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Mission Blue: Moments From Deployment

National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle and Harte Research Institute Executive Director Larry McKinney prepare for Mission Blue’s second Gulf dive in the Deepworker submarine, but rising winds and seas put the mission on hold mere moments from deployment. The duo shares their frustration with the uncooperative weather, and their determination to try again.
larry mckinney and sylvia earle before the diveLarry McKinney and Sylvia Earle pose together before the day’s first dive attempt.
By SYLVIA EARLE and LARRY McKINNEY
Earle: The ocean does not yield her secrets easily. We do everything we can to accommodate what you know is going to happen: wind, waves. We have a deployment system that is appropriate for whatever weather comes along. In the end, it’s the judgment call of the dive supervisor to say “I don’t want to risk either equipment or the people involved.”
So we’re just going to wait for better circumstances. It’s the prudent thing to do, obviously, but in the end it’s very frustrating because we definitely want to be out there underwater exploring the nature of the ocean. We’ve got all the equipment, we’ve got this big boat. Everything’s ready to go. All we need is a little cooperation from the ocean.
McKinney: This would be my first time in the dual Deepworker. I’m still hoping we can get out. One of my goals is to dive with Sylvia Earle. That’s one of my ambitions–you can’t get any better than that! I hope I get the chance, but if I don’t, that happens. You just have to roll with the punches.
We’re going to make another try, just to get it in the water. There’s a window of opportunity later in the week in some places that we really want to go to. So our goal on these dives is just to get the crew all set up so they can work in these conditions, make it safe, and all that. If we can accomplish that, it will contribute toward the whole expedition. That’s a plus.
tom and sylvia in deepworker subLarry and Sylvia in the Deepworker sub, eager to dive.
Earle: The ultimate authority aboard the ship is always the captain. For dive operations, the person who makes the go/no-go call is the dive supervisor. We have Joe Lepore who’s here from the Waitt Institute and Ian Griffith who’s managing the dive operations. They work in concert to size up the state of the ocean and the readiness of all the equipment and the pilot, the passenger. If all the green lights come on, we go. If even one of them is red, we put on the brakes.
McKinney: It has a sort of space launch feel. They have a really long check list, and it’s important. I’m glad they check every one of them. They’re safety oriented and safety conscious. Once you’re locked inside, you’re dependent on what the machines do and what you can do. So it’s nice to have the crew outside who really know their business, and can set everything up so it’s as safe as possible.
Earle: It’s much the same as piloting a small aircraft. There is a checklist. Before you get in the cockpit, you go over that list, check it carefully, and assure yourself it’s not just something that you take for granted. You do it every time. It means that if a valve gets opened or gets kicked in the process of getting things ready, you’ll know about it. No big surprises of the wrong sort.
Right now, we’ve got everything ready. We just need a go-ahead from the wind and a go-ahead from the waves. And then we’ll go ahead!
Support for the Mission Blue Gulf of Mexico expedition is provided by the National Geographic Society, Google Inc., the Waitt Institute, and Hope Spots LLC. Follow along in context by clicking on the ship icon near Pensacola, Florida using Google Earth.
Read all Mission Blue expedition coverage here.
Photos by Ford Cochran