Captain’s blog – take it or leave it
by Pete Willcox
August 28, 2010
We have just finished our third plankton tow. In some ways it was the most difficult. The winds were gusting to 30 knot from our stern, making it hard to stay on course at slow speeds. The sky was completely overcast, and there were thundershowers all around.
Which was better than last night. Yesterday the crew saw several waterspouts as we finished the whale surveying and were getting one of our big boats in. “In” means “up,” as we hoist it up out of the water into an A-frame at the edge of the ship before releasing it into the water. Later last night, at about 02.00 which is when most of these things seem to happen, we got struck by lightning. The bolt got our Automatic Identification System (AIS) antenna. I presume it’s now somewhere between here and Cuba. Neil, our ace Radio Operator went up with a camera to check on it this morning. There was only a blackened stub where the four foot antenna used to be. The AIS is well toasted. We could smell it burning last night on the bridge. They are flying in a spare from Amsterdam tomorrow, to meet us in St. Petersburg. In one exceedingly funny moment on the bridge, we all had a laugh at the thought that another Radio Operator, Thom Looney, who lives near St. Pete, and is coming for a visit, is thinking he is coming on a vacation.
But also the interface between our GPS, radar, and ECDIS got a little fried. Fortunately, Neil was able to repair this during the day. This is the same Neil who has been around for 20 years, and makes pizza on Saturday nights. Good man to go to sea with!
The whale surveying has not gone well. To me this means the sperm and other whales that are normally here have been driven away by the oil spill. While this probably has about the same scientific validity as saying the earth is flat, because you can see its flat, I am saying it anyway. Take it or leave it. Sue has been out in one of the big RHIB (rigid inflatable boat) every day she could with her trusty hydrophone. We have heard whales, but seen very few.
The plankton tows have gone better, but we will not know the results for a while. Erin Grey is trying to learn how many Blue Crab larvae are in the water. The “beautiful swimmers” lay their eggs at sea, and as the little crabs mature, they get swept back into the coast by the current. She is hoping that as she learns more about this cycle, she will be able to make a model to help understand the population fluctuations. She will also be measuring how much dispersant or even oil is in the larvae. Blue Crabs are an important species to the Gulf economy, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. And by the way, I saw my first Blue Crab in Long Island Sound this summer, a result of the waters warming up. This is probably causing the lobster to go away. Authorities are considering a five year ban on lobstering south of Cape Cod.
The weather has been the big story of the last week. A warm front has stalled over the coastal states between the Mississippi River and the Florida panhandle. Everyday is has blown 25 plus and we have had frequent rain showers and thunderstorms. The clear blue sky we had when we arrived seems years away.
The first week of April, BP’s Texas City refinery broke a piece of equipment. Rather than shut the plant down, they just released toxic fumes into the air. Well, they ran them through a smokestack first, in an effort to burn them off. According to BP, they released 538,000 pounds of toxic chemicals, including the carcinogen benzene. Some people near by the plant had to be hospitalized, and all the while, BP said ….NOTHING!
While I was writing this, I recalled on of our toughest campaigns of the 1980s. Waste Management Services, (yep, the same folks who pick up your trash), had built a couple incinerator ships. They had specially designed incinerators to burn toxic waste. But the problem here is, “incomplete combustion.” When you don’t completely burn toxins, they become, (get ready now..) dioxins. Dioxins are some of the most carcinogenic poisons in the world. We ran Waste Management Services out of the North Sea and out of that business because in a purposely built ships, 200 miles from land, it was causing too much damage.
Now, imagine what BP was doing to families just half a mile away, using an old smokestack? Time to take BP to the woodshed.
And while this was going on, you will be delighted to know that our government gave BP $10 billion in tax write offs to help cover their expense of cleaning up the oil. This, to a company that expects revenues of $3.6 trillion over next ten years.
President Obama, I expected better.
We arrive in St. Petersburg, Florida tomorrow. We get to reprovision and fix our AIS. We’ll fix the bridge gear that got fried, and head back out with new campaigners and scientists.
Meanwhile, on the Esperanza up off Greenland, they boarded the drilling rig Stena Don, in an effort to get them to stop drilling for oil. It’s really pretty simple. The more oil we burn, the worse climate change gets.