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Oral History Transcript — Dr. Robert Gerard

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Interview with Dr. Robert Gerard
By Ron Doel and M. Sfraga
In Snedenís Landing, N.Y.
June 24, 1997

 
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Robert Gerard; June 24, 1997

ABSTRACT: Discusses the impact and scope of ONR and NSF funding at Lamont; comments on the development of the 1964 Vema fracture zone paper with Bruce Heezen and Marie Tharp. Describes his generation of Lamont scientists and their close connections with Angelo Luda and the machine shop; laments to loss of a connection to instruments in younger generation at Lamont. Relays a little known account of the Cadrill deep sea drilling project; describes the decision to retire Verna as well as the purchase and development of the Ewing. Discusses Lamontís financial straits in the 1980s and connects this with Lamontís lack of publicizing itself.

Transcript

Session I | Session II | Session III

Doel:

This is Ron Doel and this is a continuing interview with Robert D., known as Sam Gerard. And today is the twenty-fourth of June, 1997. I want to note that Mike Sfraga is here and doing this interview with me. And weíre doing the interview today in, this is Snedenís Landing,

Gerard:

Yes.

Doel:

One would call it New York. In, at the very end of the last interview segment, you began talking a bit about the IGY and particularly how it had affected the funding for ships; the availability of grants and the long-term block funds that came in. One thing I was real curious about was whether the IGY had, as you think back, affected your career in other ways.

Gerard:

No. I canít say that it did. Up until that point, National Science Foundation was not such a major contributor across the board for oceanographic research in the U.S. Much of the support before that time was through the Office of Naval Research. And those grants and contracts were generally renewable, and fairly liberally contracted. They gave you a lot of flexibility. NSF came through with somewhat more specific rules and regulations directed towards particular research programs. In other words, ONR would say weíll give you this large grant for the laboratory, and it will be generally set up to cover acoustic research in the deep oceans, nice and broad. You could bring in people to do instrument work. You could support the ships. Things like that. NSF contracts would be a principal investigator to collect ocean floor sediment samples in a certain area and these were annual, like the Navy, but not necessarily the kind that youíd expect to continue for a long period unless they were associated with something like IGY, which had the likelihood of a stretch of several years before final reports and results would be in. So, they were a little different. Things were changing in the direction of more NSF, less ONR support. So in a sense it allowed the individual principal investigators — in some cases, in those days they were graduate students — who actually had pretty much control over a whole project. Those were times I think that are contrasted strongly with the present where you have to be a pretty well-established research person of senior rank with a good track record in publication before you get to the eligibility level for these NSF grants. There being such competition from other institutions. In those days, in the ocean sciences, there was not that much competition. There were an awful lot of unknown areas out there that needed study, and the people who were able to undertake this work were generally very young folk who hadnít established a long career because the whole damn science hadnít been around that long. So here you had guys, they were still plugging away at Lamont getting their Ph.D.s, often taking many, many years to do it. Because all of a sudden theyíd be interrupted and have to go out to sea and drop whatever it was they were doing academically. The people like Chuck [Charles L.] Drake and Bruce [C.] Heezen, I think those guys, if you compared the time that it took to finish their Ph.D.s, with students today would be in shock to discover that this might be a seven year program. Because it was interrupted so many times, by the time they got the PhD degree, they would have had a publication record of a dozen or more major papers in major journals. So thatís a flavor thatís no longer around, I donít believe.

Doel:

Thatís a good point. And certainly there was a, there were many students who experienced that under Ewing.

Gerard:

Yes.

Doel:

One thing I was curious about from a moment ago. Did Ewing talk about the change in patronage, the increasing funding that was coming from NSF? How did he feel about that?

Gerard:

As far as Ewing was concerned, anybody who would bring in funds was welcome, providing he didnít try to make too big an empire for himself because in those days the ONR programs were pretty well centered with the senior people. This NSF business brought in support for the younger scientists and that was okay by Ewing, so long as their science was reputable and they did innovative things, and they didnít interfere with some of the work that he carved out for himself. I think that the troubles that developed between Ewing and Heezen — which are legend, and I donít pretend to know all the answers there — were because they were, both concerned with some of the same things, and the interference was the subject of a lot of controversy between them. There was so much out there that you could pick up where you werenít stepping on anybodyís toes. There was a vacuum that you could step into and become an expert researcher in a field that had very little competition. So NSF support during IGY, I think, had the result of putting a lot of people to sea with an assurance that they would have support for a relatively long period of time, which was a new angle. Everything was expanding in the institutes and this was one of the major thrusts that provided that expansion. Itís about the best I can describe the whole period.

Doel:

Very interesting. You know, weíve spoken a little bit in the second interview about your work in discovering the Vema fracture zone. And Iím thinking particularly of the 1964 paper that you wrote with Bruce Heezen and Marie Tharp. Iím curious what it was like to work with them as co-authors in introducing.

Gerard:

I got along with Bruce fine, he was a funny guy. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of his subject which was geology of the sea floor. He knew every reference that ever one could know about in his specialty and had probably written half of them himself. He was such a focused person that he often appeared to be a little brisk, and short, and even irascible with other people. But if you got to know him, a little blow up here and there was just part of his personality. Anyone who frustrated his efforts to get to his goals would certainly hear a lot of rumbles and thunder, but other than that, he was a pleasant guy, and as I say, a funny guy. Bruce and Marie became well-known for their physiographic diagrams of the seafloor. The earliest exercise in showing the ocean structure and topography in this style I believe took place when we were working on the first paper on radiocarbon in the Atlantic, published in 1960.

