Daily Log

Steven Constable

On this web page I will be posting daily updates on the progress of our cruise on the R.V. Melville offshore Nicaragua. The object of this project is to study fluids and serpentinization in an active subduction zone using marine EM methods; controlled source EM (CSEM) and magnetelluric (MT) sounding.

Normally, I am chief scientist on the big cruises, but this time Kerry Key will take that job. Officially, I am mentoring the next generation. Unofficially, I can tell you that I've learnt that one ends up paying for the privilege of the big cabin in blood, sweat, and tears (or at least migraines), so I'm happy to sit back and let him do the hard work. Besides, he wrote the proposal that got this funded.

But I still get to do the daily log....


Wed 12 May 2010: Well, going home sometimes takes a lot of work in this business. We dropped anchor off Puntarenas on Monday evening in time to go into town for a meal and a few beers, which was most welcome (Kerry opted for the place where the food was so-so but the beer was known to be very, very, cold). Thanks to Rob Evans for buying the first round (or asking Jimmy to on his behalf). The following morning (Tues) we tied up at the dock in Puerto Caldera and offloaded our gear pretty fast, since we'd had the previous day to prepare everything. We'd been promised three 40' shipping containers to put everything in, but there was no evidence of them. The agent kept saying "20 minutes". We'd organized a 6:30 pm cruise party for the whole ship on the expectation that it wouldn't take much longer than half a day to unload and stuff the containers. Finally, one container showed up at 6:30, and we were told they would come one at a time. OK, we thought, we can do this. I suggested that Kerry take care of the party while Jake, Chris, and I stuffed the containers - it shouldn't take that long. The lab is definitely a cooperative operation, but at the end of the day (literally) this was my equipment and I would much rather make sure it was properly packed for shipping than party. Chris and Jake are the key people for operations like this and, bless their hearts, they felt much the same way. So we set to and it went fast, and a second container came. That went fast too, but by then we'd been told the bad news - no third container. We simultaneously stuffed the second container and moved the contents of the third to a nearby warehouse.

We finally made it to the party after a disconcerting delay associated with waiting for a bus that nobody told us was coming to get us, but there was food left and it was good. We needed to go back to the port in the morning to finish the job, and the party divided into those who planned to go to the port at 8:30 (Chris, Jake, and me) and those who planned to sleep off the effects of the beer and three large bottles of rum that the agent had donated to the cause. I consider myself lucky to be in the former group, since it made it easier to stay clear of the rum. (It's hard to drink beer in this country - if you drink at a modest pace it gets warm before you've finished - but luckily I'm not so fond of beer that I drink fast, and I certainly don't like warm beer.)

So off to the port this morning and lots more waiting while we tried to find a third container. Finally our agent sprung one loose and we literally followed it from the container depot to the port. As expected, the actual job of getting our gear into it was the fastest part of the operation. The problem in all this is that the shipping business is not really set up for scientific equipment. We try to pack and palletize as robustly as possible, but our stuff is still unique and somewhat delicate, so if we left the port people to load it there would almost certainly be damage, and it probably would not all fit. Anyway, we breathed a big sigh of relief when we popped the seal onto the third shipping box.

Back to the hotel (Caldera to Puntarenas is 30 minutes drive), quick shower, then more waiting while the agent tried to get our passports signed off. We'd all come into the country with the standard 90 days tourist visa, but going on a ship sometimes complicates things, and it certainly seemed to in this case. But our passports came back, and our bus left promptly after that to take us to San Jose, where we have a nice airport hotel with fast internet and free international phone calls. A few of us are going off to see some more of the country, and the rest have flights out in the morning. Barring volcanic eruptions and other perils of air travel, we should be home for dinner tomorrow.

So, hoped you've enjoyed Steve's log again. Til next time...

