Yup, unfortunately, all good field work must come to an end. The last five days of our research cruise, however, were a pretty awesome way for it to come to a close. So, before I forget, I wanted to recount my last days on the M/V Strong.
Friday, June 24th –
We had planned to start our acquisition late this morning because there was a lot of maintenance to perform on the research equipment. The airgun had started leaking a little the day before, which indicated that one or more O-rings were wearing out and needed to be replaced. Also, the big compressor had since surpassed the 50-hour mark indicating its mandatory, although conservative, oil change. While Steffen and the other researchers went to work completely deconstructing the airgun, Steffen put me in charge of changing the oil in the big compressor. I, sufficed to say, was very excited about this.
Putting aside my mild disappointment that I would not get to see the airgun dismantled, I asked Kirk for assistance and we went to work. Steffen ran the compressor for a few minutes to warm up the oil, so that it would drain faster (another little trick that I will remember), then I strapped the drain hose to the bucket so that it would drain and I could go about performing other tasks. Kirk and I modified a funnel to include a long drain tube so that it could reach the input. The best thing about this funnel, though, was the fact that it had a cutoff valve and measurements, which allowed us to accurately determine how much oil we had put into the engine. At that point, it was just a matter of putting in 1.25 gallons of the new oil, wiping everything down, and putting the tools away. The entire operation went so smoothly; only a couple of ounces of dirty oil was spilled out of the drain tube. It was a supremely satisfying experience.
By the time everything was cleaned up from the oil change, the airgun was back together and we went straight to work reattaching it to the umbilical and the bouy. We were a well oiled machine (hehe). While Steffen and Beatrice were attaching the connectors, Lei Guo was attaching the shackles and I was securing them with seizing wire. We had the entire rig together and in the water in ten minutes. After confirming that the airgun was no longer leaking, the rest of the equipment went in and we were on our way. The rest of the day went off without a hitch.
Saturday, June 25th –
I’m not sure that anything remarkable happened on Saturday…oh wait…we flawlessly acquired 13 miles of seismic data along the Mississippi River. That’s pretty cool.
Sunday, June 26th –
This marked the last day of our seismic survey on the river, south of Memphis. We still had two days on the boat, starting on the 28th, performing a survey right around Memphis. We only had 10 miles left to survey (5 hours worth), so, if we started at 8, we would be done by 1 and on the road by 2:30ish, right? Wrong.
When testing the airgun, we discovered that it was leaking air very badly. So, we pull it up on deck and perform emergency surgery to replace a newly replaced O-ring that was completely blown out. The whole breakdown and reassembly took about twenty minutes, so the airgun was back in the water in 30 minutes total. We retested the airgun, and it still was leaking. Grr…
We set up the “operating table” in the galley and found that the new blue O-ring was already torn up after about ten shots. This was indicative that some component of the airgun was not aligned correctly or greased enough. So, we slowly took the entire airgun apart, piece by piece; some people were cleaning everything to get rid of any silt, clay, mud or sand particles that could be causing friction and tearing, while Lei Guo and I were helping Steffen breakdown each component of the airgun and providing him with new parts to replace some of the old ones. An hour later, everything was clean, replaced, and regreased and the airgun was back in the water for another test. Our efforts were to no avail.
Now, at this point, it is about 11 and I remember that I volunteered to cook lunch for the entire crew and research team today. So, while the rest of the team re-disassembled the airgun, I rushed around to grill the chicken, cook the rice, and fry the vegetables for a total of 14 people. Fortunately, everything seemed to come together all at once. At around noon, I got the news that they had found the source of the problem in the airgun, that everything was working fine, and we were starting our acquisition for the day. Ten minutes later, all the food was finishing at the same time and I got the pleasure of being able to tell the entire crew that lunch was served. By the way, you do not know what hot is until you have had to stand in front of a grill, on a dark steel deck, with the mid-day sun beating on your back.
We ended our acquisition at 5pm, and were started on the 4 hour drive back to Memphis by 6:30pm. Besides a stop for food and gas, it was a straight shot back to Memphis. I fell into my bed that night and passed out immediately. The day was about 5 hours longer than expected, but the experience was well worth the frustration. Oh, also, it was my birthday!
Wednesday, June 30th –
The M/V Strong had steamed two days up the river without rest to meet us at Mud Island to restart our surveying. The day before we had done 13 miles of survey, leaving about 6 miles left for the following day. Our intention was to knock out the last 6 miles in a few hours and then spend the rest of the day disentangling our entire operation from the M/V Strong.
Well, I looked down at some data that I was processing and the next thing I knew I was getting tapped on the shoulder by Steffen who informed me that it was time to take everything apart. The next three hours were a scramble of disconnecting equipment, packing it all into boxes and loading it into a big box truck to be taken back to Austin. It was really amazing to see how well we communicated as a team now that we had spent 18 days on the river getting to know each other. We took a few group photos with the crew and then left for Memphis. That marked the end of our research cruise, and I definitely had mixed feelings towards the end. Part of me was happy to be sleeping in my own bed and not having to get up at 5:30am to get to the boat, but the other part realized how unique of an experience that was and knows that I will treasure my time on the M/V Strong for the rest of my life.
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