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Click below to go to the Cruise Logs - (photo credit: Lophelia Coral - Open-File Report 2008-1148 & OCS Study MMS 2008-015)

DISCOVRE 2009



Cruise Log: 9/16/2009    



First Impressions From a First Time Diver

Kaitlin Kovacs

Kaitlin Kovacs peers up the hatch before climbing into the stern of the submersible - click to enlarge
Kaitlin Kovacs peers up the hatch before climbing into the stern of the sub - click to enlarge
As Beatles (Rock Band) mania takes over the mainland, I find it appropriate that the song stuck in my head for the past few days is 'Yellow Submarine'. In fact, since I stepped onto the Seward Johnson a few days ago and saw the towering frame supporting the submersible known as the Johnson Sea Link, I immediately began humming the tune.

I am unique to this trip because I have never been down in a submersible. Though I was told prior to the trip that I might have the opportunity to dive, I opted not to think about it, knowing full well that simply seeing the submersible operations first hand would be exciting in itself.

Imagine my surprise when I'm told two days ago that not only was I going down in the sub, but I was going on the first dive of the cruise AND to a site that hasn't been well visited, the West Florida Slope. I awoke this morning with anticipation and not knowing what to expect. I had never even seen the sub launched; I didn't know what the inside looked like; more importantly, I didn't know if I was going to suffer claustrophobia inside a small space for an extended period of time. So, at 8 AM, after a brief pre-dive meeting and sorting out which of the gear was going on the sub, I was assisted up into the stern of the sub with the co-pilot.

The front of the sub is a clear dome that allows not only the person sitting in the bow full vision of everything, but also everyone on the deck can see inside the bow. The stern, or back of the sub, has only two portholes and not much room for two people, so needless to say, interesting body contortions were necessary in the three and half hour dive to look out of the port holes.

But what a view.

Amanda Demopoulos is climbing into the sphere, or bow, of the submersible, with the assistance of Phil Santos and Andy Sherrell - click to enlarge
Amanda Demopoulos is climbing into the sphere, or bow, of the submersible, with the assistance of Phil Santos and Andy Sherrell - click to enlarge
I felt the frame moving the sub closer and closer to the water and soon after, I saw the impending water rushing over my window to the outside world, quickly enveloping us as we began the dive down (1757 feet down, to be exact) to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. The water was bright blue as we began the descent; slowly darkening until eventually it was impossible to see much except the occasional bioluminescent creature swimming past.

When we reached the bottom, the sub began its trek across the floor, settling down at suitable sample spots to collect coral, crabs and other animals among the coral clusters, fish when possible (the catch of the day: a monkfish) and sediment in the form of tube cores and a mini box core. My responsibility was to record data, and while there is a video feed in the stern that is linked to the camera at the front of the sub recording the view, I was reliant on the scientist in the bow (in this case, my boss, Amanda) to describe what was being collected, how, and from where. I also had a video recorder to tape any interesting things outside of my windows and an audio recorder to act as back up to my written log and the audio recordings of the bow scientist.

For the most part, though, I had my face plastered to the starboard window, watching the under water world go by. I saw a ton of Lophelia coral, fish, and various benthic invertebrates, but also a shark and schools of squid that shot by (one of which inked right in front of my window after the stern took a picture). I didn't even feel as if I was deep in the ocean, but instead looking into a giant aquarium - there was no noticeable change in pressure except when the hatch was opened at the surface, sending my ears into a popping frenzy. I had to constantly look at the video screen to remind myself that, yes, I was over a thousand feet deep in the ocean.

I left the JSL with a red mark on my forehead from leaning on the port window, some sore knees, but a surreal look at something not many people get an opportunity to see.



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