September 26, 1998. My first clue that something was happening came when I casually glanced out a portal in the main laboratory. Instead of the familiar view of the dock, I saw water. The ship was moving. We were finally on our way.
Well, not quite. We were only going to the refueling dock. The ship can hold 274,000 gallons of diesel fuel, although our voyage requires a mere 70,000 gallons. Still, the refueling process took five hours. There are eight tanks to fill. Crew members must carefully monitor how much fuel is in each tank. The fuel will often expand as it heats up, so crew members must make sure the tanks arent too full.
Oilers Russell Rowley (front) and Dan Granstrom measure the level of fuel in the tank. Electronic gauges are unreliable, so they drop a measuring tape that has a weight on the end through a pipe and into one of the tanks 30 feet below.
The fuel on the ship also serves as a ballast. Ballast keeps a ship at a certain level in the water. The heavier the ballast, the deeper in the water the ship rests. During the voyage, fuel is burned, the ballast lightens, and the distribution of weight changes. To compensate, the crew fills ballast tanks with ocean water to replace the missing fuel and keep the ship in balance.
At 3:00 we were truly on our way. The ship left the harbor and entered the open ocean. Now there was no mistaking the fact we were moving, as our balance and the fortitude of our stomachs and motion-sickness remedies got their first major test. Many of us clamored to higher decks to breathe the fresh air and watch Honolulu slip by as we headed south to Puna Ridge.
As the ship was refueling, the scientists and engineers gathered for a lecture on safety. Here teacher Iris Clyne and scientist Mark Bulmer model their survival suits.
Soon we were faced with an important decision. The most direct route from Honolulu to Puna Ridge off the eastern tip of the Big Island would take us between Maui and the Big Island. In other words, we would have to sail through the infamous Alenuihaha Channel. Although the seas where we are sailing now are tranquil, there is no guarantee that the same will hold true in the channel. To understand why, try blowing as hard as you can through a one-inch pipe. Feel how fast the air flows out the other end. Now blow as hard as you can through a straw. Feel how the air leaving the straw moves faster and with greater force than the air leaving the pipe even though you are forcing the same amount of air through. Now think of what happens when trade winds blowing from the northeast hit the Alenuihaha Channel. When the channel constricts the wind, the result is faster winds, bigger waves, and an uncomfortable or even dangerous journey. With the channels reputation in mind, the choice was easy. We would take the longer but calmer route around the south point of the Big Island and approach Puna Ridge from the south.
Assuming everything goes well, we will arrive at Puna Ridge tomorrow at 1:30 in the afternoon. Then the real work starts.
Go to day 2...