Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Wrapping up

It's time for me to wrap up this blog, and I can't do that without a personal thanks to all the people, American and Spanish, government and academic, who made the last week such a wonderful, intense experience for me.

First, many thanks to Scott Glenn, Oscar Schofield, Josh Kohut, Courtney Kohut, and the dozens of faculty, staff and students at the Coastal Ocean Observation Laboratory who have given me so much to to talk and think about, and so many great memories, not just this past week, but since I first came to Rutgers in 2004.

Second, thanks to Dean Robert Goodman, and to Dean Richard Ludescher, who made it possible for me to go to Spain last week.

Third, thanks to the six young people who spent a lot of time with me last week and were really good sports: Colin Evans, Nilsen Strandskov, Dakota Goldinger, Pilar Timpane, Chantal Eyong and Lizette Gesuden. Colin, Nils and Dakota helped fly the glider and rode with me while I got them seriously lost in Vigo searching for the Investigador, bearing up with good humor. Pilar, Chantal and Lizette were Dena Seidel's video crew in Spain. Here they all are together on the Investigador last week. They're posing with Pedro Ortiz Gabellanes, a seaman on the vessel.

I also want to recognize Dan Crowell, diver and underwater cameraman, who worked on the documentary, much of the time underwater. Here's a pic of Dan aboard the ship last week.

Finally, I want to say thanks to the people of Baiona, and I take as their exemplar Don Manuel Ramon Vilar Martinez, the deputy mayor and former mayor of Baiona. Considering that he turned up just about everywhere we went in Baiona, I should have a better picture of him than this, but he was so engaging and charming that I usually put down my camera down and just talked with him. This is my best shot of him, and it isn't very good.

At the mayor's reception, we chatted in Spanish about the difference between Gallego and Spanish. He was graciously complimentary about my Spanish -- and complimenting my Spanish requires a large store of grace, indeed. As he walked through the old part of town (the local definition of "old" is really, really old), he pointed out things the tour guide didn't bother with, and that I wouldn't have noticed on my own: that the houses were built in contour with the rocks; that the windowless old wall we walked beside was part of a Dominican convent, still in use, dating to the Pinta's time. Finally, rounding a corner, he pointed to an old (again, we're talking seriously old) two-story house, somewhat the worse for wear. "My grandmother's house," he said. "She was born in that room on the second floor. I used to come here all the time as a kid." It had nothing at all to do with the glider, or Rutgers, or any of the official reasons for my presence, and I record it here, unapologetically, as my main reason for wanting to go back.

In the meantime, from the crows nest of the Investigador, safe and snug at her pier in Vigo, I'll wave goodbye to you all.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The kids are all right!

I'm a grandfather now, so just about all kids are great to me. I don't have to feed them, clean them, discipline them, or worry about paying for whatever they damage. But still, the several hundred fifth and six graders who climbed all over the Baiona yacht club and the glider on Wednesday were, as I often say about my grandson, more fun than a barrel of monkeys and a truckload of beer.

As the glider made its way from the Investigador to the yacht club dock, the kids crowded the walls of the fortaleza, straining for a look.

When the glider was wheeled up the old stone ramp the to the lawn of the yacht club, they ran after it.

Their teachers struggled to keep them in order. Lots of important people -- the mayor, the president of Puertos del Estado, the minister of development, among others -- were making speeches, and the teachers wanted the kids to chill out and listen, or at least, to chill out. For brief periods, the teachers succeeded.

But not for long. The kids started sneaking little grabs at the glider. In the pic below, the teacher, wearing the red hat, has turned away, and one of her pupils sees a chance to feel the rudder.

And eventually, the teachers lost. There were just too many kids, and they were too excited, and I told the lady in the red hat it was okay to touch the glider. (Let me tell you, all kinds of slimy critters have touched that glider since April; a couple of hundred kids won't hurt it.)

And the stern lady with the red hat? She couldn't keep her game face on forever. Eventually, some of her pupils and one of the kids' parents prevailed on her to pose with them, one of the dads, and the glider.

One more pic to sum up the day:

Atlantic Crossing, the documentary

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the story of the Scarlet Knight will soon be told in a documentary produced by Dena Seidel, an instructor at Rutgers' Writers House, and her students and crew of students and recent alumni. The three crew who went to Spain you've already met -- Chantal Eyong, Lizette Gesuden and Pilar Timpane. But you haven't met Dena herself. Here she is, filming the glider just after it was brought aboard the ship on Dec. 4:

Dena and her crew were everywhere the Scarlet Knight or its controllers went from January until Wednesday. They were in classrooms and conference rooms, at sea and on the dock, always looking for the action and yet trying to let the action happen. They presented a clip from their documentary Wednesday morning to assembled dignitaries and guests in the Capitania Maritima in Baiona -- the part dealing with the glider's recovery. They blew the audience away.

