National Geographic


Expedition Journal

Hard Work and History

February 14, 2012

On board the Mermaid Sapphire steaming from Sydney, Australia, to Rabaul, Papua New Guinea

This expedition is a master class in time and risk management. From sunup to midnight today, the 28-man sub team worked on and under the sub.

From her lithium-ion batteries to her hydraulic manipulator to her one-person crew sphere, she’s a highly complex, systems-within-systems machine. The communications team is trying to track down electromagnetic noise diminishing the efficiency of the sub’s voice-com system. The camera team is wrestling with the errant electrons making it difficult to synchronize the 3-D cameras. David Goldie and Bruce Sutphen are building the egress skirt that will allow us to remove the pilot from the sphere when the sub is in the water. It’s hard work for all of them, especially on a rolling ship in the hot sun. They move up and down fixed ladders and walk across a slippery deck with cables underfoot.

There’s a lot of history in these waters. Early in the afternoon, Dave Mitchell, an Australian who looks after the cameras and scientific equipment on the deep-sea landers, reminded us that we passed near the wreck of the Centaur, an Australian hospital ship torpedoed in 1943 by a Japanese submarine. The ship burst into flames and sank quickly in 6,560 feet (2,000 meters of water. There were 332 medical personnel and ship’s crew on board; only 64 survived. The only woman to be rescued by the U.S.S. Mugford was Sister Ellen Savage, who was decorated for bravery. Sister Ellen was one of Dave’s “aunties.”

The wind is SSE today and blowing at 15 knots. Moderate sized swells are coming from our stern quarter pushing us north. This corner of the western Pacific has been kind to us since we left Sydney two days ago. We’ve seen rain showers and distant lightning, but so far, no big waves. Stuart Bowman, the chief officer, told me that last night there was a short period when the ocean was almost calm, with moonlight splashing silver across the horizon.

Jim Cameron is not with us on this leg of the journey. He’ll join us in Rabaul when we arrive in six days. He and his wife, Suzy, went to Santa Barbara to attend Mike deGruy’s funeral; in two days he’ll be in Melbourne for Andrew Wight’s funeral. This is an especially difficult time for Jim. Andrew and Mike participated in four of his previous expeditions; his deep-sea brothers were vital members of this mission.

Written by Dr. Joe MacInnis

Photograph by Joe MacInnis

Science Partners

  • Additional major support provided by The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
  • NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  • Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego
  • University of Hawaii at Manoa
  • University of Guam