2014 BentProp Progress Report # 09

P-MAN XVI Update #09 - Flip's take on 22 March

22 March 2014

Nell Scannon, Pat's daughter, arrived last night. She came here 20 years ago on a BentProp mission and has finally returned. She has taken it upon herself to keep us on task, on time and on schedule. We have a calendar system she came up with that might really make us more effective. Well, at least we'll know what we skipped that day. We're trying to talk her into getting her SCUBA certification while here. This may be a tough sell, it appears. Something about getting eaten by sea creatures.

Nell on the boat.

Two nights ago, we met with the Scripps/UDel teams and they gave us a couple of targets that appear manmade. It was our job to go see what was there. We mostly do not get obvious airplane-looking side-scan sonar (SSS) images. That would be too easy. (The Japanese "Norm" from last year was an exception to that rule. Since most of the airplanes we are looking for got blown out of the sky, they could look like anything, but are mostly just debris fields. Therefore, what we get from SSS images are things that look "interesting."

We have looked at "interesting" targets before. They turned out to be mooring balls and buoys, air intakes from ships, scrap metal, etc. But until you put a set of eyes on it, you do not know whether it is just "interesting," or a clue. It would be great if we had our own ROV to do the looking. It would save us a lot of time underwater and allow us to look at more targets in a day than you can with SCUBA gear and no cool hand-held technology. This is the why of how our relationship with Stockbridge High School's Underwater Robotics Team started. They're coming again this year but they're not on island yet, so we get to use our eyeballs.

Planning the dive.

Sean after the main briefing, excited to be about to dive.

Sean after the part of the briefing about man-eating sea creatures.

Sean mans up and enters the water anyway. He demonstrates sort of a
not-quite-ready-to-let-go-of-the-boat entry technique.

Joe's front-roll entry technique.

Pat's giant-stride entry technique.

We had broken our group into three teams, with three tanks apiece, so in theory, we could prosecute 9 targets in the day. Team one of Joe, Pat and Sean departed the boat, swam around at 100+ feet and came back up. Joe said the visibility was so bad that he found the bottom by running into it. A lot of small biologic life forms (I've always wanted to use life forms in a sentence outside of science fiction.) clouded the water. They did not find the object. It was so bad that Joe grabbed the anchor line of the boat and towed the boat with him as he swum in the muck. The recommendation was not to go back to this target without technology.

So we motored a short distance away to the next target so that the next team, DOB (Dan O'Brien) and I, could see what was at the bottom. We would be diving on a few "interesting" targets that were strung out in a line heading out of, or into, the Palau Pacific Resort (PPR) beach. This used to be a Japanese seaplane base, so you would expect to find stuff on the bottom. Once again, "interesting" stuff beckons.

Down we went. On the way down, it appeared to me that visibility was better. At about 70 feet, I heard a loud, high pitched whistling noise. I turned around and Dan was fiddling with his regulator. Seems something in there was squealing. But it was still working so down we went. It was kinda reassuring to hear the whistling. It meant Dan was nearby without me looking around. The small sea creatures that help limit visibility started multiplying before my eyes and when I got near the bottom, which I never saw, I saw our anchor spinning around. Anchors don't work well in that condition. That meant that the boat, the anchor and therefore DOB and I following the anchor line, had been drifting away from our intended search area. Doesn't make sense to keep searching when you have no idea how much you've drifted, so up we went. A very short dive.

The first team mentioned getting lots of little stings from all the little sea creatures during there dive. I hadn't felt a thing until the last three minutes during our safety stop. Lots of cool looking little sea creatures were hungry for my face.

We did have an alternate mission assigned by Scripps/UDel. We could continue searching the wall by Aimeliik. They are planning on using their underwater vehicles in that area, but the vehicles cannot get real close to where the reef and the flat ocean bottom meet. That's for us to look at. The visibility was better there, but just not pretty. The dive depths ranged from about 30 feet to over 90. But with better viz, we could swim above the bottom quite a ways and still make it out.

This reef line undulates a bit as it goes around the big island. But our instructions were pretty simple: put the wall on your right and start swimming. We broke up into our three teams and were inserted into different points along this wall. That way we could cover more territory. Casey and Derek were to the north, Pat, Sean and Joe to the south, and DOB and I were in the middle.

Dan on our second dive.

We swam quite a way, always keeping our right shoulder to the wall. We did notice our compass heading kept changing, and whereas we should end up going overall in a northwesterly direction, we saw all points of the compass pass by. And yet, our right shoulders were always aimed at the wall. After we used up our bottom time, we did our safety stop and surfaced. After a long swim, we came up right where we started. Now how is that possible? And when we surfaced, we were pointed in the correct direction. Very strange. But this also happened to Pat and Sean. Not to Joe, of course. Or Casey and Derek.

We decided to call it a day and headed back to port. Unloaded the boat and debriefed at Neco Marine.

Dan, the First Officer from the Delta flight that brought me in was waiting for us. Dan actually contacted us about a year and a half ago. He had found the BentProp website and thought it looked like a cool project. He started the formal application process then and there. There's nothing better than a face-to-face interview. Especially in Palau.

We had a limited time before we needed to meet up with Scripps/UDel to get our next set of targets. We went to a new (for us anyway, since it wasn't there last year) Japanese restaurant and it was quite good.

Pat making notes, the rest of us ordering dinner.

I went back to the hotel as I was already falling asleep and everyone else went to the target briefing. I thought it best not to interrupt the briefing with my snoring or my head hitting the floor. Now I have to wait a couple more hours to find out what's next.

The first part of this year's mission is definitely centered on water. As Derek said yesterday, we'll have more targets shortly than we can possibly dive.

- Flip.

All photos © Flip Colmer 2014

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