Another Day, Another Rogue Robot to Hunt Down…

We were just about through the Drake, about an hour short of where Cabo San Diego would let us cut left and shelter in the lee of Tierra del Fuego when we got word that we had one more errand to run: somewhere, about 90 miles northeast of our course, there was glider in trouble.

No, not an engineless aircraft – these “gliders” are low-powered, autonomous undersea drones that look more like big yellow plastic torpedoes with stubby swept wings. They’re called gliders because they locomote by subtly changing their buoyancy to rise and sink in the ocean. As they do, they rely on their stubby plastic wings to translate that slow vertical motion into forward progress as they “glide” up and down from the surface.

Avid Roadtrip Blog readers will remember that on my last cruise with the NBP we were tasked to retrieving one of these puppies that had somehow suffered a steering failure and was doggedly gliding its way north to Hawaii (see Maneuvering a football-field-sized icebreaker in to get close enough to snag it with a gaffing pole, but not so close that you’ll suck it into the props is a delicate dance – last time, after a few passes, Mike resorted to just nailing it with a grappling hook (

Anyhow. As I understand it, the little guy we were tasked with bringing in this time wasn’t particularly making a run for it – it was just critically low on power, and might go quiet (and therefore unfindable) before anyone else had a chance to track it down. So off we went veering east from La Maire into the South Atlantic to find it.

GPS beacon placed it roughly a third of the way to the Falklands, and we had 40 knots of wind and 10-15 foot swells right on the nose the whole distance out. The ride was like a slow-motion bucking bronco, slowly rising up and back, then pitching forward and plunging down until the bow crashed into the next oncoming wave, spattering even the ice tower, seven stories up, with spray. Crash, thump, crash, thump, crash thump for eight hours – moving around the corridors, reaching for anything, even remaining in my bunk took a bit of strategic planning.

In spite of the ECO team’s full-steam-ahead efforts, it was already full dark by the time we were within striking distance. Rather than trying a night retrieval (in open ocean with that kind of sea state), the decision percolated down that we’d just loiter in the area until daylight.

Morning brought calmer seas, and with some back deck guidance, Captain John and team swung us in so close that the MTs were able to just reach over the side and tag a couple of lines onto the glider with gaffing poles. A bit of heave-ho to get it up over the side, and the job was done. New course heading: 295 degrees. We’ve got 231 nautical miles to the mouth of the Strait of Magellan, and from there, home.

There you are!

George and Jennie get the hooks ready

They’ve got a line or two on the little guy – Joee provides some muscle to haul it up.

Okay, so “little guy” may not be accurate. Turns out it weighs a couple hundred pounds – Ryan and Sheldon come out to lend a hand

In over the starboard rail

Almost there…


2 responses to “Another Day, Another Rogue Robot to Hunt Down…

  1. You were near the Falklands and your new heading was 295. That’s west by northwest?? How does that get you to the Straits of Magellan?  Lawrence J. Cohn, MD


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