Thankfully, the weather has been fairly nice and the Deep Rover's location on
the fantail of the Kaharoa makes working around it fairly easy. Most everything
that the sub's crew needs is within easy reach inside one of the large shipping
containers which are now firmly secured to the deck of the Kaharoa by large
chains and turnbuckles. In case we encounter rough weather and heavy seas, the
last thing anybody wants is for that container to come loose and start skidding
across the deck. From the size of the chain, I seriously doubt that this would
be a problem.
On either side of the Deep Rover are two bright green tanks that look like the kind that scuba divers use. These tanks contain the highly pressurized oxygen that the pilot breathes during the dive. Although most dives are usually only five or so hours in duration, there is enough oxygen on board for at least 120 hours (five days). The only way that these little tanks can hold that much oxygen is for it to be put under very high pressure. In this case, the oxygen is packed into the tanks at 3,000 psi (pounds per square inch).
This morning Ian and the other members of Deep Rover's crew spent some time filling both oxygen tanks from the large storage bottles secured along the port rail of the Kaharoa. A special high-powered pump called a Haskel's compressor took the oxygen from the storage tanks and fed it into the Deep Rover's tanks until they were at the desired pressure. Working with high pressure oxygen is not something for amateurs, since oxygen supports combustibility. In the presence of pure oxygen, even the smallest spark is hazardous.
Normally the Deep Rover is a free diving submersible, meaning that once it enters the water and is disconnected from the winch cable, there is nothing attaching it to the ship. Deep Rover can go up and down and maneuver pretty much anywhere the pilot wishes to go as long as it is done in coordination with the folks on the surface support ship. For this expedition, things are going to be a little different because we want to be able to get live video images from the cameras on the sub during each of the dives.
To do that, a special fiber optic cable is going to be used that can carry the video signals back to the ship where they can be viewed by scientists on board and recorded for later analysis. Since the fiber optic cable is not very strong and can also be pretty easily damaged, it is going to be attached to a very strong tether made out of a rope-like material called poly-steel. Since it is rare to find a single rope as long as is needed for our dives, two of the Kaharoa's crew spent a few hours this afternoon splicing two large coils of line together on the dock alongside the ship.
Late this afternoon, Ian, Mike, and Clyde sat around the table in the Kaharoa's galley and began their formal Deep Rover pilot training. Although I will not have a chance to take the Deep Rover down for a dive, I will be following the actual training so that I can describe as best I can all the steps that Mike and Clyde will be going through to take Deep Rover down to the depths of Kaikoura Canyon. Everything that Deep Rover does, and every action that the pilot needs to take, is generally spelled out in some way in a series of checklists and procedures. It is Ian's job to teach Mike and Clyde all these things over the next few days so that they can deal with any situation that may arise. There were a few points that Ian made during that initial training session that struck me as things that may have seemed pretty intuitive at first, but after thinking about them, were very critical to remember. Some of the ones that really stuck with me were:
One of the things that I had been looking forward to ever since I learned that
I would be coming on this expedition was the chance to get inside Deep Rover.
Today was the day I got to do just that. After the first training session was
over and before we headed back to town,I spent about an hour inside the sphere,
sitting in the pilot's seat and trying to familiarize
myself with anything that I
could see, touch or hear. I'll be describing in as much detail as i can
the various systems inside Deep Rover in later dispatches, but for now, it was
enough for me to just sit and look around in complete fascination.
Being in Deep Rover is an incredible experience, and very unlike my previous experiences inside research submarines. The only thing that I am comparing here is my first impression of the space available to the pilot/observer and the feeling that you have once you get inside.
In Deep Rover you are sitting inside a bubble of clear acryllic, five inches think. It is difficult for me to describe what it felt like except to say that there was no feeling of being cramped or confined. The acryllic was so clear, and because there was hardly any distortion, it felt completely open and comfortable to me. However, since I will not be diving, I am going to have to ask Mike and Clyde for their impressions of what it is like to be underwater in Deep Rover once they return from their first dives. But for now, I was perfectly content to just sit there and imagine......