Sun 9 May 2010: We're going home! Recovery of the last 9 instruments started just before midnight last night and went well in spite of considerably worsening weather, with winds just shy of 30 knots during the worst of it. Not at all bad for the worst weather of a cruise, but still puts a bit of pressure on the recovery team (which, of course, includes those driving the ship). We continued to release instruments through the day until just before dinner, when the last instrument, a LEM, needed to be released. This instrument clearly triggered the primary release mechanism, based on the acoustics, but didn't come up, and was either hung up on something or had lost bouyancy (flooded pressure case or broken glass flotation ball). This made us pretty nervous, since not only did we not want to lose any more instruments, the LEMs have much more valuable data on them; they take a lot of time to deploy, are over ten times more sensitive than the other instruments, and there is no redundancy. Also, we had another instrument on the way up, and were counting on getting the LEM first. Fortunately, it came up on the secondary release, and in the end had great data.

Speaking of which, we now have a very good haul of very nice data. There's a lot now to be done with them, and it is impossible to predict how much science we will get from the analysis in the end, but the most important task has been accomplished with, if I may say so, panache. Well, perhaps panache is the wrong word for the last recovery. Jake and I decided we'd have a grapnel throwing shootout on the last instrument. It started looking pretty easy, but the wind picked up and it became a pretty long shot, and simultaneous first throws from Jake and me both got blown off the instrument. We took a couple more tries each before the ship came onto the instrument and offered a fairly easy downwind shot, which I magnaminously gave to Jake with my grapnel. But we weren't done messing things up. The instrument flipped upside down as we pulled it back into the ship against the current, providing David, our man with the pole-hook, nothing to hook onto. We managed to flip it back over and all was well in the end, although Jake made me promise not to compete with him again.

Only one day to a beer.

Sat 8 May 2010: Went to bed last night around midnight, as is sorta normal. However, I figured that towing the small circle was going to require a tricky maneuver early in the morning, when the ship needed to stop crabbing 90 degrees one way and flip to crabbing 90 degrees the other way, so I set an alarm for 8. I woke around 6:00 to the characteristic shudder the Melville makes when the stern slaps down onto the waves (the Melville is famous for this, but this cruise was my first experience - it really is weird, since the shuddering goes on much longer and at a lower frequency than seems reasonable for a simple stern slap, which one of our other, smaller, ships also tends to do). Anyway, we were clearly on a different course, and I had something of a premonition, so although I would have liked to have slept some more I got up. As I was going down to the lab I saw the captain heading out onto the deck with a working life vest and hard hat on. Not a good sign. I got into the lab and Jimmy, who was manning the SUESI winch, said that everyone else was on deck and I might want to put my own safety gear on, which I did. On deck there was blue Barracuda line and people everywhere, with the line going over the side of the ship in at least two places. The Chief Engineer was pulling on some of it using the capstan. Turns out that one Barracuda had been pulled in for the turn, but the other was left out because it looked difficult to bring in past the SUESI tow cable. When the ship turned, the current whipped the Barracuda to the front of the ship, where it proceeded to tie the ship in knots. The line we use for the Barracudas is REALLY strong (wonderful stuff - Amsteel blue; floats, but is nearly as strong as steel), and getting this into the propellers would spoil the whole day, and probably others besides. Luckily we were able to pull it clear, although I'm told that at one point the captain and the chief were pulling the same bit of rope from opposite sides of the ship (chief won - he had the capstan, remember?).

The turn worked out fairly well for SUESI, although she exceeded her 4 knot speed limit for a little while. However, Kerry's enthusiasm for Barracudas was finally dampened, and we finished the day towing half the circle without them. At dinner time we started pulling SUESI aboard and got her on deck around 9 pm (she looks fine) and the Vulcan too. Now we've got 9 remaining instruments to recover and then it's off to Puerto Caldera.

No matter what happened today, we're one day closer to a beer.

Fri 7 May 2010: We dusted SUESI #2 off yesterday morning to do some more deeptow transmission, but as usual she wanted us to give her more attention than we did. We were down several thousand meters when the current went to zero - well, not exactly zero, twenty amps or so. We recognized this as about the current you get from the end of the cable after an electrode has fallen off (readers of my other blogs will realize why we know this). We pulled her aboard expecting to have to re-attach an electrode, but instead were presented with a broken antenna cable. Fortunately, a fairly easy fix given the spares we have, and we had her back in the water without too much delay, but by the end of the day (literally) it was about 14 hours to get her down to the seafloor.

