Clear Skies

by Jessica Miller

August 17, 2007

We are back in Dutch Harbor now and enjoying the first sunshine since we left here three weeks ago. As I look north out of the harbor, I can see the almost ever present fog bank waiting for us. The last three weeks we used two one person submarines and an ROV (Remotely Operated vehicle) to explore two canyons around the Pribilof Islands. It was tiring work for the ship drivers. Maintaining communication with the submarines meant staying directly (plus or minus 100 meters) over them. Staying on top of the ROV is sort of a given, as it is attached to the ship with a 1000 to 250 meter fiber optic cable.

Esperanza is quite maneuverable. We have thrusters (sideway propellers) in the bow and stern, and twin screws on the main engines. When we were working the subs or ROV, it was our habit to turn off the port main engine. We did this because we were using the port side for launchings, and the ROV cable point. So with the port propeller turned off, it was easier to keep the fiber optic cable to the ROV out of the propeller. That’s something that can spoil your whole day.

Meals are a big part of our day on the ship. It’s about the only time almost all the crew is gathered together. Raymond (Netherlands) and Samantha (New York City) turned out terrific lunches and dinners. Breakfast, except on Sunday, is: get it yourself. The cooks have to do some careful planning to keep the ten vegetarians, ten people who (like myself) eat fish as well as veggies, and the 12 meat eaters happy.

That the Esperanza has been a very happy ship the last few months is in no small part thanks to our cooks. On this point, I have to recommend Linda Greenlaw’s excellent book, The Hungry Ocean. I always used tofigure that if the crew was happy, they would like the food. Linda, a sword fishing captain from the East Coast, figured if the food was good, then the crew would be happy. I now subscribe to her theory. And for those who would like a realistic view of what it’s like to be a fisherman, you should read her book.

I used to fish more than I do now, which is not much at all. But I used to spend time with my friend Mark Williams in Key West. Mark was a serious fisherman, and it was always and interesting experience to goout and try to see the ocean through his eyes. Whether it was spear fishing, catching lobster with tickle sticks and nets or rod and reel, I always learned.

But Mark is not fishing anymore. Pollution and run off has killed all the coral reef around Key West. And once the small fish lost a place to live and grow, the bigger fish stopped coming around. You can go a longways out to the west to find healthy coral, but Mark does not want to make the long trips anymore. And that’s a pity.

This is one of the reasons we did the research on Zhemchug and Pribilof Canyons this summer. Our research should give the scientists a better understanding of the place the deep sea corals have in the lives of the commercial catch. The Bering Sea is a wonderful resource. And we can not allow our selves to kill it off.

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