Doel:

Wally Broecker was also involved.

Gerard:

I was trying to make an illustration of what we thought we knew about the stratification and circulation of water masses along the East Coast of the U.S. I kept looking at the old diagrams that were in some of the classical papers up to that time — primarily those of the Germans by George Wust — and they couldnít quite give me the sort of three-dimensional block diagram view that I wanted. And I remembered a professor at Columbia, [Armin K.] Lobeck, a geographer, who developed the first of these very large physiographic diagrams of the United States and other places. I tried in a crude way to show the topography of the Western North Atlantic and the stratified water masses. And I messed around with that a little bit. Bruce and Marie were helpful in suggesting things to improve these diagrams. In the end I did not use these illustrations, but shortly after that, he and Marie got going on using the Lobe style to depict underwater physiographic features.

Doel:

Thatís very interesting. They hadnít been thinking along those lines before that.

Gerard:

I canít say they hadnít. But Bruce was helpful to me in that particular exercise, although we actually never used those diagrams in that report. We just had some ordinary graphs and such.

Doel:

Iím looking right now at the Ď64 paper. You had, there was one illustration, a physiographic diagram.

Gerard:

Okay. That was already well along.

Doel:

And thatís well after this period that weíre referring to here.

Gerard:

Yes. The radio carbon paper I canít remember what the date that was. I think it was 1960.

Doel:

There were a few of them, werenít there? Thereís one that we have here, Natural Radio Carbon in the Atlantic Ocean, from 1960.

Gerard:

Yes. Thatís the one. I donít think there are any physiographic diagrams in there. No, see we used just the good old fashioned profiles. I think what I did later, in writing reports for the AEC (the Atomic Energy Commission) was to use these diagrams in technical reports, which we considered unpublished documents. I could never find one today. But I think I did do a couple. And anyway, Bruce and Marie had already developed it to a very effective method of showing the ocean floor.

Doel:

Was Lobeck interested enough in the physiographic diagrams that he would continue talking with you about it? Did he ever come out to Lamont?

Gerard:

Bruce must have known Lobeck very well. I think I heard a lecture by Lobeck probably out at Lamont at one of our seminars. He was still around. He might have been emeritus by then. There was another guy who did some of the same stuff. They were only two that I remember. His name was something like Reese or Ross or something like that, but I.

Doel:

Thatís okay. We can always check on the names later.

Gerard:

Yes. But Lobeck was the primary one. And he had published his book called Geomorphology — that was used as a text in the courses he taught at Columbia. And his diagrams were in widespread use. That was one of the first things I did with Heezen. Iíd gone to sea with Bruce abroad RJV Vema on the first cruise that I was on in 1954. I was just a sort of a summer helper at the time. But we got along real well, had drinks in many ports, and struck up a good relationship.

Doel:

What Iím very interested in as, say by the early 1960s, you and Bruce and, to a certain extent Marie, had training that differed from many of the other people at Lamont, who would come through the geophysical route. Youíd come through geography and other areas. Did you sense that there was a distinct group of you who had different kinds of training and different ways of interpreting?

Gerard:

I think there was a clear understanding that people had specific backgrounds. Mine was hard to pin down because I had done some studies of Arctic climatology, I had done geology at the University of New Mexico, and I was in the geography department at Columbia taking courses. And so, yes, I was clearly not among the geophysicists, but I could talk to them. And one of the things that was a common denominator among all of those who went to sea was the fact that they had to have a hands-on ability with the equipment and the gear. If you didnít know how to make your own instruments and tools, and use them and fix them, you werenít much use as a scientist, except if you stayed in the lab and just played with numbers. But all of our people had to spend a lot of time at sea. That was how Lamont worked. Whether you were in magnetics or gravity or mud sampling of the ocean floor, you went to sea a lot. And that made your graduate degree take a long time for one thing. It also gave you an enormous — something totally unknown today — ability to publish papers under your own name. The main thing was that one had to take an active part in the sea-going fieldwork or he wouldnít get far in those days unless you stuck to the lab and did your standard chemistry or something like that. So I think that was a common thread among the seagoing guys. And if they respected you for ability to make things work, you were in. There was no problem with what your academic credentials were. You could be from some junior college in the worst part of the universe, but if you knew how to make things work and come back with good data, you were acceptable. The person who best represented these standards was the machine shop foreman, Angelo Ludas, probably one of the strongest influences, other than Doc Ewing himself, on the young men who were going to sea. If you were in with Angelo, you could have a key to the machine shop. He could see just by the way you handled tools, and worked on your project whether you were reliable and met his high standards. Those were his standards. There were PhDs whom he wouldnít let in his machine shop under any circumstances. But there were other young graduate students who had abilities that he appreciated, and they could win a much coveted key to the machine shop.

Doel:

Iím curious who youíre thinking of, say in the latter category, those that you felt Angelo trusted that way. Clearly you had access to the machine shop at any time.

