Tag Archives: Thomas g. Thompson

Sikuliaq, tugs, shipyard and training

I’ve been home since just before Thanksgiving and enjoyed a nice holiday season with the family and got a lot done around the house too.  

Shortly after Thanksgiving I took a Vessel, Company and Facility Officer Course at PMI in Seattle. 

 Right after that I flew to New York City, rented a car and drove about an hour and half North along the Hudson River to complete my TOAR ( towing officer assessment record) on a very old diesel electric tug named the Cornell.  The program is offered by Diamond Marine Services and helps mariners like me who have a good chunk of their toar complete but are having a hard time getting the time at the wheel to finish the maneuvering portions.  In my particular case, the tugs I work on mostly tow freight barges from Seattle to Alaska.  When we pull into port, the chief mate, second mate and ab’s are all up on the barge to make her fast.  Only the captain remains aboard to maneuver the tug (sometimes the captain and chief mate trade roles).   It could take years before I could knock out all of the assessments, especially since we don’t do many of the maneuvers often or where I could break away from my job to get time to do them.  Diamond’s program lets you complete all the maneuvering with their tug and deck barge.  

As soon as I returned from New York, I turned in another application at the USCG in Seattle .  It took nearly 2.5 months to get my new MMC in the mail as they were so backed up with mariners trying to beat the rule change deadlines at the end of 2016.

I did one quick little overnight tug job from Seattle to Vancouver, Canada and back in January to deliver a barge to a shipyard:

Seattle, the Emerald City (evening):

Vancouver, Canada (very early am):

Mt. Baker along the way:

In early February, I was scheduled to work at Vigor Shipyards (formerly Todd Shipyard) for one month onboard the Thomas G. Thompson. She’s in getting a full makeover and re-power refit, re-pipe, paint, and many other upgrades. Shortly after getting my schedule all figured out, I received a call from the University of Alaska to make a relief trip on the R/V Sikuliaq.  I had to change my shipyard stint from one month to two weeks.  Trust me when I tell you that two weeks was plenty!  The ship is all torn apart and a ton of work to get done.  It was interesting to see the progress being made.  It will also be interesting to see if it will be done on time or not.

Shortly after accepting the relief gig on the Sikuliaq, I got called by my tug company to make a run to Dutch Harbor for roughly 35 days.  It’s their slowest time of the year so when I told them I found some relief work they were totally cool with it because they had several people to try and keep busy.  When I return in April they should picking up steam and probably keep me super busy over the summer.

So shortly I’ll be leaving home to join the Sikuliaq.  She’s got an ice class hull designed for science trips in the Arctic.  I’m meeting her in Hawaii and taking her to Newport, Oregon stopping by Musician Seamounts for some project that I’m not yet sure of.  She’s 261′ long, 55′ wide and was launched in 2014.  Until recently, she had a terrible reputation as having a awful ride.  A problem was discovered with the ships roll tank and once that was corrected the ride has improved dramatically according to those I’ve talked to.  We shall see.  Here are some more pics:

Everyone be well and I’ll try to keep updates rolling……..if the internet works.

6 Minute Buoy Recovery

A while back I did a post about how to recover a buoy.  Click Here to review.  Now we have a video of how it is done.

While working in Nootka Sound a couple weeks ago, we were contacted by Oregon State University and asked to help recover a science buoy that had broken free from her mooring. The buoy was moored off of central Oregon and during one of the massive Pacific lows we’ve had this winter it broke loose and started drifting North. We were only about 40 miles away when the weather cooperated enough to get offshore and try for the recovery. Everything went extremely well and the total recovery only took 6 minutes! It helped that the buoy was relatively small and didn’t have any instruments hanging below the buoy to gum up the works.  Of course since OSU is a rival to the U of W we had a good time letting them know we saved their ass.  They paid us two cases of beer when we returned to port.
Yours truly hooking the package.