Here, at the end of their travels, Dena poses with her crew. That's her smiling behind Lizette, Chantal and Pilar. I stole this pic from Lizette's Facebook page. Hope that's okay, Lizette!

Some very important Spaniards

In my present mood, every Spaniard is important. But let me pay particular tribute here to two Spanish scientists, Antonio Gonzalez Ramos and Enrique Alvarez Fanjul.

Antonio is a biology professor at the University of Las Palmas on Grand Canary, in the Canary Islands, and Enrique is a physical oceanographer with Puertos del Estado, the Spanish government agency that runs the country's ports and also concerns itself with oceanography. I don't have space to do proper justice to what they did for the Atlantic Crossing project, but suffice to say that they were crucial. They provided access to important satellite data used by the glider pilots in Rutgers to plot their course, and in Antonio's case, an algorithm to help them make the best use of that information. Enrique used his diplomatic skill and cross-cultural sensitivity to help everyone focus on the task at hand; it was his agency that chartered the Investigador, for instance.

And, on the day, the Great and Manifest Day, Antonio was the first to spot Scarlet Knight bobbing in the sea. He and Enrique were nothing if not hands-on. Here, they are in the zodiac heading back to the Investigador from their first inspection of the Scarlet Knight before they return to take it out of the water. That's Enrique in the stern, waving. First Officer Juan Pedrosa has his hand on the tiller; Antonio and Scott Glenn are in the bow.

Where do Slocum Electric Gliders come from?

The RU-27, aka Scarlet Knight, is a Slocum Electric glider, altered for purposes of this project by Rutgers scientists, but designed and built by Teledyne-Webb Research, of Falmouth, Mass. The founder of that company (Webb Research was purchased by Teledyne a few years ago), Douglas Webb, came up with the idea of the glider in the 1980s, in conversations with the late oceanographer Henry Stommel. "The whole notion has been to make the interior of the ocean much easier to observe," Webb told us earlier this week in Baiona. Webb thought it was possible to build a fleet of vehicles that could roam the ocean for extended periods, and the events in Baiona this week were at least a partial vindication of that thought. Webb was present, but did not take part in the ceremonies, made no speeches, and generally stayed on the edge of the crowd. When the crowd went away, he had a moment with the Scarlet Knight.

Clayton Jones, who has worked for Webb Research, and now Teledyne-Webb Research since 1991, is the person who has worked with Rutgers to turn Doug Webb's idea into physical, practical reality. He was present at the deployment of the first prototype, and has been present at many, many deployments since. In January of 2007, it was Jones who deployed one of Rutgers' Slocum Electrics off the Antarctic Peninsula, steered it from his tossing zodiac, and then passed control of it to the COOL room in New Brunswick, and it was Jones who snapped back and forth in the crows nest of the Investigadorlast Friday, searching for the Scarlet Knight. I'm ashamed to say I don't have a really good photo of Clayton. The best I can do is this one, which shows him chatting with Scott Glenn and Oscar Schofield on the flag deck of the yacht club in Baiona while they waited for the Scarlet Knight to be brought in from the Investigador.

Having spent a few days with him, I do have a picture that tells you a lot about Clayton Jones. He's always doing something and can't stay still for long. That he would climb into the crows nest while the ship tossed in 10-foot seas is entirely characteristic of him, and while we all waited for the glider to come in on Dec. 10, some of his friends on the lawn of the yacht club pointed to the 90-foot flag mast and urged him to climb it. Some local people, catching on, shouted, "Arriba!" And Clayton, despite his street shoes and the slick metal of the ladder, gave it a try.

A squall swept in, and Clayton, plucky but not crazy, climbed down.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

We're done in Baiona, new challenges coming

The bear, as the people in RU-COOL say, is most definitely in the igloo. But before it crawled in, the RU-27, aka Scarlet Knight, had quite a party in Baiona. I'll post some pix here, and I'll give you more later. My editor has told me that it's better to write many small posts than one long one, so I'll follow her advice and be brief. We're coming home tomorrow and I'll post more photos and stories when I get back.

Here was the plan: First we would all gather in the Capitania Maritima, which is the harbormaster's building, right in the center of town. The mayor, Rutgers officials, people from Puertos del Estado, NOAA and the Office of Science and Technology Policy would make remarks and we would see two videos -- one containing a message from Gary Locke, the secretary of commerce; the other, a snippet from "Atlantic Crossing," the video being produced by Dena Seidel of Writers House at Rutgers. Of these remarks, I can say that they were gracious and generous, but the ones that stuck in my head were those of Richard Spinrad, assistant administrator of NOAA. He said that he had challenged Scott Glenn to send a glider across the ocean during a late-night discussion over wine at a confrerence in Lithuania in 2006. Then he issued another challenge: to send a glider around the world. "And this time," he said solemnly, "I'm sober." Robert Goodman, dean of the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, accepted the challenge on the part of "my colleagues, the guys and gals who have to pull this off."

