Gib Finney’s sequel to THE POWER OF UN
Taps for Orange
10 June 2008, Finney @ 6:32 am

[This post written 6/9/08; position: lat -57’49”, long -44’28”; temp -4C; wind chill -5C]

I am so totally bummed and so deep in mourning that I can hardly write tonight. The cool little radio-controlled plane, the orange one, crashed today. Just when it looked like it was time for a victory loop, too!

Everything seemed to be going great. The engine was doing great. It was all warmed up. Kim guided it through the takeoff, and the takeoff was just perfect. It went up really fast. There was practically no wind, which was why they decided to fly it today. The GPS beacon was loaded into the Nerf football, the controller was inside the Radio-Warm muffin to keep Kim and Steve’s hands warm while they flew the plane. It swooped up off the helodeck and climbed above the iceberg. After that, Steve controlled it with a second control set from up in the ship’s ice tower (more about which on some future, happier day).

Everything was going great. Then, as Steve banked the plane to bring it back over the iceberg, a cable in one of the ailerons snapped and he couldn’t control it anymore. It plummeted into the water, and I mean plummeted. It totally broke to pieces when it hit the water. The engine broke off and sank. The wing broke in half. It was so sad watching them fish the pieces out of the sea. Poor Ash. He has been looking forward to the flight so much and was so jazzed about it it’s almost like he was the one who hit the water. He didn’t even want to eat dinner tonight. Plus, the ROV got lost last night and they haven’t been able to find it yet. It has not been a great day.

On the other hand, we saw a Southern Right whale while we were waiting for the plane to take off! These are very rare, so we’re lucky to have seen one. He came up right beside the ship, just like he was curious. And right near him there was a whole flock of penguins playing around in the water! So we saw real penguins and a real whale today for the first time. Also, Strike hasn’t said a single thing in the past 24 hours. 🙂

The Engineers’ Motto
8 June 2008, Finney @ 6:47 pm

[This post written 6/8/08; position: lat -57’49”, long -44’28”; temp -8C; wind chill -23C]

Hurray, hurray. I’m not seasick today, and the sun came out for a while, too. Also, we got to go out on deck and watch some of the things that were happening, and A LOT was happening.

First, I guess I’d better tell you the weird part. Strike has started saying things to me. I am totally not kidding. After I told this to Rainy and Ash, I saw them whispering to each other, which does not make me feel good. I mean, I feel strange enough about it myself, without other people starting to wonder if I’m cracking under the strain of all this cold and cabin fever. But I swear my best oath, Strike talks. Not much, and it’s a whisper, and mostly at night after Ash is asleep. See? I do sound crazy, but I’m not. This is real. Last night as I was falling asleep, he said, “Gib, I need to go outside. I have to see that iceberg. Stick me in your pocket tomorrow, will you?”

This freaked me out so bad that I shouted and almost jumped out of bed. Ash said, “Whaszamatter?” still pretty much asleep, thank goodness.

I said, “Uh, nothing, nothing. I guess I had a dream is all.”

So he went back to sleep, and I got carefully back under the blanket, and there was Strike whispering, “Chill, my friend. I’m okay, you’re okay. I just need to see the iceberg.”

And that was the end of it. That’s all he said, nothing more, no matter how much I whispered to him. So I didn’t exactly know what to do, so I stuck him in my pocket and took him outside with me today. I had a hard time deciding whether to tell Ash and Rainy, but then I thought All for one, and one for all, and went ahead and told them.

As previously mentioned, there was a lot to see. Now that we have found the perfect iceberg, the scientists are working around the clock, even way after dark, and way after normal people’s bedtime. So Ash and Rainy and I can’t see everything that happens, because some of it is while we are sleeping. But I will do my best to tell you about it.

First thing this morning, the wind was blowing about 20 mph, too much for the airplane. So Plan B, Slingshot went into action. The engineers set up a slingshot using the ship’s starboard a-frame. There’s a picture of it above, with Jake loading a sandbag in for practice. The practice shot did not go well. The sandbag just went into the ocean and didn’t get anywhere near the top of the iceberg, so there was no use trying it with the real payload, the GPS beacons. But as Paul said afterwards, “You have to try things. If you never try, nothing ever happens.” This could be an engineer’s motto. It sure sounds right.

So it’s the plane or nothing. There is still time to wait for the wind to die down. We will see what happens.

After that, Steve E. shot some more harpoon markers, but the ice is so hard that they wouldn’t stick in. They just bounced off. How does the ice get so hard? It happens over hundreds or maybe even thousands of years. New ice on top of old ice packs the old ice down more and more and more, until finally it is hard as rock. Sometimes it gets so hard that it turns blue. No kidding. We have seen blue icebergs on this trip.