Gerard:

Yes. And I was a late comer. Oh the club included Chuck Drake, Walter Beckmann, and Maury Davidson — well, Maury had his ups and downs. He once drilled a couple of holes in the bed of one of Angeloís favorite milling machines, and he was in disgrace for a while. But, letís see, Bernie Luskin, Archie Roberts, John Ewing, and others. Itís hard to remember all the names. There would be a gang of us who would show up on Fridays after work for what they called now days, a TGIF party.

Sfraga:

Iím interested in. Youíre talking about ingenuity in the tool shop making things better. Were these initiatives that you picked up on your own? You saw a piece of equipment, thought you could improve it, or were there requests from scientists to improve the equipment?

Gerard:

Well, usually your own needs came first. But there was much interaction. One would share knowledge with some of the professional machinists who might be working shoulder to shoulder on a common project. We would sometimes have what was called a big flail when the ship was at the home port nearby on the Hudson River. The Vema would have a very limited stay because Doc Ewing was keenly aware of the ship cost per day, and the only time it was earning its pay is when was out at sea working. So you minimized the time in port. You maximized the time out at sea. And God help you if you ever came in a day early. So we had this impossibly tight schedule. Typically, the ship would be up the Piermont pier for seven days. We had to take a lot of gear off, and put all the new gear on in a very short time. Youíd see guys working, well, principal investigators who were going out to do the work, getting their gear ready until two and three in the morning at the machine shop. They would be in a state of semi-consciousness at the end of one of these days. And it would start again at eight oíclock the next morning. Well that was called a flail, getting the ship ready. And thatís when you really got to depend on one another. Someone would have his job finished and would see somebody else who was struggling to complete a different task, and heíd pitch in automatically. One seldom had to ask for help. It was a unique time, before there were isolated specialists working in separate departments. As a young scientist, first of all, you had to conceive of an experiment. You decided what kind of instrumentation was needed to get the desired results. Since it didnít exist, you had to design it. Then you had to get it made. Maybe youíd have a machinist, but youíd have to work with him and get it made. Then youíd have to get it ready and take it to sea. And of course anything you take to sea never works as planned anyway, so youíd have to modify it in the machine shop on the ship. Doc Ewing insisted that his ship carry a complete machine shop with all kinds of spares because he didnít want them to come in to port to have things remade or repaired. So after collecting the data or the samples, you brought them back, you processed the data, and you published the report. That to me sounds like every possible phase of an operation, from concept to completed report. Thereís nobody I know of today at the level of a graduate student, or any other level, whoís doing that. Specialties have taken over.

Doel:

Very interesting point. Itís not only specialization; itís also a different part of compartmentalization that affected the careers of the younger people.

Gerard:

I think one thing that had a lot to do with the unique character of the early Lamont team members is that most of them were World War II veterans. They had been trained as electronics technicians, tail gunners, submarine sonar operators, etc. When they left military service they went immediately to college under the GI Bill, without which many would never have seen the inside of a university. With this background, those who became graduate students at Lamont had experience and maturity quite different from todayís students. I believe this helps explain their hands-on talents, their ability to take charge of a research expedition, and also their camaraderie and willingness to pitch-in. These guys had recently been in a big war. Todayís graduate students are not only younger, but have a very different background.

Doel:

When did you detect this change occurring? Was it gradual or was there a period of time when you really noticed that?

Gerard:

I think, I think it was gradual, but you could see it, I would say in the seventies and eighties it became more noticeable. Today the shift has been to lots of really bright, young folk who know procedures for data crunching, computer-handy people, who can do deal with records and data, but who donít know a great deal about the sensors at the other end data and they rely on technicians who are supplied by the ship. And the technician is not always aware of all of the needs of the scientist, and may not have the depth of knowledge to recognize how something can be improved, or how something can be made more, more accurate. So, you know, all of these compartmentalization features I think make it a different kind of activity.

Sfraga:

Itís a more global way of looking at the research question, developing the question, developing the techniques, developing the equipment, applying the equipment, gathering the data, the paper, all connected to, all connected to the Vema. What was the general sense of Vema when you working on it? As a personality of a ship, was it seen as a partner in the research or was it just a means to get to where you needed to go?

Gerard:

The ship itself and the people were important. A lot depended on the master. Henry [C.] Kohler was a very dedicated and very effective master in terms of keeping in sight, the main objectives of the laboratory. And that could be said another way, the main objectives of the laboratory director. He didnít waste any time because that was the big issue in terms of keeping an effective operation. You stayed at sea as many days as possible and worked as many hours a day as possible while you were there. And he kept that going in a remarkable way. The records set by Vema, I canít cite them number for number — but the number of days at sea, the number of cores and stations taken per day, has never been equaled by any other research vessel that I know of. The kinds of things that were done are very different from what is being done today in many cases. But the datum per dollar of that ship was quite remarkable compared to any other. And the quality of the work is well known because it established geophysics of the ocean floor in a very short time. So thatís how a productive ship was run. It was run by a hard-nosed captain who knew that this productivity was what paid off. And Ewing recognized that and he knew that he had a good man to do it when it came to Kohler. Kohler would spend the better part of every year, at sea. People wonít do that today. Captains today spend a month off for every month on. Theyíre paid full time and they work half time. Nice job, but itís demanding. And you know, eleven months on and one month off, you wonít find anybody who will do it today for any price. That was the nature of the people aboard Vema. We had a crew of Nova Scotians to begin with who would follow their captain with this kind of schedule. After a while, we ran out of Nova Scotians because they were no longer as eager to put in that kind of service. We would pick up others, many of them not Americans. But we had a ship that was registered in Panama and so we could operate with Non-US crew. I donít think it was ever a matter of the pay, the pay was pretty much standard. There were long hours, there were hard, long periods at sea, and finally, we ended up during the last five years or so of Vemaís career, mostly in the Pacific, with an almost totally Fijian crew. Wonderful people. Making more money than they could anywhere else, and serving these long periods of time because to them, it was well worth it. So you had to have a ship that was productive in terms of the people who would spend more time out at sea than most.

