Q: There's been a storm off the coast of the Carolinas. Did the storm delay the team's departure from Charleston? Can the submersible descend in stormy weather?
A: The storm named "Christobal" did not delay our departure from Charleston, but it is delaying our work. We woke up the first morning to rough seas. The watch that was on from midnight to 4:00 am had tied down all of the gear (which included literally tying ropes to equipment, tipping work stools on the floor and tying them to the tables, and putting anything loose in cabinets or lockers), but in our cabins we found books that had fallen to the floor and drawers that had slid open. We were heading against the seas, so large waves would sometimes crash over the back of the stern and wash across the deck. I put my rubber boots on to keep my feet dry, but the wash had such velocity that it would splash up against the bulkheads and spill into my boots anyway!
The sub would be fine under the sea in stormy weather, but bringing her back on board would be very challenging. The sub is lowered into the water by a big winch that sits atop a huge A-frame on the stern of the ship. When the sub finishes a run, it floats beside the ship. In order to get it back on the ship, one of the sub pilots (called a swimmer) jumps overboard with a line that leads to a winch. After the swimmer attaches the line, the sub is pulled to the stern. The swimmer rides on the top of the sub and then connects the line that leads from the A-frame. The winch on the A-frame hoists the sub from the sea and places it back into the cradle. This retrieval would be very difficult and dangerous in the seas we are experiencing.Photo: NASA