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Augustine Volcano Installation Update (12)


Augustine Update: The Final Days

Whew! What an incredible adventure! Those of you who have been following the progress of the Augustine project are aware that the installation and base camp updates suddenly stopped on September 18, 2004. Due to the unpredictability of Mother Nature, our internet connection was cut off when strong winds and rain storms circled Augustine. Starting where we left off, here’s how the rest of the journey continued.

With the installations complete, crew members Karl Feaux, Dave Mencin, and Steve Borenstein left the island the morning of Saturday, September 18th, to head back to Colorado.

While the helicopter made trips to carry remaining equipment from finished stations back to base camp that afternoon, the camera men wrapped up their filming and the VIPs relaxed, enjoying their last day on the island. By the time the Otter plane arrived at 7pm to take the VIPs back to Homer, dark clouds rolled in and light mists began to fall. Looking back, the VIPs made it out just in time ‘

With installations completed ahead of schedule, we arranged to be picked up from Augustine by the boat on Monday, two days earlier than originally planned. Given good weather and a little bit of luck, our goal was to sling gear to the boat during the day on Monday, and for all of us to sail back to Homer during the night. That left Sunday the designated day to break down base camp as much as possible to prepare for the boat.

Early Sunday morning, clouds covered the top of Augustine as the light winds and rain continued. Due to the weather, base camp was cut off from internet connectivity. While waiting for the skies to clear before taking down tents, crews started on tasks such as burning garbage and consolidating tools and extra kitchen supplies.

As the day went on, the weather continued to worsen. Having not taken apart the EarthScope tent, it was quite a surprise when this huge 20-foot diameter dome tent was discovered missing. Apparently the 55 mph wind was blowing in the right direction to keep the dome from floating out to sea: the tent was found about 80 feet away, stopped in its tracks by the surrounding alder trees. With winds and rain picking up at a rapid pace, everyone rushed to the tent in their heavy rain gear to try and tackle this large, seemingly alive, orange beast. Not only was it disappointing that this tent did not withstand the heavy winds, but also that tent poles had literally broken in half and large tears were found in the material. Working in hard blowing rain, it took close an hour to detangle and take apart the dome.

Now concerned about other tents and loose equipment flying way, the rest of the camp was checked to make sure everything was secure. Unfortunately, two of the sleeping tents had to be taken down. One had begun to collapse from the high winds and the other was Barrett Friesen’s tent which had been torn due to being in the path of the airborne ‘Dome Gone Wild” ‘tent and its gnarled poles.

With winds blowing at speeds as high as 50- 55 mph, it felt like a hurricane had hit the area. Pots and pans were flying off their hooks in the WeatherPort, making it feel like the beginning of the making of ‘A Perfect Storm Visits Augustine’ movie. Even Bill Merkley, the helicopter pilot, took extra precautions by filling up his fuel tank to help stabilize and weigh the aircraft down.

That evening the wind and rain continued without letting up. The scariest part was thinking that the main WeatherPort would collapse, taking away the security of having a place to cook food and keep warm by the heating stove. It helped calm nerves when the high tech movie theatre (a bed sheet and presentation projector) was pulled out, giving people something other than the storm to focus on.

Not surprisingly, sleep was hard to catch that night, and once again we awoke to wind and rain Monday morning. With trust that the weather might clear, people continued to breakdown camp as much as possible. The boat arrived that afternoon, but with 13-15 foot waves, the sea was too rough for the helicopter to sling onto the vessel. At this point, news came that the winds were predicted to die down somewhat the next day, but then another storm, perhaps stronger than the current one, would be moving in for several days. Thinking that there may only be a small window for escape before the next big storm, people continued to pack up camp, leaving only the necessities unpacked in case another night had to be spent on Augustine.

Tuesday morning’s weather was a bit calmer. The rain had mostly stopped but the seas were still pretty rough. The boat had anchored in an area where the water appeared somewhat still, but a bit far from base camp (about a 15 minute ride by helicopter). Taking the chance while it was there, the helicopter took off with the first sling load. Unfortunately the waves were still high, making it difficult for the pilot to drop the load onto the deck of the boat. In the case that the weather let up, we asked the boat to move closer to the base camp location island so it would be easier to sling gear.

Due to the looming weather forecast, a backup plan needed to be made. Calling around to Homer float plane companies, we were able to find an available Otter that could make a couple trips back and forth between Homer and Augustine in order to get some of the gear off of the island. At about 3pm, an Otter made it to the island, picking up nearly 2000 pounds of gear. Seth Friedly and Krista Barbour flew back on the plane to unload equipment and get ready to receive more equipment loads. Amazingly, by the time the Otter landed in Homer 45 minutes later, the boat had anchored at a calm spot closer to base camp, and the seas had died down just enough to start slinging. By 8pm that night, the rest of base camp had been broken down, everything had been slung onto the boat (approximately 20-24 sling loads), and all crew members were safely on the boat (fondly named ‘Maritime Maid’). Departing shortly after dinner was served, crew members battled a very rocky night at sea, most getting even less rest than the previous sleepless nights. It would be nice to report that everyone’s dinner was kept down that night, but sadly it’s not true; however, I’m sure it wasn’t the first time someone lost their cookies over the side of sweet Maritime Maid’

By five a.m. Wednesday morning, the Maritime Maid was docked in Homer. It only took about three hours to unload gear from the boat and pack everything into trucks to be driven back to Anchorage.

While everyone was very relived to return home, take hot showers, and sleep in their own beds, this will be an experience that none of us will forget. Huge thanks go out to Ben Pauk, the Alaska Regional Engineer, for doing such an amazing job in getting this project planned, organized, and successfully executed. His excellent project management skills and ability to overcome and resolve all unexpected issues allowed for a smooth running operation, finishing ahead schedule. We would also like to thank the UNAVCO Inc, headquarters staff who provided purchasing and logistics support, critical to the success of the project. Also, a big thank you to our special VIP guests: Mark Coles and Jim Whitcomb from National Science Foundation, Greg van der Vink and Charna Meth from EarthScope, and special guest student, Nick van der Vink. We appreciate the time taken out of your busy schedules to join us at Augustine and experience the PBO field installations first hand.

Keep checking the PBO website for more firsthand updates showing step by step the installation processes for other PBO installation projects.


Last modified: 2020-01-28  22:54:08  America/Denver