Hydrothermal Exploration of the Mid-Cayman Rise

Winnie the Pooh and the Uncarved Block

Chris German
Jun. 06 2013

Lots to tell you about today.

We started off with a CTD coming on deck from the furthest north point we have been to (and also about as unpromising as can be) since we started our latest search.   Then, because Casey and the Nereus team needed to do some engineering work on the back deck we took a pause from CTDs to extend our mapping survey which, as it happens, was also useful for the ship so we could take some time out to test out a few things and ensure that our precise positioning system continues to work just the way we want it to.

Janet the non-gender-specific Gannett gliding over the ocean waves in search of succulent flying fish.
Janet the non-gender-specific Gannett gliding over the ocean waves in search of succulent flying fish.Chris German

During that time, James and Nathan generated a large format version of our newest map and Ko-ichi, Max and I stared at it from several directions as we hypothesized about alternate suggestions for the source of the methane anomalies we have been seeing thus far.  It was really enjoyable to have Ko-ichi and Max along to share their ideas, challenge my own assumptions, and provide alternate interpretations that we can test.  On the back of those discussions we came up with a very cool plan for what we are going to do next.  So far, we started at where our best signals were in 2009 and we have shown those signals get weaker or disappear if we try and trace them to the North, North East or East.  Over the next day and a half we will be chasing the signals to the South, round the corner of a giant mountain in the SW corner of our map, or due West – straight into a cliff wall!  Casey and the Nereus team are REALLY crossing their fingers that the cliff wall ISN’T where the signals are coming from.

Grzegorz our Head Chef (responsible for some quite magnificent vegetarian food I’m pleased to confirm) delivers Jimbo’s prize. Leighton helps out, as he does at all times: in this case, making sure the plates aren’t too heavy for Grzegorz to carry. Lovely boy!
Grzegorz our Head Chef (responsible for some quite magnificent vegetarian food I’m pleased to confirm) delivers Jimbo’s prize. Leighton helps out, as he does at all times: in this case, making sure the plates aren’t too heavy for Grzegorz to carry. Lovely boy!Chris German

With the plan for the next 36h settled and our mapping interrupted for engine-room work, I suddenly found myself with an unexpected hour to kill in the middle of the day and, remembering the discussions at the start of the morning with Max and Ko-ichi, started reflecting on how important it can be, when exploring uncharted territories, to keep an open mind and expect the unexpected.  One of the books I always take to sea with me is one I received as a 21st Birthday Present (so it is rather battered and loved like its namesake) called The Tao of Pooh.  There is where I first learned of the concept of P’u or The Uncarved Block – the concept of not bringing preconceived notions to bear on life or, as Lao Tze put it so much more elegantly than I could express this: Understand the past but attend the present.  Very timely.

Right after lunch (when I first started blogging I vowed that I would stop forever if I ever found myself repeating what was on a ship’s menu, but I have to allow myself one exception for today’s phenomenal carrot and ginger salad) I found the mapping was ready to restart but we still had two hours until the next CTD station.  So I was bravely able to follow my own advice from yesterday’s blog and go see what the ocean looked like on the surface rather than just in sonar records.  Lo and behold, because the ship was moving, we were disturbing flying fish with our bow wake.  Although I had my camera with me, I wasn’t fast enough to catch any of them, but I was at least able to catch the bird that was catching the fish ☺   Leighton advises it is a Gannett so I have decided to name it non-gender-specific-Janet.

By mid-afternoon we were back on station on CTD duty and, sure enough, at the first station south of where we had our strongest signals to date, we had more above-background signals.  Still nothing spectacular, and nothing in the sensors that we have on Nereus so not close enough to launch the AUV yet, but at least it suggests our search strategy is back on track – and Jill was happy that these were the strongest signals she has measured in the methane lab yet, this cruise, even if they don’t yet match Sean’s record.  Her watch is only just started, yet!

Finally, I was privileged to attend two important scenes in the control room at the changing of the guard between our daytime watch (8am-8pm) and the night watch that, you may remember, has sometimes failed to keep our scientists riveted.  Tonight, Jimbo demonstrated his new technique to keep the scientists on their toes, lowering the CTD right down to just 6m above the seafloor, from 4500m above, before collecting their deepest samples and starting back up toward the ship.  But just before that there was a special prize-giving.  In the first week of our blog, SOI’s head office advised me this morning, there has been one photograph that has been viewed more than any other and – can you believe it? – it is the only photo that I didn’t take.  So here, for your viewing pleasure, is Paul “Jimbo” Duncan receiving his top-blogger-paparazzi-of-the-week receiving not one, but two full plates of biscuits as he starts his fearless (or is that fearsome?) leading of the night-watch.  Who watches the watch-keepers, indeed! (Wait, wasn’t that a movie title???).  Actually, I said two full plates but that wasn’t quite true.  They were both full when our head chef Grzegorz delivered them to the control room but Leighton – who looks after us all so very very well, even did a quick taste test of Jimbo’s bisuits just to make sure they really did taste as good as they looked.  Bless.


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