Friday, December 11, 2009

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.

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