I arrived bright and early at pier 35, ready to start this new adventure. Upon my 0700 boarding, I was immediately greeted by Scott Reed, who kindly showed me to my state room. My lack of experience with ships combined with the twist and turns of the hallways left me feeling a bit disorientated, but luckily our departure was slightly delayed, giving me plenty of time to explore the ship and get lost.
After a couple hours, I met with Chief Scientist, Dr. Howe, who introduced me to Shojiro Ishibashi, a Japanese engineering student who became my fist companion after we were assigned by Dr. Howe to place an antenna on the 2nd deck. Despite a small language barrier, with the help of Blue Eisen and a number of zip ties, we successfully installed the antenna. Shojiro and I both agreed that at the moment, we could each understand approximately 70% of what the other is saying. I predict that by the end of our journey we will move up to 80%.
Upon completing our task and various ROV tests, the Kilo Moana (KM) was on her way to our first test site. As I watched the waves created by the KM roll and subside, an announcement boomed from the ship’s speakers, telling us all it was time for our safety briefing. This meeting was anything but dry as our captain’s “pick on me” sense of humor kept us on our toes. After learning the ship’s various alarms and drills (at the expense of poor Bruce Thomas, a French IGN geomatics intern who lay victim to our captains questions) it was time to run drills. This is where the phrase “monkey see, monkey do” came into play, as I sheepishly watched everyone move about the cabins dawning their life jackets and followed in their footsteps. Once the drills commenced, it was time to work on the ROV.
ROV Lu‘ukai stands tall on the ship’s fantails within the A-frame of the staging bay. With a two-body system consisting of the ROV on bottom and TMS on top, the behemoth is capable of returning data, live cable imagery, collecting sediment samples and much more. After numerous visual inspections, Lu’ukai was set to descend to a 430m max depth at 1645. The main objective of this cruise is to test the ROV at approximately 400m and 4,730m to determine it’s capability in servicing the ALOHA Cabled Observatory (June 6-15) and surveying the International Seabed Authority (ISA) and Marine Protected Areas (MPA) within the Clipperton Fracture Zone (Nov 15-Dec 13)
At first, the tests ran smooth. As I watched from the dim pink light of the control board, Lu’ukai was lowered to ~380m and functioned seamlessly. I watched in awe as Dive Supervisor, Terry Kerby, manipulated the ROV arms, twisting, grabbing and reaching, perfectly mimicking that of a real human. My eyes wandered across about a dozen screens, all giving me different visuals and data representations. The control room is a bewildering site.
Just as Ian Griffith, DOER Engineer, was about to lower the ROV the last 20m to reach their 400m goal, he noticed one of the pressure gauges was unusually high. The team immediately knew it was because they had used too thick of an oil in the hydraulic tubing, but there was no solution to this problem without bringing Lu’ukai to the surface. After a quick freshwater rinse and dry, the team immediately started their work. Hours later, Lu’ukai was ready for it’s next dive. However, it ended with similar complications. Riva Hallock, DOER Engineer, explained to me that the fluids within the electrical and hydraulic tubes were flowing to the wrong areas and there was some sort of electrical malfunction.
The ROV team has been working relentlessly to fix the Lu’ukai. Everyone aboard the ship is careful not to disturb the team or pry too hard so they are not distracted or too stressed out. They are working around the clock to get the ROV ready for another test. I have been sitting on the third deck next to the fire station, reading and writing on and off watching as the team makes progress on Lu’ukai. Although they are unsure how long it will take to fix, they are all confident and optimistic in it’s ultimate completion.
In other news, our captain has fallen ill. We are unsure as to the actions that will be taken, however there is talk of transferring him back to land for hospital administration. What this means for the cruise overall, I am unsure.
Unfortunately our captain was still feeling incredibly unwell, so in the early hours of the morning a transfer was made in order for him to seek medical attention.
In lighter news, the ROV team has Lu’ukai back on it’s feet (literally). It once again stands tall beneath the ship’s A-frame, and should be ready for deployment shortly.
