You need eyes in the back of your head working here and although we are wide awake and know what we are doing I would imagine the conversation on the bridge regarding what we are up to is sometimes interesting! The onus is on us to keep out of the way but we like to use every inch of space that we sensibly can as these things thunder down the channel. If we waited till we had loads of room to work we would never get anything done.
A little while back we announced that we had the ability to now check out sonar targets using camera systems however the learning curve has been steep from that point on. Ease of operation, deployment and additional boat handling requirements have been the focus and along the way we have crucified some expensive gear, parts for which we are now waiting for. As usual at Deeper Dorset we have been doing a little head scratching and whatever the situation we always learn from it. With that in mind we have now decided to build our own bespoke system using oil industry grade equipment rather than the lighter grade sports equipment we have operated so far. This equipment will be used to not only check out the sonar targets for the Hercules but for other projects we have in the pipeline. Making the best of a bad situation we decided it would be nice if we had better imagery, improved recording and archiving ability, had the capability to adjust lighting from the surface, had a better quality navigation interface, had an umbilical that can carry all the loads rather than an additional load carrying down line, had a system we could swop between boats, take anywhere, in fact the list of wants and improvements went on and on and we appear to have ticked every box. The picture shows the hub and the camera of the new system which can actually do a lot more than we require at present but gives us room to upgrade even further at a later date. All this doesn’t grow on trees and we have had to part with some other equipment to justify the expense, however our future looks firmly set in locating objects on the seabed using sonar and then checking out what they are remotely and to that end we have just upped our capability beyond our wildest dreams. Down side we have to wait 4 weeks but we have plenty of sidescan work to get on with for now.
Still waiting to resolve our camera problems we are bashing it big time with sidescan sonar right now. Scouring the seabed this year for aeroplanes and not knowing what we are going to find be it large or small is all consuming. The data is gone through time and again just in case we missed something first time around. We view it from different angles, use different colours, look at it close up and stand back and look from a distance trying to spot anything that may have come from an aircraft or at the very least is man made. When a nice 90 metre long shipwreck comes into view it does make a pleasant change! No point in wondering what this is? Job done tis a big ship.
As the search goes on for the missing USAF Hercules those words ring in my ears most days now as I walk down the quay. I come out with all the usual lines that we we live and die by here at Deeper Dorset such as “Every day we know where it isn’t we are closer to knowing where it is” and “If it was easy everyone would have done it by now”. The story is very much in the public eye at this time and hardly a day goes by where we don’t gather more information, be it where the aircraft might be located or more about what actually happened leading up to, during and after that sad day. It is a full time job dealing with it all but there is a real sense of purpose that keeps us kicking the can down the road for as long as we have to. Despite all the searches and subsea work we have done before the logistics of working mid English Channel with a relatively small vessel in one of the busiest shipping areas in the world has ensured a steep and expensive learning curve. The upside to that is a couple of other projects we have lined up in the future are now looking much more realistic as we improve our equipment and hone new skills. All in all I am relatively happy with progress and we never expected it to be a breeze, however when we do find the needle in the haystack if anyone near me says we were lucky they had better move fast! We have another Deeper Dorset commandment “Luck is preparation waiting for an opportunity”.
Whenever we can’t get out on the Hercules search due to fog or traffic and the weather allows we fall back on another area looking for another aircraft which is nowhere near as busy from the point of view of traffic but search wise is just as intense and meticulous. There is absolutely no point in searching if you are content to just miss a bit every now and then and hope it will be alright. The image is a plot of our activity and as you can see bottom left is a scale, the white lines represent the track of the vessel, the greyed out part defines the coverage of the sonar in this case two hundred metre runs and each pass we overlap the first pass by fifty percent. We have covered here an area around 800 metres wide and three and a half thousand metres long. All the numbers represent a sonar target that appears non natural i.e. given away by a straight line or a shape that doesn’t look like a rock and stands out from the general seabed appearance. We have this area absolutely nailed and nothing has gone unnoticed. However we are left with fifty odd targets to check out and we are hoping they are parts of an aircraft that hit the water at around 500 knots! The crash itself would be enough to spread the aircraft far and wide but fifty years of trawler activity doesn’t make the task any easier as oblivious the trawler men have further dragged everything around the seabed. There are a couple of relatively big lumps right of centre but the rest are small scattered targets which would take us weeks to check out with divers which is why we are so desperate to get the cameras repaired and back in action. Hopefully this shows the sort of intensity we put into these searches and the Hercules will be and is getting exactly the same level of effort and detailed attention. Every day we go out there to look for it we come back knowing another area where it isn’t! Which is exactly how you have to look at it till one day…..