Scott Glenn presented the mayor, Jesus Vasquez Almuina, with a replica of the Scarlet Knight.

The mayor presented Scott with a plaque.

And then, we all ambled over to the front of the yacht club, where for 80 years, there has hung a brass plaque bearing the crew manifest of the Pinta. That's where they hung a plaque about the Scarlet Knight and its people, right next to the one commemorating the biggest thing to happen to their town in 800 years. That's the deputy mayor, Manuel Ramon Vilar Martinez, on the left, with Richard Spinrad, Mayor Vasquez, and Scott Glenn. More about Don Manuel later. He's worth remembering.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Telling the visual story

Dena Seidel, a documentary film maker and an instructor in Rutgers' Writers House, and her students have been working on a documentary about the Atlantic Crossing project since January. They've shot hundreds of hours of video, including video of the ocean-observing class, video of the preparation of the Scarlet Knight for its flight, the deployment, and the recovery. Dena was at sea with the glider when it was deployed in April, and she was in the Investigador's zodiac when the glider was recovered last week.

Some of her students -- now alumni -- were in the Coastal Ocean Observation Laboratory during the recovery, and are in Spain with us now. Chantal Eyong, Lizette Gesuden, and Pilar Timpane were aboard the Investigador in Vigo yesterday, and here are some photos of them at work.

Below, Chantal (left) and Lizette shoot on the ship's bridge.

And here, we see Scott Glenn in the Investigador's zodiac, explaining for the camera what it was like to pull the Scarlet Knight out of the water after 221 days at sea.

And finally, Pilar, Chantal and Lizette try out the zodiac for themselves.

What kind of ship is the Investigador?

The Investigador is a buoy tender, and she often does work for Puertos del Estado, the Spanish government agency responsible for operating Spain's ports and for maintaining aids to navigation. When she recovered the RU-27, she was working for Puertos del Estado.

Puertos del Estado is part of the Ministry of Development, and is roughly analogous to the American National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). That is, in addition to running the ports and taking care of Spain's maritime infrastructure, the agency is heavily involved in oceanographic research, and therefore very interested in new ways to do that research. Scientists from Puertos del Estado have been heavily involved in this project, and arranging for the Investigador to retrieve RU-27 was part of that involvement.

Monday, December 7, 2009

'M/V Investigador' Team Recovers RU-27

The Rutgers flag was flying from the mast of the M/V
Investigador, when we visited her today at her berth in Vigo. Three of the undergraduate marine students who helped navigate the glider were there – Colin Evans, Dakota Goldinger, and Nilson Strandskov.

They were joined by Chantal Eyong, Lisette Gesuden, and Pilar Timpane, Rutgers alumni who are working on a documentary about the Scarlet Knight as part of a Writers House project produced by Dena Seidel.

Finally, they were joined by some of the ship's crew, about whom Scott Glenn could not say enough. "This was not just another job for them," Glenn said. "They were so good to us. They let us come up on the bridge something captains often don't let you do."

Capt. Fernando Santianez Cipitria brought recent copies of three newspapers that featured stories and pictures about the glider, including the edition of Faro de Vigo that carried a picture of the combined crew on its front page.

A Toast at Madruga's

On December 5, while Scott Glenn and Josh Kohut ate lunch in a restaurant in Baiona, a man sitting nearby recognized them from a picture of the glider crew that had appeared in that day's Faro de Vigo.

He rose from his table and offered his congratulations. Last night, when the glider group was eating dinner at Madruga's, a seafood spot in Baiona, the same man came to eat dinner with his wife and two daughters, one in her teens, the other in her 20s.

Recognizing each other again, Scott and the gentleman exchanged abrazos. Scott procured two RU-COOL baseball caps for the daughters, autographed them, and posed for a picture. Then that gentleman, Sr. Vara, bought a round of refreshments for our table. We drank two toasts: Viva Espana! and Viva la familia Vara!

Friday, December 4, 2009

How it was in the COOL room

The Investigador is on her way back to port, with the glider and the scientists and technicians from Rutgers and Puertos del Estado. Most of the people who have flown, ballasted, and navigated the Scarlet Knight and her two dozen or so sisters were in the COOL room last night, fueled by Red Bull, coffee, and junk food as John Kerfoot, Hugh Roarty, and Ethan Handel sat in three drivers' seats in the center of the room.

