July 22, 2006
On Saturday, approximately 0830, all systems were a go and the NOAA Ship Fairweather was released from its moorings. Preparations for departure actually started 24 hours beforehand. There is a pre-underway checklist that the officers must complete. It works like a countdown. 24 hrs. prior to underway: There is a list of seven things to be done, some of which are to arrange for line handlers, start and configure the ECDIS and ensure the track line is plotted.
I entered the bridge at about 0600 on Saturday to find out that the we were still scheduled to get underway. At 3 hours. prior to underway, according to the checklist, the power was switched from the shore to the ship. There was a quick flash of the lights as the ship's generators were engaged. At 2 hours, the GMDSS was checked along with the navigation lights. Then Ensign Matt Glazewski posted the weather data on the bridge. At 1.5 hours prior, the control pitch on the port engine propeller and the steering gear was checked. 45 minutes prior to underway: An announcement was made: "The following is a test of the ships whistle and general alarm. Disregard."
Once that was done, another announcement came over the intercom that the test had finished and to pay attention to any further whistles or alarms. 35 minutes prior to underway: The ensign requested that department heads muster and report the status of their respective departments to the bridge. For the next 5 minutes or so the bridge phone kept ringing as each dept head reported. All were good to go. 30 minutes prior: Ensure the area around the stern was clear. Light off main engine. I was curious about the term "light off." It simply meant to start the main engine.
5 minutes: Once the checklist was complete the ensign reported to the CO (commanding officer). "The ship is ready to get underway in all respects." Ensign Matt Glazewski was directed to take the ship out. The lines holding the ship to the dock were released and the Fairweather moved away from Kodiak Island.
It was raining lightly as we got underway but no one seemed to notice. The course was set to go north around Kodiak Island and at some point to got southwest through Woody Pass and get to Whale Passage by about 1220 hours. Our time of departure had actually been determined by what time we would get to Whale Passage since it was a narrow area to pass through and more easily done when the tides were at a low point for calmer water.
As we got underway, I now got to see how all of the instruments that I learned about were actually used. The XO (Executive Officer) used the AIS and the GMDSS to communicate with ships that were in the area to make sure that we were not on a collision course with them. Ensign Glazewski did a fine job of navigating the ship out of the harbor. The officers and crew of Fairweather are very conscious of safety and I was impressed with their diligence as we moved through the congested area around Kodiak Island. The buoy system reminded me of lanes on a highway. The general rule: When leaving a harbor, the green buoys need to be on the starboard side and the red buoys should be on the port side. It works the opposite way for entering a harbor.
As we entered Whale Passage, the ship's speed was lowered from a full 13 knots to 10 knots. We reached this destination 15 minutes later than planned but still at a good time. I was amazed to see large numbers of sea otters. Some of them came close to the bow before diving to avoid the ship. Later we were entertained by a couple of whales as they traveled in the opposite direction. After leaving Whale Passage, I was thrilled when I was asked if I would like to take the helm and Ensign Glazewski showed me how to read the instruments to keep the ship on track. It certainly takes a lot of practice and skill. Everyone on the ship managed to survive my steering and I even started to get the hang of it after awhile.
Some tests needed to be done on the MVP and the USPL pole. Just as the pole test was being done, the clouds cleared and the sun shone brightly. I had not seen the sun since arriving in Kodiak exactly one week earlier. Then we heard one of the crewmembers saying that we had some visitors. We looked over the port side and there was a whole family of dolphins playing alongside the ship. It was quite an exciting day!