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Flower Garden Banks underwater photo
Mission notebook

Mission Log March 3, 2007

by G.P. Schmahl
Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary Superintendent

crew members eating dinner
Crew members eating dinner aboard the NR-1. (Photo: David Robinson / PAL / U. Connecticut Avery Point)
I was in the NR1 from when we left the dock on Friday (3/2) until Monday (3/5)--almost 3 days! It was quite an experience. There are 13 people in the sub. It is very tight quarters. They are on 24 hr operations, so at any one time half the crew is sleeping. They work 6-hour on/6-hour off shifts. I was on with one other scientist, David Robinson, an archaeologist from the University of Connecticut at Avery Point. We took the same shifts as the crew. After a couple of shifts, you lose track of whether it is day or night.

We surveyed several transects at the West Flower Garden Bank (WFGB) in depths around 300 feet. Since the sub has to stay a good way off the bottom (around 30 feet), the video from that height was not so good. We also conducted a number of side scan sonar surveys near the WFGB. The side scan data was very good.

Life on the sub is quite an experience. You share a bunk ("hot rack") with your shift partner (i.e. use the same bunk at different times). They put us in a bunk that was level with the floor. When I was in it, I had about 6 inches of clearance between my nose and the top of the bunk. It was almost impossible to turn over. Because there is so little space, one of the crew members sleeps in a hammock in the main hallway, and another sleeps on a mattress on the floor below him. In order to get to the head, you have to crawl over the guy sleeping on the floor while ducking underneath the guy in the hammock. While on duty, the scientists usually sit on a small bench (the size of a cooler) behind the pilot house, where you can see most of the video screens and instruments. There are always crew members doing things all around you. You always feel like you are in somebody's way (because you are).

Everyone cooks his own food in a small convection oven in a tiny galley. They have a good size freezer with a large selection of every variation on frozen chicken that you can imagine. Tater tots are also a popular food item. There is only space in the galley for two people to sit down.

In spite of the tight quarters, I had a great time in the sub. Captain Panlilio and his crew were all fantastic to work with. They really made us feel at home and did everything they could to achieve our science mission. It is an experience that I will remember forever.

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