Transit To Rio

Oct 22 2010

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When working boats, well out to sea, pull in the lines, divers, nets or whatever it is they do, we go into “transit”. People who have done this know this changes everything on the boat. We become totally focused on the destination and the outside world versus the sea around us.

With the last divers up off the Jasuer bank, we began our 550 mile transit back to Rio. Sails up, set the course and make way. We sort, clean, pack dive gear. Clean the boat- mopping floors, scrub kitchens, put it all away. This time we get an extra bit of drama as a huge flood of water pours into the port side bunks. Chip is on watch and a “rogue wave”towers over Sea Dragon’s freeboard and floods the cockpit. Normally this is fine- hatches hold and the space becomes a temporary aquarium for those below. This time, the hatches were left open- and the flood pours right in on Emily, Jonathan and Becky. Becky in particular got that shock awake moment of being hit with a bucket of water while deep asleep. At 0300 we were all awake re-grouping, drying out and shifting to alternate bunks. We think, this was retribution from Dale and Bill, through the sea gods, for Emily (the epicenter) having filmed and promoted around the boat a rough cut video of Dale and Bill snoring in unison. Grizzly bears would have been impressed…by the way.

The weather becomes our strategic partner. We watch the projected wind patterns and try to think through how to play out the next several days. In our case, We had a building frontal system of a low moving across to our East, with a high on the back side. This gave us a South Westerly in our face, right down the line we needed to travel. We set a tack due south to gain our southing, which then should position us for a turn due west as we got off Rio. We were rewarded. After sailing 170 nm south to Rio latitude the wind backed to the North and set us up for the best possible point of sail- a beam reach. With 25+ kts of wind right off the side, Sea Dragon really powered up. We had 12kts of boat speed regularly, with an average of 10- not bad for a boat so heavily laden with dive gear, trimix industrial cylinders and all the kit of a  long expedition. As predicted, once the we within 70 miles of the Cape protecting Rio, the wind began to soften, get squirlley  and ultimately back further around to the west- again putting us close hauled, sailing into the wind. The last drama were two intersections with a seismic survey vessel- towing 14, 5 mile long surface cables. In this case, we use the AIS transponder and radar to talk through a course to avoid what is essentially a 5 mile long boat. We had to track North, again, and around.

We pushed through and made it into Rio Harbor by 1500, just in time. Clearly deserving its reputation, this is one of the best natural harbors in the world. A tight entrance guarded by high peaks takes you through a 50′ deep ship channel. Inside a series of coves makes very sheltered anchoring. We hooked a mooring at 5pm…and arrived.

1,500 miles of open ocean sailing (NYC to Houston)

50+ hours of video

7 major dives ranging from an amazing 90′ shallow point to over 300′ on mixed gas

Unprecedented discovery both deep and shallow reefs

We all feel good. We are back in port on schedule with all safe and well. Our worst mishaps were cuts and bruises and a Becky’s emotional trauma with the flooding. The gear fared well too- one lost reel, a lost Z Knife, one escaped fin (jettison off Portia at 100′) and a canister light that was hooked on the boat …and torn off. Jonathan is very keen to get his gear back in a Florida spring to purge all that wretched salt  :). Importantly, we put our new Sherwood dive gear through an extreme test. We were diving in very un-conventional conditions. Having hit the first shallow point with the sonar, late in the day (always happens this way) Dale had to literally throw on his Sherwood BC for the first time, snap, cinch in place and jump overboard off a moving boat with Bill to drop descend to the site. He used his new Wisdom computer for the first time, 400 miles off shore in 120′ of water. Worked perfect- good for Dale.

Two things are more important. First we can safely say- “mission accomplished”. The team exceeded our major objective- to find and document shallow water habitat on these remote deepwater seamounts. Anchored 300+ miles from shore, above a 90′ deep reef absolutely flowing with marine life, we had “landed”. Becky’s exceptional video gives us the ability to bring the story home. Second, we all pulled together and went from a group to a team of friends. We set out to the high, remote seas under difficult conditions to an uncharted seafloor, with an all new approach to advanced filming and diving off Sea Dragon. This team did it, and did it well. We were deeply impressed and proud of the way all of this came together.

Now like the precious few astronauts that made it to the lunar surface, we have a responsibility to bring the story to the outside world. First steps will be a press release and  short video- rough cut on the transit back. Then a longer 30 minute video that we hope to find a sponsor for. This would allow us to donate the story video back into the Brazil market. All the rough underwater footage will be made available conservationists operating in Brazil.

And we are already thinking about where, how and who next.