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P-MAN XVII Update #9 - No typhoon; no fruit bats.

1 April 2015

First off, the typhoon. I know that everyone with loved ones out here has concerns for our well-being, considering the typhoon was reported to be near by. Well, my air conditioner last night had more velocity than the wind did today. I heard rain last night for 15 minutes while I finished the last update and I saw rain today for 30 seconds. We had a marvelous day out on the water.

At 0100 this morning, the Stockbridge High School Advanced Underwater Robotics Team arrived in Palau. We met up with them in the morning and found out the students had already put their underwater vehicle together and had flown the airborne drone as well. Today was going to be a shakedown cruise for their bots and a chance to get adjusted to this time zone. Tomorrow, we'll have them start really utilizing their robot looking for stuff.

As for us, we've found a lot more places where this Avenger isn't. We had planned on diving on four specific targets that the AUVs' Side-Scan Sonar (SSS) found. All four dives were to 100 feet out in the middle of Malakal Harbor. The first group of divers went in on the lGPS coordinates and found nothing on the ocean bottom except for bad visibility. We decided we needed a little help so we called for an Alien Finder if it was available. As it turned out, one was and we went back and picked up Mark from UDEL and Myles from Scripps. They helped us prosecute the other targets.



Myles and Mark hard at work with the "alien finder.".


You know what Myles is doing behind Mark's head,
but Mark has a PhD for a reason and knows exactly when to exhale.

On one dive, Mark had something on the view finder but when he got close to the bottom, the visibility went to zero and her couldn't even read his screen. They called it diving in yogurt.

After another sweep of the zone where the sandy bottom meets the coral island, I did get to see one of the REMUS vehicles swim by.


Pat pointing out the REMUS swimming by below us.

So, after all of these attempts in the harbor, it must be someplace else. I think Sherlock Holmes had something to say about this.

We met up with the Civic Action Team at the end of the day. It's an Army group this time and they are doing good works all over Palau. This used to be a Seabee-only detachment, and they were deployed all over the Pacific doing public works projects. Palau is THE last CAT team location.

Out to Bem Ermii for my first burger out here. Okay, maybe not my first milkshake, but my first burger anyway.

Tomorrow, the Stockbridge Robotics Team takes to the water to help us search.

02 April

We had split ops today. I went with the Stockbridge students, Pat went to give a lecture to a local medical clinic, Derek and the SDSU students tagged along, and everyone else went out on the boat.

The boat people dove in a few more places and didn't find a thing. They went back to the hotel and reviewed video files that the Scripps and UDEL underwater vehicles had captured. I don't think they found anything of interest. There is some junk in the harbor, but not what we're looking for.

I wasn't at Pat's medical presentation but I heard it was well received.

I was on the boat with Stockbridge. They're much further along on their first day than they were on their fourth day last year. They redesigned the robot, making it more robust and simpler. They even added wifi to the output options so I could see what the bot was looking at on my iPhone. No more crowding around a monitor that all of the students are trying to use.

The first task that they were given was to survey the transition zone between a ship's hull and the ocean bottom. Something could be lurking in there! This is also a popular dive site so a buoy was attached to the ship. The students just needed to figure out how to get to it from the surface. Which they did. They circumnavigated the ship really well, after adjusting for the currents. It is different in the ocean vice a swimming pool.


The new robot. Derek thinks we should call it Bingo


Testing diving prior to heading out


There's always going to be trouble and the SHS students always fix it.


It gets crowded even in Palau.


A screen shot from my iPhone taken from the robot. That's a ship in there.

The next task was to look at the big Avenger part we found, and then search down slope from it looking for other piece parts. That task wasn't so easy. The boat we were on could not drop an anchor near the part, because we don't want to risk damaging it. There was no secure buoy on it to attach to. So the driver did the best he could in wind, waves and current to station-keep, but the little bobber we have doesn't stay above the water at high tide so it became a problem. Although they got to the bottom and could see the slope of the island meet the sand bottom, they never got to the Avenger piece. That is a task they'll do tomorrow.

We went back to port and once the boat was secure, we held a debrief. The students really believe in moving the ball forward in this project. Each year the team has advanced and handed off to the next team to take it further. They understand that without good briefs at the beginning of the day, and debriefs at the end, they won't get as far as they could.

In the middle of the debrief, Mark Moline came up to me and said he had a new hypothesis on where the Avenger is. And it made sense! We'll prosecute that in the days to come. But he also said that Eric, Andy, Myles and Travis from Scripps were going diving one more time and asked if I wanted to go. I said I needed to finish the debrief so I declined.

But when the debrief was over, I saw Eric and crew hadn't left. So I ran to the end of the dock, stuck my thumb out and hoped they would pick up a lonely diver. They did! Got a dive in in really murky water, saw rocks and shapes and a big sunken buoy. I must have seen a fish but I just don't remember.


Yes, even Palau has murky waters.


Andy and his GoPro.

Back to the hotel, quick clean up and then out to Carp for dinner. Carp serves local Palauan delicacies, and one of the tastiest is Fruit Bat Soup. Pretty much a tradition that new people have to have Fruit Bat Soup. The good news is Joe loves FBS so nothing goes to waste. However, they were fresh out of fruit bats, and the new folks couldn't contain their glee.

Time to turn in and prepare to climb sheer vertical cliffs in search of the elusive Avenger.

- Flip Colmer

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