Now Dr. Robison and his team have launched the Phantom ROV. It’s too dark and cold for us to watch that now, but we’ve been listening to the guys talking on their walkie-talkies, which we can hear on the TV in our cabin. Cool, huh? The water is very stormy out there, and it sounds like they are having maybe a little too thrilling a time. I will let you know more tomorrow. I took Strike out of my pocket, and I sort of hope he never says anything again!

Iceberg Hunting
7 June 2008, Finney @ 8:05 pm

[This post written 6/7/08; position: lat -57’49”, long -44’28”; temp -5C; wind chill -24C]

So much for sea legs. Mine swam away this morning and have not been seen since. We crossed a very rough patch of water today in order to get to our iceberg of dreams. The good news is we found it, and it is just right — about two miles long and over a hundred feet high, and pretty much all by itself out here in the big, black waves.

In other good news, it is warmer today, because we have come further north. It is still cold, and the clouds are dark and low and we haven’t seen the sun all day except for about 30 seconds.

The bad news is that the wind is blowing way too hard to fly the plane. We will see how it looks tomorrow. If it is still blowing too hard, Jake, Steve E., and Kim will try throwing the GPS beacons up on top of the berg using Jake’s giant slingshot idea. First they will test it out with some small sandbags they bought in Punta Arenas. I am looking forward to watching this, if I can stand up long enough without hurling.

Today Steve E. used a harpoon gun powered by special gunpowder cartridges to shoot marker tags into the iceberg so we can keep our place as we sail around it mapping it with lasers and sonar tomorrow. I’m beginning to see why my future self becomes a scientist. 🙂

Cabin Fever
6 June 2008, Finney @ 8:13 pm

[This post written 6/6/08; position: lat -59’44”, long -49’08”; temp -12C; wind chill -28C]

First of all, Cricket, Semma and Oscar Twining, yes, the guy in yesterday’s picture is your dad, Ben, launching his water sampling “fish”!

Dude. We are going stir crazy. If I have to play one more hand of hearts, I might turn into a cereal killer. (Okay, okay, Rainy says it’s “serial,” not “cereal.” LOL, though, like I am going to murder my corn flakes.) When we got up this morning, the deck looked like this — see top pix on left. We could not go outside, because the deck is so icy that nobody can stand up on it without special shoes, and we don’t have them. All of that great stuff we got at the extreme clothing issue, and they did not give us shoes good for walking on icy decks!

It is nice to know that the scientists have cabin fever, too. (“Cabin fever” is the sailor’s way of saying “bored on a ship.”) This morning, Dr. Smith announced that none of the icebergs we saw yesterday will work for us. We are looking for ice that used to be on the continent, meaning the land part, of Antarctica. But all of the icebergs we’ve seen so far are thin, if you define thin as less than a hundred feet high. (I mean, I thought they were way tall, myself, and so did Ash and Rainy, but I guess they weren’t.) And the thin ones are just from the ice shelves, not from the Antarctic glaciers, which are big and thick. We are looking for ones that are at least as tall as skyscrapers. There aren’t any here, so we are heading north and east toward the Scotia Sea.

Meanwhile, Dr. Smith let us run up and down the hallway on 01 deck where the bedrooms are, and we climbed up to the bridge and back down about ten times until Captain Mike said, “All right already!” Then Paul took us down to the electronics lab and taught us how to convert centigrade temperatures into Fahrenheit temperatures. Which was more fun than I expected. Today’s temperature, for example, is -12C. To find out what that is in the kind of temperature we use at home, you do this: first, multiply by 1.8, and then add 32. So, -12 times 1.8 equals -21.6. Add 32 to -21.6 (which is actually like subtracting 21.6 from 32) and you get 10.4 degrees F. Well, okay, this is probably weird and boring to you up north where the green leafy trees are begging to be climbed and kids are busy swimming and catching katydids. It is interesting to us, or at least it was for a little while, which tells you something about how bored we are today.

Another thing we have been doing to pass the time is playing with the simulator for the radio control airplane. And Steve, Kim, and Paul have been polishing the airplane and cleaning it all up and testing it to make sure it will work okay in these cold temperatures. So far so good. The Three Musketeers are now pretty good at flying the plane, at least on the simulator. I wish they would let us really fly it, but I don’t know if they will. We (Ash and Rainy and I) have decided to name the planes. There are actually two of them — the orange one in the picture and a smaller one. If you would like to help us name them, please tell us in a comment, and we will consider them all.

