It seems time for me to submit a dispatch to bring you up to date on the expedition itself. Gene and Ingrid have done a great job with their dispatches, so you have a pretty good idea of all that has been going on these past several weeks.
The high enthusiasm and eager anticipation that accompanied the arrival of the submersible in Wellington have become somewhat blunted as the days of delay have fallen one after another into what seems like weeks. We finally were able to set sail for Kaikoura and to complete several successful dives, the deepest to nearly 1800 feet (550 meters) along the edge of the strikingly sculptured Kaikoura Canyon.
That last dive created yet another technical problem, this one to the pair of very high intensity lights (HMI lights) that are necessary for achieving the maximum quality images on the digital video camera. The sub crew were able to repair the lights overnight, so we were ready to go full bore in the morning. The first dive was scheduled to 1000 feet so that our camera operator, Mike deGruy, could finish his certification and be prepared for the all those deep dives to follow.
Poseidon had other plans, however. A huge storm was raging far out to sea in the Pacific to the east of Kaikoura. Even though the weather was gorgeous here, the big swells were rolling in from the northeast, up to 2-3 meters high (6-9.5 ft). Normally, seas of that size would not bother a research ship setting exploratory trawls or other instruments, but it is a different situation when you have to launch and retrieve a submersible covered with delicate camera gear. The rolling and pitching of the ship can be a bit violent. Once the sub is raised off the deck by a single cable suspended from the towering A-frame, it becomes a 4-ton wrecking ball, only it would wreck itself by slamming against the A-frame and ship. Of course, we always attach strong tag-lines (guide ropes) every time we launch and retrieve, but in high seas the forces are simply too great to control.
While I concentrated on the safety of the sub and its external instrumentation in the preceding paragraph, we perhaps should not forget what the wrecking-ball effect might have on the pilot as well! Finally, before we launch the sub, we must do everything we can to determine what the sea conditions will be at the anticipated time of recovery. To launch in deteriorating sea conditions would certainly be dangerous and irresponsible.
The high sea conditions have persisted for five days, and that has dealt a very serious blow to both our research objectives and to the filming requirements. I must say that everyone remains quite civil, but there is no mistaking the palpable undercurrent of utter frustration, the sense of helplessness against the forces of Nature and the immutable ticking of the clock as our allotted days slip by.
Nonetheless, I also sense, and very much feel so myself, that all the different crews, scientists, sub, film, ship, still believe in the expedition and in the potential of achieving our objectives. What a great team of professionals we have been privileged to assemble! I want to introduce some of the members of our team, but rather than my spilling the beans from an observer's point of view, I have asked them to write their own dispatches to tell you a little about themselves and about their participation in this unique and fascinating expedition. Their dispatches will appear over the next several days, interspersed with the latest information on the progress of the expedition.