Was woken up at 3 am last night (this morning?) because the Benthos had stopped working, yet again. The fear was that this portended the same sort of leak as afflicted SUESI #1, but after some consideration I decided that was unlikely, and in 3,500 m of water it would probably be too late by the time we got her to the surface anyway, so we kept going. So far this has proved to be the right decision, and the Benthos made a miraculous recovery around the middle of the day. Now we are fighting weather and currents. The twenty knot winds that the 2nd mate Melissa has been predicting the whole cruise have finally arrived, and we're towing a line with the ship pointing into the wind about 100 degrees away from the direction of travel, being pushed sideways by a 1-2 knot current. We're hoping to tow another, smaller, circle when we reach the end of this run, but this is looking like a tall order at this time. Stay tuned...

Wed 5 May 2010: Our experiment has been noticed by the popular press. It all started with the San Diego Tribune picking up on our blog and blogging about it on their science page. Then Fox Morning News was calling Scripps asking about getting interviews with the ship - they had done this last leg and liked it. So, Kerry got a 5-minute slot on television this morning over a spotty skype connection. We've become "earthquake hunters", and Fox kept cutting to pictures of the recent Chilean earthquake during Kerry's interview. It's not entirely wrong, since we're trying to find out where the water goes in a subduction zone, which has a big influence on earthquake behaviour. And of course the Chilean quake was also a subduction event.

I'm insanely jealous of Kerry getting all the media attention. Actually, I'm terribly glad that it's him and not me. He's much more telegenic (doesn't have a funny accent), and had to get up at 7 in the morning to do the spot (we've both drifted into a late sleep schedule). He put in a plug for the co-chief scientist, and handled the questions well. But I reckon he's going to regret predicting 10 more large earthquakes for this year (especially if he's right - they will want him to predict next year's too).

We've just finished picking up the last instrument for the time being. We're going to use our contingency time and a bit more that we made up during the recoveries to do some more SUESI tow. The data are still looking pretty good, and the shrunken heads are awesome. The bad news is that we've lost two instruments. I had confirmed that Octopus was triggered by the ship's swath bathymetry system, which we had been running during the deep-tow (mistake). We caught Octopus because in the shallow water it popped right up near the ship. The two we lost were in deeper water (similar acoustic frequency), and the rise time is so long (over 4 hours for the deepest sites) that the ship would be out of range of our recovery radios by the time they made it to the surface. With any luck they will wash ashore or be picked up by fishermen. Otherwise, our recent run of over 250 deployments without loss is over (but 300 for 2 losses is still not bad). Kerry is bummed because one of the lost instruments had 3 of the shrunken heads on it.

Sun 2 May 2010: Recoveries have begun in earnest now and we've about a dozen instruments on deck. Things are looking really good. The noise from the swath acoustics is not as bad as we feared, and both the LEMs from the first circular tow provided excellent data. So good, in fact, that we can eyeball our transmitter signal in the time series with SUESI 30 km away on the circle. We just got an experimental deployment of a geophone back, and that worked well (although at first glance it's not clear that proper geophones do any better than magnetometers for detecting earthquakes). Another experimental deployment of a new electrode/amplifier design also came back with great data. So far we've only lost one channel of mainstream data (due to a broken electrode wire). Everyone's extremely happy. At least, Kerry and I are. It is always a great relief when you know you've made the whole thing work.

Time for bed - have stayed up drooling over data too long.

Fri 30 April 2010: So, things have been happening. After the second circle we towed SUESI up the side of the accretionary prism and into shallow water towards land. Really shallow, compared with the depth records we have been setting; 200 meters and less. One of the concerns here is fishing boats. I have had seafloor instruments trawled away in shallow water before, and now the worry was towing SUESI through lines and nets. After nightfall we saw a couple of flashing lights which typically mark the ends of nets and floats, so I argued strongly for bringing the Barracuda floats in. Kerry was not too keen (he has grown to love the Barracudas), but then the Benthos stopped working for some reason (more on this later) and so there was no reason to leave them out, and in they came. I went to bed figuring it was going to be most of another day before the line was done.

