A Day at Sea: Global Sub Dive's Submersible Operations Explained

Robert Manuel Carmichael, Randy Holt, Shane Zigler, and Kenny Hauge next to NOMAD. #TeamGSD

Starting the Day

Last week my boss gave me the difficult task of documenting a day of operations. My lack of knowledge of the operative component of our amazing underwater turnkey resources company was the driving force behind my gullibility. I thought we’d go out on the ship, the Go America (GOA), and swiftly dump the sub in the water, pick it up, and get on with our day.

Boy was I wrong.

What I learned on Sunday, December 30th, 2018, after almost 12 hours at sea was simple, yet amazing: Global Sub Dive could not operate without the knowledge, dedication, and professionalism of its crew, and the passion of its CEO. Each person has an intricate job to perform for operations to run smoothly and they are all masters at it.

I was excited all week in anticipation of my first time participating in operations. Since the ship’s docking location was almost an hour away from my home, I woke up at 4 am to have enough time for my morning routine. I figured coffee and a quick workout would go a long way for a short day out at sea.

NOMAD loaded onto the GO America ready to dive

I didn’t want to be late, so I left my house at around 6:00 AM. I was told to be there between 8 and 9 AM, so I showed up at 7 AM to make sure I didn’t miss anything. As expected, my boss and the crew were already there and came to rescue me at the gate.

You see, unless you are part of the BGL crew or a component of operations of the GOA, you cannot access the location where the ship is docked. The military doesn’t like unannounced surprises to their shipyard.

I was introduced to the new faces, said hello to the old faces, and finally met some of the faces I had been communicating with for months. After that, I realized it was going to be a long day. Everyone was already hastily working on each of their tasks, prepping equipment and getting the ship ready.

All BGL and GOA crew had reported for duty, and we were waiting for the surveyor to come on board. His job today was to recertify our NOMAD submersible to get it ready for the new project, the Nekton II Mission in the Seychelles.

M/V GO AMERICA 150' Class DP1 Multipurpose Support and Subsea Vessel

Pre-Dive Preparations

While we waited, I decided to walk around and absorb my surroundings. At first sight, the GOA is a massive ship, long and sexy. Yes, I know, it doesn’t sound like a good descriptive adjective for a vessel, but you’ll understand if you find yourself walking along her vast open deck out at sea. It's a really relaxing feeling.

At 150 feet, the GOA is a not only big, but truly badass, equipped with every single possible piece of equipment to run large scale operations.

She has an integrated Beier DP1 Dynamic Positioning (DP) system tailored to her specific needs as a multi-purpose support and subsea vessel. DP enables a vessel to maintain its position and heading using sophisticated positioning systems and control system technology for its own thrusters and propellers. In other words, DP facilitates work in much deeper waters where using traditional anchors might not be feasible.

The GOA’s Beier DP1 is designed to work with her propulsion/thruster and power management system and allows her to maintain position in the deep sea by pinpointing about the wind and the wave data. The GOA’s DP system can be easily operated and commands activated with a simple touch of her control screen. Without this ability, she could lose control and veer off course, or not stay situated when the crew is launching or retrieving one of the submersibles, our tenders, or other equipment.

Her DP system makes her special among many other ships, as she can venture into the deepest parts of the ocean and sea where winds and waves tend to be perpetually fluctuating. The GOA doesn’t compromise on her main purpose and commands control in situations where it could prove very tedious, or even impossible, to lay the anchors.

I kept walking on her deck, trying to take everything in. As I made it to the stern, I noticed a series of circular socket mounts, all carefully flushed and nicely laid on a grid pattern. They were all over her deck and were used to secure one of our containers.

The 300 x 1” course thread stainless steel deck sockets, laid in a 2-ft x 2-ft NATO grid pattern allow for a variety of organizing and locking options, making it possible to effectively hook the various equipment options we use on our missions. From securing our containers, to locking our support tenders, portable deck generator, mixed gas diving system, diver propulsion vehicles, portable dive locker, deco chambers, or chaining down our compressors, and tightly safeguarding our submersibles, these perfectly placed and nicely flushed socket mounts give our GOA quite an advantage when it comes to serious deep-water missions and projects.

Our 11-ton Capacity A-Frame

GOA's 11-ton A-frame retracted, safely securing NOMAD sub

GOA's 11-ton A-frame extended, safely launching NOMAD sub

Continuing my trek towards her stern while watching the crew secure NOMAD, I stopped to have a full view of the GOA’s 11-ton transom mounted A-frame. At 30-ft high and 25-ft wide, it is massive. With a Braden CH280 winch and the transom mount attached to the stern, it makes it easier to operate from the back of the boat to launch a variety of equipment without the clutter of foot pedals or cords as other types of mounts need. The A-frame also ensures that delicate and expensive equipment, such as our subs, can have a steady launch into and out of the water.

Beginning the Submersible Experience

While taking in the beauty and capability of this enormous A-frame, my boss and Randy, our amazing sub pilot and all things submersible knowledge extraordinaire approached me and asked me to follow them. We all made it to the back of NOMAD's equipment container, which travels wherever the sub travels, and a weight scale was on the deck. That’s right, a scale. I looked at them in confusion. Was I being asked to provide my weight because the massive GOA could sink? Not possible. Was I being hazed for being the only female onboard and the new kid on the block? Absolutely not possible, I work with the best and most professional in the industry.

So, why was a scale on the deck and my boss and Randy looking at me waiting for me to provide my weight? Well, it was a surprise.

In order to properly write an experience-based article for Global Sub Dive’s operations, I needed to understand what it was like to be inside one of our subs.

My heart stopped. The sub? Really? I’m getting a sub ride? No, said my boss, you’re getting a sub experience. Suddenly, the scale and provision of my weight became clear. To safely launch the sub into the water, Randy has to know the total weight the sub will have so that he can carefully balance it at the surface and at depth.

I stepped on the scale and Randy took the number down to calculate how much additional weight we would need. We’re both fairly thin people, so NOMAD required an additional 125 pounds of soft lead weight, which he carefully placed on the floor inside the sphere.

Getting the Sub Ready

I was ecstatic with excitement; my heart was thumping. I wanted to get inside the sub already, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. Getting a submersible ready for operations, launching and retrieving requires tremendous preparation from carefully trained personnel, each with an intricate task to perform for everything to run smoothly. Any deviation in preparation can cause a serious injury, loss of life, or loss of millions of dollars in equipment. Thankfully, I was with the best crew in town, so I waited around while continuing my observations and waiting for the surveyor who arrived shortly after.

I turned around and headed towards the bow where a table with several pelican cases, equipment, a computer, and a checklist were placed. This was the tracking equipment, and I’ll get to that later. But what caught my attention was a black clipboard with a long checklist. It was the pre and post dive checklist sheet for the launching and retrieving of NOMAD. It was a very long list, created by our crew to ensure every single aspect of operating our subs and support equipment runs smoothly.

From external to internal checks, from hull to air system checks, from emergency to eject system checks, depth gauge and electrical, this list had every single element necessary to run a successful submersible operation. This is what makes our team unique. The meticulousness with which each operation is launched puts us at the top of the food chain as an underwater turnkey resource provider. I was truly impressed by the level of detail of this checklist and was happy to be in such good and professional hands.

For NOMAD’s first dive of the day, Randy and I would go to 300 feet. His job was to ensure all systems were good to go for the second dive with the surveyor, and my job was to not freak out and be able to relate my experience.

Learning About the GO America

While I waited for Randy and the rest of our crew to finish the last details for the first sub dive, I made my way up to the captain to see if he’d give me some information about the bridge. As I walked up the steep stairs, the room came to view and it looked more like a military command center; there was some advanced piece of equipment in almost every corner of the room.

I found this, the Meridien Gyrocompass, a navigational instrument, a form of gyroscope widely used on ships that employ an electrically powered, fast-spinning gyroscope wheel and frictional forces (among other factors). It utilizes the basic physical laws, influences of gravity and the Earth’s rotation to accurately seek the direction of true (geographic) north. The gyrocompass operates by seeking an equilibrium direction under the combined effects of the force of gravity and the daily rotation of the Earth. This makes it astoundingly accurate because it is immune to magnetic interferences such as those caused by steel structures, ore deposits, or electrical circuits.

I looked up and found several charts neatly rolled up and safely tucked in on a rack in the ceiling. Despite having an insurmountable amount of top of the line electronics equipment, the GOA keeps physical copies of updated navigational charts, as required by the Coast Guard. The GOA captain studies these charts, should any of our navigational or tracking equipment fail.

Being up on the bridge chatting with the wonderful GOA captain was great, but I was more than ready for my sub dive. On the way back down to the deck, I took the time to take images of every single additional piece of equipment I found.

The first thing I noticed was a large white dome like feature. This turned out to be our BlueTide custom communication maritime satellite system. Aside from enhancing commercial productivity for our crew, our satellite communication, Vsat, speeds up to 1024 kbps x 1024 kbps.

Then I came across this large white canister, mounted on a custom rack. It turned out to be a Viking Life-raft. As a multipurpose support and subsea vessel, the GOA is equipped with all sorts of amazing gadgets to ensure all goes well in case of an emergency. To use it, the Viking Life-raft is thrown overboard, then the person operating it pulls on the rope that connects the container to the holder to pop it open. The life-raft would then unfold and inflate itself, complete with a covering to protect its occupants from the ocean, sun, and any other nuisance.

I continued my exploration toward the bow of the GOA and came across her anchoring system. Although the GOA is equipped with a Beier DP1 Dynamic Positioning system, it also has a 750 lbs anchor equipped with 2,600 ft of cable should our clients ever require for the ship to the anchored during a mission. Most large vessels used heavy chain systems that make it more difficult for the anchor and motor to be retrieved. Instead, the GOA's 2,600 ft cable is light, making it easier to launch and retrieve the anchor, and reducing the drag and hard labor. We just do things smarter.

Preparing for the First Dive

I finally made it back down to the deck where I found Shane standing just inside NOMAD's equipment container. He was making sure all radios were in working order, had the correct channel for communications, and everyone walking on the deck of the GOA was safely and properly wearing their PFDs (Personal Flotation Devices), which can inflate manually, automatically, or hydrostatically.

Shane is also a sub pilot and another human extraordinaire. He also manages tracking while the sub is operational (underwater), making sure he acquires and records constant communication and location for the manned submersible, but more on that later.

NOMAD was ready to dive and I was overjoyed! The next steps required for our swimmer to get ready and for the chase boat to be lifted and carefully dropped into the water.

The swimmer, in my view, has one of the most difficult jobs. This person must have operational knowledge of the submersible, should an emergency arise, and also have incredible balance and coordination, and a deep desire to get smashed by the waves.

This green helmet, those five finger boat shoes, and that vest is all this crew member is equipped with. Well, some swim shorts too. The swimmer's job is to hook and unhook the sub when it's ready to launch and to be retrieved. It is the swimmer's responsibility to make sure all ropes and winches have been safely removed and tucked away prior to the sub's descent, and all ropes and winches are safely, properly, and securely attached prior to the sub being lifted back onto the deck of the GOA.

Below is our swimmer, Kenny, waiting for instructions to close the dome's latch and launch us into the water. Kenny is also a sub pilot and another human extraordinaire team member, just like Randy and Shane. The level of knowledge, experience, professionalism, and dedication these guys give is unmatched. They truly are the heart and soul of operations.

Prior to launching and retrieving NOMAD, our chase needs to be lowered into the water. The chase is carefully lowered using a crane, the GOA's Palfinger PK-32002-M knuckleboom. The chase is the safety boat that ensures the submersible and its occupants have a safe and smooth trip and return from the underwater world. It is also used to transport the swimmer back to the ship after the sub has descended, and bring them back to the sub once it has resurfaced.

Derek, GOA's very able Seaman climbs up to operate the crane, securing the gate behind him to avoid falling backwards. He carefully lifts and then lowers the chase boat to the water, where my boss, Robert Manuel Carmichael swiftly climbs in and gets ready to start operations.

The Submersible Experience

Randy and I carefully climb inside the sub, making sure to take our shoes off and remove any items that could scratch the sub or cause an emergency, like a lighter. Our swimmer, Kenny, closes the latch but leaves the dome's cover on until we are ready to be launched into the water, otherwise we could cook inside the sub while waiting.

My heart is thumping! As a scuba diver, I love being underwater, but being inside a submersible at 300 feet is quite different. With the cover still on to safeguard us from the heat, all I can see from inside the sub is Derek, GOA's Sea Man operating the large A-frame, carefully lifting and then coordinating with the rest of the team to drop the sub on the water.

It all sounds simple, but I can now see how the wrong or not properly trained crew could cause an emergency. While Derek operates the A-frame to lower us into the water, the rest of the crew each grabs hold of one of the safety ropes still attached to NOMAD. These are the ropes the swimmer will secure and release during operations.

Each rope has to be carefully tensed and released at the same time Derek lowers us to the water. Any deviation in movement and the sub could turn sideways, crash against the stern of the ship, or become unhooked or lose before the sub has reached the water, which could cause injury to its occupants, and expensive damages to the sub.

But today is not that day, and this is not that crew. This is the crew of the GOA and the crew of Global Sub Dive working in unison to safely carryout a difficult task and they do it like pros.

We are safely lowered onto the water and fully unhooked from all ropes and winches. From inside the sub, I can still see parts of the bow of the GOA and the crew members all still paying attention, following through with the job. I can also see the chase behind us with my boss, Robert and our swimmer Kenny, waiting for us to start our descent.

