My First Expedition--Central America, 2004
My first cruise on the JOIDES Resolution was in September of 2004. We left rainy Astoria, Oregon and sailed south toward our final destination of Panama City, Panama. We reached our site off the coast of Costa Rica, where we were set to recover instrumentation from a borehole that had been collecting water samples for the last year and half. We successfully pulled the instrumentation out of the borehole, but while the instruments were being pulled up to the ship, the cable snapped, sending them rocketing down through hundreds of meters of water to the sea floor. Everyone on the ship was stunned and extremely disappointed. These instruments and samples represented years of work and millions of dollars of investment. The samples held promise of gaining a better understanding of the dynamics of the subduction plate boundary that feeds the Central American volcanoes. So, it was a punch in the stomach to have come so close and lose the samples at the last minute. But, the engineers and crew on the ship weren't ready to give up hope just yet. Against what were unbelievable odds, the scientists and crew decided to go looking for the instrument pack using the camera mounted on the end of the drill string. But, our schedule only allowed for about a day and a half of searching and the instrument pack could have been anywhere. The engineers calculated the water currents and the position of the ship and made an educated guess of where to start searching. So, for a full day, we slowly cruised back and forth in a grid pattern looking for any sign of the instruments on the sea floor, hundreds of meters below our feet. Many of us were glued to the TVs onboard that broadcasted the video feed from the seafloor camera. After about 30 hours of searching, with most of us having given up hope, a mass of rope appeared on the TVs and with all of us in total disbelief, we had found the lost instrument pack with its valuable samples! But, we weren't out of the woods yet. We still had to find a way to pick up the instruments and get them onto the boat without dropping them again. So, the engineers fashioned a metal hook that they attached to the seafloor camera housing. As if I wasn’t already blown away by what the ship’s engineers and crew had been able to do, what they did next left me speechless. In hundreds of meters of water, with water currents pushing the drill string in every direction, the crew proceeded keep the ship steady enough to drag the metal hook along the seafloor, snag the rope, and secure the instrument pack. As they pulled it up to the surface, everybody held their breath. We didn't want to lose these samples after so much hard work, creative thought, and sheer luck had gone into recovering them. Imagine our joy as the instruments pierced the water surface and were brought safely onboard!