Doel:

Iím very curious. I want to talk in a moment about the differences between the Vema and the Conrad, as the ships developed. But Iím very curious about what you said a moment ago about the interface between the experimenter and the phenomena, the change in the kind of instrumentation. Was that something youíve had a chance to talk with the younger generation of scientists about? Their own relationship to their instruments. Is this something thatís bothering, that you perceive concerns in the new generation?

Gerard:

As far as I can see, thereís hardly much you can do in the way of discussing the subject. Itís like someone who has a good singing voice and someone who doesnít. You either have it or you donít. And you can tell immediately the way a guy handles his gear whether he is competent in that activity or not. And telling him how or giving him a manual, seldom, in my experience, does much good. If youíve already watched and seen that the guy doesnít appear to have a natural talent, you put him on something else. You put him on a watch where he can with great dedication mark the records at the precise time, detect changes that need to be looked at, and so on. But you keep him away from the coring gear, because he canít drive a screw in straight. And Iíve never used formal methods to train anybody. Iíve just sort of watched them, and if theyíre good at something, you leave them alone. If theyíre not good at something, you take them off and you put them on something that they may be able to handle with better proficiency.

Doel:

After Angelo Ludas retired and then died, was there anyone else in the machine shop who had that kind of influence, that helped to bring experimenters and into instrument design?

Gerard:

Angelo retired at the right time. Soon after that, things changed so much in our instrument and machine shop work that he would have been very discontent.

Doel:

Are you thinking of the 1970s now?

Gerard:

Yes. Chuck Drake probably carried the ball on it — they built a fine, big machine shop. Up to that time, much of what Lamont had done had been the result of the innovative instrumentation creating new gear and developing new gear. And so it was deemed important to have a very capable machine shop. At the same time, the costs of maintaining the crew of machinists and people with the technical requirements were growing at a very steep rate. The contracts and grants that would normally support a machinist were hard pressed to come up with the funds. This was, Iíd say, in the mid 70s. And here we had just built this big machine shop. We began to cut down, almost immediately on the number of people because of machinistís labor costs who were. In my department we had maybe two and a half machinists. We shared a half a guy. The other two would take turns going to sea with the gear. After a while, we couldnít afford that many. So then we would drop down to one machinist. It then became a problem for Angelo to find a salary for this guy? Many new companies had begun making oceanographic gear in the late 60s, early 70s. Oceanography had become a commercial market. It was time when little companies, even big companies, started making gear and actually doing development work. They often hired people from the oceanographic labs to consult or to work full time. And so they began to make instruments that formerly you had to make yourself. Well, it was a hell of a lot easier to put down, even for the cost of an expensive instrument, then to put down for a yearís salary for a machinist to make your own. We built a big machine shop at just the wrong time because we couldnít use it. In fact, its use has tapered down so that, now, I think there are two guys full-time in the Lamont machine shop, and theyíre having a tough time keeping their salaries.

Doel:

Thatís interesting.

Gerard:

And thatís been the situation since the late 80ís.

Doel:

Were you doing consulting too? Iím sorry I didnít mean to step on your words.

Gerard:

No, go ahead.

Doel:

Were you doing consulting with any of those firms?

Gerard:

Very little. A couple of times I did. I never got into it very much, but a lot of people did. In fact, a number of the people at Lamont broke away to form their own company in the 60s. I suppose it was in the middle to late 60s. They formed Alpine Geophysical. Walter Beckmann, Archie Roberts, several others. And that was, that was a growing little enterprise. I think they even got into the stock market for a while.

Doel:

Yes.

Gerard:

Most of these little companies have folded in the meantime. But there are still a couple of major manufacturers. And a lot of stuff came from the Japanese in the 70s and 80s too. They were able to provide a number of physical oceanography instruments, as did the West Germans at the time.

Doel:

Why the Japanese in particular?

Gerard:

I donít think they did much in the way of new developments, but standard things only recently have they developed new items, mostly electronic.

Doel:

Just the production of standard things.

Gerard:

Yes, at first. Biology nets, little current meters, mud samplers, things like that. Pretty standard stuff. They had a cheap labor market. They had a good technical and production capability. And their prices were quite competitive. They began to make reversing thermometers for example. Reversing thermometers were and still are a very important part of physical oceanography. They were originally made by the British and the Germans at the turn of the century. And in the early nineteen hundreds, the Germans essentially had the market. After World War II, Germans got back in the business. Japanese were making them, and at lower prices. The instrumentation picture has changed radically so that today almost everybody buys commercially made gear. There are still do-it-yourself jobs when it comes to adapting instruments for a particular ship operation. You install special machines to handle them, and special systems to handle them. But the instrument itself that hangs on the end is usually a purchased item.

