We’re continuing to post! Since the beginning of the cruise we’ve changed the status of our blog to ‘private’ – NOAA can be sensitive about some of the stuff that goes online (they are part of the government after all, and these days the government is apparently evil, so anything said needs to be said carefully).If you’re reading this, then you’ve been subscribed to our list!
After a month-long wait, we’re finally loading our equipment on the research ship that will be taking us to the Northwest Hawaiian Islands! We’re aboard the NOAA research ship R/V Hi’ialakai – you can read all about her here. We’re to spend 24 days driving more than 5000 km to Kure atoll, at the extreme northwest of the NWHI island chain. On the way (or on the way back) we’ll be stopping for three days each at French Frigate Shoals, Pearl and Hermes atoll and Lisianski Island.
Monday saw us at the NOAA cultural briefing – the islands are strictly off-limits to anyone unless they have a permit, and nothing can be done in the area unless expressly permitted. The Hawaiians are fiercely protective of the island chain, to put it mildly. The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is one of the world’s largest marine reserves and many rare and endangered animals live in the area such as the Hawaiian monk seal and laysan albatross. It was made clear to everybody on board that sensitivity to the environment is paramount.
The Hi’ialakai is currently berthed at Ford Island, Pearl Harbour. Here, she takes on fuel and supplies and maintenance is performed. The J-frame crane needs repair. One of the four drive engines is having issues. Nevertheless, the ship is scheduled to leave on Wednesday morning as intended. Next door, an enormous structure floats in the harbour – the sea-based X-band radar operated by the US navy. Who would have thought to put a giant ballistic missile tracking system…on a portable offshore drilling rig? Park it just outside China’s EEZ and huzzah! A great idea in theory, but apparently not so great in practice. An impressive sight nevertheless.
A visit to the bridge reveals how the Hi’ialakai is built for rough seas. The flared bow is around two storeys higher than the stern of the boat. There are hanging bars from the roof of the bridge to grab during violent pitching. Rotary rain wipers are mounted on the back windows. An ex-US coastguard cold war era surveillance vessel fully kitted to withstand the worst Pacific weather, we reckon this ship (built in 1983/4) has seen it all. Although very utilitarian aboard, the standard of living is very high (and somewhat better than the apartment we have been subletting for the last month…). The ship even has satellite internet (although its very band-limited) and although we will miss most of the Olympics, we’ll be able to catch some of the highlights on the 5 satellite TV channels currently streaming on board.
The Freemans have been given space in both the wet and dry labs to store and unpack their equipment. Simon’s stuff takes up most of the allocated space. A rare privilege – Simon and Lauren have been given a shared berth with a private bathroom! We had thought that NOAA policy was for male and female crews to berth separately, but when we mentioned that we were married to some of the ship’s staff they suggested we appeal. Sure enough, the science team berth manifest was released today with our names together – right next to the chief scientist’s quarters. This development further compounds our lucky run – to get a place on the cruise in the first place, then to get a second. Then to be allocated a ‘small’ (10 m RIB) boat to ourselves. Now, a private berth. Of course, we are very appreciative. Hopefully we can do some good science!