Got up Wednesday morning and was told in deadpan tone by Chris that one of the instruments ("octopus") popped up alongside the ship in the night, probably triggered by the ship's acoustic swath bathymetry system, and so SUESI had been brought in and beached on deck and now we were doing the acoustic navigation to get accurate instrument positions. At first I thought this was some sort of elaborate joke, but Chris doesn't do that sort of thing, and sure enough SUESI was sitting on deck. As I was checking her out Jake pointed out some corrosion around a high current connector. This did not look good, and I opened up a seal screw, also with some corrosion evident, and there was clearly water inside. We had obviously developed a slow leak when we got into shallow water. It is quite often the case that the extreme pressure of deep water presses all the surfaces together so strongly that there are no leaks, but at low pressure any faults in o-rings and so on show up as slow leaks. This is the third time SUESI has had a small leak, and we've traced the problem to fractures in the underwater electrical connectors we use. Although Jacques pressure tested all the connectors in this SUESI, my bet is that this is again the problem. Instrument Octopus did us a huge favor, because although SUESI was working up to the point of being landed on deck, the corrosion was from electrical leakage to the pressure case, and would have produced a much bigger leak before too long. All our instruments are made from high-strength aluminum alloy (the sort you make nuclear centrifuges from), which has a high zinc and magnesium content and corrodes like mad if exposed to seawater, let alone when electrolytically dissolved. The electrical leak to the pressure case could also explain the problem with the Benthos (althogh followers of my log will note that we're almost always having problems with the Benthos).

We blew some dry air through SUESI #1 to evaporate any water inside and then swapped her out with SUESI #2 in anticipation of doing another small tow with our contingency time. I must say, after having had to swap out the SUESIs on account of this type of problem on the last two big cruises, it was beginning to feel strange that we were going to do the whole project with just one instrument. Now things are back tos normal.

Since then we've been continuing with the acoustic navigation, which is a slow process for such a long line of instruments, so just for a break in pace we decided to recover a couple of instruments today. These are instruments whose batteries were sheduled to run down before we got SUESI in the water again, and we've got two spare anchors we could use to redeploy them. This gave us our first taste of data lust, looking at the signal from a magnitude 5.4 earthquake off the Nicaraguan coast (the electric and magnetic field sensors are really sensitive to instrument motion) and a small magnetic storm. One thing we didn't expect to see was that the swath bathymetry had been triggering the acoustics on instruments in much deeper water than Octopus, producing noise in the data. We will be able to process around this, but it is annoying all the same.

Another tray of chocolate eclairs has just been produced in the galley for midrats, so I'm going to finish this and grab one before they all go. As is usual for Scripps ships, we've been fed rather well.

Tues 27 April 2010: We have just finished the second circular anisotropy tow, having visited the depths of the trench twice more with no problems. We are going to make a turn and come onto the final bit of the main line, which runs up the accretionary prism into water as shallow as 100 m, a few tens of kilometers from shore. Everyone is starting to look forward to the next phase of the operation after 10 days of deeptow. John Souders (our electrical engineer) and I are just very grateful that it has been so uneventful (boring, even). There's not much of SUESI that we can fix out here, so any problems are likely to cause real angst.