Doel:

Speaking of instrument development, what was your first involvement in what becomes the JOIDES program? How early on were you becoming involved?

Gerard:

In the very beginning, before anything, before they had a ship. Before JOIDES, thereís a story that I think has never been written about deep sea dulling. It is about a little experiment took place for one month — I canít even remember the year — but it was in the sixties, late sixties, called the Caldrill Project. Caldrill was a little surplus navy type vessel from World War II.

Doel:

Weíre looking right now at ocean drilling on the continental margin, 1965 publication.

Gerard:

How big is that little thing? Sheís, looks like 53 meters. Relatively small ship by todayís standards, but they rigged it up with a drilling rig and a hole called a moon pull in the center and rigged up some kind of a relatively shallow water dynamic position-keeping method. It was designed for shelf drilling, and operated by an outfit in California. They had some exploration contracts and such. Well, when the idea of trying to generate something more successful than the ill-fated MOHOLE project. The JOIDES group decided that they could do some test drilling with this minimal little vessel at a relatively low cost off the continental East Coast. Not in deep water, because a true deep sea drilling vessel would have been far too costly and too big a project. But this little ship, capable of drilling down to three hundred feet, could possibly be stretched to drill to maybe a thousand feet. And where could you find such a place? On the Blake Plateau, off the coast of Florida. It wasnít deep ocean but it was significantly different than the shelf, and was considerably farther out than the shelf. They believed it would reveal some interesting features of the continental slope and shelf in the region bordering the deep ocean basin. So JOIDES decided to request money from NSF, for one month charter of the Caldrill. We proceeded to have a few get-togethers beforehand to organize who was gone to do what. Biologists and paleontologists from Lamont and University of Miami were selected to go about their work on the ship. There was a geologist, John Schlee, from the USGS group at Woods Hole who was co-chief scientist. Lamont proposed me for the other co-chief scientist. My nomination resulted from a little conference where Doc asked, ďDid anybody here ever drill for oil?Ē And I raised my hand. He said, okay, youíll be chief scientist. I had been a roughneck on an oil rig one summer near Casper, Wyoming. So we had a few conferences on what we thought we could do. And somebody said, well, you know, thereís evidence from seismic profiles and from well logs along Florida and Georgia that indicated some of the formations extended out across the Blake Plateau.

Doel:

Theyíd continue. You could see that from the seismic profiles.

Gerard:

Yes. So there was a certain amount of background work done on the geology, and we began to plan a series of holes, starting in shallow water, to get our things worked out, and proceeding as deep as we could. The question was did we need to drill through stuff that was really hard? We didnít know whether it was hard drilling or soft drilling. But there were some pretty sharp reflectors which were assumed to be probably chert layers. And so one of the Lamont people who had been in the oil business and was doing administrative work with Doc Ewing, he and I went down to Texas and we bought some diamond drills, thinking we might use them to get through the hard stuff. But they werenít too good for drilling soft stuff. So it was a compromise. But anyway, we went out with gear that was available. We drilled six holes; I canít remember exactly the depth of the maximum ones. But we had whatís called a fence diagram in here somewhere that shows what some of the depths were.

Doel:

You may not have all the pages in this report.

Gerard:

Yes. At any rate, it was remarkably successful even though the ship had never been designed to drill so deep. We were drilling in three times greater water than the ship was ever designed for. It had many problems, one of which was the Gulf Stream. The Blake Plateau is a nice place to work, but the Gulf Stream wanders back and forth right in the middle of where we were trying to do some drilling. This little boat had position-keeping thrusters unlike those on modern drilling ships. It had these things that were like big outboard motors that dropped down, two in the bow and two at the stern. When you were underway you hauled them up. And when you were trying to maintain position, you dropped them down. And they had electric motor drives at the top, and were controlled by a primitive computer. The computer got its signals from a thin wire that went to the bottom with a railroad wheel at the base for a weight. Well, the idea is that you keep the wire taut at a certain tension. If the ship drifts off and you develop a wire angle, the signal is sent to the computer to move the ship back on position.

Doel:

Youíre holding your hand vertically. Right.

Gerard:

Yes. That works fine in shelf waters where you donít have a lot of current. We had three or four knot currents sometimes, and over fairly great depth because weíre out in a thousand feet of water, not three hundred feet. We would sometimes see the electrical power required reach well over a hundred percent of what it was rated for. And we still were just barely able to hold position, hoping the gulfstream, which wanders with the daily tidal cycle would give us some relief. We would see smoke coming out of the circuit breakers. There was a quarter of a million dollars worth of pipe in the sea floor and we didnít want to lose it. And more importantly, didnít want to lose the core that was in it. So we lucked it out. We devised a whole series of things to keep this program going. We put two railroad wheels on the taut wire to give. The taut wire to give it a little more tension, but then we couldnít get them back because the winch didnít have the power to do it. So we used a second winch to grab it and bring up ten feet at a time from a thousand foot depth. There were a lot of problems, but we got six holes and a lot of cores. It was all done for a very minimal budget and we reported to NSF in a report such as this in Science. For the first time, successful drilling and coring had been done off the continental margin that showed that deep sea drilling, the next step, was going to be enormously productive. Within a few months of this result, NSF sprung to build the Glomar Challenger and issue contracts to Global Marine to put the ship back in shape. We also got hold of another captain who was very much like Kohler. Jorgensen didnít spend that much time at sea. He was to come on when needed. But we got hold of a guy who was a younger version of Kohler.