I hope everyone has a very Happy New Year and a prosperous 2016!  Be safe and thank you for watching.



Nootka Sound, Vancouver Island


Returned home a week ago from a brutally long hitch of nearly 4 months at sea.  Didn’t feel especially inspired to fight our painfully slow internet and make many posts along the way.  Most of the hitch was spent in different legs along the Washington and Oregon coasts deploying and recovering science gear.  One trip extended down to Cape Mendicino, CA and another to Nootka Sound, Vancouver Island (pictures included).

This was the second year in a row we’ve made the senior student trip to Nootka.
We did lots of water sampling, mud coring, plankton tows, plastic tows etc.

It is such an amazing place and a great place to be when the winter storms are raging outside the fjords.







We had to run offshore during the trip to make water this year.  While offshore, we recovered a wayward science buoy from Oregon State University that broke free of its mooring near Newport, OR.   There is a video of that coming later.


How to recover a buoy


We do a lot of buoy deployments and recoveries onboard the Thomas G. Thompson.  These are not navigational buoys but rather scientific moorings.

The first thing is to find the buoy.  Sounds simple, but many times they are missing or half sunk as a result of being struck by a ship or something.

Then we slowly approach and hand a special transducer over the side and trip the acoustic release.  The release basically drops the anchor and the buoy and mooring line float free.

We lead the winch wire or retrieval line over the hanging block on the A-frame and lead it around the starboard side of the ship.  A recovery hook is attached to the winch line and stuck on a pole that can be held out over the side.  At this point, the captain manuvers the ship to the buoy to begin the recovery.

Like this:







Once the hook is attached, the ship slowly moves forward and leads the buoy around the stern while the deck gang mends the winch line around the back of the back of the ship.  We tow the buoy for a little while to stretch out the mooring line and keep it from getting fouled.



Once it is trailing nicely astern, we haul in on the winch and bring the buoy to the stern where we can attach tag lines and control to buoy when it comes aboard.


Then using the A-frame and winch the buoy is brought up on deck.  The mooring line is stoppered off to the deck and the buoy is broken off from the mooring line.  The buoy is then moved out of the way with a deck crane and secured.



  The winch line is then attached to the mooring line and reeled in to complete the recovery.  Often there are instruments attached on the line that we must stop and remove.  Depending on the depth and complexity the recoveries can take from 2-7 hours to complete.

We then take them to a pier somewhere to get serviced / repaired for a future redeployment.


Gulf of Alaska, Ocean Station Papa

We steamed out of Seattle straight into a gale headed for Ocean Station Papa. Station P. lays approx. half way between the W. Entrance to the Straights of Juan De Fuca and Dutch Harbor Alaska.
  The next seventeen days were mostly
misery.   Well not quite that bad as the low pressure systems move through pretty quick and it take a couple days for the next one to arrive.  Our worst was gusts to 55 knots with seas around 25 feet.  The worst part was at the start of my watch the wind would be from 270 and by the end was at 360.  There was no good heading to be on, they were all fucked.  We were hove to babysitting some drifting instruments and the ships dynamic positioning systems was totally overwhelmed do the mate and I took 15-20 minute turns hand steering as best we could.  Couldn’t get any pictures.

This trip was pretty boring other than deploying two weather buoys in 4200 meter deep water and recovering one.  The rest of the time we spent deploying drifters in the morning, buoysitting all day then picking them up in the late afternoon.  Then we would hove to overnight and repeat.  I swear to god it felt lkke ground hog day each day.  It got daylight at 0900 and dark by 1600. 





The drifters or swifts: (we called them lawn darts)


The noaa waverider buoy we deployed:



Probably the best fun was when the chief scientist sent some students out to spool some line on the deck winch.  The line is coated in vectran to reduce drag through the water.  They spooled most of line (loosly) to one side of the drum.  The ship took a heavy roll and the line totally fur balled on the drum.  it took them nearly 12 hours to pull it off by hand and respool correctly.




