NOVA Online (click here for NOVA home)
Into the Abyss
menu (see bottom of page for text links)

Heading east in 20-foot seas. Heading east in 20-foot seas.
Swing of the Yo-Yo
by Peter Tyson
July 18, 1998

In our final three days, the emotional yo-yo that this voyage has been just kept on yo-yoing.

On Wednesday evening, with news of yet another storm on the way, we rushed to get ROPOS ready for a final dive. We were pumped up by our successes over the past week and fully expected to pull off one final, glorious dive. Our target was the stump of Finn, which had astonished us on the most recent dive by revealing a beehive-shaped, five-foot-tall cone of sulfide that, in a matter of days, had grown up on its stump. The goal of this final dive was to place a "stump probe" over what remained of Finn. The device would measure temperatures at seven points on the chimney for a year or more before it was retrieved.

Alas, the weather had the final say: no dive. By Thursday morning, we had 20-foot seas, with winds gusting over 30 knots—the roughest conditions yet. Delaney waited until just after noon before deciding that it was time to batten down the hatches and head home. We spent the next hour lashing everything not already bolted down. If it's hard enough to keep your balance now, we were told, wait till we're underway. Expedition members took their Dramamine and watched as the crew put heavy-weather procedures into effect. We saw why as soon as the captain fired up the Z-drives, propelling the ship due east at 13 knots. Those 20-footers reared out of the south as if in a bad dream. I stood in the staging bay, which was half-boarded over, and watched waves break over the starboard rail and rush across the fantail like waves up a beach. The ship groaned as it leaned into foam-flecked troughs. The yo-yo dipped. As with the previous storm, people sullenly retreated to their cabins for a touch of the horizontal. It would be at least 14 hours before we reached the calm of the Juan de Fuca Strait. The heavy seas, queasy feelings, and an unspoken disappointment seemed to cast a pall over the entire ship.

Juan de Fuca Strait, early Friday morning. Juan de Fuca Strait, early Friday morning.

But Friday morning the yo-yo started back up. After three weeks of mostly cloudy days with occasional lashing rain, we woke to a glass-smooth sea and a blue sky overhead. The air was balmy. We were back in the Strait, and back to feeling proud of what we had accomplished. We paused in Port Angeles, a lumber town perched at the foot of the Olympics, to pick up the sulfide chimneys, which the CCGS John P. Tully had left in a shed there. We also welcomed on board a number of luminaries, including Ellen V. Futter, the president of the American Museum of Natural History, which had put up much of the $3 million-plus spent on this expedition; Dan Evans, a regent of the University of Washington and former Governor of the state; John Noble Wilford, the New York Times science reporter; and my boss, Paula Apsell, the executive producer of NOVA. All had come to help usher our prizes triumphantly into Seattle.

A press frenzy takes over the fantail. A press frenzy takes over the fantail.
Within minutes of sidling up to the University's dock around noon today, the ship was swarmed by three or four television crews, a handful of newspaper reporters, and dozens of colleagues, family members and friends, eager to admire the structures laid out on the fantail. The weather—sunny, 70s—couldn't have been more pleasant if the university PR staff had personally choreographed it.

The yo-yo rounded the top—at least for John Delaney—at a press conference held in the nearby oceanographic building just after lunch. Richard L. McCormick, president of the University of Washington, introduced Futter, who gave an eloquent speech on "the challenging and highly successful venture" that "beautifully represents the human quest for knowledge." What her speech held in pragmatic praise, Delaney's held in an outpouring of emotion. Sweeping about the room like Caesar at the Forum, he volubly thanked all the key players of the expedition. As he introduced Veronique Robigou, fellow oceanographer at the university, colleague on many a research cruise, and founder of the REVEL teacher program, he said, "I'm likely to get emotional" and suddenly got all choked up. As the TV cameras zeroed in and flashes flashed, he put his arm around her and mumbled his thanks and praise. Quiet and unassuming, Robigou had stayed out of the limelight on this cruise until dragged into it—like the chimneys themselves.

The Thompson sails into Seattle. The Thompson sails into Seattle.

Tonight the university is throwing a barbecue, and then all those people whom the Thompson had brought together will go their separate ways. Only the memories will remain. Oh yeah, and four big rocks.

Note: Watch for the NOVA film on this expedition, airing next April.

Peter Tyson is Online Producer of NOVA.

The Tug of the Thompson (June 23)
The ROPOS Guys (June 25)
In the Juan de Fuca Strait (June 27)
Special Report: A Visit To Atlantis (June 29)
Dive 440 (July 1)
Rescue at Sea (July 2)
What's Your Position? (July 4)
Phang! (July 5)
20,000 Pounds of Tension (July 8)
Four for Four (July 11)
Thrown Overboard (July 13)
Was Grandma a Hyperthermophile? (July 15)
Swing of the Yo-Yo (July 18)

The Mission | Life in the Abyss | The Last Frontier | Dispatches
E-mail | Resources | Table of Contents | Abyss Home

Editor's Picks | Previous Sites | Join Us/E-mail | TV/Web Schedule
About NOVA | Teachers | Site Map | Shop | Jobs | Search | To print
PBS Online | NOVA Online | WGBH

© | Updated October 2000
PBS Online PBS Online NOVA Site map Resources Mail Dispatches Frontier Life Mission