Thursday, April 3, 2014

Onward and Downward

The Sagittaire is equipped with two underwater robots with cameras, or Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs).

They are excellent tools for investigating objects on the seabed if the visibility is good. In the early afternoon, we launch one of them and navigate to our favorite unidentified shipwreck site that was discovered by the French Navy in a 2012 survey. The objective for this dive is to see if the sands have shifted, either burying or unburying parts of the wreck, especially the wooden timbers that lay partially exposed on the seabed:

The ROV is not equipped with a manipulator arm, so we can look, but cannot touch.  For about half an hour, we inspect various (and mostly unidentifiable, except for the large anchor) encrusted objects through the eyes of the ROV.  Then it’s bad news from the Operations team – there is a problem with the ROV’s cable, so the crew recovers it and launches the second one in its place. Within a few minutes, that one gets water in its camera, is hauled back onto the ship, and then both ROVs are pronounced dead. Rumors of a black cat on board begin to circulate. Anyone who works at sea will tell you that equipment breaks more often out here than on land. No one knows why. Maybe the sea gods just aren’t happy with our intrusion into their realm.

Since diving was cut short, we proceed to use the hull-mounted sonar to survey a new area adjacent to the wreck site and search for more potential targets. Until we can prove it, we have to operate under the assumption that the wreck site may not be the remains of the Bonhomme Richard, and we proceed with surveying operations since we have some tremendous assets available to do it.  Besides, we never know what we may discover unintentionally!