|The crew prepares for a flight.|
The ship is filling back up again with passengers as we head into our final week of the cruise. We picked up last year’s Gough Island science team and turnover staff and are now back at Tristan de Cunha. For the previous two weeks, the five ship-based scientists have pretty much had the place to ourselves. Other than the ship's crew, there are twelve men that make up the helicopter crew who have been onboard the whole time. They did not get to join us during the unique down-time us scientists got on both Tristan and Gough Islands (see previous posts). Instead, they were busy shuttling passengers and cargo between the ship and the islands.
|A container is flown to Gough Island.|
There are two identical helicopters stored in the hangar on level 5, and they have flown both on this trip, though only one at a time. They are used for both scientific and logistic purposes. Containers full of supplies are brought out from the ship's hold and connected to a quick release device hanging down from the helicopter (see picture at left). At least one of the helicopter crew members are on the ground to ensure the containers are set down safely, and then the pilot presses a button to release the cargo. The process is reversed when bringing empty containers back to the ship.
Flights were also taken to survey other areas of the island, and to drop scientists off at otherwise inaccessible areas. This turnover cruise is one of only a few times all year that a helicopter is available on each of these islands. A few trips were also taken when we were off-shore of Nightingale Island in order to supply the scientists who will live there for the next six months.
The crew are a friendly bunch of guys, ready to chat over meals; it's like having a bunch of uncles and cousins onboard. Many of them have visited the lab and I got a tour of the hangar and helicopter in return. Apparently over the course of this five week cruise, they will be in the air for a total of 20 hours. At first, this might not sound like much, but each run only takes a few minutes. Not to mention that during the days the ship is near the islands, the helicopter crew is basically always on call, as they need to take advantage of any good weather window. As you can see in the picture at the bottom of the page, there’s a GPS screen on the dashboard, just like in a car. In this case, it shows trip after trip between the ship and the base on Gough Island, as well as a few longer trips to other areas.
|The twelve members of the Ultimate Heli team.|
Many of the crew members have worked all over the world, often in remote areas. Even compared to their standards, a trip like this, to the most remote islands on Earth, must be something special. It takes the whole team to get the job done, and these guys really seem to enjoy the challenge.