Hard lesson learned by the youngins.

Toward the very end of the trip the weather looked like it might turn out pretty nice, which was great for the crew but not great for the science party.  Thier research focuses on the mixing and turbulence caused by breaking waves.  No waves – no data for them.  Since we were something like an 85 hour steam back to the coast, they decided to steam in and hold off about 200 nm off the coast and hope for another system.  Our first day closer to the coast was really nice with the air temp at 57 find no wind….



It did slowly build to about 25 knots overnight and the science group was estatic.  At that point, time was up and we slow steamed back to Seattle.

We have another three week break in our schedule before our next trip so I hopped on the baby brother to the TGT, the Clifford A. Barnes for a five day trip.  We are currently sampling mud in Hood Canal.   More details later.


There’s a hole in our schedule

We were supposed to have been beginning a mid-life refit onboard the Thomas G. Thompson, however it was decided to postpone the refit for one year. This ship is one of several that works under UNOLS scheduling. UNOLS is the University National Oceanographic Laboratory System (Click HERE for link) and our schedule is determined by a central dispatch type arrangement. If you are a scientist with a project in the Caribbean, they will schedule ship time for you on a ship that will be in the area. If you are working in the North Pacific, they will schedule time for you on the nearest ship and so on. Since we were “scheduled” to be in the shipyard now, we didn’t get put on the schedule. Later once it was decided to postpone the shipyard, the ship’s schedule was filled in as best as possible but we still had a six week gap at the dock.

We have been getting very familiar with our painting skills, cleaning, maintenance, etc. They are also doing some training. Next week there is one of the local maritime schools coming in to do Fast Rescue Boat Training. I won’t be able to make that because I’m getting sent out on the Clifford A. Barnes to help out for a short trip. I will get to take a course later.

We normally would be in the South Pacific at this time of year, but instead we will be getting spanked in the Gulf of Alaska over the winter. Stay tuned for a report. We have some other things to do first.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Summer wind down, student cruises and transit to Ecuador


Welcome back Blue Ocean Mariner readers! It has been so long ago that I made a real post, that I had to go back and read where I left off. I had tried several times onboard the ship to update, but the internet was so slow that I ultimately abandoned the effort several times. I’ve debated entering several smaller posts over the next week, but decided to just make one big entry and dump it all out at once so I don’t forget anything.

Jason ROV – Axial Seamount:
Just after offloading the ROPOS ROV in Victoria (see earlier post) and returning to Seattle, we had a 10 day stretch at the dock where we caught up on maintenance, organized the deck for the next oncoming science party and began to receive their equipment onboard. The next trip was with the Woods Hole Jason ROV. The loading all starts with a 175 Ton shore side crane coming in and loading all of the heavy lifts. They start on the bow and load containers of spare rov parts, then move to the aft deck and load the rov control vans and the rov and rov launch crane. Then the shore side crane leaves and everything is wired, lashed, bolted down, organized, etc.




We headed back out to the Axial Seamount, 300NM off of Central Oregon. This is the same project we were on the last leg with the ROPOS ROV. The ROPOS leg was installation of the cabled observatory with lots of instruments, cables, junction boxes and related hardware being deployed. This leg with Jason studied the hydrothermal vents, microbiology, oceanography, energy and other things I don’t fully understand. For example, one of the projects included putting a cap on a hydrothermal vent and creating an electrical energy source. The experiment was a success and they were able to generate a pretty good amount, although I can’t remember what that was.

We also spent considerable time deploying benchmarks that were set in several locations on top of the seamount. Then a super accurate pressure sensor was placed on top of each benchmark and recording were taken. At future visits to the seamount, more readings can be taken and note the changes in elevation of the seamount. The seamount has risen 11′ since 2011 and may be getting ready to erupt again soon.




