Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Setting Sail into Winter

The sun was shining brightly in Seward as we slipped our lines free from the dock and moved gently away.  The winter cruise was starting!  It was a long time in coming, with many ups and downs as the schedule changed.  But today, we finally sailed, setting off down Resurrection Bay and into the Arctic early winter.  As we moved away from the dock, the engines throbbed gently.  We accelerated, steaming down Resurrection Bay, until we reached a speed of 16 knots, heading away from home and into the harsh unknown of working in the Bering and Chukchi Seas during early winter.

We spent a frenzied 2 days in Seward, loading our gear onto the ship, unpacking, sorting, setting things up, and, most importantly, tying everything down to the counters.  We were helped immensely by Steve Hartz and colleagues at the University of Alaska Seward Marine Center who received all of our freight, arranged for the truck to transport the 16 or so pallets to the ship, and loaded them onto the truck.  While we were in Seward, Alaska treated us to a shot of winter, dropping about 4-5” of white snow on the mountains, evergreens, and streets of Seward.  Just to get us in the mood, so to speak.

The view after the snow towards Seward from on board Healy.

The ride down Resurrection Bay was fantastic, with mountains on both sides and clear, sunny skies.  As we went, the wind started to increase, blowing spray in straight lines off the top of the waves.  Healy is such a comfortable riding ship that at first we hardly noticed the deteriorating weather.  However, as the day passed into night, the ship started to roll, pitch, and lurch.  In the closet near my room, a cleaning bucket on wheels rolled crazily around, running into walls, the refrigerator, the printer, until I captured it and tied it to a wall.  The winds peaked at around 1:00 AM on Tuesday, with speeds approaching 60 knots.  Winds subsided during the day, until the weather was quite lovely this afternoon.  But this was just a small low-pressure system; nothing like the monster that is drawing a bead on the Bering Sea. 

Bear Glacier, seen from Healy as we sailed south out of Resurrection Bay.
We also did our first net tow today.  The aft deck was quite crowded, as all of the plankton hunters gathered to watch the tow and cluster eagerly around the jars of plankton to see what treasures we brought up.  And we did indeed capture some copepods and krill.
The plankton team peering eagerly into plastic jars from our first net tow!
As many of you have probably heard, and read, a major storm is bearing down on the Bering Sea, with hurricane force winds.  All of the western Alaskan coastal communities are preparing for the wind and the storm surge.  The storm itself is impressive, with a huge swirl of clouds and an eye as befits a “winter hurricane”.  Rather than sail into the teeth of the storm, we have slowed our progress to the SW along the Aleutians so that we arrive at Unimak Pass, where will cross into the Bering Sea, a bit later and after the storm has moved away.  This is of course a delay but in this instance a welcome one!

On to the north!

Satellite image of clouds superimposed on a map that shows the ship position (ship outline) and our planned route for the next day.  (Map from Healy Mapsurfer).



2 comments: