Typhoon Soulik is now threatening Taiwan and mainland China, but has left us with large swells that prevent the Captain from launching the small boats that we work from. Two days ago was wild, as Soulik was right on top of us with winds of 50 mph with higher gusts. We were anchored close to shore, with a dangerous lee shore, and the anchor began dragging mid-morning.
The captain had fired up the boilers (yes, we are a steamship!) earlier, in case we had to move off the hook. In doing so, we were unable to raise anchor, which meant that we slowly moved away from the island, with about 300 feet of very heavy anchor chain dangling from the bow. Swells were up to about 15 feet with the larger sets.
Once off shore, we had some “minor engine problems” which left us still in the water, abeam to the swells. Winds over 50 mph and the dangling anchor. As evening approached, the engine problems were fixed, and we tried to find a lee shore to get out of the wind and swells.
As Pagan has an active volcano, the lee shore (only somewhat less swell) was right in the volcano’s steam / sulfer / vog column, which was dramatic but not too noticeable. I think near water level it was mostly steam. The Captain moved all night back and forth in the small lee, which mad for a rocky night for all hands.
The weight of the anchor and chain was too much for the steam windlass, requiring the steam crane to pull up some slack, allow t he windlass to catch up and repeat. A lengthy task, but one completed by mid yesterday morning. We gingerly re-approached our original anchorage, and were back on the hook by yesterday noon, but rolling in large, long period swells generated by the Typhoon. The SS Thorfin has worked the lagoon in Chuuk, Micronesia for the last 30+ years. As a result, the crew is used to very benign conditions. Many of the kitchen staff are sea sick. Launching the small boats, in these conditions understandably does not make the Captain comfortable. We may try again later this morning.
We did get in one day of work when we first got in to Pagan. We worked a beautiful black sand beach / cove, rich with corals and fish (even a small turtle, which we are looking for). Our group is split up into marine turtle biologists hiking the beaches and scouting from cliffs, coral biologists recording coral colonies on SCUBA, and coral biologists towing behind the small boat recording coral cover and species of interest.