Doel:

Was this Peter Olander?

Gerard:

Yes, Peter Olander. Olander was very strong-minded. He would probably have been a wonderful master of an old square rigged ship in the middle of the nineteenth century, but he was a little too much of a hardnosed master for most of the modern seagoing people that he had to work with. So there were a lot of people who found that he was too abrasive and too much all over them. But he did run a very tight ship. And he maintained her, and he could take her through any kind of storm or emergency. You would have the utmost confidence in his abilities. So we kept him despite the many personnel problems that occurred because of his hardnosed attitude up until sometime in the late 70s when finally we decided that his services were more of a burden than a help. But again, it was largely because of his difficult personality, rather than as a seaman. He was a superb seaman. It was very interesting for a couple of years he and Kohler would speak on the radio together. And they became very good buddies on the airwaves. They had never met. And then on a couple of occasions in port the two ships happened to be in the same port at the same time, and they got along handsomely. And finally, on one occasion, up in Halifax, Henry Kohler was on vacation and Peter Olander brought his ship into Halifax for refit. Talwani decided that it would make sense to have Henry Kohler participate in the overhaul because he knew all the people up there and so on. You never saw an explosion of personalities such as occurred at that time. These two each had the same ďtake chargeĒ personality putting two bulls together in one arena, bound to end up with a lot of blood on the sand. And thatís indeed what happened so from then on, neither had a good word to say about the other.

Doel:

I remember you mentioning that letter in Nova Scotia. And indeed itís telling of their personalities. One other thing Iím very curious about is the decision to retire the Vema.

Gerard:

Well, it was very. It was a very logical decision. The equipment that we were using had been growing in size and complexity and power requirements. On Vema there was never a sufficient amount of electrical power to run major equipment so all of our winches had to be powered by separate diesel power packs. This began to get really serious. Not only winches, but then compressors because the air gun had come in to replace the earlier, and much more dangerous, and difficult to acquire explosives. And not only that, but the air guns had many, many other advantages. You could cycle them at a much higher rate. You could fire them off simultaneously and they were developing longer and longer hydrophone arrays and longer and longer or wider arrays of sound sources. So Vema simply didnít have the space, the tonnage, the power, the basic size and facilities to undertake this kind of work. Well that was the bread and butter work of Lamont; Seismic refraction, air gun work. There was no question that Vema had reached her limits. So that was the basis of the decision. We sold her and sheís still afloat carrying passengers in the Caribbean, having been rebuilt nicely. We were then limited to the Conrad on which we ended up with the same kind of problems as we had on Vema. Yes, we could put on more equipment, but still she was power limited. The air guns had limitations in terms of the compressors that we were able to operate. We put a wide spread towing arrangement aboard which could carry many air guns. But it took up all the shipís space and seriously compromised the load lines of the vessel. We had to get special load line provisions from the Coast Guard because we were below normal draft for the North Atlantic. In other words we couldnít go out in North Atlantic winter conditions as determined by Coast Guard because our load line limitations. So there were growing problems. And we realized that Conrad had to be replaced too in the late 80s. We thought that considering Lamontís record, having operated two of the most efficient vessels in oceanographic research ever to perform, the only two that had reached over a million miles of scientific cruises ever by anybody, and with the productivity that was unquestioned, that we would be in line for the new Agor 24 vessel that the navy was designing at this time in the late 80s. And so we made application to be the operator of that new ship. We lost out to the University of Washington. The fact that Senator Magnusen of Washington was on the Maritime Commission may have had something to do with that. I donít know. But we thought that it was quite a disaster. Weíd been planning to retire Conrad because she was so overburdened. So we began to generate plan B which was to get a bigger, more capable ship somehow or other, which we did.

Doel:

Was that, Iíve heard that you were playing a particular role in, were you leading on that to get what became then the Ewing.

Gerard:

Yes. We wrote the proposals, we did the surveys of the vessel and we made designs for extensive modifications. We made two proposals, in fact. The first one didnít fly. And we were really at a pretty low state, because Conrad had been laid up. NSF, by then, was almost the sole supporter of research vessels. The Office of Naval Research support was much reduced by the late 80s. The Conrad had been laid up because of a shortage of funds to support main, the larger capital ships, as they called them, the two hundred foot vessels. And here we were having gone from two vessels down to zero at that point. So, we had to come up with another ship. Then a chance came up to acquire a fairly new vessel that had been designed for geophysical work, although we had to give it a lot more versatility in the layout. We faced a demanding job because there were limits to how much you could do at a reasonable cost. We had severe financial limits. There were a wide number of requirements in addition to its role as a seismic vessel to satisfy. Because when you look at the economics of running a dedicated geophysical ship, itís got to do other things as well because within the entire community thereís not enough support annually even for one major geophysical ship. So you have to be able to do physical oceanography, you have to be able to do marine biology and so on. Therefore you needed winches for these projects. You needed labs for these other people. This ship was big enough to do that, but you had to do it very carefully because it wasnít that big.

