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cloudy weather
58°F (14.4°C)
Latitude: 47° 57'N
Longitude: 129° 05'W
Wind Direction: W to SW
Wind Speed: 15 Knots
Sea State: 3
Swell(s) Height: 7 Foot
Sea Temperature: 55°F (12.8°C)
Barometric Pressure: 1015.0 MB
Visibility: 15+ Nautical Miles

what's to eat

Blueberry pancakes
Fresh cut mango
Scrambled eggs
Sausage links
Home fries
Cranberry almond muffins

New England clam chowder
London broil and cheddar roll
Mac and cheese
Onion rings
Portuguese style tuna and rice
Very spicy tuna sushi rolls
Snickers candy bars

Mediterranean snapper with tomatoes
Zucchini with peppers, artichokes, and feta
Roasted potato spears
Basmati rice
Salad bar
Cream cheese brownies

Life as a PIT
May 30, 2004
By Amy Nevala

They share the same reasons for training to pilot the deep submergence vehicle Alvin. They love the sea and working outdoors. They have found a place to apply math and engineering skills gained in college, the military, or on other jobs. They routinely visit exotic ports, and aren’t stuck in an office cubicle. They end their days satisfied that they have contributed to our understanding of the oceans.

In the months and years ahead, four young men on this expedition will become pilots of the submersible Alvin. They will be paid to explore the bottom of the ocean.

“Not many people can say that,” said Bruce Strickrott, an Alvin pilot for four years. “The job is just really, really cool.”

The pilots in training, each known as a PIT, describe the path to becoming an Alvin pilot as challenging, sometimes frustrating, and usually cold, wet, and tiring. The process involves hands-on experience during two to three years of study and apprenticeship to learn every aspect of the sub. The program is mostly self-taught by each PIT, who study manuals and detailed graphics of dozens of electrical and plumbing systems that comprise Alvin. Throughout there is an ongoing barrage of oral examinations, in addition to physical training exercises necessary for learning how to deploy and recover the sub at sea.

While training, they will spend months away from home—if they have one at all.

“Almost all of us don’t have a home,” said Gavin Eppard, a PIT entering his third year of training. “We crash at friends' houses during our four months off a year.”

Every fifth dive in Alvin is a designated PIT dive. Mark Spear, a PIT, had the last opportunity a few months ago, so today it was 24-year-old Anthony Berry’s turn. Just before 8 a.m. Anthony lowered his 5-foot, 11-inch frame into the sub’s pilot seat for his 11th training dive. Expedition leader and Alvin pilot Pat Hickey sat to his left, but only to observe and answer questions as Anthony followed a science plan coordinated by marine chemistry graduate student Ben Larson, who joined Pat and Anthony as an observer.

From the top-lab on Atlantis, a room overlooking the fantail, Bruce kept watch by monitoring the positions of the ship and sub and recording occasional communications with Anthony about depth and seafloor location.

“This is the hardest place we ever go—I’m impressed with the job he’s doing,” said Bruce of Anthony’s dive to the southern end of the Main Endeavour hydrothermal vent field. Anthony maneuvered the sub to an area of the field called Sully, using Alvin’s manipulator arms he picked up a sulfide rock, collected fluid samples, and tested the hardiness of ceramics, ruby, and graphite in the vent's super-heated water for possible future use in hydrothermal sensor probes.

The newest member of the Alvin group, Sean McPeak, sat listening and learning. Sean hails from Chicago and had never been on a ship except for a half-day scuba diving trip in Key West. To the crew he brings a background in engineering, and a curious mind. When not training as a swimmer, he’s usually talking with one of the pilots or a fellow PIT, asking questions about the sub’s operations.

“Break it up into chunks,” Bruce advised Sean after they reviewed navigation. “Nail one piece at a time. You’ll learn it all quicker.”