Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Recovery

Finally, after two months spent exploring the De Soto canyon it is time to go recover ArgoKnot, our Sailbuoy. The quality of the data we are receiving is still outstanding and the temptation is big to let ArgoKnot sail for a few more weeks, but our friend is due to be back very soon in Norway. 

For this mission we will again use the new RV Apalachee. It is so fast that we hope to complete in one day an operation that would typically take us three. Once again, our Captain will be Rosanne Weglinski assisted by Bobby Henderson. And to help me throughout the day, I am accompanied by Dr. Vincent Perrot, a postdoctoral associate for the Deep-C project. Jean Pierre Perrot is our talented photographer. 

Unfortunately recent weather has not been very favorable, placing the buoy about 170 nautical miles from us. This means a transit time of nearly seven hours to reach the buoy's current location.  And even though the frequency at which the instrument sends its data and position has been increased today (now once every 15 minutes), as soon as we leave the coast and get out of cell phone or VHF (marine radio) reach we will not be able to receive any further position updates. 

On this early morning, the weather is beautiful and the seas are flat. We arrive at the Marine Lab around 7am and prepare for the trip.  We depart around 9am.  Passing Dog Island, we make a quick stop in Carabelle and then are back on track. Just after passing Cape San Blas, we lose all cell phone and radio communications. This meant no more updates on the buoy's position from our colleagues on land. We arrive at the buoy’s estimated position about five hours later, but in the meantime the buoy has, of course, moved and drifted. All we have in our possession to locate the buoy is an estimated position calculated from the earlier displacements and velocities of the day.  When we get to the site, the buoy is nowhere to be found. 

Dr. Vincent Perrot, Bobby Henderson and Dr. Nico Wienders searching for the SailBuoy.
All of us are on the upper deck with binoculars, looking as far as we can across the horizon. The wind has increased and the chop is significant enough to keep the SailBuoy hidden, even up close.  We are further challenged by the white caps seen here and there --- they look a lot like the SailBuoy from afar. 

We spend hours searching sections and transects in the area we estimate the buoy should be, but we do not spot her. Everyone is tired after such a long time peering through binoculars on a pretty rocky deck. We redo our calculations and continue our search...but still no sign of the ArgoKnot. After nearly three hours and with the sun about to set, Captain Rosanne and I decide to end the search and go back. She will look again on Friday on a planned trip to Panama City. 

Finally ArgoKnot appears...
On our way back, we decide to complete one last little transect, this time closer to the shore since the waves are all going in that direction. In the past half hour, the wind has fallen and the white caps, the chop, have disappeared. 

Vincent and I look behind us, near the aft deck and suddenly we hear a scream, a clamor… Captain Rosanne has spotted the buoy!  It would appear that the course she has us on puts us directly in the path of the buoy's location.  I don't see anything for a few more seconds,  but finally the SailBouy appears looking exactly as we had left it two months before. 

And we can get closer.

Getting the buoy on board.

Eventually happy with a pretty catch.

Not a single sign of biofouling.

ArgoKnot is quickly hauled on board and we head back towards the Marine Lab. 

On the way back, we take advantage of the wonderful facilities the ship offers including a very large and practical kitchen where we cook some french treats. We finally dock at 5:30am -- more than 22 hours after we began. 

Back at the dock, just before dawn.

Dr. Nicolas Choplain
getting the Sailbuoy ready for shipping.
Thank you to all who made this experiment possible. 

Posted by:

Dr. Nico Wienders
Florida State University

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