Genoa, Sadie and Tristin preparing photoincubation bags on topside Photo: Pike Spector
Scotty and Pike repairing the inflatable
Scotty patching the inflatable, while Captain Chugs takes a breather. Photo: Pike Spector
Hi everyone, Pike here!
As always, never underestimate how quickly things can go from OK to stressful in less than a moment’s notice. Especially when you factor in 42ºF water and blustery winds.
Ok ok, let me back up.
We left Chuginadak under a gorgeous midnight sunset, crossing the Samalga Pass in the early morning. The Samalga Pass is a deep, narrow channel that serves as a biologic break; many organisms are found on either side of the pass, but some are found only either on the west or east side (kind of like Point Conception in California). We dropped anchor off of Umnak Islands, our 5th island so far. Umnak has virtually no urchin barrens, but a lot of dense kelp forests, so we decided to deploy five chambers in the forests.
After a quick deployment in the morning, we went back out to our sites after lunch to set up another experiment. So, here we are sitting on the surface at one of our sites.
Genoa and Tristin have just finished a dive to set up a series of photoincubation bags while Sadie and I prepped the samples on the surface.
We began to pull anchor and head home; everything was going smoothly, but we were anxious and cold as the wind had really started to blow. Just as the hook was about to be pulled onto the boat…BOOM!
The anchor punctured the front right pontoon.
Four people in an inflatable with dive gear and sampling equipment.
Two divers have drysuits on, but the other two have waterproof clothing, which means that submersion in the Bering Sea becomes a much bigger factor.
We had to act, and act quickly. Tristin called into the Oceanus and expressed concern for the state of the vessel. The crew on deck gave us two options: head for shore, or try to make it back to the Oceanus. Calmly, Tristin muttered “It’s OK, I know how to beach land.”
We had two things working in our favor: close proximity to the Oceanus (we were within sight and radio contact) and Tristin’s boat handling skills.
We then orchestrated a plan that took four fully functional brains and bodies to develop. Our training and experience pulled through as we put our evac plan in to action: let's get to shore. No panic, just trust and eager smiles. Sadie plugged the hole with her finger (like trying to put a Band-Aid on an axe wound), Genoa secured the deck of odds and ends, Tristin took the tiller and I kept in radio contact with the Oceanus.
As we charged headlong into the wind, Tristin kept a vice-like grip on the inflatable’s throttle. However, as soon as we got out of the kelp forest we realized the beach and the Oceanus were equidistant from each other. Collectively, we all looked at each other and knew; we were heading to the Oceanus. For the entire four-minute jam-boogy back to the Oceanus, we were cackling like hyenas.
Tristin landed us on the Oceanus, while Sadie held fast on the puncture wound. Genoa and I hopped out and began schlepping gear out of the boat while Matt and Scotty pulled up alongside and took out the remaining gear as the crew prepped the crane for vessel extraction.
In a minute’s time the inflatable was up and out of the water, and back on the mothership.
The stakes are high out on the Bering Sea, but having an experienced crew and a solid plan is key. We all know the risks involved, and everyone acted accordingly to mitigate them as much as possible.
It seems as though Murphy is trying to keep us in check on this expedition. But our spirits are high, and in the end everything worked out for the best. Now, we get to add one more task to the day’s laundry list: patch the inflatable!