Sat 24 April 2010: We finished the first circle on Wednesday and beached SUESI as planned, swapped out the Benthos unit, then put her back down for towing along the main line. The Barracuda system was better but still a bit iffy, so we dangled the surface transponders on ropes a few meters beneath the Barracuda paravanes in order to get away from surface noise. This has really helped and we just spent a couple of days running up the main line with pretty good navigation and no troubles with SUESI. Well, not any real troubles. After I had swapped out the GPS clock it was noticed that we had lost the minute mark that SUESI sends up the wire to confirm her timing, not a big deal since her timing never slips unless you do certain things which are known to distract her. I got blamed for this, of course (thought I must have accidentally pushed the button on the deck box that resets the SYNCH pulse), and this got a lot more attention than the fact that I got up before dawn and made everything work again. However, later when Kerry and John were scrambling to undo some mistaken shuffling of the multitude of serial lines we are running to monitor all the data streams, it happened again. I had put a protective shield around the reset button, much to the amusement of the younger and more frivolous members of our party, so this wasn't the cause this time, and it is clear that messing with the wires at the back of the box is the culprit. Curious, but not dangerous.

Anyway, we reached the end of the current segment of the main line, which takes us to the far side, and start, of the second circular tow, this afternoon. The deepest part of our profile is at this point, about 5,200 meters at the bottom of the trench. It is a bit arbitrary, and probably overly cautious, but I decided to limit SUESI's depth to 5,000 meters. Several bits of SUESI are only rated to 6,000 m, and on the last two cruises we had small leaks through hairline cracks in the electrical connectors. The total force on SUESI at this depth is of the order of 10 million pounds; any problem here and we are not looking at just a small leak. Indeed, we'd be lucky to get the end of the wire back. But, we did just fine, setting, I'm sure, a new world record for deep-towed CSEM transmission. AND the Barracudas worked to the full depth, which is quite a lot more than we were expecting.

Now we've run up the accretionary prism a few kilometers and pulled up to less than the water depth for a turn onto the circular tow, for our second look at anisotropy due to faulting in the mantle. So far, so good. So good, in fact, we haven't even nominated a cruise scapegoat yet.

Tues 20 April 2010: Well, when the transmitter started acting up in the wee hours of the morning, the guys in the lab decided that I would be more useful than a chief scientist. I suppose I should be flattered. The GPS clock that controls the frequency of SUESI's 400 Hz power had gone on the blink, causing SUESI to reset a couple of times. We switched in another clock, which meant repowering the entire system (always a bit of a thrill), but everything came up OK. We were flying again after less than an hour's interruption. Everything was fine for the rest of the day, and we may really be in the "boring is good" bit, although the plan is to beach SUESI when we finish the circle tomorrow evening and switch out the Benthos unit to the spare.

Weather is still most excellent, if a little hot for some, and the wind is too slight to present any problems for the tow, although the currents (surface ocean currents, that is) have caused us to continue to crab towards the north, causing the internet to go down all day. We finally pulled through the bad heading a little while ago, just in time for me to pen these words before turning in a little after midnight (gonna be a late night tomorrow, so might as well get with the program).

Mon 19 April 2010: Today began to look like the start of the "boring is good" bit of deeptow operations, where SUESI just keeps stuffing out the 300 amps and we just tweak the flying height here and there with the winch wire. I was just thinking that I ought to start taking care of all the paperwork that has been piling up, writing a few reviews, starting some work on a paper, and so on. The Benthos navigation kept running through last night, but the ranges we are getting from the Barracudas (surface acoustic transponders towed behind the ship) have been pretty marginal, either because the Benthos is flakey or because the 4-5 km ranges are a little too large for the system. Anyway, we put in a third unit close to the ship with the transponder sensitivity turned right up to see if it would help. We were only experimenting, and didn't expect it to be out that long, and we were a little sloppy in the way we tied it to the tow rope. Sometime during dinner it chafed through the rope and drifted off. Fortunately, the Barracudas have GPS receivers in them which radio location back to the ship every few seconds (this is how we turn the acoustic ranges into positions for SUESI), so we knew where it was. We asked the captain if he would launch the rescue boat and go get it, and after some consideration (it was getting on for sunset) he agreed. So, the evening's excitement was to watch the rescue boat launched and go off into the distance chasing our Barracuda, which was indeed caught and returned safely to the ship. It is good to know that if someone went overboard while we have 5,000 meters of deeptow wire out there is a way to go and pick them up.