Unlike the ROPOS ROV which uses the lemon floats to carry the weight of the cable, the Jason ROV uses a unit named Medea that bears the load of the cable and then tethers the Jason ROV so that the ROV can roam freely without being shock loaded be the cable as the ship surges in the sea. The other notable feature of the Jason system is that the Jason crew takes control of the ship while they are diving on station. They can slowly maneuver the ship from their control van and have it follow the rov where they need it to go. The control of the ship can be immediately returned to the bridge if the need were to arise.

That’s all fine and dandy until the bow thruster takes a dump. The thruster itself did not die, but rather the motor that controls the direction of thrust. There was no way possible for the ROV control van to control the ship without a functional bow thruster while sitting on DP. Control was resumed on the bridge and every time the ROV needed to move a phone call was made to bridge to explain where they wanted to go and at the same time a electronic chart on the bridge was updated by the ROV control showing the heading and distance to their next location. Along the same time we had some incredibly calm conditions that actually made keeping the ship on course harder. It was easier with about 15 knots of wind and gave some force to lean into. Without the wind, controlling the bow was a challenge. Near the end of the trip, the work around consisted of calling the engineers and having them move the thruster to either 90 or 270 and then the bridge could apply thrust in the direction they wanted to go. It helped tremendously to maintain the ship on station and the ROV was able to complete their job.

We did manage to sneak in a few barbeques on the bow for over the trip due to the great weather:




At the end of the trip, we again went to Victoria, Canada to offload a bunch of our science party. They were boarding the R/V Falkor. The Falkor is owned by Schmidt Ocean Research Institute and was started by Eric Schmidt of Google fame. We tied up directly behind the Falkor and in the photo you will see the ROV ROPOS onboard while the ROV Jason is onboard our ship, the Thomas G. Thompson. If you look closely at the photo of the Falkor, you can see that they have two satellite domes. I seriously doubt they have any issue connecting to the internet, especially when your boss is the CEO of Google.


We were only in Victoria about four or five hours and then departed again for Seattle. With no functional bow thruster, we had to be taken under tow by a Western Towboat tug to pass through the locks. As the lock gates opened and the towboat leaned on the throttles, there was a huge explosion of salmon off the boat of the tug. The engine noise must have scared them. It was right during the peak of the salmon run. Unfortunately I was unable to take a picture.

Western Towboat towing the Thompson:

Student Cruises:
Part of the University of Washington charter agreement with the Navy is to provide so many days of student learning / cruises. Many of the crew do their very best to schedule their time off during these evolutions. You can see from the schedule below were in and out of port numerous times sometimes a few times per day. The weather during the student cruises was FUBAR as well, making things more difficult. We had gusts to 40 knots in Puget Sound and solid rain for the week. I enjoyed the student cruises for the most part. We earned lots of overtime and I really got a chance to work the mooring lines multiple times (which is a great workout).

The student trips were run mostly from pier 91 in Seattle, which allowed much easier tie ups than going all the way into the locks to the University Pier. Pier 91 is where most of the large trawler fleet is based. These trawlers fish the Bearing Sea and the coasts of Oregon and Washington for hake, sole, cod, etc.




During one of the cruises, we stayed tied to the pier. Overnight a huge cruise ship docked just off our bow. In the morning, we had to thread between a couple of factory trawlers on the left and the cruise ship on the right. The wind we blowing off our Stbd. Bow as we left the dock. As we passed the cruise ship, it blocked all the wind, then as we came out from behind the ship the wind blasted us again. The crew did a great job keeping us off the line of factory trawlers.

Here is the hole:

Tight Squeeze:



The hole from a different view. We came out just to the right of the cruise ship on the right:

Pier 91, where the student cruises launched from, has great views of the downtown Seattle skyline:



A couple of the student cruises were all the way out to the coast off of La Push, WA. The first time (early in the week) was to restive a scientific mooring / buoy and bring it to port so it could be maintained. Along the way we did a number of CTD stations. I forgot to take a photo of the CTD unit itself, but it basically takes water samples at various depths dictated by the science party. The CTD is deployed on out Hydro Boom that stick out of the Stbd. side of the ship and is deployed / retrieve with our winches.