Doel:

So the planning was critical?

Gerard:

The planning was very critical. To be able to have all this stuff. You know three oceanographic winches — two medium ones, one big one, — a big streamer reel with three thousand meters of streamer. Cranes to handle gear and an air gun boom arrangement that had never done before and all of it to meet U.S. Coast Guard requirements. We had to change the ship from a Lloydís registered vessel in Canada, under Canada Coast Guard, to a U.S. Coast Guard inspected vessel under American Bureau of Shipping classification. Just the classification stuff alone was a major obstacle. We had to show that all materials and construction were equivalent and acceptable under U.S. Coast Guard standards. There was a major problem with all of the oil piping, the fuel line piping. The company that made the ship had ceased to operate. It went bust in Quebec. So the records for the equipment that went into the ship, some were available, some were not. We could not prove that all of the engine room piping was of approved Coast Guard requirements. We said it met the Canadian Coast Guard specs. The Coast Guard said we got to see either a physical proof or a documentation of records. We couldnít get the records and so I had to do metallurgical analyses to prove acceptability, otherwise it would have been almost as costly as buying the ship, to replace all the engine room piping. Weíd gotten Columbia to spring for the cost of the ship with an arrangement with NSF (National Science Foundation) to pay back by user rates over a period of time. We had hired the original operating crew from the Canadian geophysical company to bring the ship to the U.S. In the course of that, we got friendly with the electrician, who needed a job. He was going to be let off like everybody else. He owned up that there were serious problems with the main propulsion of the ship. The owners had failed to mention a persistent problem, from the day the ship was built, of main propulsion failures, which had never be solved. The propulsion electric motors were made by General Electric, Canada. General Electric, Canada had sent people out to many ports trying to fix them but never succeeded. They couldnít come up with an answer, and thatís one reason they were getting rid of the ship. We learned this from the electrician coming over.

Doel:

And the ship had already been officially purchased at this point?

Gerard:

We had made an agreement to purchase. So I had to go to the director and say, look, we need an escrow account to cover this problem.

Doel:

Was this [C. Baring] Barry Raleigh now who was director?

Gerard:

Yes. So we put that into the contract finally for a quarter of a million bucks in escrow to cover the cost of solving this problem. But, this estimate was pure guesswork. It was a minimum amount actually. And since the manufacturer, of the motors, couldnít figure it out, Iím not sure how the hell we could figure it out, but we said we would. And so those are a number of the problems we faced.

Doel:

That must have left with an extraordinary feeling that thatís kind of a challenge.

Gerard:

Not only that. But we went to the cheapest, low bid shipyard in the United States; a decrepit yard down in New Orleans that did nothing so far as we could see, except repair old barges. And they bid on our elaborate set of specifications, and came in with the low numbers and obviously thatís the way we were going to go with some trepidation. Turns out that Trinity Marine had absolutely no capability with electrical work, no capability with hydraulic work, a very marginal capability with steel work, and in general, it was the worst place in the United States to get anything done of quality. And here we had really significant, high technical demands for the ship, and a very limited time to carry it all out.

Doel:

How did you achieve getting the ship in place?

Gerard:

Well, worked sixteen hours a day for seven months without a day off. We gathered all the good people we could find at Lamont to make up for the lack of shipyard talent. The shipyard workers were making at least two fires a day because they didnít have the sense to set up a fire watch when they were cutting, using cutting torches on pipes that were full of fuel oil. They were opening up our hydraulics systems without a clue as to how they were going to go back together. Grit from the sand blasters were getting into all the hydraulics. Every god damn thing you could imagine that could go wrong in a shipyard was going wrong twenty-four hours a day, and they were paying no attention whatever to the specifications which were carefully written up. And I kept going back to [Dennis] Hayes and saying, you know, we have it in the contract that we can break this off at any time.

Doel:

This is Denny Hayes?

Gerard:

Yes. And he was not only reluctant, but absolutely unable to exercise this option in our contract because, truly, we didnít have any place else to go. From my standpoint, it was almost intolerable, and we could smell disaster. But it was administratively and financially impossible to try another shipyard. We finally solved the propulsion problem. We re-motored it. I got a guy from the oil rig business, and he said, you know, the best damn motors in the world are the old-fashioned DC motors that they use out in the oil patch. You can buy them rebuilt, second hand for a very small price. He said you can run them two hundred percent overloaded and they glow red hot at night. And I said, that sounds pretty good to me. Letís try them. And we put them in. The ship hasnít had a bit of trouble since. These are just a few examples. The hydraulics: a couple of guys at Lamont came down to help. Since the shipyard had destroyed all the hydraulics, they had to redesign everything and make sure it was all clean. The shipyard workers had bolted down the steering motor in a way that brought it out of alignment. The first test that was made damaged the whole inside of this huge hydraulic main motor arrangement so that it was kaput. We were supposed to leave that week. Coast Guard came down and ordered us to fix it or put a new one in. The manufacturing company in Canada had been out of business for a couple of years. We located one of their chief technicians who was working for somebody else, lured him down with lots of money, and we and he, forgetting the shipyard, rebuilt the whole thing. We wouldnít trust the shipyard to do anything by then. We had to do so many of these things. Because we didnít dare trust shipyard people to do them. The whole alarm system on the ship which is critical for the Coast Guard, they couldnít figure out any of the wiring. They had no electrical capability. We did that all ourselves. And finally we got the ship ready for sea trials. At this point, at near the end of the contract we began to see a lot of additional charges presented. This ship was still in their possession and we were told to come up with the final payment, you donít do sea trials without that. Therefore, I signed off on the whole of the many, many deficiencies. I just signed them off, saying no problem, weíll pay. Of course, we were going to come back to that yard and finish up any deficiencies. Thatís what you do when you have a sea trial. You go out for a couple days, they send their people on board, you go through trials, and you run this way at high speed and that way, and test all the stuff. Then come back and fix any deficiencies.

