July 1, 2011; 17:48 PDT
July 2, 2011; 00:48 UTC

47 45.360960 N, 127 43.900500 W

‘If making Rachael jealous were worth money, I’d never need work again’, I mused.

Around two (or maybe three: time slips at sea) I dropped in on Geoff to offer some help spooling tubes. He was glad to accept, as it was boring work, and suggested that Gus and I spool in the lounge where we could put a DVD on. We watched “To Kill a Mockingbird” first. Afterwards, I asked someone in the room to make a suggestion. He ran off titles and I stopped him on “Firefly”. Like “Mockingbird”, I’d been meaning to see the popular Joss Weadon series for too long. Baxter put it on, and while the first episode introduced the characters and their world, I thought back to the previous night.

Jason operations are carried out from a large shipping container on deck. At the front are 12 large screens displaying video from the various cameras. In the front row are three large captains chairs which — left to right — seat the engineer, pilot, and navigator. Each has a set of controls specific to their task. The pilot has a set of buttons and a touch screen, along with actuators that transmit his movements to the ROV arms. Behind them sits the watch leader. This is the scientist who directs the pilot. Behind them is a bench that seats the video logger and the data logger. The data logger types each action (“THET engaged”; “Rotation initiated”; “Spacer lost”) to a file that adds a time stamp. I was the video logger for the eight-to-midnight shift, which meant I just hit record on DVD players and labeled the many disks that recorded video constantly. It was a simple job, but I wasn’t complaining. I had a perfect seat with a great view of the science cam, the high def camera controlled by the watch leader. When I entered, we had reached our working site. It was so incredible to watch the team work together in the dark room lit by the glow of the dozen front monitors and the dozen other small screens and flickering lights that conveyed necessary outputs. It was even more remarkable any time one remembered that the images on screen were over a mile and a half away: straight down.

The pilot placed the THET (Top Hat Extractor Tool) over the top hat. Then, concern set in. A bolt had fallen from the damaged cap and was obstructing a cleat needed to engage the THET to the top hat. After a period of brainstorming, the pilot managed to insert the cleat at the perfect angle, and the bolt broke free. The THET was turned, and a screw raised the cleat, pulling at the jammed top hat like a medieval torture device.

The following hours were a series of small celebrations and disappointments. The THET worked beautifully, lifting the top hat several inches. This was expected to be enough to break the corrosion, allowing for an easy removal, however the top hat was still stuck. Fortunately, we had a spacer designed to give the THET more lifting power if needed. The spacer fell, though, lost to the bottom. A backup was on board, though, and it was fixed into place. More successful lifting was followed by continued tenacity on the part of the brass cap, followed by brainstorming. It continued this way until near midnight, when the watch leader announced that an elevator had reached the surface. Deck crew went into action setting up a crane. Jason crew relinquished control of the ships dynamic positioning to the bridge so that the ship could chase down the elevator’s homing beacon. Meanwhile, Jason and Medea were brought to holding patterns 80 m below the ship, safe from anything near both the bottom and the surface in the vast black benthic void.

Watching Firefly, with its roughshod, determined crew, surrounded by technology and adventure, I was reminded of the rewards of my labors. Video logger was considered a lamentable job by some. I didn’t care. To me, it was just a rung on the ladder to watch leader.