Wandering home after a beer the other night I took time out to take a few snaps and pause a while for some reflection! Seems to me my fantastic home town of Weymouth is being constantly let down by bad decisions and who knows what the future is for the harbour as the walls slowly fall into the sea. Very easy to get depressed about it all however at Deeper Dorset we fly the flag for the area and do as much as we can to help the old town. This is a fantastic place to live with a stunning history and in the past the town has risen above the plague, rebellion and the ravages of war so I am guessing one way or another Weymouth will survive, tis just sad to see the way it is now. In the meantime life goes on and when we stated at the beginning of the year that this was the year of the plane I don’t think we really had full comprehension of what was to come. With the search for the Hercules well under way as is the search for the truth we have to be careful not to be sidetracked by another story that is developing nicely in tandem, seems missing aircraft are like busses they all tend to turn up at once.
There is a saying that winners are not those that never fail but those that never quit. Well I don’t know about being a winner but certainly the latter part applies here and quitting is never going to be an option. However that doesn’t stop me having a good moan about my lot and boring you all to death as we smash up yet more equipment on the road to getting things right. We almost have our underwater camera system perfectly set up now but it just lacked a bit of durability and the sea as always finds you out. We managed to damage a cable on the camera and seven times atmospheric pressure not only sent water up the cable it also found its way into the camera. What does this mean? Well simply a new camera and a new cable but also the chance to improve the system all at a cost of three thousand dollars! We now have to wait for the parts to come from the States but meantime we will carry on with sidescan operations and most of all keep smiling no matter how much things hurt.
The two views from my office window yesterday twenty minutes apart. Warm air over a cold sea at this time of year is always an issue and thirty yards visibility is not uncommon however we are trying to take as much advantage as we can of the calm conditions right now. Doing what we do thirty miles offshore in a relatively small boat is not for the feint hearted things do and will go wrong, how you react during those times is what counts. If you make a bad decision you have to be sure your next one is your very best or you will rapidly be sliding down the slope. Yesterday all in all wasn’t a bad day we broke some gear but that is how it is out there staying safe working to the limit and not beyond it, is the order of the day. As we always say “if it was easy….”
Every time we start to think maybe we can have a little break in proceedings and think of something else for a day or so… Bang the Paul Meyer story takes another twist. Nothing new there so I guess we shouldn’t really be surprised however while most think all the efforts are concentrated on the search for the aircraft the search for what happened before during and after the flight is just as big an undertaking. In fact I have been working on that for over ten years on and off but pleased to say that now I am getting great support from others who are working tirelessly! Fair to say we are making progress on all fronts and some of our critics (yes we have a few) are now starting to go a little quiet and sit back in their armchairs. We never thought it would be easy and we were not wrong however there is a certain satisfaction to be gained from our progress which gives us continued strength as we fight on towards the truth. One polite request please don’t anyone else tell me there is a film and a book in this….Sigh. Yes we know that but unless you are going to write it, or pay for it or tell us how to go about it please keep that to yourself while we figure that side of things out. Just a reminder to folks that there is a very sad side to this story please check out the link here and scroll to 40 minutes 30 seconds.
This is Fat Albert and Simon. Fat Albert is the piece of equipment just in case there is any confusion. The initial sonar target check outs on the Hercules search will be made with Fat Albert our custom built (by us) drop camera system and as I write this Fat Albert is on the way to becoming Fat Albert 2 while we tweek and fiddle with it. The operational brief is simple, we need to know exactly where the boat is, exactly where Fat Albert is, exactly where both are relative to each other. We need video, stills and seabed mapping and it all needs to work in over 200ft of water, oh and did I mention the budget is next to zero? Fat Albert by the way was the name that the Hercules was affectionately known by amongst its crews.
Being as busy as we are at the moment it was nice to divert the thought process from the Hercules for a day. I found myself in deepest darkest Cornwall today aboard a tall ship that is looking for a new home, now wouldn’t she be nice in Weymouth? I have an idea and a plan and it is not a case of me being brave enough it is a case of if Weymouth wants a tall ship in the harbour…. Guess we will find out soon. Does look a bit wrong in this location she is afloat but looks like she is in someones garden…
This last few weeks working on the Hercules project we have had the media all over us. In most cases it has been the usual story give us exclusive access think of the coverage you will get, bla de bla, we have been there so many times over the years, even with the much appreciated funding from the Kickstarter project this is an expensive operation for us. Television is the worst culprit not only is it all for nothing you have to hang about for hours and hours so working with Emma Jane Kirby from BBC radio 4 has been a real pleasure. Not only has she followed what we are doing through the PM programme she has really helped us push along with the investigation shore side. This story deserves so much more than a quick few minutes on a magazine programme then gone never to be seen again and so far the BBC and Emma Jane have been great.