2 March 1999

National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research - NIWA
Greta Point, Wellington, New Zealand

Last night as the sun began to set behind King's Wharf, a group of people, including a television producer and filmmaker, a few Ph.D. scientists, a couple of submarine pilots, a ship's captain, first mate, engineer and deckhand, plus a few others with equally diverse backgrounds, all came together to  tape nearly half a mile of fiber optic cables to a thick hunk of rope.  More rolls of duct tape were used than I have ever seen in my life. As we were discussing all the nuances of taping, the wind began to strengthen and the air temperature plummeted. Those of us who had dressed for "summer in New Zealand" were rudely reminded of the fact that the next land mass to the south of New Zealand is Antarctica. To put it bluntly, it was downright freezing! So when the sun dropped behind the hills to the west, and we decided that it was best to finish the job in the morning, I was grateful.  By the time we called it a night and counted the number of 30 meter marks we had gone through, we were all very glad to see that we had finished nearly one third of the job .


This morning we all reassembled on the wharf bright and early and began the process all over again. You may think it is a very simple and straightforward procedure to duct tape what are essentially three pieces of rope together, but in reality it takes a great deal of learning on our part as well as a lot of practice. The first thing we have to learn is how to tape the fiber optic cables (there are two) to the blue poly-steel line. With the 'taper' standing on one side of the line and the fiber cable holder (the 'tapee') standing on the other, the taper wrapped three turns of duct tape around the poly-steel line. Then, the taper carefully held the fiber against the poly-steel making sure to leave a little bit of slack in the fiber. This procedure was practiced a few times by each team of taper and tapee until the two were working in unison.

Now that we had the taping well in hand, we were ready for the real thing. The end of the poly-steel rope was attached by a rolling hitch (a knot taught to us by the skipper and first-mate) to the bumper of a little red pickup truck which slowly drove down the wharf dragging 30 meters of line behind it. Two or three people stood at 10-15 meter intervals holding the fiber cables aloft so that they wouldn't be dragged across the rough concrete of the wharf abrading the thin outer covering of the fibers. When the truck reach the end of its rope, another rolling hitch was used to anchor the other end to a large cable spool. Now that both ends were secured, the truck moved forward again just enough to put some tension on the line and stretch it a bit. Since the 4-ton Deep Rover would stretch the line, it was necessary to add slack to the line when we taped on the fiber so that it wouldn't snap under tension. Once the truck had stretched the line, the parking brake was applied.  Then the taping teams jumped into action, leap-frogging one past the other in a race to see who would be the first one to finish their allotment of wraps. I won't go into the details but I will say that that this had all the drama and competitive spirit of an Olympic event.

After the 30 meters of line was completed, the truck slowly reversed back down the dock, retracing the path it had just traveled while one person stood in the bed of the truck and very carefully coiled the line and fiber optic cables. People stood along the line and held it aloft so that it could more easily be placed in the truck. When all the line for this segment had been coiled, the process was repeated over and over again until finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we saw the end of the line slowly snaking its way up the dock with each successive pull. The last 30 meters was stretched, the tapers got into position and the final heat of the afternoon was underway. It was neck and neck for the first 10 meters or so but then the joint US/New Zealand team broke into the lead, and then there we were, standing at the finish line holding onto an empty roll of duct tape--finished. It was almost too much to believe that the last wrap of the last pull was done with the very last piece of tape on the roll, but that was exactly how it came to pass. Standing back and looking over what we had all done, the coiling gang happily posed for a group photograph.

If all goes as planned tomorrow, Ingrid, Clyde, Mike Sweeney and myself will board the ferry to make the three hour trip across Cook Strait, followed by the three hour drive down along the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand towards Kaikoura, the site of the expedition in Search of the Giant Squid.

 


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