Entry 5

While climbing the stairs up to the bridge last night to relieve Chris, who stands the 12 hours opposite mine, I tried to guess the wind speed. I’d felt the ship’s easy pitching while waking up in my cabin, but the accommodations are quite soundproof, and I couldn’t hear the wind that I knew had to be significant.

On my way to the bridge I first went aft to check the secondary DP room. This is a space at the opposite end of the accommodation block from the bridge and that is equipped with redundant computers, radios, telephones, radars, and vessel-management systems for use in case we have to evacuate the bridge, say, due to fire. All electronics pertaining to ship’s positioning and navigation are triple-redundant, ensuring a high level of reliability, even in the face of significant calamity. If the bridge were to go up in flames, we’d retreat to the secondary DP room to oversee emergency plans from there.

In the secondary DP room I checked the tertiary computers, tested the lamps, called Chris on the closed-circuit squawk box to make sure it was working, and inspected the events printer, which is like a pilot’s black box. I can’t do much without a record of it being made either on paper or computer. While I organized its printouts I simultaneously scanned the few alarms that had been recorded. Most of these were due to sensors that are now offline since we’ve disconnected from the seabed in preparation for our trip south. The others were routine messages such as power-load adjustments.

I checked the digital anemometer, which records the highest speed measured since the last reset, and it read 44 knots, or 50.6 miles per hour. Considerable, and right in line with the forecast. That would explain the ship’s movement.

With all of the above in my mind, I went forward through the narrow passageway to the bridge. Chris had all but a few of the lights out, and the bridge was mostly illuminated by the computer screens, a couple of closed-circuit TV screens, and two incandescent gooseneck lamps at the desk and the vessel-management panel.

The cold front that brought all the wind also dropped the temperature to 50 degrees outside. The bridge was correspondingly cooler than normal, and I pulled on my fleece while Chris began telling me what I’d need to know: finishing removal of the last piece of equipment on the seabed. Workboat alongside collecting the cargo manifest. ROV in the water. Welder working in his shop, no hotwork anywhere else (this tells me that if I get a smoke alarm it’s probably genuine). Two northeast-bound ships clearing my port side 8 miles out. And, obviously, it was windy.

The breeze was from the north, but veering and backing (shifting clockwise and counterclockwise, respectively) a bit so the direction was anywhere from just west of north to just east of it. The effect of this was to heel the ship over maybe one-third of a degree when the wind would blow from more than 10 or so degrees off either bow. A third of a degree doesn’t sound like much unless you’re used to being plumb upright most of the time. Obviously it poses no danger; it’s just that after many years afloat, my sense of “up” is keen, and anything off plumb starts my own inner bells ringing. Tonight they would ring constantly.

I could have sat at the panel and continually adjusted the ship’s head to follow the little green vector on my screen that denotes the wind’s direction, but it was more important to keep the ship’s bow into the considerable seas that had been riled up by that time. The crane operator’s job is tricky enough without me compounding it by causing his work platform to roll back and forth; it doesn’t take long for a suspended load to adopt the pendulum effect. My tactic, then, would be to keep the ship’s head to the seas and counter the heel with ballast water.

Satisfied that I was fully apprised of operations, Chris departed, and I drank my coffee while filling in the blank page of the new day’s logbook. Next I tuned the sideband radio to Fort Collins, Colo., and heard a man’s voice announcing the exact time every minute. I hope this is a recording and not some septuagenarian trying to make ends meet. I compared the error between the radio and the ship’s clock (eight seconds fast) to yesterday’s (also eight seconds fast). In the last month the ship’s chronometer has gained one-half second. Six seconds per year—this is tolerable, and I logged it.

Initial responsibilities taken care of, I began sorting through a newly arrived stack of bathymetric data with which I’ll need to become familiar before we get down to Trinidad. By the time I completed this, the morning was half gone already, and we’d be getting underway for Trinidad within a matter of hours. It’s been a pleasure.