With the new year approaching, I thought I’d get a jump on things by taking us back out to sea.
There, the thousand and one things that, daily, bedevil us all can be forgotten instantly when some well-planned event goes sideways in a hurry.
On one particular day, I remember that our chief bosun looked miserable.
We’d finished putting an instrument package over the side that consisted of about 1,500 feet of line with a (large) number of instruments attached to it at various points. The package was designed to take samples and readings at different depths in the water column. On one end of the package was a flotation device (which was to remain submerged) designed to keep the line as nearly vertical as possible while in the water.
Anchoring the whole shebang was a scrapped, solid-steel train wheel. We used them frequently and, 10,000 years from now, you can bet that marine scientists are going to be scratching their heads when they find these wheels all over the ocean floor. I can only tell you that instrument packages don’t wander off when one of these wheels is holding them in place.
At the end of the sampling period, there was a gadget (a scientific term) that would, upon receiving a signal, release the package and allow the flotation device to take everything to the surface. We would then drive over and retrieve everything.
Piece of cake. What could go wrong?
Anyway, that day, after we’d deployed the instrument package, we were told that we also needed a bottom sample from the deployment site. This engendered a bit of discussion regarding how far off we should move in order to take the sample without the chance of encountering any part of the package we’d just deployed.
The argument that had my vote was the one that figured that we should move off about a mile — just to be safe. The other argument was that the sample had to be as near the instruments as possible to get the best data.
It was a big ocean and the “let’s stay close” side won out.
We backed off a bit, lowered the bottom sampler — a large grabbing device — to the ocean floor, and took the sample. While retrieving it, we noticed that there was a lot more strain on the cable than there should’ve been. The reason for this became apparent when everything reached the surface and we saw that, in addition to the bottom sample, the sampler had also picked up about 1,500 feet of line, a lot of instruments, and one train wheel — all snarled into a ball that was about 12 feet in diameter.
It took the better part of the day, but the chief bosun unsnarled it all and, then (as chief bosuns tend to do), suggested we take the next “%$#!!(*&*@ % bottom sample[”] about 2 miles away.
We complied with his suggestion.
Then there were bottom cores.
This often involved the use of a long length of steel pipe containing an inner plastic sleeve. Attached to the top of the steel pipe was a half-ton weight. Picture an inverted giant dart.
The way it worked was you lowered the dart to about 30 meters above the ocean floor and let it free-fall to the bottom. The weight would drive the pipe into the muck and you’d have a sample of a million years of fish poop and whatnot that could be studied by removing the plastic sleeve and cutting it in half lengthwise.
Ninety-nine times out of a 100, no problem.
Unfortunately, after creating mountains, God had a few rocks left over and decided to dump them into the ocean. The idea being, “That way, they’ll be out of everyone’s way.”
Fast-forward 4 billion years. Whenever the “dart” hit one of these rocks, the attached pipe came up looking like a deformed paper clip — with a 1,000-pound weight attached.
We did a lot of this. It was called science. John Denver never sang about it, but I thought you’d like to know.
Larry Simoneaux lives in Edmonds. Send comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org