We are about to go around the eastern side of the circle, and our internet will go down sometime tomorrow as we go through a northerly heading. The ship's smokestack gets between the satellite and the antenna when going in this direction. We are crabbing quite a bit to keep our bow into the wind (from the east), so with any luck we'll swing through north quite quickly. Otherwise we will be offline for better part of a day.

Fri-Sun 16-18 April 2010: Nearly midnight. Been busy these last few days deploying the last two LEMs and getting SUESI, our deeptowed transmitter, into the water. All of our seafloor instruments have now been deployed, for a total of 58 on the seabed. We spent all of today putting SUESI and the Barracudas in and out of the water as we tried to make our acoustic navigation system work. There's an intermittent fault in the serial communication part of our Benthos acoustic ranging unit that is mounted on SUESI. We put it into the water, and it stops working after about an hour, so we bring it up and of course it starts working on the way up and keeps working on the bench. We even put it into a fridge over lunch to try and create the problem. We put it back down this evening and it stopped working again, but we decided to go ahead and tow the first big 30 km radius circle anyway, and see how it goes over the next three days. Things didn't take long to change, and during the last couple of hours the Benthos started working fairly well. Still, we'll probably pull SUESI up after the circle and swap in the other Benthos unit before towing down the main line. The angst over the acoustics has drawn attention away from the good news that the rest of SUESI's systems are working perfectly, and we're currently towing 100 m above the seafloor and transmitting 300 amps.

Thur 15 April 2010: Woke this morning before breakfast to find that we'd deployed our deepest instruments (5120 m) with no further significant trouble with the acoustics. Next on the agenda was to deploy a LEM, an instrument with a 200 m long antenna that we deploy by lowering to the seafloor on the end of the deep-tow cable while driving the ship forward at about 1.5 knots to keep the antenna stretched out. We were deploying LEMs at Scripps when I first arrived 27 years ago, but the current interest in using them is somewhat new, and I'm still the only one skilled in all aspects of the art (although I'm working on fixing that as part of my plan to be made redundant). I managed to sell the Chief Scientist (Kerry) on the idea that we should use the relative coolness of the nights for deploying the other instruments so that I wouldn't have to stay up all night deploying LEMs, but the deepwater deployments were slow enough that we didn't start until early afternoon. It takes some time to spool out the 5,000 meters of wire needed to get these things to the seafloor, and it wasn't until just gone 8:00 pm that we released it a few meters off the bottom. Then we have to bring the 5,000 m back in, which should have been faster, but the level wind on the winch was acting up. At least the thing let go. It's a bugger to have to bring them back again if the release doesn't work, wasting 8 hours or more.

Kerry and I sent a polystyrene head and a couple of cups down on the LEM launcher frame, to 3,600 meters. The effect was as anticipated, and as I said below, I've done this with cups a number of times, but the effect on the mannequin head was dramatic. Relative shrinkage was probably about the same, but probably because the head started so much larger the size reduction seemed to be more. No doubt Kerry will post some photos soon.

There was a bit of a breeze and a few whitecaps around lunchtime but things have settled down again. A very good green flash was to be seen at sunset. Some people don't believe in the green flash, but those people don't get to bum around in the equatorial Pacific.

Wed 14 April 2010: Started instrument deployments at about 10:00 am this morning, at the shallow end of the line (70 m water depth). Things went well and at our usual swift pace, but slowed down as the water depths crept up and up. By the time I turned in we were in 4,000 m depth and it was taking about an hour for the instruments to sink to the seafloor. We've already had a few problems with our acoustics in the deeper water; not show-stoppers but certainly enough to raise the stress level a bit. We also had a couple of pieces of electronic equipment stop working, and again, while we recovered by using backups these things are a bit frustrating.

