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Meridian Passages, Volume XIII, Number 3

Central Pacific Edition

Heading Sou-West

1,400 nm to go

Top: REMUS Sonar Image of USS S-19 offshore Honolulu. Bottom: S-19 on the Thames River at New London, CT. Courtesy U.S. Navy

Yesterday’s successful test of the REMUS 6000 AUV concluded the mobilization phase of the project and allowed us to point our bow to the south west and begin the long transit to the vicinity of Howland Island, almost down to the Equator. At a steady 9 knots, it will take us a little more than a week to get there.

The REMUS test began just 5 nm offshore of Honolulu with the deployment of two transponders which act as acoustic beacons for the AUV. Sort of an underwater GPS, the transponders allow the vehicle navigation system to calculate ranges to fixed points to improve navigation accuracy. The beacons are tethered to weights on one end and a buoy on the other, so that they hang about 100 m above the seafloor. When they are no longer needed, an acoustic trigger releases them from the weight allowing them to bob to the surface and be recovered for re-use. Next, the REMUS was deployed, dove to the bottom, and began a series of maneuvers designed to test all sensors and systems. The target of the exercise was the sunken submarine USS S-19, a 219-foot WWI vintage Holland-class boat which served from 1921 to 1934. After decommissioning, it was scuttled off Honolulu in 1938 to satisfy terms of the London Naval Treaty.

The test was a great success. REMUS was recovered, the transponders were released and gathered aboard, and after a short delay to rig radio antennas the R/V Mermaid Vigilance headed towards our search area.

This morning being Sunday, after a busy five days of mobilization, Spence organized a relaxing bar-b-cue on the “sea porch.” Our attempt to give the crew a break and do the prep and cooking ourselves failed miserably — in fact, I think we inadvertently made more work for the crew! After a feast of burgers, hot dogs, shrimp, and skewers of chicken, steak, beef, and lamb we all gathered for a group photo with the Explorer’s Club flag.

How Did We Get Here?

— Spencer King.

My phone rang on December 11th. It was Dave Jourdan, asking if I would look into the availability of a ship that was mobilized with sonar working in the area of Hawaii. A dozen phone calls and emails later, I established that a ship was available for hire in January. This would be challenging, but not so different than what is often done at Nauticos. A core team spun up to full speed. Dave embarked on mission funding, Jeff Morris looked back at survey plans and data, and I took a role to organize a team and reach an agreement with the ship owners. Because there was a ship in the neighborhood with sonar, we started the Amelia Earhart III mission.

On December 23rd, I contacted a short list of prospective participants of this new mission to gauge whether they were available on a short notice for a commitment of undetermined duration to a remote location for a search for Amelia Earhart’s Electra. I gave them some time to think about it over the Christmas holiday. On December 27th, I asked for their answer. It was almost a unanimous YES! The clock was ticking. Less than 3 weeks to get ready. We needed a ship, an ocean services contractor, a plan and a sponsor.

Some resources arrived. I welcomed Louise Mnich to the team who would work with me on contracting the vessel and she worked with Tom Dettweiler on contracting for the ocean services. Also joining early was Jenne James in Maine. Jenne became the glue that binds us all together. She collected and organized information we needed from the team. Nothing falls off the table with Jenne. She kept things moving. Also on the team was Charlotte Vick, a person rich with contacts of helpful people around the Pacific rim. Charlotte has an eye for things that no one else would see. She was invaluable. This was an awesome team. Things really started to roll.

Louise and I worked for weeks by phone and email with the vessel’s broker in London on all matters needed to hire the vessel. During our negotiations, Nauticos did not have the means to close the deal. Sponsorship was not established. Both sides knew this. We all did our bidding on good faith . To appreciate the difficulty of conducting business like this, Louise in Washington, (GMT-8), myself in Florida (GMT-5), the ship’s broker in London (GMT-0), the ship owners in Singapore (GMT+8) all discussing the hire of a ship in Hawaii (GMT-10). There was not a single working hour of the day that all of us could communicate directly. Every issue took 2 or 3 days to ask and answer. Someone was working strange hours. I often would be up at 5AM to meet with the London broker at 10AM, and Louise was always there even though it was 2AM. While we struggled with this inconvenient circumstance, time was becoming a problem. We were just two weeks from departure.

… to be continued tomorrow.

Stay tuned!

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  1. Pingback: Meridian Passages, Volume XIII, Number 4 – Nauticos Expediton Portal

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