March 28, 2010

The Bad Luck Honeybear

Sailors have always been notoriously superstitious at sea. And sometimes even scientists can be too. We have had more than our share of bad luck on this expedition, including problems with the ship’s CTD winch and crane, its bow-thruster, one of its deck winches, various electrical problems with the Jason ROV, and we lost some of our monitoring instruments that we put out last year to the landslide. When the problems have pile up, it has felt like we are cursed somehow - and we began to suspect our old nemesis - the honeybear.

Years ago, on another ship with another ROV, we were similarly plagued by equipment problems and bad luck. One of the crew members started a rumor that the honeybears in the ship’s mess (where we eat on board) were the cause of our bad luck. So to amuse ourselves in the time we had to wait as equipment was repaired, we devised various ways to torment and defeat the honeybear’s bad mojo. And somehow it actually seemed to help, our luck changed, equipment got fixed and we could get back to work.

So when we were mired in bad luck again on this trip, someone noticed the Kilo Moana also had honeybears in the mess. We had to do something about it! We kidnapped one, strapped it to a shrimp trap (with a little note), and sent it down to the bottom on the next dive with Jason. Immediately, our luck changed - we found the missing hydrophone mooring on that dive, and things seemed to be going better. Then on the next Jason dive, we brought that shrimp trap (and the honeybear) back to the surface. On the way back up, Jason lost power due to a ground-fault on one of its transformers, which was a very serious problem. If the damage was too great, we might not be able to dive again - losing our last two dives with experiments still to recover from the bottom.
The honeybear’s evil mojo had obviously struck again! It was clear that we should never have brought him back to the surface - we should have left him on the seafloor where his mojo was crushed by the pressure and the volcano’s toxic fumes. As the Jason group worked tirelessly to repair the vehicle, I went out to the back deck, strapped that honeybear to a weight, and tossed him overboard. By morning, Jason was repaired and we were able to make our last dive at NW Rota.

I’m a scientist, so I don’t really believe that the honeybear had anything to do with our bad luck. But sometimes it’s fun to act on a wild theory and have someone or something to blame for all the things that are going wrong. At least it gave us a chance to laugh in the face of adversity and perhaps that alone helped a little. Or was it really bad mojo?

-Bill Chadwick, Oregon State University