Monday, October 5, 2009

Getting ready – where preparation meets perspiration

The RV Cape Hatteras—the little ship that can—in Port Canaveral. In this photo, Doug Connelly is still working hard shifting boxes while I am goofing off with the camera.

Taking Nereus for a spin. Here is Nereus being driven (in reverse!) across the dockside from the warehouse in the background where it had been assembled.

Safely delivered. Nereus being deposited as close as can be to the ship at the very edge of the habor wall.

Gently does it. Nereus (bright yellow) and its scarlet metal frame being lifted gently aboard ship. Note that Nereus engineer was wearing a matching T-shirt for this lift. Color coordinated or just very clever camouflage?

Welcome aboard! Nereus snug and safe in its new home, safely aboard ship.
Lat 28° 24.5’N, Long 080° 36.3’W

A huge percentage of the success of any cruise hinges on how well you prepare in port. When you’ve been waiting as long as we have for this cruise (Cindy and I first started discussing this in 1998) then there is no excuse for not taking the time to be ready well ahead of departure. For that reason, most of our Nereus engineering team flew to Port Canaveral late last week to start unpacking boxes, assembling the vehicle in a warehouse next to where the ship would tie up and checking out its various subsystems.

On Saturday the ship arrived from its home port in Beaufort, North Carolina, and on Sunday the 5-strong team of Leg-1 scientists (me included) showed up from various parts from the world (me & Sean from WHOI, Ko-ichi from Japan and Doug & Carla from the UK – talk about a convergence of time-zones!). How come we scientists left it so late? Well, to be honest, with the size of lab we will all be sharing, this proved to make a lot of sense. On Saturday and Sunday the Nereus team took the lead in moving their boxes of equipment on-board, unpacking their gear, and then moving their empty boxes off the ship. If we had been there too we would have been completely in their way. There was hardly room to turn around when I showed on Sunday afternoon!

So today was our turn. We counted up and made sure that all the science gear that had been shipped from all over the world had arrived safely then set to work. Funnily enough, the first thing we had to do was carry equipment OFF the ship! About half of all our science gear is not going to be needed until Leg 2 so to make room to work, we organized all our gear on the quayside, separated out what was essential gear for Leg 1, and reloaded and unpacked those boxes. Then we went through the remaining boxes for Leg 2 and sorted between what needed to be stowed safely inside the laboratory and what could be stored outside on deck for the first few weeks. By the end of the morning all that was done.

Then, this afternoon, while Ko-ichi was preparing his Eh sensors and Sean and Carla took care of setting up the chemistry lab, Doug and I (ever heard of areally old song called “Mad Dogs & Englishmen Go Out In the Mid-Day Sun”?) spent the afternoon out on the quay, repacking plastic boxes, sealing up every edge with water-proof tape, and loading them one at a time into three large and sturdy crates which were loaded back onto the ship’s deck, out of harm’s way, battened down and covered with tarpaulins. We figure that going to those extreme lengths should be just the kind of insirance we need to make sure we don’t see any rough weather or rain-fall for the next few weeks!

But where did we get all this hardware, you might ask? Well – some we brought with us, some we acquired in port – and for the rest, we sent Mike Jakuba out with a very large rental car and an even larger shopping list! Poor guy – he travels all the way from Australia to join us and this is how we treat him! By the time Mike got back, Doug and I had just about filled our wooden crates (If you look carefully you can see Doug still shifting boxes while I goofed off to take the top photo!).

But it wasn’t all hard work. Halfway through our afternoon we took time out to watch a sight you don’t see every day – a submarine being driven around on a fork-lift truck! Just to add interest, they drove Nereus most of the distance from the warehous to the ship in reverse. Reassuringly, they at least turned around and drove the right way when parking Nereus on its scarlet metal frame up next to the harbor wall – as close as they could get without getting wet! Then it was the ship’s company’s turn to show us their skills, lifting Nereus and its frame gently off the quayside and placing it delicately down on the ship’s deck in the only place it will fit.

Tonight, our brand new robot is sitting firmly bolted to the deck of “the little ship that can” and I think we’re all feeling reasonably calm – or as much as we can when there is so much complexity to what we’re trying to do. We still have plenty to get ready and there is always a lot that can go wrong – but with one complete day in port before we head out to sea on Wednesday what we can say is that we do have all the equipment we wanted to have with us here in port and we do have everyone who is coming on the cruise in town and accounted for. It’s not every cruise where that is the case, 24 hours before the ship sets sail. Tomorrow we hope to carry out a test dip of Nereus, lowered from the ship and into the water. This is always an important moment when everything has been stripped down to transport the vehicle to the ship and then put back together again – and to help make sure I don’t pester the engineers too much about that, I’ll still have a few more science boxes to help stow. Somehow, I fear I might still be saying that in about 5 weeks from now!

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