During the mid seventies when sludge from New York was still being dumped twelve to fifteen miles off the New Jersey coast, the Federal Government sent an outfit (EPA) from the west coast to do some research off the Jersey coast. While working aboard the research vessel, Atlantic Twin, my brother and I had another opportunity to witness â€œscientific researchâ€ at its best.
For a particular research project in the mid 70’s, the EPA established a two part plan: 1) deploy two very intricate underwater sensors designed to analyze the temperature, salinity and in general, water quality; and 2) determine if the sludge being dumped spread all over the ocean or was the sludge and pollution contained in what was called, “The NY Bight.” One sensor would be stationary and anchored to the ocean floor. The second sensor would be set about mid-water (between the bottom and the surface) and secured to a small sea anchor so it would drift with the current and marked with a buoy so we could retrieve it at a later date. Both sensors were to be monitored twenty-four hours a day for five days.
Loading equipment and securing it usually took a whole day but we knew there was a small window of opportunity to complete this research project (five days) so we worked diligently to accommodate this group of highly educated research scientists.
While steaming (pretty nautical, huh?) toward our coordinates I was asked if we had anything on-board to measure the length of the line they were to use on their buoy. I found a yardstick from our tool locker. It was summarily dismissed. I was told that the line had to be measured in meters because this was, “Scientific research.” (pooh, pooh!). These, “Highly educated” scientists eventually decided to measure the line the old-fashioned way, which was to grab the line with each hand and spread your arms across your chest (wing span). This method has been used by commercial fisherman for centuries and is pretty accurate but it did not seem very, “Scientific?”
Upon reaching the station everyone was assembled on deck to review the procedure for releasing the gear overboard. The crane would lift a 700 lb. railroad wheel, which the researchers brought all the way from Seattle, Washington. The wheel was to be used as the anchor for the stationary, mid-water sensor and released over the stern of the boat. The wheel/anchor would be dropped over the stern and followed by the attached line. To prevent the line from getting tangled in the sensor two scientists would wait until there was about twenty feet of line left before they tossed their highly sophisticated equipment, followed by some more line and finally a buoy which would float and serve to mark the location.
Everyone on the boat watched intently when: the anchor was dropped; followed by the line; followed by the sophisticated equipment; followed by some more line; and finally the buoy. Well, apparently one of the, “Smart” people measured the line improperly and the buoy disappeared beneath the surface. There was stunned disbelief on the faces of the scientists and hysterical laughter coming from the crew. I had to pick my brother, Bill, up off the deck having initially thought he hurt himself falling down. He was fine other than a stomachache from laughing. It gets better– standby.
After the laughter.and the tears subsided, the scientific researchers got together and decided we should try to retrieve the gear with a grappling hook. You should know that before loran C, we used a system called loran A which accuracy was only good to about one thousand feet and not fifty feet as with loran C, or five feet with GPS. Hours went by and there was no sign of their $15, 000 to $20,000 gear which disappeared with the 700 lb anchor and marker buoy. Recognizing they could not just abandon this expensive gear that they brought from the west coast, they decided we would go back to port and rent sonar equipment! (Did you know you could rent sonar equipment?)
For the next day I held pieces of steel while our engineer, Scotty Anderson, welded everything needed to support the part of the sonar to be submerged. The aft cabin on our vessel soon contained all the rented scopes and headphones needed for our sonar search.
Back on station later that day the transducer was lowered into the water. The scientists began mulling around the big sonar screen. The chief scientist put on the headphones that looked like something out of a World War II submarine movie and the “PINGS” began. Back and forth, back and forth we went in a search pattern trying to locate items that would make or break the scientist in charge.
The tension was palpable and the silence deafening for more than three hours. Scotty and I stuck our heads in the door where the only thing that could be herd was the ping, ping, ping along with a lot of heavy breathing. Scotty broke the silence by asking a question we all wondered: “How do you know when you lock onto the lost equipment?” All hell broke loose when the sonar operator took off the headphones, threw them to the ground and screamed, “How the fuck do I know, I never operated one of these things before!” You can’t make this stuff up.