I’m not sure what is causing this haze we’re in but the sky is so obscured it reminds me of central Washington this summer when I was flying there during all the wildfires. Visibility out here is normally unlimited or nothing at all, the two extremes. It’s like the weather, it’s either nice – or it’s not. But today is different, it’s really nice, but it also kind of isn’t.
On the deck the crew are working hard, we made two sets today and they haven’t had much of a break between the two. If you look up the sky seems blue, and it certainly is directly overhead – blue. Around the edges there is a warm orange vignette to that blue, and it’s a confusing visual because it seems to come from nowhere, go nowhere, and is both there and not there.
The haze effect gets worse when you’re flying. Because suddenly it doesn’t matter that you thought you saw clear blue sky through the haze directly above you, as soon as we hit 500 feet ADL (above deck level) we were in the thick of it, and visibility dropped drastically. As I climbed up towards 1000 feet I made note that the visibility got markedly better at around 700 feet; and much worse beyond that up to and including 1100 feet.
So that settled it, for the day, all flight ops were going to be at 700 feet or so. The call for the helicopter came at a surprising time for me. All of my flights have been when we’re in motion, looking for the next school. Today we sat on a “payow” (still not sure on the spelling of that) and made a very early, heavy, set. Then we chased down a large school and made a second set right after lunch.
And I do mean “chased”; the captain spent the better part of an hour and a half giving small course corrections to the bridge from his perch up in the observation tower until the school was right where he wanted it. It was during this set, when I normally settle in for a movie or some writing, when he called over the loudspeaker for the helicopter.
We took off and went straight south for about 25 miles to check out a large blip on the bird radar – he was after his third set of the day. While the crew worked on the net full of tuna (and two very large manta rays*) we had arrived at the large blip on the radar and found a ton of birds feasting on the bait fish being pushed to the surface by the marauding tuna from below.
I’m getting a lot of experience flying in straight lines and then making coordinated turns to the right. In fact, whenever I’m not flying in a straight line I’m making a coordinated right turn. I don’t even think the cyclic on this helicopter goes left. I am getting really good though at keeping all my instruments in a tight scan and including the school of tuna out the passenger side door in that scan. Not exactly something I taught my students in their instrument training – but any good instrument scan can be switched up to include fish. You just wont see that in a text book anywhere.
I talk a lot about making the cook your friend, take that advice to heart, and here’s why; this morning the cook made a smoothie for the captain. It was some sort of fruit and rice concoction that tasted a bit like ginger. Anyways, he poured me a cup too. It was a nice change from my usual scoop of rice in the morn.
*Manta rays, I don’t know if they are protected or what, however this was my first up close and personal look at them and they are magnificent creatures! The look and feel like a shark, even have a shark like mouth and gills, sleek gray skin and a white underbelly. Their lines cut sharp and they look like they are meant to fly. The Korean radio operator cut a chunk out of one and ate it. I didn’t get around to taking part in the Manta Ray, but I did get some pics of them and admired the sea giant. So cool.