October 29, 2001
Monday, October 29, 2001
Well the end of the cruise is fast approaching, and everyone is looking
forward to the traditional cookout on the back of the fantail. This year
it happens to coincide with Halloween so the slate of events is full with
the BBQ, Roses burial at sea (Tims late retriever-collie mix),
a live concert featuring The Atlantis Deep-Sea Blue Water Band, and then
an open-mike session with Chief Scientist Craig Cary.
With these thoughts in mind, I have been reflecting on what motivates people to come out here 1,200 miles from land, far from family, news, and the World Series. For members of the science team, the reasons seem obvious to me. An Atlantis/Alvin cruise offers the chance for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. A chance to do something relatively unique. Fun. To visit, study, and collect samples from an ecosystem unimaginable just 25 years ago. Many of the scientists lucky enough to have the chance to dive in Alvin describe it as a life-changing event. One that usually has been dreamed of many years earlier. One that gives a new, or renewed sense of ones place and humanitys place on Earth.
For scientists, diving in Alvin gives one a greater sense of and appreciation for life on Earth, its marvelous diversity and adaptability. I certainly felt that way after my first dive in 1995, and I do even more today. I think this perspective is similar to what astronauts describe upon return from space flight. For me, understanding the motivation for crew members is more difficult. The crew maintains all life functions on the ship. From our air conditioning, to our plumbing, communication, ship safety, and cooking all of our wonderful meals, the crew makes everything out here possible. Technically gifted and under the leadership of Capt. George Silva, they get us exactly where we want to go on the dime. The crew is also responsible for our non-Alvin free vehicles. These deployments are often done after dinner, at night, when many of us are taking a short break and perhaps watching a movie. From my perspective, the crew doesnt get the amount of respect they deserve. Many of them are here for the experience, others seem born for this type of life and couldnt imagine doing anything else. And some seem to be here for the romantic lure of the sea. All are incredibly dedicated and make tremendous personal sacrifices to help us do our science. It seems to me the scientists dont do enough to show our appreciation for them. Should we include them in our scientific papers? Christina (one of our Shipboard Science Support Group) said, Naw, chocolate. Dedication and selfless sacrifice. That pretty much describes the crew.
For the Alvin crew, motivation seems more obvious to me. Led by Pat Hickey, the team operates like a finely tuned Special Ops. unit. Highly skilled, close knit, they depend on each other for everything from tooling the sub to navigation from the top lab. They also depend on each other for their and our personal safety. The best show high levels of situational awareness. An almost uncanny (and difficult or impossible-to-teach skill) for knowing what could happen before it does, and making adjustments. Alvin pilots possess many of the same skills as fighter pilots (I know these well, as my brother was an Air Force pilot and flew the U2 spy plane). The chance to be an Alvin crew member means being part of one of the most elite and demanding teams in the world. In the 37-year history of Alvin, there have only been 30 40 pilots. On this cruise, I had the good fortune to be the Port observer on 2 PIT dives. These are dives dedicated to training potential Alvin pilots. The PIT (Pilot In Training) gets some bottom time and a chance to learn the ropes. If after a year or so, the PIT is deemed skilled enough, they are tested back in Woods Hole by Alvin Ops staff, Scientists, and the Navy. Then they may become a pilot.
On this cruise the PIT dives were taken by Anthony Tarantino and Noel Masias. Anthony has been training for about a year and is rapidly developing his skills. Noel took his first-ever dive on this cruise. On Noels dive, Pat Hickey was the pilot. Pat has been doing this a long time and is an absolute wizard on the bottom. He uses the manipulators like they are his own hands. What I learned from these PIT dives is the slope of the learning curve for Alvin pilots. Believe me, it is steep. This is about the ninth or tenth oceanographic cruise and maybe the sixth or seventh Atlantis/Alvin cruise that I have been on. My first was back in 1989 and lasted eight days. The seasickness lasted ten. As I have grown older and more experienced in my field, my perspective has changed. I now am in greater awe and appreciation for the people who work out here eight months a year. But for me, some things have not changed. Being out here with just the wind, sky, and vast blue still gives me a sense of place and balance. But more than ever, its a rush.