Strike moves all over the place apparently by himself. I am beginning to feel a little irritated about it, because I’m pretty sure somebody is playing tricks on me, but I still don’t know who it is.

Mmmm. It is almost time to eat, and the food is really good here. We had meat loaf and mashed potatoes for lunch!

Our First Icebergs
5 June 2008, Finney @ 7:59 pm

[This post written 6/5/08; position: lat -60’25”, long -55’13”]

First off, Jonesy, I will say hi to Cole for you. We all like Cole a lot. He is cheerful and sure knows how to do a lot of different things. I don’t know if Dr. Shaw and Dr. Twining could get along without him.

Second, Lorenzo had a couple of questions which I will try to answer. The lowest temperatures we have had so far are today’s. We are at -3C, which doesn’t sound so bad. But there is a horrendous wind coming off the icebergs, and it makes the air feel much colder. This is called “wind chill.” With wind chill figured in, today’s temperature is about -21C. Everyone is wearing their heaviest coats and gloves and most people have balaclavas on, too! We have not seen any penguins yet (except Strike). I sure hope we do, but all we have seen so far is cape petrals and an albatross. The petrals are ultra-cool looking. They are black with white checker-spots on their wings. They swoop down and catch fish out of the waves, and they are very good at it. Although we have seen hundreds of icebergs today, so far we have not found an ideal one to study. They are all too small or in water that is too shallow, so we are still hunting for a good one. We won’t fly the plane until we find that perfect iceberg. Don’t worry, I will let you know as soon as the plane flies. Everyone is excited about it!

At the top of this post you can see a picture of some of the icebergs we have seen today. We saw our first one yesterday, and we didn’t know it at first. It was a very foggy day. We went out on deck because someone said there was an iceberg out there, but all we saw was fog. Dr. Robison said, “It’s there. Look closer.” So we all peered through the fog as hard as we could and all at once we saw it. I don’t know how close we were, but in the fog it seemed almost close enough to touch. It was monstrous huge, and had ice caves and looked very mysterious. Today the weather has been clear, so we got to see icebergs in the sun. One weird thing about Antarctica in winter is that the sun doesn’t stay up for very long. Today it rose at about 9:30 and now it’s quarter to three and it is already setting. In the picture, if you look very close, you can see Elephant Island in the background, where Shackleton and his men landed.

Today there has been a lot of science stuff. First, Dr. Shaw and Dr. Twining launched another fish to take water samples. Then the sonar team deployed the multi-beam echosounder on the pole again to see how it was working. Dr. Rock will use the echosounder to make a map of the underneath parts of the ideal iceberg when we find it. The pole fell off somehow and the echosounder was almost lost, but luckily a safety line saved it. Close call! Pretty soon, they are going to send the Phantom remotely operated vehicle out for a test. The Phantom has all kinds of different tools on it including gulpers to gulp in water and sea creatures, video cameras, and robot arms to grab samples. So, lots of stuff going on.

Strike the penguin is still a mystery. In fact, he is more mysterious than ever. He is not always where I left him. Yesterday I left him on my desk and next time I saw him he was on my bed. Ash says I’m imagining things, or the waves were so rough that the rocking of the ship moved him. But that is hard to believe. Stay tuned for further reports!

Wishing for Sea Legs
3 June 2008, Finney @ 5:06 pm

[Written on the afternoon of 6/3/08]

I hate to admit it, but I have been kind of seasick the last couple of days. As soon as we left the Punta Arenas harbor, the water started getting rough. I can deal with carnival rides, and I don’t get carsick or airsick easily, but carnival rides are short, cars don’t roll from side to side and pitch forward and backward as they go down the road. I feel like a landlubber, which I guess I am. Luckily, Ash is seasick, too, so that makes me feel better, even though it’s sort of mean.

Rainy, on the other hand, is just fine. Yesterday afternoon, she went down on 0 deck (which I guess you would say is the ship’s ground floor, except it’s not ground, it’s water) and watched (and even got to hold the hoses for a little while) while Tim Shaw and Ben Twining and their helpers launched a “fish.” A fish is like a vacuum with fins on it, which they lower into the water to get samples. Tim and Ben want to know if ash and soot from the Chaiten volcano are in the water here, and if so, what they’re adding to it.

