Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Gray's Reef Expedition 2014
Mission Information
 

Friday: April 25, 2014
Log Day 6

Sarah Webb
Team Ocean Diver / 2013 Volunteer of the Year
Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary

Sarah Webb, ready for Team Ocean diver check-out dive.

Sarah Webb, ready for Team Ocean diver check-out dive.
(Photo: Amy Rath)

I started volunteering for Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary in 2011 with a goal to become a NOAA Team Ocean diver. This year I was named the 2013 Gray's Reef Volunteer of the Year, an achievement I'm proud of -- especially since I had served as a volunteer for over 2 years before I was able to visit Gray's Reef for the first time.

Since that first visit, I have joined the Gray's Reef dive team to support divers 'topside' - meaning from a boat rather than in the water - and I have served as an observer. Recently, I was even able to observe NOAA Corps officers performing a test of new unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Throughout this time I have volunteered with the Gray's Reef phytoplankton monitoring program, assisted in building remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) for the annual Gray's Reef MATE ROV Competition, and helped with the dirty work, such as pressure washing the Research Vessel (R/V) Joe Ferguson. However, the one thing I have really wanted to do is to be beneath the water with the scientists. Finally, after tons of paperwork, testing, prepping, and fine tuning my dive skills, I am extremely proud to say that I am now officially a Team Ocean diver! As I write this, I am sitting aboard the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster as a volunteer science diver to support research in Gray's Reef, one of many firsts I will experience while onboard.

R/V Sam Gray transfers dive teatm to the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.

R/V Sam Gray transfers dive team to the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.
(Photo: Amy Rath)

To get onboard the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster, which was already busily working in Gray's Reef, 7 divers, including myself, were taxied out to the ship with Captain Todd Recicar, Gray's Reef Marine Operations Coordinator, on the R/V Sam Gray. When we arrived at the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster, there was a line of crew members and NOAA Corps officers waiting to welcome us aboard. They tied up the R/V Sam Gray and we all ascended the 'Jacob's ladder' to the main deck.

Sarah Webb sutied in survival suit for abandon ship drill.

Sarah Webb sutied in survival suit for abandon ship drill.
(Photo: Amy Rath)

Never having been onboard the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster, I wasn't sure what to expect as far as food, living quarters, and general ship life but my expectations were definitely exceeded. I was pleasantly surprised when my room had more than enough space for me and the three other ladies that are sharing it with me. Even the onboard restrooms and showers had far more space than I imagined. Dinner was also wonderful my first night, I had chicken marsala with noodles, salad, and an ice cream cone for dessert! On a quick tour of the ship after dinner, I found the gym, movie room, a nice outside patio on the fly bridge called 'steel beach' that is perfect for naps, and the computer room where I am able to correspond with friends and family when I have down time.

Divers load tanks and gear into small boats.

Divers load tanks and gear into small boats.
(Photo: Debbie Meeks)

Our meetings began after dinner to brief all the divers on the mission of the cruise and our next morning's plan of action. Plenty of pictures were taken as we all demonstrated our ability to don a survival suit in case of an emergency. The oversized red rubber suits make everyone look like a giant Gumby. After a lot of information, it was time to set up our gear into the respective boats that would take us to the dive sites in the morning. Conditions had been good for the past few days so we were hopeful that they would continue to stay ideal. However, everyone knows you can't tame the sea.

Science divers board small dive boats from the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.

Gray's Reef Team Ocean Divers Sarah Webb (l) and Randy Rudd (r) board dive boats launched from the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.
(Photo: Amy Rath)

The next morning started off with breakfast and another quick mission briefing for the day's plan of action. The boats were loaded into the water alongside the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster as divers climbed into them using the same 'Jacob's ladder' that brought us onboard barely 24 hours earlier. The sea was unfortunately not as calm as it had been which made for a choppy ride to the dive sites. Our dive boat took on a good amount of water due to choppy conditions and poor weight management onboard and we had to bail out the water while reorganizing our gear. With less than ideal surface conditions, our tasks were a bit more difficult but we still managed to have a successful first dive. The first dive of the day with my dive team was my final check out dive for Team Ocean. This dive included practice of basic skills such as mask removal and retrieval, lost regulator, removal and retrieval of gear, and various buddy breathing scenarios. Once complete, we were able to enjoy the reef as we swam along the ocean floor and I explored Gray's Reef for the first time.

Small boats deployed from the ship take divers to dive sites.

Small boats deployed from the ship take divers to dive sites.
(Photo: Amy Rath)

Unfortunately, we had to return to the surface where conditions were becoming less and less ideal. While preparing for our second dive of the day, swells grew to 3-4 feet and made one of our diver's pretty sea sick. I was not feeling 100% either from lack of sleep but I was ready to dive if needed. But another diver was feeling fatigued as well, so for the safety of the dive team we cancelled the second dive and returned to the ship. As much as I would have loved to dive a second dive, there will be plenty of diving on this expedition and it's always best to think of safety first. Once back onboard the ship, I found that I was more tired than I realized.

After a delicious lunch and a quick warm shower, I took a much needed nap in a lounge chair on steel beach. I now have a fancy tan line, thanks to my shorts. Sadly, while I was resting, I missed a shark that was spotted. Our dinner was amazing again with stuffed chicken and veggies, and now I am writing about the many 'firsts' I've had in the past 24 hours:

  • First female Gray's Reef Team Ocean diver
  • First time diving at Gray's Reef
  • First time diving for science instead of recreational
  • First time aboard the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
  • First time aboard any ship for an extended period of time (1 week!)
  • First time donning a Gumby suit
  • First time writing a blog

I am now waiting to spot my first shark at Gray's Reef and for whatever other firsts are to come!


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