Day 1 - Departure
September 6, 2011

Throughout the morning, researchers worked with the crew of the Kilo Moana to crane over a dozen large boxes of equipment onto the aft deck of the ship.

One of the most exciting (and stressful) parts of a research cruise is the day of departure. It culminates months of preparation, during which researchers must plan their experiments, get their paperwork in order, and ship their fragile scientific equipment across countries and oceans, hoping that it arrives in one piece.

Then there are the last minute preparations at the dock: the loading of gear, the desperate trips to the hardware store, the frantic search for just the right size of needle-nosed pliers… After all this activity, it’s almost anticlimactic when the ship finally leaves the dock and heads out toward the open ocean.

Yesterday, the decks of the Kilo Moana were almost deserted. Throughout the afternoon, researchers trickled in, jet-lagged from their cross-country flights, and tried to find their berths in the labyrinthian corridors of the 57-meter (186-foot) vessel. We said hi to each other when we crossed paths. The main activity took place around the Environmental Sample Processor (ESP), as the team from MBARI finished checking out and reprogramming the instrument, parts of which they had to rebuild over the last week or two.

Toward sunset, our empty stomachs brought us together and we walked down the street to an atmospheric restaurant/tiki bar. With the lush vegetation, good food, and a nice sunset, you could almost pretend that you weren’t in the middle of an industrial park off the end of a runway at Honolulu International Airport. It was a fun evening, but I don’t think many people stayed up late.

This morning, the ship came alive, as about 25 scientists and an equal number of ship’s crew used large cranes to bring aboard equipment and supplies. Everything had to be stowed away, or at least tied down. Researchers lugged crates and tanks and instruments into the several large labs on board the ship, and tried to decide where to put everything. With at least a dozen separate research projects planned, and two dozen scientists eager to get to work, the chief scientist, Julie Robidart has had her hands full, to say the least.

We left port just before noon, and a little ahead of schedule. Turns out we needed to get around the western corner of Oahu before the military started conducting exercises at sea. Leaving Honolulu harbor, we admired the tall buildings of downtown Honolulu, the lush green Koolau mountains, and the landmark of Diamond Head.

Roman Marin watches as the Kilo Moana cruises past downtown Honolulu on its way out of Honolulu Harbor. The large plywood box that looks like a phone booth houses the ESP, which requires air conditioning to keep its chemical reagents cool.

It wasn’t until the safety meeting, about an hour after leaving port, that I saw the full complement of the science crew. They represent an interesting spectrum of age and experience, from undergraduates on their first research cruise to experienced scientists who have been going to sea since the 1980s.

The researchers hail from all across the United States, reflecting the many institutions involved in the National Science Foundation-funded C-MORE program. There is a sizeable contingent from the University of Hawaii, two groups of Californians from the University of California, Santa Cruz and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), and groups from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on the east coast. It is a very interesting and very smart bunch of people.

We enjoyed beautiful sea conditions all afternoon, with light to non-existent trade winds and very little in the way of seas, even after we rounded Kaena Point on the west end of Oahu. I’m sure that some of the easy ride has to do with the Kilo Moana’s design. It’s deep twin hulls make it a very stable ship.

The researchers took advantage of this time to unpack and begin to set up their experiments. Most people worked diligently, but did not seem to be in a huge rush. It turns out that we will be heading much further north than we had originally expected.

We had originally planned to head for Station ALOHA, which is about 100 kilometers north of Oahu. However, researchers at the University of Hawaii have been analyzing satellite data that suggests an area about 320 kilometers north of Oahu will be better for our drifting instruments. So that’s where we’re headed. We’re supposed to get there around noon tomorrow. At that point, we’ll start putting out instruments in the water and see what happens.

—Kim Fulton-Bennett

Members of the science crew look back at the city of Honolulu and the Koolau mountains as the Kilo Moana leaves port.

By sunset, the island of Oahu had been reduced to a little silhouette on the horizon.

Elizabeth Ottesen and Jessica Bryant of MIT prepare an incubation chamber on an upper deck of the Kilo Moana as the sun sets behind them.
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