Winch control station and view from the winch control:




At the end of the week we took on fuel, getting ready to depart for South America. The fuel dock has a nice view as well:

The fuel pier we use, is right next door to Northland Services. Here is one unique barge that loads containers on the top and then loaded rail cars are loaded on the bottom. When they arrive at their destination, they wheel the rail cars off. Pretty cool idea!

A couple of Western Towboat tugs arrived to make up to the Northland Barge.


On the other side of the fuel pier is the Vigor Shipyard (formerly Todd Shipyard). They are overhauling the USCG Icebreaker Polar Star:

Somewhere during the student cruises, the Thomas G. Thompson celebrated her 300th voyage:

At the end of our student cruises, we had one last entry into the Ballard Locks and the ship canal. Inside the Ballard Locks:


Some fishing vessels waiting for us to clear out so they can enter the locks and the Corbin Foss waiting to exit:




One last time to the U of W Dock. Same thing as before, a shore side crane came along side the next morning and loaded 7 containers beginning on the bow. Two of the containers on the bow are refrigerated that will be used to hold garbage while in the tropics on a long leg. There was a scurry of science people that arrived and seemed allot like anarchy as each group wanted priority over their equipment to be loaded, hooked up, lashed, etc. It’s surprising no one was injured.

One of the containers that was delivered to us on a long haul truck, also had a wrecked car as part of the load. The crane operator thought it would be funny to make it look like they smashed the car by accident with the container. The next morning, the University’s Port Captain and Marine Superintendent came onboard for breakfast and I showed the car we smashed the day before. They just sat looking at the photos in disbelief and wonder why the accident wasn’t reported until I spilled the beans that it was all a set up photo.
It looks pretty real, doesn’t it?


We pulled off the U of W Dock one last time. The Thompson won’t be back again until next summer.

On the way out we passed Western Towboat and their nice shiny fleet. They keep their equipment in perfect condition:




Also passed Kvichak, builders of some really badass aluminum boats:

We made our way into the locks and everything was going fine. I was assigned to the bow, as normal with a couple of other ab’s. To exit the locks and head to sea, you would have to normally wait for a train bridge to be opened. Normally we would sit in the locks with gate open, waiting for the bridge. While we sit the water has a chance to mellow out and there is very little current when we do pull out. I’m pretty sure the bridge was telling us to come on through or something, because we didn’t wait like normal for the current to mellow out. As we started making way, we picked up some pretty good headway, maybe four knots. The lock attendants are always reminding us to mend our fenders as a vessel last year has failed to and their fender ripped some sections of fencing gate off the locks. With the headway we were making, I took one look at the fenders and mentioned to the other AB that if the ship were to come close to the wall, to get the fuck out of the way. There would be no way to manage the fenders when the weight of the vessel pushed them up to the wall and they came tight. I was more worried about the lines holding the fenders snapping and killing or injuring one of us. We were plenty far enough from the wall in our area (amidships), but just as I had said to run if the lines came tight, we noticed the stern coming close to the wall and the fender riding up and coming tight. Just then, our young Third Mate came out from behind the rear crane clutching her hand in agony. She had tried to mend the fender and got some fingers pinched when the line came tight. The vessel couldn’t do anything but proceed out of the locks and through the bridge. Once outside of the bridge and the entrance channel, we were able to heave to and launch the rescue boat and evacuate her to a waiting ambulance to get checked out. Turns out she broke three fingers and lost some skin. She was super lucky that it was just the very tips of her fingers and she should have a full recovery. (update: she missed to transit to Ecuador but rejoined as the ship arrived in Ecuador). Here a few photos I took of our third mate being whisked away in the rescue boat:





The water was flat calm when we evacuated the mate. After we retrieved the rescue boat and got underway for Ecuador, the winds picked up really quickly. We still had a bunch of stuff to lash and were working fast while we still had the protected waters of Puget Sound. Then as fast as the wind came up, it died and turned out to be a really nice evening as we approached the Olympic Mountains and the Straights of Juan De Fuca:



As we approached the West end of the straights we started to feel a pretty good ground swell. As we made the turn at Cape Flattery we got hit on the beam with 14′ swells that lasted for about 12 hours and made the ride pretty sloppy. Further down the coast we turned again and put the swell on our stern and made a nice ride all the way beyond San Diego. Our course lines were obviously drawn by a non fisherman. Everywhere there was good structure like a underwater canyon, ledge, seamount, etc., we were at least 80 miles from it. We passed some very famous fishing spots such as Guadalupe Island, Alijos Rocks, Hurricane Bank, Cocos Island to name a few. Fishing turned out to be a bust for the entire trip and making 12 – 14 knots didn’t help either.

As we made our way down Baja, we started to feel the effects of a tropical depression named Octave followed by a weak system named Priscilla. We ended up get hit with 40 knots of wind and about 15′ seas. The wind petered out very quickly and the swell didn’t last too long either. The next day, Priscilla had strengthened and moved West so we missed her, but she did give us a half of a day of swell on our beam.

Finally we received some hot, flat and humid tropical heat for a few days.





THIS IS NOT A DRILL! Saturday afternoon, after watch, I was in my rack enjoying some sweet dreams when the alarm rang and the announcement came over the speakers “this is not a drill, report to your muster station, fire onboard”. I slapped on some clothes and hit the muster station. There was a fire in the engine room. It turned out to be a water jacket heater on one of the Cat 3516 main engines. The thermostat shorted out and melted the wires which in turn burned some rubber and made allot of smoke, but no fire. It was put out by turning off the electrical to the unit. It was a good muster and the crew was suited up quickly and efficiently.

Pollywog to Shellback:
The evening before we arrived in Ecuador, we crossed the Equator. I was a pollywog but now am a Shellback. At the time we crossed, it was pretty tense on the bridge as there were numerous pangas fishing the area that did not show up on radar. They also don’t have lights, or I should say they don’t turn on their lights until you right on top of them! I tried to take a photo of 000 but missed it by a hair:

We arrived in Manta, Ecuador after 16 days at sea. We met the pilot boat and made our way to the pier. At the dock were numerous seiners unloading net loads of super small tunas. These are the super seiners that wrap entire schools in their 2 mile seine nets and have helicopters onboard to find the tuna. It was pretty bad in my opinion.





We tied up, put out the gangway, let the pilot off and greeted the customs and immigration officials. It took several hours to clear into the country. They allowed the oncoming crew and science party to board, but not for us to depart the ship. This gave us time to finish packing, clean our rooms for the next crew, have lunch and just hang out for a bit. It also marked the 80th day I had been aboard and I was ready to get off asap!

We were finally cleared by the Ecuadorian Customs and several of my crew mates and I went a few miles down the beach to a hotel, where one of them booked a room (their flight wasn’t until the next day). Myself and several others were flying out later that night so we stuffed our bags in the hotel room and made our way to the bar to have some beers and food. I was struck by how nice the roads were in town. I had imagines Ecuador being really bad and broke down, but the little bit of it I saw was pretty nice. The hotel was excellent as was the airport. We only got to see a few miles on either side of the port so we really didn’t get to see too much.












We made our way to the airport and flew to Quito, the capital of Ecuador. It was already dark when we flew in so we couldn’t see too much, but it looks like a real cool place. From Quito we flew to Atlanta, then on to Seattle.

I arrived home and was met by my wife and kids at the airport. On the drive home we stopped in Seattle at the Coast Guard Rec Center and turned in the discharge papers, course certificate and assessments for RFPNW. I’m very happy to finally have that checked off the list.

There is a huge difference in the weather between Ecuador and my home, just North of Seattle. Fall has arrived along with the fall colors!