I have been spending a lot of time in my cabin, which is in the top photo. It is pretty squinchy, but it’s where my bed is, and I’ve been needing to lie down a lot because of the seasickness. Major hassle. Everyone has been very nice about it, bringing me crackers and ginger ale and sometimes cookies. Most of the oceanographers have been to sea so many times that they have “sea legs” which means they don’t get seasick unless the waves are really really huge. They all say Ash and I will get sea legs soon, too. Maybe even tomorrow.

Here is a picture of the stuffed penguin I told you about in the last post. We have decided to call him Strike, because he looks kind of like a bowling pin. We still have no clue where he came from. When we ask, nobody seems to know anything about him. A total mystery of the deep.

John Helly taught us about latitude and longitude while we were still in Punta Arenas. They can be used to tell where we are. If you get a map, you will see little blue lines on it, some running horizontally and some running vertically. The horizontal ones are latitude lines. The vertical ones are longitude. We are currently at -58′ 0″ latitude and -56′ 0″ longitude, and are heading mostly east and a little south. We are making for Elephant Island, where Shackleton landed. I think. Yesterday, Dr. Smith said we would head for the Coronation Islands, but I guess they changed their minds. I will double check when I am feeling better. Which I hope will happen very soon, because we will reach our first iceberg tomorrow, and they might fly the airplane. Rainy has been learning to fly it on a simulator, and Ash and I are totally jealous. Yuck. I’d better go lie down for a while.

Extreme Clothes
1 June 2008, Finney @ 4:23 pm

[Written on Saturday, May 31, 2008]

This has been probably the most exciting day of my life so far. I have so much to write about, I’m having my usual trouble. That is, where to begin. First, I should show you the dogs of Punta Arenas, which I promised to do last time. There are dogs everywhere in that town. Walking down the street, first I would see one, and then Rainy or Ash would see one, and it got to the point where we were counting them the way you would count white horses on a long car trip. Most of them were friendly, too. Now that I think of it, I’m surprised we didn’t see more dog doo than we did. I don’t remember seeing any at all. Maybe the dogs of Punta Arenas know how to use bathrooms. (I’m kidding.)

Here is a picture of our very first look at the Nathaniel B. Palmer, which happened a couple of days ago. Yesterday afternoon, we moved from the hotel to the ship with the help of Steve and Paul, two of the MBARI engineers. Ash and I are in the same cabin together, and Rainy is in a cabin with Danni, who is a girl in college who is studying to become an oceanographer. She is really nice, and wears a little earring in her nose. Rainy says she might like to get one when she is older. (An earring. She already has a nose. Nyuck nyuck.)

The cabins are pretty small, but great. They have bunk beds, for example. Ash and I both wanted the top bunk, which has a ladder going up to it. So we flipped a coin and I won. But I guess I am getting ahead of myself. So much has been happening it’s kind of hard to keep track of it all. Before we moved onto the ship, we went to this place where they gave us our “extreme weather clothing.” Normally, I would rather do almost anything than try on clothes, but this time I didn’t mind at all. That’s because these clothes are awesome beyond belief. We got bib overalls that are like wearing a heavy coat on your legs, and they’re so tough you can do anything in them without tearing them. We also got giant parkas filled with goose down, even the hoods. We got hats and three pairs of gloves and dark goggles, and we each got a balaclava, which is kind of like a bank robber’s mask. It’s to keep our faces from getting frostbite. Best of all, we got steel-toed sea boots. These are like galoshes on major vitamins. They come up to our knees. They are heavy and warm, totally waterproof, and you can drop things on your toes without even feeling it. Ash and I tried this with a hammer (and got in trouble for it).

I don’t have any pictures of the clothes yet, though I’m sure we’ll have some soon. But I have pictures of something even cooler. Tonight we had a lifeboat drill. Part of what we were practicing was how to get into our cold water survival suits. Dude! Forty people in a not-big-enough room all hopping around trying to get into foam rubber suits with tubes and lights and whistles on them! See Rainy being a doofus in hers above. Then we practiced actually getting into the lifeboats, which have individual seats, each with a safety harness like a major carnival ride. The first mate, Rachel, says this is because in rough water the lifeboats bob around like corks and it really IS like a carnival ride, only scarier, I guess because it’s real.

This is getting pretty long, so I’ll say goodnight now and email this to Dad so he can post it on the blog. (We don’t have web access on the ship. Just this weird sort of email. Something to do with the way the communications satellites work.) Tomorrow we are heading out into the rougher water. I did want to mention that I found a stuffed animal on my bed this afternoon. It’s a penguin, not very big. It fits in my hand. I have no idea where it came from. I hate to admit this, but I was kind of glad I had it last night. I am beginning to miss home a little.

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