Dispatch 8: Them There Eyes
September 7, 2000
They make me feel so happy.
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The two furies of field worktechnical problems and bad weatherhamper the
Sonar on Argus, the expedition teams remotely operated imaging
vehicle, remains down. A replacement unit wont reach the ship for another four
days. Two days ago the ROVs main video camera also joined the disabled list.
Basically, it croaked, ROV engineer Dave Wright tells me. Additionally,
the team struggles with noise problemsdistortions and loss of
detailwith the main and auxiliary cameras on Argus. Essentially the
ROV is squinting, unable to read the fine print of the sea floor.
The good news for the team is that video specialist Charlie Smith has arrived bearing
gifts: expertise and a replacement video camera for Argus. The bad news? The team
loses valuable search time making the nearly half-day transit to and from the port city of
(Tomorrow the team is due back in port for scheduled personnel changes.)
Given schedule constraints, the team has just 24 hours to investigate a prime target area.
By 4:53 a.m. this morning the ship is in place and Argus is ready to launch.
Its dark on deck. A warm wind buffets the ship, carrying the smell of the sea.
Overhead, the constellation Orion yawls back and forth across the night sky. Big swells from
an earlier storm pogo the Northern Horizon up and down like a carousel
Deck crews swing Argus astern. The weighted ROV spools its cable tether seeking
the bottom, bringing light to darkness.
Inside the control room, the news is not good. Monitor displays from Arguss
video cameras show that the ROV is jerking up and down on its tether, following the surface
motions of the ship. As the ROV pulses the sea floor, it raises clouds of vision-obscuring
sediment. Theres also a risk of disturbing potentially in situ artifacts.
But a more immediate concern is stress on the ROVs cable tether. As Argus
jerks up and feathers down more slowly, slack gathers in the ROVs cable tether. Each
successive jerk cracks Arguss tether like a bullwhip.
I think we should recover the vehicle, Ballard says in the control
Out on the fantail of the ship, veteran seaman Gary Austin tells me the darkness is a good
thinga few green deck hands wont see the waves.
Im a little worried about snap-loading near the surface, Ballard shouts
to the deck crew. When we go, we should go fast. Bring this monster
aboard. The deck crew makes quick work capturing the ROV.
The ocean has its violent moods and its gentle moods, Ballard later observes.
Im waiting for it to be kind and let me in.
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