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Copyright © 1995-2004 Paul H. Kronfield, Revised January 2004

Shoreline Exploration - 1981

Reconnaissance geochemical and high resolution geophysical survey
M/V Halcyon, Chartered Tuna Boat
Southern Ocean, South Australia

I got the lead from this job from Chester Smith, then V-P Operations, Eastern Hemisphere, Western Geophysical. He had been talking with Neil Willets, an explorationist working out of Pasadena, California. On one return trip from Asia, I stopped off in LA and rented a car to drive up to Pasadena. Neil had a very nice house situated on the top of a hill overlooking LA's smog.

At a meeting with Neil and his son Ted, the Willets described an area of Australia they had been very interested in for years. In the south of Australia, near the city of Mt. Gambier, the shoreline has long been known for it's oil seeps. One hundred years previously, ships would send their longboats ashore to gather the tars for caulking their seams and kegs. And as all oilmen know, where there's an oil seep, there's usually oil.

The Willets wanted to attempt to locate the source of gas and oil seeps using a new technology called a sniffer, and other high resolution tools. I had operated Gulf Oil's sniffer on the Hollis Hedberg in the Gulf of Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico, so the Willets felt I would be the ideal supervisor.

I barely had time to pack my backs again before it was back to Australia.

The area around Mt. Gambier is one of the most lovely of Australia. There are miles and miles of pine forests, and some of the best wineries in Australia (and the world, for my money). And another secret - where do you think all those lobster tails you have been eating in Las Vegas, and New York, and San Francisco are from? Boston? Think again. South Australia. The area of the Southern Ocean is prolific in lobster fishing, and most of the catch is frozen and shipped to the U.S.

I met the boat in Portland, a beautiful port in Victoria. That was where I learned a quaint Australian custom. I was sitting at a local pub having a beer, enjoying the raucous company of fishermen from the nearby moored boats. My glass was empty, and I was trying to catch the attention of the bartender for another refill. One of the fishermen walked up to me and grinned. "You're a Yank, aren't you?" he asked.

"Yes, I am", I obliged.

"Well, mate, the way we get waited on here is.... just turn your empty glass upside down on the bar," I couldn't figure out what he thought was so funny. It seemed that it was all he could do to keep from busting out laughing.

It made sense. I turned my pint glass upside down on the bar. I heard chairs scraping and my newfound friend had disappeared. Somebody about 6-7 grabbed me by the scruff of my neck, and two other monsters appeared on either side of me, looking not too friendly. My warning bells were going full blast.

"Take on the bar, eh mate?" growled the one-who-had-my-neck. "A yank, eh," added number two monster, "I'll take him on after you're done with him, Blue". The third was sizing me up, and said wistfully, "I'm next, but I'm afraid there won't be anything left..."

"Now hold on, fellows," I urged, as number one was dragging me to the open door, accompanied by the shouts of encouragement from the crews of the Portland Fleet. "Hold on. I was just trying to order another drink!"

Number One started laughing and and set me back on the floor. "You mean you don't want to take on the bar?" I assured him that I had no intention of taking on any bar. (I was looking for the scoundrel who had set me up, but he had disappeared). The one they called "Blue" was trying to straighten up my jacket apologetically. "Mate, never turn a glass upside down in Australia... Too bad, I never had a good set-to with a Yank and I was really looking forward to it.." Why did this call this man-mountain "Blue"? He had a shock of red hair?

I sheepishly bought the bar a round, and made a lot of friends in Portland, Victoria.

The survey was notable in that EG&G had been contracted to run a sidescan and subbottom profiler while the sniffer was sampling the water column for dissolved hydrocarbons. About mid-way through the survey, we heard a seismic boat on the radio having trouble with their streamer cable. They were experiencing gale force winds and monster waves in the Great Bight, about 300 miles to our West. The captain of the Halcyon turned on his weather fax and frowned as he read the coming weather.

All he said was, "We in for it."

Portland was about 100 miles to the east of our position. After the survey equipment was brought back aboard and stowed, the captain made took on a new heading and opened the throttles on his marine diesels. One glance told me we weren't heading east. We were heading south!

"Captain, isn't Portland to the east?"

"Yep", he had his teeth clamped down on a pipe.

"Why are we headed south? The storm will hit us in 5 or 6 hours!" The western sky had a look like roiling congealed mud with bloody streaks, and the sea now had an oily swell that told me we were in for a real blow.

"We'd never make it to Portland in time," he said. "There's safety at sea, mate."

There's safety at sea. And with that we took our 70-foot tuna boat on a heading where the next land mass was Antarctica. I've rode out some storms on a 200-foot destroyer, and those were bad enough. But this was my first full blown gale on a 70-footer. Actually, after I got the feeling of it, I prefer the 70-footer. It goes over most everything the storm threw at us. The destroyer went through about every third wave. We rode out that storm for almost two weeks, and after it had passed and we were heading back to the survey area, we caught a nice sized tuna on a line the captain was towing.

That tuna fed us for the rest of the week, and it was delicious!

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