Monday, March 31, 2014

To the Sea...

We leave Edinburgh at 0900 for an 18-hour transit out to the work site.  Nearly all of the crew is out on deck watching the scenery go by. Once in a while I look up and see that I am being observed by various crew members, just out of curiosity, I'm told later and I must quickly get used to being an anomaly. When the ship turns for sea, everyone goes to their stations. I chat with the Scottish harbor pilot who has come aboard to help the crew navigate out of the loch and through the channel into open water. The crew is thrilled that he has also shown them an inshore route home, which should be smoother than their transit from France to Edinburgh.

As soon as we head for open water, I am asked to accompany the Operations Officer to the bridge to review the plan. We talk about the survey and decide to first use the Remotely Operated Vehicle to take a look at our priority wreck site, then use the sonar to survey a block of seabed nearby. It’s possible that there is more of the wreck in the adjacent areas, especially since the region has been trawled.

The forecast is dicey for tonight, good for tomorrow, and then terrible for the rest of the week.  I am surprised that the French Navy would send a minehunter to transit nearly four days, stop in port for three days, then transit another 18 hours, spend 36 hours at the work site, transit two days back to England for a port call, and then finish the several-day trip home to Brest, France.  That amounts to nearly a ten day trip for a day and a half of work if the weather holds, and it is a huge risk with the amount of time and resources involved. But I am grateful for the opportunity and for the continued commitment of France to continue our joint quest.

By later in the evening, the winds pick up significantly, and our transit south is a tough one. In most ships, these seas may not have been problematic, but minehunters are meant for short trips along the coast, and not for working in the open ocean in an extreme environment like the North Sea. They are unstable and roll around even in moderate seas. Here's an image of Sagittaire:

In all the time I've spent at sea on all kinds of vessels, I have been very lucky in that I have been spared the experience of seasickness. Seamen say it can strike even the toughest sailor at any time. My luck ran out on this trip.  During a punishing bout of illness that lasted several hours, I laid down in the Officers’ Wardroom on the sofa because I literally could not make it the two decks down to where my bunk was located (image below).

The smell of liver for dinner certainly didn’t help matters. The toughest part about seasickness is that there is no escape once it hits.  If I was sitting up or standing, any movement of the ship would throw my body off course, a new wave of nausea would strike, and I would swear that every bathroom was miles away. Around midnight, after a few of the longest hours of my life, the medicine I had taken kicked in and I was finally able to get some sleep. ROV operations were planned to start at 3:00 a.m., but I desperately hoped for a stay of execution, as there was no way I could have functioned under the circumstances. The sea state remained unworkable throughout the night, which was good for me, but bad for the mission.