Doel:

Are they then repaired?

Gerard:

Theyíre supposed to do them. We knew that there would be a lot of those, and so off we went. But I made special arrangements for a tug boat company to meet the ship at the sea buoy at the mouth of the Mississippi Delta and take off the crew from the shipyard after completing sea trials. And I told the captain to head for Miami. I had signed off on all the bills, knowing full well that the contract which the shipyard people probably never read, said that I wasnít able to sign off on anything more than a very limited amount of money so that my signature was totally invalid, and we escaped. Later on, after threatening litigation for a year or so, they finally settled for a reasonable amount of money. They had to because I had all the data and they didnít have a single record of anything. I went around at least every other day with a camcorder taking pictures of all the horrors that were going on. The fires burning, the leaking oil pipes etc. So they, the people who were the best at cheating the customer, ended up getting a taste of their own treatment. Which I think is justifiable.

Doel:

What an extraordinary story.

Gerard:

Yes. It was really a test. I had a lot of fun, but it was a lot of work just dealing with these guys. It was a new experience because I had been accustomed to dealing with legitimate businesses, people who performed to some standards of morality.

Doel:

It also says something about the, the kind of financial conditions at Lamont in the late 1980s, compared to say the time which the Vema was first brought in and the Conrad was.

Gerard:

Yes.

Doel:

Did you find that that was generally true for all of the oceanographic facilities, like Scripps [Institution of Oceanography] and Woods Hole [Oceanographic Institution], or was Lamont having a harder time?

Gerard:

I think Lamont was having a harder time. Itís always been my feeling, and of course being part of Lamont made it seem maybe more that way than if had I been an objective outside observer. But I always felt that we got the short end of the stick compared to Lamontís overall contribution to science. Our people produced more papers per senior scientist than any of the comparable institutes that were doing the same kind of work. The productivity of Lamont scientists is pretty well known. The cost of the ships per day, forgetting the productivity, just the operating costs per day, our ships routinely broke the record of days at sea in doing productive work, we almost never did less than three hundred days a year at sea at work. And I think still do. The turn-around times in port for our ships were two or three days when other research vessels stayed for a week at a time. And, you know, considering the productivity, the number of samples, miles of records, and so on accomplished in a thirty day cruise, Lamont results were always far more than Iíve ever seen in the competition. And yet we had an extremely hard time to keep these ships going, and to keep the lab provided with support.

Sfraga:

And why do you think thatís so?

Gerard:

I think we had never done much politically or in terms of public relations. There have been many spectacular films of research in the oceans shown on the television and they always seem to show some institute from Florida or California. The fact is that Lamont seldom let T.V. crews on our ship because we didnít have room for them. We had work to do, and a film crew just took up too much space. And our management whether there was space or not, would prefer to fill it up with scientists.

Sfraga:

So this was a conscious effort not to go that route?

Gerard:

Well I think Doc Ewing sought to do his publication in the scientific journals only. Forget National Geographic, and PR stuff, that wasnít science. He was dedicated to doing science, and had very little use for PR types because he figured that they were excess baggage.

Sfraga:

Was there ever a discussion? Did this ever come up in meetings? Or was there a contingent within Lamont that wanted to go that route?

Gerard:

I think there were people who would look at the newspapers and see credits being given to some institute that really wasnít a very big player, and would wonder why Lamont doesnít have a little more influence with the press. The Thresher search was an example. Conrad did essentially all the work in discovering the location of the lost submarine Thresher at the request of the Navy. Other institutions were involved. There were ships from Woods Hole, and lots of Navy ships, involved, and they did very little. They had little to show for all the miles of steaming around and hoopla for a couple of months that the search was going on. Meanwhile, R/V Conrad plugging away, re-designing instruments, manufacturing the first deep towed magnetometer that was every made. We did it all at sea, using our machine shop on board. And finally made new cameras and put a search package together, mostly while we were out working. Finally we got a signal from the magnetometer, got photographs of the thresher, and put out deep sea buoys to mark the location. We were the only people who had any navigation control because we developed taut-line moored buoys. And everyone else was trying to use some Mickey Mouse Loran which would fade and wasnít repeatable. The Navy Reports to the press made it sound as though it was all a group effort and the Navy was in charge and the Navy had discovered where the lost submarine was. Today, Lamont does much better with press releases and PR but are still not a high profile scientific lab in the public view.

Doel:

Interesting. Unfortunately, we have to close this interview at this point. But let me thank you very much for all that weíve spoken about today in this session. And weíll be getting transcripts of this to you quite soon. Thank you.

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