Oculina Coral Banks 2003
Daily At-Sea Logs
May 5th, 2003

May 5, 03

Bermuda Triangle, “the proof”

By: Dewey Golub, Project Oceanica, Webmaster & Technology Specialist

Lance Horn, NURC/UNCW Operations Manager reached the bridge and exclaimed, “This is the worst trip I’ve ever had,”- no small statement coming from a man with fifteen years experience and over a thousand logged ROV dives.

In 1945 a U.S. air squadron was completely lost flying out of Florida. The blame was placed on electronic failure. Popular culture attributed it and similar experiences to The Bermuda Triangle. During our current mission we have suffered from operator error, the lack of sticking to the mental checklists, and a slight breakdown in communication with new participants involved in the project. We suggest that totally unexplainable problems that go against all odds can only be attributed to The Bermuda Triangle!

Yesterday, the ROV video lamps were consumed in flame. These are high intensity halogen bulbs that should only be on underwater. At the end of the previous dive they were not turned off before the ROV was powered down. In the morning, the other ROV operator powered the unit up expecting all the auxiliary systems to be off. The lights were, unfortunately, on and our small, somewhat exciting shipboard fire ensued. When working in tiring, complex situations, small mistakes or oversights can quickly lead to serious situations.

Another "event" occurred today. Normally, the ROV operations team keeps a specific position on the ROV during a dive by associating its underwater position with the ship’s GPS. This is done by sending and measuring a signal sent from a hydrophone on the ship to the ROV. The hydrophone is mounted on a pole that extends beneath the hull during operations and is retracted into the hull when the ship gets underway. The ship’s crew is not used to retracting the hydrophone—most of their instruments can travel while the ship is at full speed. The ROV operations team must emphasize how important it is to retract the hydrophone after operations, before transiting to the next dive site. Today, the ship powered up to speed with the hydrophone down. The hydrophone flooded. Both the ROV operations team and the ship's crew assumed the other was raising the hydrophone. Now we are without a tool vital to operations. This doesn’t mean we cannot dive and record, but an assumption and simple lack of communication affected the total operation.

Sometimes you can plan, communicate and pay attention to every detail, and things still go wrong. A third event occurred on April 30. Flooding of the NURC ROV is an unexplained phenomenon, which has never happened in fifteen years of operation—never mind twice in the same mission! On our first day of operations we had three successful ROV dives and had just launched dive #4. The ROV control screen went black. Lance Horn, ROV operator, immediately called for the unit to be hauled back on deck. The moment the unit broke the surface and was suspended in mid-air, we saw the problem. Seawater poured from a large hole in the front of the ROV where a dangling hull end-cap hung from the front of the vehicle. After cleaning and drying every aspect of the ROV’s interior, it was rebuilt and attached to the vacuum pump. The ROV held the vacuum seal with no change in pressure overnight. Unable to explain if and how water might have entered the secure body unit of the ROV, we resumed operations. After four successful dives, we encountered the same, never- experienced-before-this-mission, phenomenon. The ROV reached a depth of approximately 50 feet and flooded. Again the unit was retrieved, cleaned, dried, pressure-tested and found to be in complete working order. We are now four more dives into the unit’s third life with no problems at all. We do hook up the vehicle to a vacuum pump every other dive to create some suction inside its hull. The lessons to be learned include: whenever you embark on an offshore project, bring plenty of spare parts, never give up on a problem, and try not to focus your life’s work within THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE.

Truly, success in life requires preparedness, focused attention on your work, and being able to problem solve. These are all skills you should develop every day. Thanks for learning along with us here aboard the M/V Liberty Star on Oculina Banks 2003 mission.

Ph. 843-953-7263
Project Oceanica
Dept. of Geology & Environmental Geosciences
College of Charleston
Charleston, SC 29424
Fax 843-953-7850