Robert Manuel Carmichael and Kenny Hauge on the chase (safety boat) waiting for NOMAD to start descending.

My heart is still thumping and my mind is running wild. I have a million thoughts running through my head when Randy's voice brings me back to reality:

"Top side, top side, this is NOMAD."

And we immediately hear the captain reply:

"NOMAD, this is topside."

Then Randy adds:

"Top side, permission to dive."

And the captain replies:

"NOMAD you are clear to dive."

And off we go...

Being inside a manned submersible is an experience like no other. The ability to process the underwater world in 3D is unmatched and allows for truly efficient underwater operations, including the sampling component.

Since we're not there to merely have fun, Randy checks all systems as we descend, carefully informing me of all steps so that I am not surprised. One of my first thoughts was how comfortable I felt inside NOMAD knowing that Randy was truly superb at his job. From checking the sub's electronics, to monitoring depth gauges, to maintaining communication with the GOA, the whole thing was second nature to him, and he emitted peace and tranquility with his knowledge and training.

Aside from having to equalize my ears a couple of times, the descent was uneventful and surprisingly smooth. Despite the limited space inside the Triton sub 1000/2, it is actually quite comfortable. We touched bottom at 305 feet and Randy started testing the lights, including the one underneath the sub. Being the dog lover I am, I couldn't help it but think that the bottom looked like a bunch of paw prints, so I took a pic to prove I wasn't so crazy.

End of First Dive to 305 fsw

Randy was done checking NOMAD's equipment and systems and we were ready to start our ascent. While short, my time in the sub was truly one of a kind. The peacefulness you feel inside it and underwater is unmatched.

We went up to 200 ft, then 100 ft. At 50 ft Randy grabbed the radio and established connection with our support crew:

"Top side, top side, this is NOMAD."

"NOMAD this is top side."

"Top side, NOMAD requesting permission to surface."

"NOMAD, you are clear for surface."

It was all a very cool experience, magnified by the level of training from our crew.

Even though the GOA support team had cleared us for surfacing, Randy still checked all our surroundings to make sure we were not "popping up" onto something. The sub surfacing from the water is yet another cool experience. I could see my boss on the tender bringing Kenny, our swimmer back to us. Okay signals were exchanged and Randy established communication with the GOA captain to begin the safe retrieval of NOMAD back onto the deck of the GOA.

As expected, it all went smoothly and NOMAD was ready for the surveyor who would go with Randy as deep as the surrounding ocean allowed to certify NOMAD for its next mission.

Prepping for Second Dive

In preparation for NOMAD's second and much deeper dive, the crew gathered in the bridge with the captain to make decisions about where we would go to achieve our desired depth. Decisions were made and the GOA started her trek out 10-15 miles off-shore. A location was found and the team started mobilizing again.

The boss gave last minute instructions.

The chase boat was lowered and NOMAD was once again safely launched into the water with Randy and the surveyor ready for their dive, and the swimmer making sure all went smooth.

Shane ensuring all tracking and communications with NOMAD are kept and recorded

TrackLink System Illustration, © Link-Quest

Having ran operations many times before, Shane positioned himself on the table were the Tracklink 1500, NOMAD's USBL (ultra-short baseline) acoustics tracking system was setup and began establishing communication during this second, much deeper dive. NOMAD's Tracklink system has a fully integrated high speed acoustic communication capability. It utilizes modern digital signal processing techniques and state of the art digital signal processor (DSP) to track the submersible from launching to retrieval.

Randy and the surveyor began their descent to 912 fsw. From hatch closed at 13:30 PM to hatch open at 16:35, the total dive time was 3 hours and 5 minutes. That is 3 hrs and 5 minutes that Shane and the rest of the top side team carefully tracked and communicated with the sub team.

End of Second Dive to 912 fsw

Back at the surface, the team begins the careful process of loading NOMAD back onto the GOA. The swimmer reattaches the lifting harness to the A-frame's cables and winch, the rest of the team grabs hold of each rope to ensure the sub won't swing and crash against the stern of the ship. Once all team members have secure hold of the sub, Derek operates the A-frame and begins lifting the sub back onto the ship.

With NOMAD re-certified and safely tethered to the GOA's deck, we start our trek back to our docking location.

Heading Back to the Dock

After almost 12 hours at sea, the South Florida skies grace us with a stunning sunset, the team continues to work hard storing all support equipment and getting everything ready to return to our warehouse.

This is what a day in operations looks like. It's a collection of professionals working hard and coming together for a common cause: the manned submersible operations world.

About Global Sub Dive

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