Tues 13 April 2010: Today was spent charging batteries and recovery buoys, load testing the termination that I did yesterday (8,000 pounds for 15 minutes; it passed), setting up the logger checkout stations, and generally getting the lab shipshape. We weighed anchor as planned at 15:00 hours and headed out of the bay. Had our first fire and boat drill (many more promised to come), then Kerry broke out the styrofoam heads. One each for coloring with marker pens. No, this wasn't a relapse to kindergarten behavior (or maybe it was), but the plan is to send the heads down to the seafloor and back on instruments. The huge pressure shrinks them down to something a lot smaller than when they started. I've done this with cups before, and even remembered to bring some along, but never heads. It will be interesting...

Although the seas are slight, people are generally feeling a bit groggy from the motion and any medicine they've taken, so there's a move towards an early turn-in. The night shift plans to get up before breakfast in order to start migrating to the midnight to midday watch. Kerry hasn't assigned me a watch because there are a couple of critical operations which will require me to be awake no matter when they start, so my game is to anticipate those and try to get sleep around them.

Mon 12 April 2010: A busy day tying down all the gear on deck (there's a lot of it!), stringing antennae for the GPS clocks, setting up acoustics, running power for SUESI's supplies, setting up navigation and checkout computers, sorting boxes of gear (there are lots of them too), charging batteries, terminating the deeptow cable, and getting the coffee machines to work. Weather is not too bad but it is still hot work on deck. Our WHOI colleagues are broadly considered to be the best and most hard working newbies who have sailed with us. Many thanks to them.

Caught the 6:00 pm water taxi for one last night ashore and some more restrained drinking and a local dinner. We plan to sail tomorrow afternoon.

Sun 11 April 2010: Got up early as the ship weighed anchor at 06:00 to move and tie up at Puerto Caldera. Had breakfast and got ready to roll. Then...

Classic. We couldn't tie up because there were two freighters there already, one offloading gypsum (why does Costa Rica need so much gypsum?) and one loading fruit (a real live bannana boat). There was a lot of dust coming off the gypsum boat and so instead of tying the two ships close together to leave room for us they had spread them apart to try and keep the fruit from getting covered in gypsum dust. We hung around for hours and then just before lunch time we got permission to squeeze the Melville into the gap between the ships. Thank goodness for dynamic positioning (DP - a computer uses GPS position to maneuver the ship). We literally only had a couple of meters to spare on each side, and at one point the stern of the Melville was underneath the bow of the fruit boat. Thanks to the skill of the crew we did it; although we had a tug standing by to push us around we didn't seem to need it.

A bit more standing around as things from the last cruise got offloaded and we waited for our containers to show up and forklift drivers too, then suddenly things started zipping along. We had two cranes and two forklifts working constantly, and everyone aboard started moving, lifting, carrying. By dinner time we had unstuffed three 40' containers and brought all our gear aboard. I've never seen our gear move onto (or off) a ship so fast, and Cambria is telling me that it shouldn't go to my head when I'm working up the schedule for our next cruise.

We dusted ourselves off (yes, we got the gypsum dust instead of the fruit boat) and then wound down a bit after dinner, playing some hands of Bang (more on that later, I'm sure), and then turned in with a plan to tie everything down tomorrow.

Sat 10 April 2010: Got into San Jose last night after a mercifully uneventful flight. Indeed, collectively we managed to get six of us upgraded on the DFW to San Jose leg. Our agent arranged two mini-buses to take us down to Puerto Caldera in the morning, which was also uneventful other than the initial horror of seeing our baggage tied to the roof of one of the buses. But hey, that's how it's done here and the bags made the ride well enough.

Today the Melville is at anchor instead of tied up, so we had to take a water taxi out to the ship, which involves climbing aboard using a rope ladder. The weather is fine and the harbour is well protected, so this was a much tamer event than the last experience of this kind we had, in India, which is another story best not told here. We settled into our cabins and made some plans for tomorrow, which is our big loading day, then headed back into town for dinner and some drinking in anticipation of 30 dry days at sea. The schedule for the taxi back to the ship was 8:30 and 11:30pm, and the thought of a long day loading the deck in full sun, and the ladder, made the early choice appealing, and so the drinking was really quite restrained.

Fri 9 April 2010: Rushing to get a few last things done before jumping on the plane to Costa Rica.