Planning- always Planning

Apr 18 2010

We know the glamorous, intense, emotional parts of expedition work. We are at sea, heading out over the horizon with a big rolling swell and steady breeze off the port quarter. Science team is working hard, hauling in nets, readying dive gear, small boats over the side, crew calls out “your on watch”…and the day rolls forward. These are the front line days, productive, physical right at the coal face. However, there are the many, many other days that don’t look like this at all. They are about planning, logistics, writing, organizing, talking for hours on the phone- Skype now. They feel different…computer screens up, MaxSea Navigation software running through its paces as we trace virtual expedition lines across the globe. I did this for several hours this week…its a neat, clean and very satisfying exercise. We go through a list of ports, dates and then layer on long term weather trends – and then go virtual sailing. This give us a basis for projecting duration, speeds, conditions and practical aspects of route planning – e.g. do you want to arrive on a Sunday – or where should the boat be over holidays? These imaginary, but very compelling looking routes arc their way elegantly across our computer screens – tracing for the first time what will become a very real journey. The data for each leg goes into a master spreadsheet that very matter-of-fact tells us how the next 18 months will play out. I check the “answer” at the end – yes, that will do just fine, Hawaii by the end of July. Check.

And this is just the first pass on locking down the routes. Next there are layers of detail on logistics, permits, international flights. In the last five days we have been on the “blower” ( email/skype/phone) with somebody about you name it….24VDC air fans, 100amp battery chargers, Walvis Bay yacht clubs, Brazilian marina regulations, American Airlines (ALOT), rust inhibitor, Air Breeze wind turbines…. Its a self generating, perpetual motion list that is your constant companion.

Then there is the really big picture- which is never as far out as you like it to be. For us a big part of that has to do with position. Like all moving assets, we have to ensure that Sea Dragon is positioned correctly for major events- cornerstones really. Weather counts – particularly at the level of summer/winter…and the critical need to be out of the way of tropical storms. Our long-term work plans are key. Unlike Star Trek, we cannot warp drive across the planet. When we are in the South Atlantic- we cannot work the Indian Ocean the next week.  Big maintenance is another issue. Certain parts of the world and particular ports are much better than others for heavy  boat work. Where do you do your annual certification work (Rio this year), where can I get labor intensive work done (Brazil again for now), where do we connect with developed world supplies (Hawaii in 2011), and do major work on the rig… how about New Zealand’s North Island in 2012? When this gets out of whack we get a real mess. Today I drove up to another favorite expedition way point…LAX (Los Angeles International). Parked in neat rows were KLM, British Airways, Lufthansa aircraft – all stuck due to the volcano.

The military taught me a good lesson on planning: NO plan survives contact with the enemy. In our case, these neat projections must become a reality by passing through the test of the open sea, complex global logistics, multiple personal issues, and all the other factors that we know/do not know and mostly have no control over. We put in buffers, conservative assumptions, contingencies….yet still I know it may confound us. The sea is not so interested in our plans- she’ll have us, but will pay no heed to our schedules. And this is with modern navigation software, GPS, multiple sails, Iridium satellite phones, shore based support teams, backups to backups…and a diesel engine. Imagine the before. When you go to sea, think deep about the void, the risk and the unknown that the early mariners faced. You understand why the tradition, faith and even superstition of the sea runs so deep.

We got to sea in boats to immerse in the world. We are close to the tangible, un-varnished and wonderfully un-sympathetic core of life on earth. If we work hard, trust in the team and boat we may come home with great things. But first, last and always there will be an endless stream of virtual life – The plan is nothing, Planning is everything

Ron Ritter