Hugh is missing from the photo above – people came and went all night – but that's Ethan in the ball cap in the foreground and John seated behind him. Ari Daniel Shapiro, a freelance journalist on assignment for IEEE Spectrum and NPR, is the one with the headphones and the mic.

The women with video cameras are students from Rutgers' Writers House, and they are working on a documentary about this project. Their teacher, Dena Seidel, was shooting aboard the recovery vessel.

Tina Haskins, one of the Rutgers marine technicians who serviced Scarlet Knight in the Azores in August, has since gone to Palmer Station, Antarctica, on another assignment, but Hugh arranged for her to be webcammed into the COOL room. Here she is as she appeared to us:

Josh Kohut, standing on the aft deck of the Investigador, provided play-by-play for the rest of us over a satellite phone, trying to be heard over the wind howling through his headset. At 3 a.m. EST, 9 a.m. in Spain, Josh shouted over the wind that the glider had been spotted. "The glider is still yellow! The glider is still yellow!" he shouted, affectionately mocking Tina Haskins, who had made the same declaration when she spotted Scarlet Knight in the Azores in August.

As it turned out, the glider was not that yellow. Scott Glenn, who went out in the ship zodiac with Enrique Alvarez Fanjul of Puertos del Estado and Antonio Gonzalez Ramos of the University of Las Palmas to give the glider its first once-over, reported that the hull had lots of brown algae and that the seams in the hull, as was the case in the Azores, had become home to many gooseneck barnacles. The wings, too, had barnacles.

Clayton Jones of Teledyne Webb, the glider's designers and builders, joined Rutgers engineer Chip Haldeman and diver Dan Crowell for the second trip to the glider, this time armed with video and still cameras. Finally, with Chip and Dan still in the water, the glider returned to the ship and picked up Scott and Deena Seidel, the documentary film-maker, to pick up the glider.

"They're about 20 feet from the glider," Josh shouted into his mouthpiece. "The glider looks so small! They will pull it up on the side of the zodiac, to see how it will fit. They're now circling the glider, making their way towards the tail..."

"Jeez, it feels like we're having a baby," said Ethen Handel in the COOL room, and heads nodded all around him.

At 3:54 a.m. EST, Deena, Scott, and Clayton were safe on the deck. The plan, Josh explained to us, was to get everyone off the zodiac, then attach the ship's crane cable to the zodiac and bring it aboard with the glider inside. "They're getting the glider situated in the zodiac," Josh told us. Then, at 3:57 a.m., the phone died, to general howls in the COOL room.

At 4:03, the phone was working again, and a minute later, cheering in English and Spanish could be heard over the wind as Josh said, "I think we can say, THE BEAR IS IN THE IGLOO!"

Igor Heifetz, the computer manager for the lab, put us together for this photo, and told us to scream and wave:

Long night's journey into day

It's 4:04 a.m. EST, and THE BEAR IS IN THE IGLOO! That's COOL room jargon for the glider is safely aboard the ship. In this case, RU-27, aka Scarlet Knight, after 221 days at sea and 7,389 kilometers, is safe aboard the M/V Investigador, and on its way to Vigo.

2:09 p.m., EST: Now that we've all had some sleep, let me cut to the chase with this photo, taken about 4 a.m. our time today.

It shows the first mate of the M/V Investigadorbringing the Scarlet Knight back to the ship. Note the bio-fouling – brown algae and gooeseneck barnacles – it turned out. A little later, with Scarlet cleaned up, the crew and our scientists and technicians posed for this picture.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Getting ready to pick up RU-27

The Investigador left Vigo, in Spain, on schedule this morning at about 6 a.m. EST (noon, in Spain) and is on track to intercept the Scarlet Knight some time between midnight and 1 a.m. EST.

This morning, Scott Glenn used the satellite phone on the Investigador to talk to engineers John Kerfoot and Hugh Roarty, and with Francisco Werner, the director of the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences.

In the photo above, you can see John in the upper part of the photo, Hugh in the foreground, and Cisco Werner standing. What they're talking about is how far the glider is from the ship and the Portuguese waters. Scott and his colleagues have all the permission they need from Spain to pick the glider up in Spanish waters, so they would rather stay in Spanish waters. John and Hugh were able to assure Scott that, based on the gliders position and rate of drift, there was no danger of drifting out of Spanish waters.

This illustrates a point that Scott and his colleagues often make. In a reversal of their historical roles, the guys in the lab, John and Hugh, know more about the situation at sea than the guys on the ship, because they have access to much more information. Here's another photo, showing some of the information – ship traffic – that Hugh and John had at their fingertips this morning.