by Junie Cassone, NOAA)

The ship is now starting work on the final phase of this trip, sampling with a midwater trawl and a 505 micron mesh bongo net, to collect greater numbers of herring larvae from two stations on the northwest corner of Georges Bank and seven stations around Cape Cod. These samples will be preserved in ethanol. This will permit aging the fish larvae, so we’ll have some idea of when, as well as where, they were spawned. Our first midwater trawl had one large herring larva, but was so full of gammarid amphipods that it was difficult to see anything else in the sample. We’ll wait until returning to shore to go through these samples more carefully.

morning safety meeting

Commanding Officer Rick Hester (in blue) conducting his morning safety meeting. (Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA)

This will be the last update from this cruise since we are due to come in early on Tuesday morning, but it is also my last update from this vessel, since the Delaware II will be retired at the end of May.  I’ve fondly thought of this ship as “the little engine that could” because although at 150 feet it is one of the smaller NOAA vessels, it has been able to dependably sample the northeast continental shelf year-round for decades, enabling us to build a time series of samples that date back to the 1970’s.  As the mission of this vessel changed from gear testing to collecting scientific data and samples, the vessel evolved, with design changes to facilitate this work. Berthing, living and storage areas were increased. New winches, and a gantry redesign meant that new types of sampling gear, such as video cameras, rosette water samplers, and midwater trawls could now be routinely deployed.

birthday cake

Chief electronics technician Ed Morse cutting his freshly-baked birthday cake to celebrate his 29th birthday during the cruise. (Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA)

What I’ll miss even more than the vessel’s capabilities is the unique Delaware II community. Perhaps this is due to the tight living arrangements on this ship. Perhaps it’s due to a weird sense of humor acquired from living on this ship too long! I don’t know what it is, but it can be seen in little things that happen every day. Our present commanding officer, Rick Hester, always signs off the morning safety meeting with the salutation “have a nice Delaware Day!”, continuing a long-standing Delaware II tradition. Birthdays become an opportunity for our Chief Steward, John Rockwell, to show off his baking expertise with a festive cake. If no birthdays are happening, he’ll look for other occasions to make mealtimes more festive, such as imminent retirements. Our operations officer, Shannon Hefferan, thought we should celebrate how many bongos we’ve collected from this vessel with a banner, party hats, lei’s, party whistles and a photo opportunity. We’ve also had crew, command and scientists dress up for Halloween, and the Superbowl, on cruises that kept us out during these events.

bongo net cake

Jon Rockwell (with hat) presenting me with a carrot cake he baked to honor my years of sailing aboard the Delaware II. Commanding Officer Rick Hester (in background) gave a speech. They even made a model of a bongo net for the top of the cake. What a great crew! (Photo by Tamara Holzwarth-Davis, NEFSC/NOAA)

Aside from the good humor on board there is also a very strong sense of mission. Everyone that’s been to sea knows that “stuff happens”, to politely paraphrase a common expression. Weather, electronics, engines, any manner of things can be problematic out here. Problems on this vessel are never a hindrance, but merely something to be dealt with and overcome. This cruise has been no exception.

deck crew bongo tow

Celebrating bongo tow # 11,764 taken by the Delaware II on the 12 midnight-12 noon watch. Operations Officer Shannon Hefferan in the blue hat came up with this idea. (Photo by Tamara Holzwarth-Davis, NEFSC/NOAA)

lamost last tow

The 12 noon-12 midnight deck crew celebrates the almost-last plankton tow on the Delaware II with Harvey Walsh, Watch Chief, in green hat. (Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA)

Rough weather at the beginning of the trip made deploying the rosettes difficult at best. The deck crew worked together as such a tightly coordinated team that I referred to their work as “deck ballet” when they were getting the rosette in and out between large waves. The engineers made short work of repairing a main engine exhaust leak in mid-cruise, so that we were only down for one hour. I pictured them as an Indy 500 pit crew, working feverishly to get us back under way as soon as possible. The command responded to time lost for our Portland medical leave docking by rerouting our cruise track and running at a higher speed to make up for the lost time. Mysterious failures in our communications with the electronic sampling gear were diagnosed and repaired by our electronics specialist, Ed Morse, who gave up a lot of sleep to solve these issues.

ship's  plague

Bronze plaque in main passageway of the Delaware II. (Photo by Cristina Bascunan, NEFSC/NOAA)

Now we are finishing up this cruise, on schedule and with our missions accomplished, despite all the problems we started out with. Thank you Delaware II. You will be sorely missed.

Jerry Prezioso
Chief Scientist
DE12-02 Winter Ecosystem Monitoring Survey

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