05.06.2015 - 05.13.2015
The last week or so has been busier than the rest of the cruise put together, hence my prolonged absence from the blog.
We had two more days of unfortunate weather, but on Friday morning we were back in the water as promised. It was a great feeling - we had only a few days until we had to leave again for Auckland, and so we were determined to get as much done as physically possible in the 2.5 dive days we had left.
We started out at Mariner once more, pulling up eight water samples and seven corresponding gas samples. One of our samplers, IGT 1, lost its electronics and we switched over to a different sampler that wasn't as gas-tight - hence the disparity between water and gas samples. The next few hours were busier than I had remembered after eight days of boredom. We formed a tightly-knit machine, managing to process samplers within twenty minutes each (if they weren't clogged). We had brought up the first four right after lunch, and before dinner we were ready to relax and put them back on board. However, Jason came on board right after my shift at around 8pm, meaning that we had four more samplers to process and prep for redeployment.
Mariner was done for the year, and so we moved on to Tui Malila. It was a short transit, only a couple kilometers, but had we left Jason in the water it would have taken him much longer to reach the site. Instead we moved the whole ship and redeployed the elevator at around 12:30am, dropping Jason into the water again at around 1am. I headed to bed, knowing I'd need to be up again bright and early the next morning.
We began at 6am. I assisted once more with the elevator - the third such task in less than 24 hours. My hands were beginning to go raw from gripping the ropes so tightly in an attempt to keep the crane from hitting the other workers in the head. Once on deck, I helped Jeff and Sean process two samples before Niya and Wen yen woke up. We finished both before breakfast at 7:30am and returned to them at 8, which is when Niya joined us. Wen yen had watch and therefore was unable to join us until after noon, when we had already processed all four samplers brought up. We reloaded them onto the elevator and dropped it at 11am.
I entered the control van for my shift at 4pm. It was to be the last portion of the dive - the elevator was to come up at 6, and Jason at 6:30. Once the elevator was released and Jason was off the bottom, I was no longer needed. The control van crew, sans pilot and navigator, left the van for the final time of the cruise.
I returned after dinner to get the last of my things. Since the van was so cold to keep the computers from overheating, I often brought hot tea and a blanket in with me. I had left them for dinner and preferred to return them to my room before we had to start processing again.
The pilot and navigator were blasting music and talking, not needed much while Jason made his ascent other than to keep an eye on the controls and pressure gauges. I watched for a few moments, blanket spilling out of my hands, before Akel (the pilot) glanced at me and smiled. "You wanna play with his arm?" he asked, glancing sideways at the screen where Jason's arms and deck could be seen.
My eyes widened. "Yes!"
He moved from his seat and let me sit, moving the control panel to my lap. He explained the mechanism and gave me a brief lesson in how to maneuver the arm, wrist, and claws, then let me take control. It was exhilarating. Jason's arm responded so quickly to the slightest movement, almost before I realized I had made it. Akel and Scotty, the navigator, watched me carefully to make sure I didn't mess anything up, but they relaxed quickly. "You're a natural," Akel praised. "Go ahead and touch that thing there." He pointed to an empty holder for an IGT, since IGT1 was still malfunctioning.
I slowly, carefully maneuvered the arm to touch the claws lightly to the tip. There was the faintest response from the manipulator at the touch, letting me know that it had come in contact with something. I was delighted.
I returned the arm to its locked position and handed the controls back to Akel, unable to control the grin on my face. I thanked them both profusely and practically skipped out of the control van back to the main lab, completely giddy.
Sean and some of the other guys were playing ping-pong (as usual) before the elevator came up. I don't know if I mentioned the tournament in an earlier blog post, but Jeff was the reigning champion and was waiting for the defining match between Sean and Akel to determine his final opponent. Said match would be happening in a couple days, after the samples were done processing and the lab had been packed away in a small way.
I watched the games for a few little while, working occasionally on notes as I studied for a final, until Brett came in to inform us that the elevator had breached the surface. We dropped what we were doing and the elevator crew (myself, Nick, John, Sean, and Gilbert) headed to the wet lab to get our life jackets and hard hats - the required uniform whenever the cranes were in motion on deck.
We brought it up with no trouble, realizing this would be our final elevator operation of the cruise. We trickled back to the main lab, samples and samplers in hand, and began work for the half hour before Jason would appear on deck. We had seven samples to process before the night was out.
As soon as Jason was tied down on board, the engines started and we began the four day transit back to Auckland. In between samplers I studied for my final. Niya worked on French and Wen yen was in charge of cleaning and taking apart the samplers after they had been emptied. I was in charge of H2S, and Niya in charge of pH. We weren't busy too often, but we still ran around frequently helping with this or that as Jeff and Sean completed each sample.
Out of the forty-plus samples taken on this cruise, only one sample was lost. IGT8 didn't close all the way after its sample was taken at Tui Malila, and so we lost all the fluid on the way up. It was unfortunate, but it was relieving as well - one of forty isn't half-bad. We finished processing at around 10pm, and then it was bedtime after an exhausting day - 11 samples in total within a 14 hour period.
The next few days we spent cleaning the lab. I took my final and think I did well. Sean sent it off to my professor, and apparently it's legible - a good sign. I gave a presentation for my subduction zones class. We packed up boxes and wrapped glassware in bubble wrap to prepare it for shipping. We held a few science meetings to go over our findings - one of the biologists found a methanogen after all! - and discuss which samples to focus on for future research and possible publications.
Now, less than 24 hours before we port in Auckland, the lab is nearly empty and boxes are piled in corners to be packed on pallets. Sean lost his tournament game against Akel, and Jeff and Akel faced off for the championship play. Once again, Akel won. I bought a t-shirt with Jason's schematics on the back and the Woods Hole logo on the front. I read several books and played Roller Coaster Tycoon. Many people gathered to watch Game of Thrones season 1 in the media room, as Sean and a few others had never seen it.
Now, I sit typing this blog as the ship quietly steams towards our final destination. Tomorrow we remove all the boxes in the lab and give them to our Auckland agent for shipping, then go to a post-cruise party at a small pub near the port. On Friday I leave the ship to pick up my rental car, pick up Hannah, and then begin my trip around New Zealand.
It's been an exciting trip. While the first part may be over, the rest of my adventure is still to come.