Around noon, the ROV hits water. I watch from the third deck, which has quickly become my favorite place on board. The team is more efficient than ever, lifting, cranking and lowering the ROV in a matter of minutes, an enormous difference from their first dive, which took roughly 45 minutes. As soon as the machine disappears from view, I hurry to get a good seat in the control room. The view from an ROV camera is something I hope to never get adjusted to. It is pure magic. They lower Lu’ukai at a rate of 10m per minute. Around 150m light begins to fade and we begin to prepare to enter the darkness. At 160m, the ROV is having a small voltage problem, but it is nothing drastic enough to send us back to the surface. There is a sense of urgency in the room as everyone watches Terry Kerby, Max Cremer and Ian Griffith test the ROV’s various functions. At 181m, two small fish dart in and out of the camera’s view. At 1322 and 200m all systems are a go. The arms work great, there are no problems docking and undocking, the thrusters work flawlessly, and the collection tray extends with ease. It is time for the moment we’ve long awaited, time to reach 400m.
Lu'ukai makes the final stretch without a hitch. One last function run through and it’s adventure time. The ocean floor is in site, and the team takes her on a cruise. Our testing site is scattered with cups, bowls and bottles dumped from WWII ships. Terry Kerby makes picking them up look effortless as he scoops up various artifacts from the seafloor. It is an amazing site.
Lu’ukai stays beneath the waves until 10pm which accumulates to a total of eight hours spent underwater. It is a major success after so many technical set backs, “This time we came up because we wanted to, not because we had to.” says Ian Griffith with a big grin.
There’s a new air of confidence hanging after yesterdays dive. Today their goal is to reach 400m and test the voltage adjustments made after the previous dive. We are joined by scientists Jeff Drazen and Craig Smith who made the transfer in the early hours of the morning. They are here to observe the capabilities of the ROV for their upcoming trip to the Clipperton Fracture Zone. Despite the added pressure from it’s new observers, Lu’ukai preforms flawlessly. At 80m we are again greeted by the same silvery fish that curiously approach and follow the ROV, however the real treat came to us when we reached 200m. For a brief few seconds, we were joined by a Thresher Shark (my personal highlight from the day). Although it disappeared almost as soon as I saw it, it was by far one of the most incredible things I have ever witnessed.
We stop at 200m for a while to run some tests and Terry Kerby lets John Yeh take over arms control, something he gets to practice with every dive. After some time, Lu’ukai descends the remaining 200m, unhooks from the TMS, and starts exploring. Terry Kerby picks up a number of bowls, cups and the occasional coke bottle, and we see a plethora of different sea life.
I have been inspired by this journey to try and learn the creatures of the depths. I try and take a photo of everything I see so I can identify them later. I am especially excited for our dive to the ACO because Jeff and Craig have created a bait trap to set. This is used to lure in deep sea creatures so we can get a better view.
Lu’ukai spends roughly two hours on the bottom, it is a successful day. Because of the achievements made in the past few days, we will be transiting over night to site 3 to test the ROV in deeper waters.
We arrive at Site 3 some time in the night. Today the team will drop Lu’ukai to depths resembling those at the ACO site. Our goal is to reach 4,500m and to take sediment samples and possibly practice transects.
By 1227 Lu’ukai reaches 200m, until this point everything had been running smooth, but now Ian has realized the CTD is not receiving data. Although it is not major enough to make us ascend, it is certainly something that will need fixing before we head out to our next leg.
By the time we reach 2,500m, three of the screens in the control room are flickering in and out of signal, Steve Tottori, ROV Fiber Optics, is called to analyze the situation. By the time Lu’ukai reaches 2995m, almost half of the screens are black. It’s time to pull up. John Yeh explains to me that there is a certain pressure threshold that was exceeded when we got to deep, which caused a malfunction in the fiber optics software. They won’t be sure how extensive the damage is until the ROV is back on deck, but John says they are lucky they are still within reach of land if they need to order parts.