On-board Diary: The Sahara Seamounts. Echo Seamount. Friday, September 18, 2009

Author: Gorka Leclercq
Date: September 18, 2009



The sun comes up during my shift on the Oceana Ranger, on the east, and before the light begins to shine, Venus peeks out over the horizon, the morning star. I prepare the camera to film the daybreak despite the rocking seas, but the new day has a surprise in store for me; I see “horns” on the horizon: it’s the moon that apparently fell asleep and has to hurry so the sun doesn't catch up with it.

I have never seen a daybreak like this (I am usually fast asleep at this time of the day), and I don't know if it's because of our latitude or the phases of the moon, but the fact is that the two bodies are only separated by an hour and the sky looks like something out of a science fiction movie.

Ricardo Aguilar and Ana Torriente spent the night drinking coffee and working with “Olex” designing the bathymetry, so the ROV can be in the water at 9 am for the dives we’ve planned on the Echo seamount on the Sahara Bank.

We are about 200 miles south of the Canary Islands; according to the local charts, these mountains rise from a seabed over 3,000 meters deep, up to 150 meters. In any case, we haven’t found such superficial elevations during our dives and we are working at approximately 500 meters depth. The ROV takes almost 45 minutes to reach the seabed and show us the first inhabitants, a ray (Raja maderensis) and a large Atlantic wreckfish (Polyprion americanus) pose in front of the ROV’s camera.

The dive continues and the overcast sky becomes darker. It begins to rain unceasingly and we hurry to close the portholes so the electronic equipment doesn't get wet. But Murphy does it again: the remote control that operates the winch that hauls up the ROV doesn't seem to want to work when wet, so here we are, with the ROV "stuck" at almost 500 meters depth.

Carlos “Mc Gyver” Pérez concentrates on finding the cause of the problem but after more than two hours, he can’t find it. We decide to cut the cable and haul up the ROV manually.

This is when the odyssey begins for the ROV technicians. They must try to insert the ballast cable inside a blade of the ROV's arm that is only about five centimeters wide, to try to cut it; all of this with a weight of about 85 kgs “dancing around" underneath us at 500 meters depth. After more than one hour of jolts and lurches, including a collision between the ballast and the ROV, they were finally able to cut the cable and begin to recover the remaining cable and haul up the ROV.

Another hour and a half of working under intense rain (at least we are in the Sahara Bank) until everything is safely on board.

After this "adventure”, we study our options and decide to head towards Grand Canary Island to repair the winch, because we’ll find better infrastructures on this island to carry out the work.

We have more than 200 miles ahead of us until we reach port (as usual, the thing couldn’t break during another dive, when we are closer to the coast, it had to happen when we are as far away as possible during the expedition…), so we have some reading ahead of us and some movies on the computer to try to learn more about marine birds at the hands of our onboard expert José Peñalver (Indi), during the next two and a half days.