To Follow the Water



From a new book by Dallas Murphy

In April 2005, author Dallas Murphy accompanied an expedition aboard the research vesselOceanus to recover and redeploy moorings at Line W and wrote about it in a chapter of his new book, To Follow the Water: Exploring the Ocean to Discover Climate from the Gulf Stream to the Blue Beyond. Here is an excerpt:

Shortly after lunch, word came down from the bridge: “Ten minutes from station.” Oceanusslowed gradually to a stop, and her motion, boisterous underway, turned nasty in the messy sea state. We moved as though moving were new to us, from handhold to handhold. The air seemed cooler now, and the low clouds glowered. The fantail, built low to the water on research vessels to facilitate deploying and retrieving heavy objects, was almost constantly awash. The technicians (called “sci-techs” aboard this vessel) and deck crew, led by bosun Jeff Stolp, were gearing up and getting ready to pull the Profiler back into human possession. The winch operation was in his place, and Stolp signaled him to run out the steel A-frame structure mounted above the stern. I was feeling a bit confused from that hit of Dramamine and the raw unfamiliarity of it all, and maybe that was why I didn’t understand how they were going to retrieve the thing. There was nothing on the surface. To keep it safe from passing ships the mooring ball is fixed some fifty meters beneath the surface. I didn’t want to interrupt the flurry of activity with remedial questions, so I settled for unobtrusive eavesdropping. Spotting John Toole and Scott Worrilow, chief sci-tech, standing by a computer terminal at the after end of the lab, I staggered that way to peer over their shoulders.

“It’s an acoustic release,” Scott offered. “There are two releases for redundancy. They’re mounted at the bottom of the cable near the anchor. We just pinged them, told them to wake up. Hear those pings? Every ten seconds. That’s the signal from the releases saying, ‘We’re awake and ready for instructions.’ ” Scott keyed in their coded instructions, then he and John waited silently for confirmation. “Done. It’s coming up. It’ll be away on the starboard side.” We went topside to look for it.

The big orange float popped to the surface away to starboard, just where it was supposed to be. Captain (Larry) Bearse deftly laidOceanus alongside and held her there bow-on to the stiff wind. Bosun Stolp ordered the boom arm on the crane run out, someone got a line through the lifting ring on the float, and Stolp signaled the winch driver to take up. He called for a halt when the ball had risen above the rail, and the deck crew hustled to get lines on it to arrest its swinging. No words were needed. Everyone working together in sync with the thirty-degree rolls, Jeff signaled the winch driver to bring it inboard and lower it onto its dedicated rack, like a giant golf-ball tee, and
then everyone relaxed. I felt like applauding, but this was just business as usual for these guys. The sci-techs unshackled the float, then led the wire to another winch bolted on the fantail. Stolp snapped his fingers against his palm, the universal “take-it-up” signal, and the winch driver, standing behind a metal-mesh screen for protection should the cable snap, engaged the four-foot diameter drum, and the retrieval process began. It took more than two hours to complete, and this was the shallowest of five moorings. One would not expect lubberliness aboard Oceanus, but I was filled with admiration that day and every other for the impeccable seamanship on the bridge and on deck.

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