October 14-15: Rock and Roll, Hi`ialakai (Retreat from the Storm)
Written By Dan Suthers October 14-15, 2004
I was up until 0330 last night, and others stayed up late as well. It turned out to be a good night to work late, as all operations were canceled this morning. The seas were too rough. The plan is to sit it out and decide at 1400 whether it is calm enough for one dive.
Well before then it became clear that things will not improve, and we begin our transit to Nihoa early. I go out on the front bow to videotape the waves. Shortly one crashes over the bow and soaks my camera. I take it in, clean it off, and go back out with a waterproof camera. After a while, just as Elizabeth, Stephani and Danny are joining me on the deck, a large wave sprays over the bow and soaks us all. They leave, but I stay out until I can find no patch of dry cloth to wipe off my lens. In spite of all this effort I am unable to capture that magic moment when spray leaps over the bow.
Early Afternoon: After a shower and change of clothes I go up to the bridge. Several crew members are telling storm stories that suggest this is a minor warmup. I see on the radar that we are in the middle of the storm, and am told that the storm happens to be traveling at about the same speed and direction as the initial leg of our transit. So, we will be treated to an extended version. Some of the scientific staff join us, and someone mentions that on a recent roll they saw green water through the aft mess porthole.
0210: The swells are getting bigger and now hitting us off the starboard side, making for some good rocking and rolling. An announcement: "All Hands: anyone interested in sea sickness medicine, they can be found in the aft mess, small envelopes."
1540: While I'm stopping in my stateroom I see the waves washing over our porthole.
1545: An all-hands announcement: weather decks are being secured; no one is allowed outside on the weather decks.
1548: Lightning strikes nearby. Keith comes in from securing the decks and exclaims "Whooo!" and another strikes as he still has the door open. Keith says the hairs were standing up on his arms. Randy comes in with similar exclamations: he was bringing in his gear when the lightning hit behind the ship.
At dinner, there is ample fish, and I'm told that it is fresh. Before the decks were closed, three fish were brought in (we are in legal fishing waters): mahimahi, ono, and uku. The uku is a bit unusual for deep water. The fishermen say that a 4th uku was caught but when retrieved only the head remained: a very skilled shark beat us to it.
Incredibly, we are able to see the sunset: it is clear behind us as the storm is moving with us. The bridge announces that the weather decks are open again. But after dark, swells from the storm get bigger and things get rough.
Working in the dry lab in the evening, I've had enough of chairs being thrown at me, or being zipped in my chair away from my desk with my headphones flying off. I secure all the chairs to nearby desks or posts with bungy-cord, and duct-tape my own chair to the floor. But it's still hard to concentrate writing with everyone's gear sliding around the floor. Whenever something moves, I try to secure it with duct tape.
0001: Just after midnight, the steepest roll yet. My 22" Apple Cinema Monitor, which since day 1 has been secured from falling forward, flips backwards over its stand. Out comes the duct tape! Now it has big ugly tape 'guy wires' all over.
Soon Joe comes up to check on the lab and tells me that the roll knocked over every single chair in the galley, some with people in them, and emptied some of the cabinets.
This madness continues into the night, but well strapped in, I continue to write, suspecting that there is no need to get up early tomorrow.
As expected, the seas are too rough at Nihoa to launch small boats safely. Some of the divers go back to bed. We are doing ship-based CTDs in the area, and then transiting to Honolulu early. The scientists are disappointed about the lost data: the basalt islands of Necker and Nihoa have not been as well covered by previous surveys. We've missed one critical buoy that may require a special trip to retrieve.
In the afternoon, word gets around that we may be in Honolulu over 12 hours early, as early as 1400 Saturday! Many of us are busy trying to get through our long list of tasks for the remainder of the voyage. Peter finishes the trip report; Randy is working on public relations material and many other things; Craig is helping with his excellent video skills; Stephani, David and Susan are organizing the picture database and asking scientists for species identifications; and others are swapping data files and images, putting gear away, etc. I am here organizing my photographs and trying to draft more articles for the scientists to review while I still have them at close range.
A strong feeling of "pau" settles over us all.
Postscript: soon after I posted this article via satellite link, we passed Ni`ihau. I went outside to look for it and to collect my final datapoint on the distribution of bioluminescent plankton. The stars were becoming visible, and a single distant light was observed in the direction of Ni`hau. At the bow, bioluminescence was at its best, enhanced when the ship crashed through occasional swells bringing the sparkling greenish water nearly to the deck. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness I noticed with a start that a masked booby was resting on the railing 6 inches from my elbow. Further investigation revealed that at least two more were up on the jackmast.