Day 6 | April 14, 2004
The Ship Sets Sail
Finally, after months of preparation, the Wecoma set sail Wednesday for its mission in the northern Mariana islands. With Chief Scientist, Doug Wiens (Washington University) on board, the seismology team has a full agenda of (i) retrieving ocean-bottom seismometers from a variety of locations in the region, and (ii) dismantling land-based seismic stations on 6 of the volcanoes. We plan to feature Doug's work in an upcoming daily log.
Four of the volcanology team (Erik, Lillie, Maarten and Jenn) are also on board and will be waiting for the first landing either late Friday or early Saturday. Their first target will be the island of Guguan and they will have approximately 24 hours to collect suitable samples of lava, tephra and scoria. They have tents and supplies and are planning a (nice!) night out under the stars. Although there are reports of sulfur deposits in the crater, we do not expect to find any geothermal activity so most of the teams' efforts will be concentrated on collecting rocks.
The three remaining members of the volcanology team (Toby, Alison and Dave) stayed behind on Saipan Wednesday making last minute preparations for their up-coming helicopter trip. On Thursday, Mike Cunningham of Americopters will take them to the island of Sarigan for rock sampling. They will also enjoy a night out in the islands before returning to Saipan on Friday via Anatahan. Because Anatahan erupted only last year and there are still explosions occurring in the East Crater (see video), the team will not land on Anatahan. Instead, they will make further observations as they fly over the volcano. They will also attempt a mini-DOAS measurement from the helicopter to see if any SO2 emissions are detectable.
Following visits to Guguan, Sarigan and a fly-over of Anatahan, the 2 volcanology teams will meet up on Pagan on Monday. Toby, Alison and Dave will helicopter from Saipan early on Monday morning to meet the others as they disembark on Pagan. The Wecoma is transporting the jet fuel for the helicopter to Pagan so we hope it's on schedule. One of the most challenging aspects of planning the expedition to these remote islands was to coordinate the ship and helicopter so that fuel dumps are always available for the helicopter to continue its journey through the islands. Stay tuned to find out if these plans have been successful!
We met with the scientific group led by Doug Wiens, who will be the chief scientist on the Wecoma and is leading the expedition that we are piggy-backing onto. He was very gracious to invite us to participate with him, and without his support we would not be able to recover samples from these islands. The logistical plan drawn up by Alison is quite complicated, requiring close coordination between the Wecoma and the helicopter, with coordinated advance fuel drops and careful planning of the food-water-shelter supply chain. We went over it in fine detail, and it passed mustard with everyone, demonstrating an important flexibility that will allow the completion of our mission even if we have unforseen delays in either the ship or helicopter operations. Well done Alison!
One last Thai dinner, hugs all around, then we had to leave Dave, Toby and Alison to board the ship. If all goes well, we'll rendevous on Pagan.
We're under way! At 9:45 AM we managed to secure an important last-minute provision (spare outboard motor for the Zodiac from Juan's cousin Norman), then at 10 AM we threw off the lines and steamed out of port. It feels great to be heading out.
The stunning blue of the tropical ocean never ceases to amaze me, no matter how many times I see it. It reminds me of the blue eyes of my kids, and how proud and happy they are making me while they help their Mom in my absence. Typhoon Sadal (pardon me, "Super Typhoon" Sadal...) has done us the courtesy of staying pretty far away, and will pass us well to the north, but this morning we have swells of 8-12 feet. It is childs play for the boat (they had 40 foot seas and 70 knot winds on the way over here), very smooth ride with no queasiness. But the surf will prove to make our island landings a bit more "sporty" if it keeps up.
The crew of the Wecoma are great, very friendly and working hard to meet all of our needs. Today we ate like royalty, blueberry pancakes for breakfast, turkey sammiches for lunch and prime rib for dinner! Gotta love that! The captain Rick and I are apparently the only ones on board with a passion for basketball, he grew up in New York and LOVES the Knicks. Being that "home" for the Wecoma is Corvallis, Oregon, lots of the guys on board have had a fair bit of experience in rough seas in Alaskan waters, and it seems there are quite a few fishermen aboard. I'm not sure how much fishing I'll get to do, but I'll have my own fun on the volcanoes. If our good progress keeps up, we might get to Guguan a bit early. But first, we have 3 OBSs to pull out of the drink.